I te taha o tōku māmā,
Ko Taranaki te mounga
Ko Matanehunehu, ko Waitotoroa ngā awa
Ko Taranaki, ko Ngāti Ruanui ngā iwi
Ko Ngā Mahanga a Tairi, ko Ngāti Moeahu ngā hapū
Ko Moungāroa te tūpuna
Ko Kurahaupō te waka
I te taha o tōku pāpā,
Ko Taranaki te mounga
Ko Waitara, ko Urenui ngā awa
Ko Te Atiawa, ko Ngāti Mutunga, ko Ngāi Tahu ngā iwi
Ko Puketapu, ko Kaitangata ngā hapū
Ko Muru Raupatu, ko Urenui, Ko Otakou ngā marae
Ko Tama Āriki te tūpuna
Ko Tokomaru te waka
Ko Erana Whakauariki, Te Kōhinetanga-o-Rauhoto Tapairu Tamati ahau.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always looked up to my parents. When I think of being Māori, I think of them — they both came from completely different backgrounds in Te Ao Māori, and together have built a space for my sisters and I to take on for ourselves.
My dad has been such a huge influence on my life. He didn’t grow up with much materially or around Te Ao Māori, but he learnt how to work hard early on and make the most of every opportunity. He left school early and went to work at the local freezing works alongside his whanaunga. Dad also played league and when he got the chance to play for the Kiwis, doors really started opening for him. His mum, my nan, raised him and his four siblings as a single mum and their work ethic comes from her.
Nana was a Pākehā lady and my koro was Māori. Nana was the strongest person and most stubborn wahine I knew; she did everything in her power to raise her kids well. They had this small state house in Waitara and because dad and his brothers played league, nana would wash not only their tops, but all of the tops from all of the local teams. The story goes that her clothes line was always full of jerseys. Her community contribution was beyond me; it was her lifetime commitment and she dedicated every part of herself to it.
On my mum's side, my kuikui is Māori and my kōkō is from England, so she grew up in a space where she was connected to her Māoritanga a lot more than my dad, but also grew up in a Catholic whānau in Hamilton. She and all of her sisters went to St Joseph's Māori Girls’ College and then moved on to become a journalist, working for media companies like TVNZ. During the 80s, she was part of a well-known duo called Aromoana.
When my mum met dad, she was working on a documentary about Māori sports people and that's when she interviewed my dad, who was playing for the Kiwis at the time. In 1986, they got married. I've always loved that story of how they met because their paths crossed so perfectly.
My oldest sister Moerangi was born in 1989, followed by my second oldest sister Te Waikapoata, then Hawaiki and then me in 1995. Even though we're all very close in age and look alike, our personalities couldn't be more different and we've all grown up to follow different paths — Moe's a doctor, Te Wai's a dentist, Hawaiki's a teacher, and I want to be a therapist.
My whānau is my everything and being the pōtiki, literally all of them raised me, so much of who I am now comes from them.
From when I was born, I always saw my whānau and parents involved in kaupapa Māori. They're adventurous and hardworking people through and through; their work ethic is something my sisters and I all took on for ourselves, like they did from their parents.
From a young age I've always loved my name because it's the first thing you know about yourself, and all of my sisters and I have been named very intentionally. There are home videos of me as a kid being asked by my parents, “ko wai tōu ingoa?” and me proudly declaring — as little three year olds do — “ko Erana Whakauariki Te Kōhinetanga-o-Rauhoto Tapairu Tamati ahau!” Happy memories.
Looking back on those early years, I really appreciate my parents giving us a life where Māoritanga was normal and nurtured. With having such a pro-Māori environment, I always strived and wanted to be the best person and best Māori I could be for my parents. In my mind, the child's success is the parents' success and doing well honours the hard work they put into us.
With this in mind, I focussed on pleasing everyone in my life. I relied on my sisters' and whānau's guidance a lot, which isn't a bad thing, but they tended to make a lot of decisions for me — always in love, always to uplift — but it did mean I relied on them a lot more than my own judgement.
As I got older and started becoming more self-aware in high school, that changed. I went to Sacred Heart Girls' College in New Plymouth and straight away the two worlds — Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pākehā — confronted me; that's where the struggles with my Māoritanga began.
I knew how much it meant to my whānau to be Māori and I’d always assumed that I would grow up and be like them — proud, confident and happy to be Māori. High school was a rude awakening that many parts of our society even now aren't that accepting. It felt like I was always in a game of tug-o-war, trying to remember my values and not compromise my Māoritanga but, like every teenager, still wanting to feel like I belonged. Eventually, even though my name had such a huge legacy in my whānau, I began introducing myself as Eds because people couldn’t say my name properly.
Resenting being Māori, that’s a hard kōrero. I knew it was wrong to resent a part of who I am when our people have been through so much mamae; our tūpuna have fought so hard to give us our reo and culture back. With Parihaka Pā and the history here being known internationally — my own tūpuna fighting so hard to make it better for us — I didn’t feel like I had any right to resent being Māori; I faced nothing compared to them.
A lot of the time I was stuck between a rock and a hard place — between resenting my Māoritanga, being mad at myself for feeling that way, and then frustrated at the spaces making me feel those emotions in the first place.
At the end of year 10, I left Sacred Heart and boarded at Tū Toa Tai Wānanga in Palmy for the rest of high school; that was a really surreal experience. It was a really cool kaupapa — the kura was amazing, the space was amazing, the people were awesome — but it was hard for me to realise I was coming into it with a Pākehā mind. I'd needed to rely on it every day at Sacred Heart and it took the next three years to unlearn.
When I finished high school I got a scholarship to Otago, though I wasn't ready for uni. Going in with the mindset that I was there to make everyone in my whānau proud, I was doing it for them, not for me.
I finished first year and started my second year in Health Sciences. I knew I wanted to do something in health — two of my sisters work in that field and helping people is my biggest passion. Where I went wrong was thinking that being a doctor was the only way I could help people. It wasn't, but it my mind it was.
At the end of second year I found out I didn't get into medicine. That was hard. It was this overwhelming feeling of disappointment in myself, like I was never going to be able to make my whānau proud. But I thought to myself, no, I'm going to try again and so the next year in 2016, I started a bachelor of science with the intention of doing to med later on.
The next year was my lowest year. Being again in a Pākehā environment, being away from home and whānau, I didn't have that determination for what I was studying when I first started. I was always battling internally with myself and telling myself, “I have to be here”, genuinely thinking it was the only way forward. But I ended up getting really bad anxiety. There were so many days where I'd spend 8+ hours in the library studying but not learning, and then getting so mad at myself because it wasn't working.
By this point, my 'others before self' mindset was taking a really severe toll on my health. I was drinking way too much to cope with the pressure I was putting on myself to do well, and I wasn't talking to anyone about any of this — not even my sisters. I avoided being vulnerable with my whānau and those I was close to because I didn't want them to see me while I was distressed or upset.
The downside to this was that everyone thought I was having fun, partying and doing fine. But I was empty on the inside, filling that void with alcohol and comfort food. I never took the time to rest or look after myself because in my mind I didn't deserve it. Some days I would lie in bed and stare up at the ceiling wondering why I felt so stressed, depressed and hollow. I’d tell myself, “I’m at an amazing university, I have an awesome whānau, I don't deserve to feel like this.”
Those long days in the library were around exam time and I was in a really dark place. The day before my 21st, in the middle of the mid-year exams, I had a really intense panic attack in the library; I was shaking, struggling to breathe and feeling so angry at myself for not being able to take in the information. It was most terrifying experience ever; I felt like I was dying. I was attacking myself when I so desperately needed to be backing myself.
I followed through with the second half of the uni year, but I kept what had happened to myself. I started resenting my whānau and looking back now, I can see it was inevitable — I was so devoted to trying to please them and captive to this false belief that if I didn't make them proud, I was a failure.
When I decided to take a gap year, that was the hardest decision I've ever had to make because I had to come out to my parents and tell them I needed a break. I still believed I didn't deserve to rest but I knew how I was living wasn't healthy — how I was feeling wasn't healthy — and taking a year for myself wasn't optional anymore.
How I thought telling my parents would go down, and how it actually went down were completely opposite. I'd anticipated everything wrong. They knew I wasn't in a good place and when I told them, they were fine with it, dad said, "do whatever you need to do; we're here to support you." Their reassurance was the biggest relief.
Last year was a long, fulfilling journey of reconnection with my Māoritanga and hauora. I still had some really bad moments, but being back home in Taranaki (I'd been away since I was 15), going on runs, pursuing my love for art, and doing things for myself gave me so much healing, peace and contentment.
While living back home, I saved up some pūtea and worked, did a year-long immersion reo course and went through this kaupapa called TUIA. It was an amazing year; I am so so thankful I was strong enough to admit I needed a break. It isn’t weakness to rest, it isn’t weakness to need help.
I’m proud to be Māori again and it’s the most empowering feeling ever. Before, if I had Pākehā friends that didn't embrace my culture or would crack those jokes, I would let it slide. Now I make it clear — my Māoritanga and I are a package deal, accept both or move on. And if someone asks me “ko wai koe?”, I’m not going to say Eds because — channelling the confidence of my three year old self — “ko Erana Whakauariki Te Kōhinetanga-o-Rauhoto Tapairu Tamati ahau!”
Finishing off my degree in Waikato this year, I'm going to go to their counselling services so I have a support system in place for this last stretch. Talking about hauora and counselling, I don't think it's something that's normalised enough for us as rangatahi; we need to change that. The dark year I had, every single time I was struggling, I took it on the chin, never asking for help, and telling myself off for thinking I needed to talk.
Ko te kai o te rangatira he kōrero — the food of chiefs is kōrero. Our tīpuna knew that, why are always so afraid to? If my story helps someone else out there feel brave enough to be honest with themselves, the pain, tears and frustrations were all worth it.
On that thought, I’ve finally found my dream job — I want to be an arts therapist, someone who helps people heal and process life through creativity; I’ve always loved art, and now I’ve found a way to combine it with my passion for people.
Having such amazing Māori role models to look up to is something I’m always mindful of. People often draw so much inspiration from famous people they’ve never met, but I know my whānau’s ins and outs. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their aroha and starting this kōrero how I finished it, my whānau is my everything.
E mihi kau ana ki ōku mātua, ki ōku tuākana, ki ōku whanaunga. Ko koutou ngā kuku o tōku manawa.
Follow Erana on insta: @eranatamati