This was supposed to be the first installment of Māori and the City, a new monthly column by Tayi Tibble. But then coronavirus happened and it wasn’t quite right to focus on a world that no longer exists. So Tayi wrote a different column

But it was a waste to not publish this one. So here’s what was supposed to be the first edition of Māori and the City, from that distant time when leaving the house was still a choice.

I obnoxiously consider myself to be a hearty Wellingtonian; I stare unblinkingly into the wind, will sip craft beer if somebody else pays for it, and consider a semi-ironic tote bag a core wardrobe staple. But while Wellington is my home, and has been for four generations, ever since my great-grandmother moved here from the East Coast in ‘50s, being Māori in the city can be a confusing, confronting and crack-up experience.

Because cities are essentially monuments to capitalism, modernism, industrialism, commercialism, so many ‘isms, and in Wellington's case, a city built upon indigenous land—Te Atiawa and Ngati Toa—colonialism especially. So as my e hoa’s and I electric scooter around the buildings, the bars, the designer boutiques, the suits on Lambton Quay taking up the footpath, we don’t forget, that for all the fun and electric scooters a city offers, it is often at another's expense and dispossession. And while life in the city is flashy and fun, it is also becoming increasingly precarious. 

This got real af for me recently when I found out my contract at my previous job wasn’t going to get renewed. The job was both underpaid and overly-upsetting, but I was confronted by it anyway, and by ‘it’ I mean the reduced income. I was outraged. How was I going to maintain my schedule of vodka lemon sodas? Bougie dinners? Unnecessary Ubers? Sephora orders? The new Mi Piaci patent boots I have bookmarked? The purse that I ‘add to cart’ so frequently that it is now the first suggested page every time I open Google? What about the essentials, like bills and rent on my inner city Leeds Street apartment? 

Then, in true Wellington fashion, it got worse, when I received an email from my property manager notifying me that the rent on my Leeds Street apartment was going up. They weren’t going to re-paint the chipping walls, or replace the disintegrating carpet, or refresh the tacky 2000s blue accents that made the apartment look like a low decile primary school, but sure, extort more of my money.

So I got on the Trade Me app and the flatmates wanted pages on Facebook and scrolled and scrolled and scrolled while thinking about the good old days of 2014, when you could get a spacious room in a neighbouring suburb like Mt Vic or Hataitai for $130p/w. Now, $250 for an ex-cubicle office with no windows and asbestos is a good deal if you can secure it from a sea of eighteen-year-old students. 

Besides colonisation I honestly can’t think of a worse trauma than looking for a flat in Wellington during the months of January and February. Plus I’m 24. I’m getting old. I don’t have the heart or the grunt or the necessary stupidity for it anymore. I yearn for the days when I was 19 and thought living in a mouldy wet tissue box house with holes in the kitchen floor was perfectly acceptable.

Days of unsuccessful flat hunting passed, and as the end-of-lease D date moved nearer I found myself becoming increasingly anxious, as well as disillusioned, by this expensive city. I felt an overwhelming—but not uncommon—longing for my idealised pre-colonial days. Simple days, of gardening and diving for kaimoana. Because on the papakāinga you look after each other. It occured to me sadly, that even though my family have been here for four generations, we didn’t have that same network of support and protection that we might have had up home. To be away from home, is to also be away from the forces that make us Māori; our whānau, whakapapa, and whenua. Without those forces, one can feel in a constant state of instability. I realised, bitterly, that I didn’t have an uncle to go stay with, or parents to pay my rent for me. I felt disconnected and alone, but mostly melodramatic.

I brooded and considered moving to Gore. But then my e hoa’s were like ‘Why don’t you just move into the spare room in our whare?’ and I was like oh true, problem solved.

So last week, three days out from the end of my lease, I moved into their big teal and purple townhouse filled with Māori art and also Māori. Seriously. E hoa’s crash on the couch so frequently that the flat is often referred to as ‘The Marae.’ It’s the best vibe. As I unpacked my belongings, I felt myself lighten with relief. We drank wine in the rare Wellington sun and I felt, for the first time in a stressful month, incredibly blessed. I felt lucky to have the space and support to continue on in the city, but importantly, to continue on in the city as Māori. I want this column to feel like this too; bougie and native and lesssh go and confused.


This is part of a series on urban Māori identity, launching today on Re:

Here’s the other Māori and the City column, written for our new world where e-scootering and having e hoa’s crash on your couch is illegal.

Check out the first episode of Kahu Kutia’s podcast He Kākano Ahau.

And we put together this video where Tayi and Kahu talk being urban Māori and the influence of Nicole Scherzinger.