Ko Taranaki te maunga
Ko Aotea te waka
Ko Tāngahoe te awa
Ko Ngāti Ruanui te iwi
Ko Hāmua me Hāpōtiki ngā hapū
Ko Taiporohenui te marae
Ko Trae Te Wiki
Growing up on my marae just out of Hāwera, both of my mums were kura teachers and so I did kōhanga and went to kura there. I was lucky enough to have Te Reo as my first language and we were all really immersed in our Māoritanga. When our kura closed down, I said to mum in Te Reo as we were walking down the street, 'I wanna learn English now, I wanna learn what the signs are saying.' Though I didn’t realise it at the time, reflecting back mum took that quite seriously and soon after I was enrolled in a mainstream school in Hāwera. While going from a kura of 12 to one of at least 150 was a massive change, I loved learning English and the fast paced atmosphere.
From there on out, all of my education was in the mainstream system and I wasn’t surrounded by much diversity, so I grew up with mainly Pākehā mates—and not just Ngāti Pākehā but whakaaro Pākehā too. There wasn't really any space to be Māori, or rather, there was only one specific strand and if I didn't want to be in that strand, I had to reject my Māoritanga. That was a really hard space to be in. It wasn't until high school, when I was in year 12 and wanted to be head girl, that I rediscovered my Māoritanga after joining kapa haka. My tutors there had told me to come along to this course where you could get credits and a certificate in Māori performing arts, and I was like, sweet! When I got there I found myself surrounded by so many diverse Māori, and it was the first space I'd been in since kura where being Māori was the majority; where it was normal. That was how I started to accept that part of who I was again – I saw people who were awesome, who were Māori, and I was like, 'well if they can be awesome, I can too.' It was literally that simple, but it had such a huge impact on me.
Through those experiences I became really hungry to learn more. After moving to Wellington to study theatre, I decided to pick up a few Māori papers as extras and learnt about the Treaty for the first time. Hearing the depth of my culture’s oppression through colonisation was hard; it hurt, and I hurt for a while after that, but my resolve to contribute to a positive societal shift was stronger than ever.
Coming into now, a lot of the theatre mahi I want to be involved in and create is around the kaupapa of defining the contemporary urban Māori. I truly believe it is whatever you want it to be, and the more you learn about tikanga and Te Ao Māori, the easier it is to navigate and move through. But I think a lot of the mamae comes from thinking that there's a certain way to do and be Māori, and that there's a 'my way or the highway' ultimatum when really that's a total myth.
All of my life has shaped how I understand what mana wāhine is and for me, it's a state of peace and ease but also strength; a strength not coming from 'this is the right way', but a strength coming from a space of vulnerability, and that not being a weakness. Visually, when I think about what that is, it's a pou that's deeply rooted in the whenua, and no matter what kind of wind comes—being raruraru or uncertainty or tragedy—it's always a place you can draw strength from. I've always seen that as inherently feminine.
Manaakitanga and whakapapa are really important kaupapa in my life; whakapapa especially because it's the knowledge of where you come from. As soon as I learnt more about my whakapapa, I just felt more inherently Māori, I think because you acknowledge that you're more than just who you are every day, thinking less about yourself individually, and more so within a wider whānau. It felt good to think that I was a part of—and connected to—something bigger than myself, and I didn't feel like I had to worry so much after that.
With manaakitanga, it's about having aroha for everyone, and not just people but every living thing around you too - it all has mauri. It's reminding ourselves that we're not entitled to everything and we don't have the right to treat the whenua however we want; actions do have consequences. I think in this day and age we're really seeing that now with Papatūānuku, Tangaroa and climate change.
- Hei aha -
Cares to the wind
There’s a lot of people out there that try to knock you down – Māori thinking you're not Māori enough or non-Māori placing on you a burden that isn't yours to shoulder, or society’s statistics, all that stuff. My response is hei aha. There's far more to live for than society's speculations or other people's expectations about who you are and who you will be.
Accepting my internship with Atamira Dance Company was for me, about moving into a space where being Māori was the norm; where I didn’t need to spend so much time validating my cultural differences and speaking on behalf of all brown people. It’s what I’m passionate about but it is hard work.
Atamira's fully kaupapa Māori, it's incredible. I love having mana wahine as the norm. Being in a space where there are so many wahine toa as the part of status quo is so invigorating and powerful. I'm still new to the whānau – often times people will be talking about different dance companies or people who are well known, and I won't know what they're on about. But I don't let what I don't know scare me; it's all a process that gets easier with time. It's like that whakataukī, tū whitia te hopo - feel the fear and do it anyway.
- He kai kei aku ringa -
There is food at the end of my hands
At the moment the main thing I'm learning is how to make my own mahi from start to finish, which is massive. Branding and design are a huge part of it – the whole process is so much more complex than I thought. My dream is to make a career out of the arts; to create meaningful, hōhonu art and get it exposed to difference audiences. I feel like that's the most vigorous way to live my life. To be successful to the point where I didn't have to worry about finances as well, that would be awesome, but it's not the main goal.
One reason why money isn't the focus is because I really value process over product, and so although the product is what I'm aspiring to create, I learn so much more through the process – through dealing with other people, collaborating, creating and through by doing things in a way that's full of aroha. At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what happens after the product is out there, whether it's a hit or flops, because I know that the process is where I'm accumulating and growing the most.
A big thing that’s helped me is realising we’re always sitting in a state of potential – that we can determine our own paths. It was a big jump for me to go into a career that's not financially stable, or stable in the any sense of the word – you don't know when you're going to get work next and that's a really alternative way of living life. People often joke about how you're never going to get any money out of theatre, or you're never going to be able to buy a house, and that's hard stuff to always be told. But I stopped gripping this narrative when I realised that my life is my own and those I choose to share it with.
I want to leave you with the kōrero in my kete matauranga that has helped me forge my path in this crazy, chaotic, wonderful thing we call life.
Stand by what you believe in.
Have the courage to follow your convictions in whatever form that takes on.
Keep learning and expanding your mind.
Adopt different ways of thinking.
Don't take life too seriously.
Ngā mihi aroha to the fierce wahine that have gifted me with this feeling of empowerment; this is my most precious tāonga. Thank you for stepping into my world e hoa mā, I hope my kōrero gives mana to your own journey.
E mihi ana,
Follow Trae on insta: @traetewiki