‘A foot between two whenua’: Morgan Godfery Interviews Hana Pera Aoake

By and | 1 August 2021

Moving home to Aotearoa as a teenager was alienating though, because the racism here is everywhere but it’s more hidden or racist without explicitly racist language. I was able over time to slowly identify it and work against it, by developing the tools to be actively anti-racist, because I had grown up in a very racist environment.

Being able to access my ancestral waters and land is a privilege so many Indigenous people don’t experience. I am so grateful for the work of my tuupuna and many other Maaori activists in ensuring we have those rights to go home and learn about our whakapapa and Matauranga Maaori. A lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander kids I grew up with in Australia didn’t have that, but I hope that as adults they are able to connect to their whenua (land) and feel proud to be from the oldest and most resilient civilisation in the world. It’s a journey we (Indigenous people) all go on when we don’t grow up on our whenua or are dislocated from our own lands because of colonialism.

We (Maaori) experienced a totally different kind of colonialism, it was still settler colonialism, but because of our size as a country, the population of Maaori and I think the Crown’s unwillingness to exercise a genocidal regime, we have a different relationship to the whenua, our history and to settlers. There are issues that need redress, but we in no way experienced what First Nations peoples in Australia or the US or Canada experienced. We at least have Te Tiriti (the ability to negotiate) and some representation, even if the odds are stacked not in our favour and we have many of the same economic and social issues other Indigenous communities experience. We are still looked at globally as a model for how to better work with Indigenous people. It’s a start, but it’s not land back … not yet anyway.

MG: I know that you feel a pull to the Waikato, to places like Matamata and the Kaimai ranges, which is something a lot of Māori will recognise. Can you explain what this pull feels like? Is it spiritual, is practical, is it for whakapapa and baby, or is it all of them at the same time …

HPA: The pull I feel is just a sense of being home or being connected to a place. I think it’s because my whenua (placenta) is buried in Matamata, so I always feel relaxed there. My Nana and Pop are buried in the Waikato, my parents were born there and I was born there. The landscape feels familiar, like a sense of déjà vu, even if I haven’t spent much time there. When I walk around Matamata I always see people that look like my whaanau. I think it’s spiritual, practical and my whakapapa ties to Matamata/Okauia make this connection stronger. I want this baby to know this place more than I do. It’s a hard feeling though, because you look around and see all this farmland and mansions and you know that that is raupatu (confiscated) land that belongs to us.

MG: One thing that distinguishes the way you think and the way you write is that you’re not afraid to, and skilled at, picking and choosing the best bits of European philosophy, political theory, and art and incorporating it into a kaupapa Māori way of doing things. But some people say that there isn’t anything to learn from ‘dead white men’. What do you say to that?

HPA: I laugh because I think it’s ignorant and one dimensional. Know thy enemy as they say. Sorry I’m joking but, in all honesty, reading and thinking widely is working in a kaupapa Maaori way. I always come back to Te Ahukaramuu Charles Taylor’s definition of kaupapa Maaori being about transformation and pulling different or new knowledge systems together to better understand the historical and contemporary dimensions of power structures within New Zealand. Our tuupuna (ancestors) adopted many paakehaa (European settler) technologies, clothing, food, ways of life etc. I think it’s really important to understand European knowledge systems. How else are you going to critique them?

For me it’s about weaving a basket of knowledge that takes different ideas and strengthens my understanding or perception of the world. So, I will read Hegel, Fanon, and Glen Coulthard simultaneously and pick and thread parts of their arguments into my own thinking. The best Indigenous thinkers, like Coulthard already do this, because it isn’t a new idea, but it is a logical one. I just really like reading about ideas and ways of imagining what the world could be like, because we can’t undo colonialism or global capitalism, but what if we thought about alternatives and what in concrete terms that could look like.

MG: The first things that I ever read by you were, you know, funny. ‘PERHAPS WE SHOULD HAVE STAYED’ and ‘I’m not single or taken. I’m at the gym’, are absolute rippers. Did you set out to make those pieces cheeky and bleak (but funny bleak) or were they a note to self?

HPA: I wrote both of those when I was really depressed, which is why they have such a bleak tone. Having a mental illness is funny, because you often reflect on your own behaviour and bad decisions and realise how stupid or funny they are. I don’t think I set out to make them cheeky or funny. They are notes to self, but also just things I was thinking about or experiencing.

I think also I just grew up in a whaanau (family) where everyone is quick witted, tells stories, makes jokes and makes fun of themselves. As you know my parents are very, very funny, I think I’m more serious and reserved than they are though. I have a dark and quite dirty sense of humour.

MG: I think a lot of New Zealand writing is bleak, but in a take the piss kind of way. It’s self-deprecating. What do you think about the state of New Zealand writing and who’s done it well and who’s doing it well.

HPA: I think there needs to be more of a shift into more experimental forms or at least a breakdown in form or categorisation, simply because I think it’s boring to be like ‘this is a book of poetry’. It’s too formulaic. I am not interested in writing that tries too hard to be funny, or that is too influenced by histories or creative traditions that aren’t ours, because I’m tired of us always taking from other cultures and not just uplifting the mana of our own whakapapa of storytelling.

I read a lot and very broadly, but I do try to read a lot of New Zealand writing especially by Maaori and I admire the greats like Keri Hulme, Roma Potiki, Ani Mikaere, Maria Bargh, Arapera Blank, J C Sturm and Ranginui Walker. Writers who I think are brilliant and doing consistently great writing are people like Jackson Niewland, Caro DeCarlo, Khadro Mohammed, Nina Powles, Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle, Talia Marshall, Anna Rankin, essa may ranapiri, Leonie Hayden and obviously you (Morgan Godfery). I like a lot of writers in so-called Australia too, like Jazz Money, Autumn Royal and Nayuka Gorrie. At the moment I’m reading Toni Morrison and Albert Wendt.

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