By Tayi Tibble
When Kylie Jenner said 2016 was the year of “realising things” she had no idea 2020 was about to pull up in a facemask. Ever since rāhui began, I’ve received at least one DM a day from an e hoa going “I have been reflecting on this,” or “I have realised that….” Normally I’d be slightly concerned at the rate of my mates’ enlightenment—a break through and a break down share a fine line—but what else is there to do in isolation but over-analyse your own thoughts?
One thing that my friends and I have been reflecting on is the importance of community. Obviously this isn't a new revelation. Humans are pack animals, and despite our mythologising of the lone wolf or the independent woman we should never underestimate our need for social inclusion. As tribal people, I think this need is particularly prevalent in Māori. In Hauora—the Māori philosophy of health and wellbeing popularised by New Zealand high schools—Taha Whānau, or social wellbeing, is considered as equally important to our spiritual, mental and physical health.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot during lockdown, and have come to the salty conclusion that no amount of facemasks, ab exercises or tarot card readings can make up for the lack of socialisation that we have all been experiencing. But the lack has exposed the importance—we feel the ache for it, and the gratitude.
Both the ache, and the thankfulness became real for me recently, when I found myself in a small but increasingly painful raru, the details of which are withheld. Under non-Covid circumstances I don’t think the raru would have bothered me as much. Ordinarily, I would have been able to keep myself busy. I would have met up with my friends, gone for a shop, gotten on the inu and lived my best life. But while stuck inside, I realised that my mind had more time to get stuck on a subject too. I moved from room to room in my whare with only my dumb brain for company. I realised that the alienation I felt from this confrontation was exaggerated by the physical alienation of lockdown.
Now I’m the first to admit that as a capricorn moon—and a slave to capitalism and her values of individualism and self-sufficiency—it is difficult for me to reach out and ask for help. But the more mamae and stupid I got about the situation, good judgement—that makes a surprise visit every now and then—told me to get over it and ask for help. So I got over myself and reached out to a few of my tuakana, wise and wonderful wāhine, to ask them for guidance on how to handle the situation.
And let me tell you, the wisdom of indigenous women is unmatched. Periodt. From the lonely side of my phone and computer screen I found myself completely humbled by the generosity, compassion and friendship these wāhine showed me. There were phone calls. There were late night zooms. There were kind telling-offs when I needed to pull my head in. There was no judgement or impatience in their messages as they explained to me the ways our ancestors would have dealt with raru; kanohi ki te kanohi and handled in a way that did not impede on anyone's mana.
My friend Anahera explained to me that there are different types of mana. There is mana that you inherently have, and there is mana that you inherit from the gods, but she explained that mana hapori is the most precious. Mana hapori is mana that you yourself cannot demand or obtain. It can only be given to you from others. It can be challenged, sure, but no single individual can take it away from you either. As long as you continue to serve your community and your community continues to support you, then this form of mana will always be preserved. This is why it's important to have community; people who support you but also people who are ready to call you out and keep you accountable and humble.
Upon hearing this I cried because a) I’ve gone a little cray in lockdown, b) I was moved by their generosity and c) I was so thankful, but also guilty about taking up their time. I knew they’d help me without hesitation. Wāhine are mothers and nurturers and there is a natural impulse in us to take care of others. But I am also aware, in the city especially, wāhine are often called upon to perform this kind of labour for free and it can be a difficult thing to balance. I found myself whakamā and wondering how I could repay them, what could I give them as a koha for their time?
I thought about money but that seemed crude. I thought about baking, but my baking is offensive. I knew that if they ever needed to call on me I’d be there, but I was also aware that the people who help us may never need our help. I learnt that from my favourite book. In the novel, a young writer asks an established editor why she seems to make a point of giving young writers a shot. She replies, “When I was young a few older people gave me a hand. It's the kind of thing you can't really repay, because the people who help you may never need your help. But what you can do is pass it on, so I try to pass it on.”
I’m going to try to pass it on too. As we move out of rāhui and into level 2, I’m going to be thoughtful about the ways in which I can show the same generosity to others, as these wāhine have shown me. Because the best Kylie Jenner-style realisation I have had this lockdown is how community, like many aspects of Te Ao Māori, is built and underpinned by the idea of reciprocity. To have community, you have to serve your community. To have good people around you, you have to be a good person. If you want respect, you must be respectable. And if you want wisdom, you must be wise enough to receive it.
If I didn’t know this all before rāhui, I definitely know it now. And while I don’t think anyone should feel obliged to have learnt anything during this lockdown—it’s a worldwide pandemic after all not a wellness retreat—if you have, that's cute. Even if it’s just a bit of gratitude. Even if it’s just realising that those texts you’ve been sending your mates every day full of heart emojis and embarrassing “I miss you”s, are actually a vibe; a vibe we should all commit to maintaining, when all of this is over.