Can non-Māori have a pepeha and what would it look like?

A pepeha is used by Māori to introduce themselves, make connections and establish relationships. 

It includes details of where someone is from and their ancestral heritage.

Re: News spoke to te reo Māori educator Hemi Kelly (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Tahu-Ngāti Whāoa) about whether it’s appropriate for non-Māori to have a pepeha.

What is a pepeha and what is its purpose?

Pepeha is an expression of our whakapapa (genealogy) as Māori. It’s a set form of words we recite that references places and people we connect to through whakapapa.

Is it appropriate for non-Māori to have pepeha?

Non-Māori can have pepeha if they are following tikanga Māori and express their connection to the places and people they connect to through whakapapa. 

For example, someone who comes from Sāmoa is non-Māori but they might still say a pepeha that talks about their maunga, their awa, their village, or the iwi they belong to.

So in that respect yes, non-Māori can express whakapapa.

What pepeha isn't is choosing places you like or places you have a connection to through lived experience and reciting that, that’s not pepeha, that's different.

Can non-Māori claim to come from or own a maunga, awa or iwi?

We are used to this set form of words that we use in pepeha like “ko Tainui te waka” or “ko kakepuku te maunga” and that’s uniquely Māori. We don't choose those things, we don't claim those things, we inherit that pepeha from our tupuna. 

While it’s an introduction of ourselves it's also part of a collective, so we're not just introducing ourselves as a lone person but as a member of a group, of an iwi, of a hapū and the land we belong to. 

So no, it doesn’t work by saying, “I'm going to choose this maunga, or choose this awa”. That doesn't make sense from a Māori perspective. 

For people who are non-Māori and are learning te reo Māori, I would encourage them not to follow that traditional format of saying “ko Tainui te waka” or “ko Maungawhau te maunga” if they’re not from those places. 

Instead, non-Māori can use other words like, “I live in a shelter of Maungawhau” or “I grew up in the shelter of Maungawhau”: “E noho ana au i te maru o Maungawhau”.

That’s an example and by saying that and using those words you understand this person has a connection to this place but it might not be through whakapapa like it is for Māori. 

What are things non-Māori should stay away from including in their pepeha?

As Māori we whakapapa to a place or a lot of different places and it would be extremely inappropriate for us to claim another place that we don't whakapapa to so I think people need to be mindful of it.

If a non-Māori is learning te reo Māori and they are willing to embrace te reo Māori they also need to embrace our tikanga and the way we do things. 

So saying you are from a particular maunga when in fact you have no whakapapa connection to it can be misleading, it can be offensive to other people who whakapapa to that place and it could lead to disagreements.

I think if people want to embrace te reo Māori and tikanga Māori in a meaningful way then they need to be mindful of that and unless they're expressing their own whakapapa connections then they need to use another set of words.

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