The session consisted of the showing of a documentary entitled 'Kapa Haka: A Journey Home,' and afterward there was a question/answer session with the three young women who made the film. As I sit here now, I struggle to put into words the range of emotions I felt while watching this documentary. It was an experience of the heart. I will, however, attempt to summarize some of the main themes expressed in the film and how so much of it relates to genealogy.
As the pamphlet says, this film follows a young Māori/Tongan woman who returns to New Zealand for the first time since she was five years old (after growing up in the U.S.) The interviews with her were real and raw, and through her range of emotions, we are shown just how complex it can be to go back to a place and a culture that is a part of who you are, but one that you haven't been immersed in for most of your life.
Below, I'll outline some of the significant things I learned from this film. The majority of the film showcases the kapa haka. From Wikipedia,
"The work of a kapa haka consists of the performance of a suite of songs and dances spanning several types of Māori music and dance, strung together into a coherent whole."
The film teaches us about the kapa haka (and its cultural meanings) by chronicling the work high school students do to prepare for the annual Polyfest competition. For pretty much the entire film, I was simply in AWE of these teens' talent, work ethic, passion, and respect for their culture and the people who came before them. Several of the teens are interviewed, and just hearing them speak of 'lifting up my culture,' 'connecting with my culture,' and singing so beautifully in a language that was in danger of dying out just a few decades ago left me, as a viewer, with such a deep admiration of these young people and of the way in which they are carrying on their ancestors' traditions.
Here is a very short video from NPR that gives you a sense of kapa haka.
In Maori culture, a pepeha is a way of formally introducing yourself to another person. That introduction is formulated in a way that tells others how you are connected to place and to other people. It not only includes a bit of your 'whakapapa' (genealogy), but it also includes landforms, such as mountains, rivers, and other bodies of water, from your place of origin or those with which you personally identify.
There is no English word to convey this 'genealogy to the land' concept, but it is something that I have felt for a long time. About 20 years ago, I left my home, the place where I grew up, the place in which all of my ancestors had lived since they left their European homelands and immigrated to America. My husband and I lived in four different states in that time I was gone, and there was no place in which I really felt at home. In fact, I had a running joke going with my husband, in which I would just say to him, "Don't bury me here." It wasn't really a morbid thing; it was me going to local cemeteries all the time, and just not being able to imagine myself (even my postmortem self) away from my ancestors. Since moving back to my Home, I've felt much more of a peace that I never felt in any of the other places we've lived. I have a connection to the physical land.
Ta Moko refers to traditional Maori tattooing. I learned from this film that these tattoos have incredible cultural AND familial significance. One of the teens in the film talked about her ta moko tattoo and about how each little design represented one of her family members. Another gentleman with full-face tattoo designs mentioned that every time he looks in the mirror, he is looking at his genealogy, his ancestors.
I learned so much from this film and it just makes me want to connect more deeply with my cultural heritage - the heritage that my people developed over hundreds of years BEFORE they came to America.
After the viewing of the film, all of us in the audience were wondering where we could buy a copy. The three young women who made this film mentioned that they are still working on how to possibly distribute it, but encouraged us to follow their social media accounts (listed on that pamphlet above) to get updates and I hope you will do the same.
©2019 Emily Kowalski Schroeder