On Blood Quantum and Belonging.
The journey of becoming tau and settled in your own skin is a part of the human experience, But the journey of discovering, immersing and learning a culture that you've not been raised in, sitting in discomfort and insecurity as you learn, and the sense of belonging and calm that inches gradually closer is an experience all to familiar to many of us.
That question of self that resides deep within your pito.
Who am I? How do I belong? Ko wai au? Nō hea au?
This is a story I've felt distanced from in many ways as the years have passed.
Maybe it's that insecurity of watching your 19yr old self wrestle with these questions with such passion, entwined with such lack of experience or context. That cringe you feel seeing and hearing yourself on tape, and being confronted with the person you were once, many stops back on this journey.
As I shared in this earlier post, I didn't grow up in te ao Māori. With my blue eyes and fair hair I don't look 'Māori'. I could hardly tick any box contribute to my resume as 'a Māori'- rubbish at singing, kapa haka, sports :).
Yet deep within me from an early age was a fierce flame and hunger. A thread, that when I tugged, drew me closer and closer down a path of whakapapa.
This installation was my final graduating exhibition from Toi Oho ki Apiti, the school of Māori Visual Arts, Massey University in 2010 under the tuition of Dr Robert Jahnke.
It was born of 4 years of wondering who I was and why I was there. Of having others articulate and stoke my anxieties that perhaps I didn't really belong. I wasn't really Māori enough.
19, female, headstrong, vulnerable, articulate and feisty. I cringe to look back, but in hindsight, I also can't imagine a different path I could have taken.
I decided to confront it head on.
In the footsteps of a notorious artist Mark Quinn, I set about casting the heads of myself and my parents in rubber latex. Life casts.
Tired of feeling like I needed to justify or quantify my belonging, I used the idea of blood quantum as my medium- literally.
I calculated my blood quantum of 'Māori blood'. 1/64th. "Thats just about enough Māori blood for your big toe", I was generously informed by someone at the time.
My dad, being Pākeha, came in with none, and my Mum, with double mine.
Barely Māori then.
I didn't know then, that the volume of liquid that would fit into an average head is around 5 litres.
So to stay literally correct, if I had 5 litres of volume, 80mls of that would be my 'Māori Blood'.
For my mum, that meant 160mls.
This is where shit got real.
To skip over the gory bits, (ironic that I now have a vague dislike of needles ) -in the final installation, there was a literal blood quantum in each head displayed.
My Dad, stood clear and icy. No Blood.
My Mum, a deep deep almost blackish red.
Myself, a very vibrant hue.
There were many many things I learnt during this process, about identity, our collective recognition of yearnings for belonging, about inclusion and exclusion. About power, and politics.
But three stand out, with the distance of a decade.
that seemingly tiny fraction. That is potent, it is vibrant, it is alive. Whakapapa doesn't operate in a zero sum game, we can't be multiplied or divided down to nothing. We are Māori, and our whakapapa is woven into our blood, into our dna.
There is no substitute for returning to the whenua of your tūpuna. Of listening, and breathing, soaking it in. It has been in the years since, living in Te Waipounamu and feeling this whenua, raising a whānau here that a sense of tau has descended.
Connection isn't build atop logic or rationality, a need to prove yourself or using the reo perfectly. It's built on showing up.
It's nearly a decade since that installation- and now ten years older and hopefully wiser, with two beautiful Pēpi watching my every move.
I see so many kōrero surfacing across social media that echo with the same questions I had then.
As I look at the long journey it has been to reach this place, whilst still cringing a little at my 19 year old self, It feels like this mahi still resonates. That in fact, it's hard to say if we've collectively made that much progress at all.
But one thing that is clearer than before, is that I want to raise my tamāhine without the doubts.
Comments on this post (1)
Was a lovely read 😊 I too can relate to you korero I’m fair skin blonde hair growing up I went to kohanga and learnt the reo there but always to be told I’m not māori. Something deep down was telling me to fight back so would always say I’m māori. I knew I was māori but not knowing my whakapapa made me feel like I couldn’t connect after leaving high school I returned to the kohanga I grew up in to help out couple of years went by and I started training to be a Kaiako. In the course I was doing they asked for my pepeha. All my mother had was our kaumatuas name after digging and researching and years of telling people I AM Māori I had found my pepeha I whakapapa back to Ngāi Tahu and I’m a kaiako at the kohanga I grew up in.
— Aneva stokes