Whānau, I want to tell you all a story;
Every week, my Bro from work and I journey up our local ‘maunga’ (“peak”), Te Ahumairangi Hill, with probably the coolest and most enlightened bunch of ‘tamariki’ (“kids”) you’ll ever meet.
They’re legit as fuck. Especially when you consider they’re literally only three and four years old.
A couple of weeks ago, our little “kōhanga crew” started noticing the many council-contracted maintenance workers who were up there clearing the tracks for the upcoming spring-summer (*peak) walking season, and thus tending to the many slips and fallen debris our poor maunga has endured this winter.
Of course they had their machines and their tools with them, and our tamariki edged past these tentatively, rushing further up the track in an effort to return to the serenity and the silence of the place that we have all come to know with intimacy since our journey began in February of this year.
Bar the birdsong, obviously. Kākā parrots are the main contributors, playful and ever-screeching as we ascend slowly to our special space, our very own “summit” away from the exposed, vehicle-friendly ‘Ridgeline Track’, and further back into the bird-friendly bushline – a deliberate effort to remain in the forest, and to therefore foster a deep(er) sense of connection with our Māori ‘kaitiaki o te ngahere’ (“celestial guardian of the forest and all forest creatures”), Tāne-mahuta.
One particular day – a moment from this most recent time period – is currently – powerfully – etched in my memory.
On our travels, we passed by a ‘mamaku’ (“fern”) that had had some precious adult branches “tended to” in an apparent effort to trim back some foliage from the track…
And, there was trauma seeping from every single wound.
So, our little group of adventurers stopped to assess and appraise the situation. One of our ‘tikanga’ (“practices”) whenever we’re walking our maunga is to never, ever pick from ‘tipu’ (“plants”), but to always gather our ‘taonga’ (“treasure(s)”, or “thing(s) of value” (*relative to you/them)) from the track – the very bosom of our Earth Māmā, Papatūānuku.
And here, right in front of us, was our ‘why’.
The corresponding comparisons were tangibly with our very own ‘tinana’ (“bodies”), and the bleeding that occurs at times when we are indeed hurt, and fragile.
There, right in front of us, Tāne-mahuta was bleeding.
And as far as these amazing kids were concerned, the only answer was to patch/bandage him up accordingly.
We did, too. We collected ‘rangiora’ (known colloquially as: “bushman’s friend”) and ‘harakeke’ (“flax”) to respectively bandage-and-bind Tāne’s many wounds, covering and stemming the flow of red, jelly-like ‘toto’ (“blood” – yes, there was no doubt whatsoever among the tamariki that this was Tāne’s blood from his very own tinana).
And also not particularly surprising that the youngest inhabitants of this living, breathing, had-the-utter-shit-kicked-out-of-her Earth Māmā of ours are the ones most in tune with the suffering of one of her own tamariki (*Tāne is one of the sons of Papatūānuku and our Sky Father, Ranginui).
How is that? And, how are we, as the supposed “older and wiser” generation, still not catching on?
Because, this whole kaitiaki “thing” is mutual, eh. Rangi, Papa, and their many tamariki (*including, but not exclusively, Tāne) are celestial guardians of earth’s multiple domains in their own right – that’s unequivocally true in Māoridom. But likewise, ‘tāngata’ (“human beings”) may also assume ‘kaitiakitanga’ (“guardianship”) of these very same domains, and that’s obvious every time yet another sea creature ingests a fucking plastic bag, or a piece of polystyrene.
That, whānau, is irresponsibility on our part, to play our part.
One of my spiritual mentors passed away this year, and she believed that every single feather she found was a sign from her kaitiaki – an archangel, a ‘tīpuna’ (“ancestor”), an ascended master, any one (or even all) of these, ultimately in that moment stopping-by to say: “Hi”.
She worked closely with butterflies as messengers of said kaitiaki during her lifetime, and when she died a monarch butterfly hatched on the same day her body was returned to her family for their three-day, traditional Māori grieving process, and this butterfly sat on her forehead – utterly unmoved – until her funeral service at the local marae on Day Three, when s/he fluttered along the uppermost kōwhaiwhai rafters, past all the tīpuna of the place, and out the door.
You see e hoa mā, you can frame kaitiakitanga however you like – the truth is the truth, that’s true (*sorry*), and yet your own truth is (ironically) completely and overwhelmingly relative.
The workmen on our maunga no doubt interpreted their efforts as good, and above all else, necessary – I wonder if they’ll even notice ours?
Please, just believe – like my three and four year-old friends do – that as kaitiaki, leading with love and empathy is the most necessary way to do the most good.
Make that your truth, and profound change(s) will surely follow.
And most definitely ‘check yo self’ with any-and-every temptation to tend or ‘tutū’ (“fiddle disruptively”) with nature, nē rā?
Dedicated to Tāne-mahuta, and all his tamariki;
‘Haere pai atu, hoki ora mai nei’ – “Go well, and return safely”, always,