My great-great-great grandfather Mohi Tāwhai signed the Treaty of Waitangi on February 12 at Mangungu, Te Hokianga-nui-a-Kupe in the Far North of New Zealand.
As a rangatira of Te Mahurehure hapu, my koroua Mohi Tawhai was a descendant of the great navigator Kupe, who journeyed from Hawaiki on his waka Matahourua and discovered Aotearoa in 925AD.
My waka Matahourua and Ngatokimatawhaorua, navigated by Kupe’s grandson Nukutawhiti, were not part of the great migration that passed through Avana on the way to Aotearoa.
I didn’t understand why I felt so connected to Rarotonga when my daughter and I arrived at the end of last year.
I thought maybe it was because seven years earlier, my husband and I got married here.
But then I remembered the research I did when I went back to university in 2015.
According to history Kupe was a great chief of Hawaiki (Tahiti), whose father was from Rarotonga and whose mother was from Rangiatea (Ra‘iatea), where her father lived. These were the three islands over which Kupe’s mana extended.
Now I have no doubt in my mind why my work brought me to this beautiful island paradise.
It’s because of my whakapapa.
There are many things I am grateful for now that I call Rarotonga my home. The people, the food, the beaches I could go on.
I get to use te reo Maori every single day and I don’t have to suppress my identity – a luxury I was never afforded in Aotearoa unless I was with my mum’s family or other Maori.
Here in Te Kuki Airani the people are proud of who they are.
Most importantly, I marvel at the fact that Cook Island Maori have never ceded their tino rangatiratanga – sovereignty and ownership over their land.
When my rangatira Mohi Tawhai signed the Treaty in 1840, at the landing place of his ariki Kupe, he did so with the future of us, his descendants, at the forefront of his mind – to protect us from the new wave of colonialism that he could foresee coming.
If he had known that little more than two years later, as a British colony, the New Zealand colonial government would enforce acts and legislation that would find our people facing extinction, loss of our land, our language and our tikanga (traditional practices), I think his decision would have been different.
Waitangi Day in New Zealand is a day marred by controversy for these very reasons.
In fact, a lot of prominent New Zealanders have argued that it should be canned altogether. That it isn’t a celebration of our national identity but an opportunity to bring up old news from the past.
The past should remain in the past, they say. But that’s where I beg to differ.
The Treaty of Waitangi is a living, breathing document, that under the laws of Contra Proferentum guarantee New Zealand Maori the ideals our tupuna had in mind when they signed it.
Being here has taught me so much about my identity, especially as I write this today. This is the first Waitangi Day I’ve felt immensely proud of who I am and where I come from.
Proud of my ancestors and the decisions they made to make sure our rangatiratanga was never ceded by signing the Treaty.
Proud of those who, in the 180 years since, have fought to get our land back in Aotearoa, when they were called uneducated and unemployed radicals who should go and get jobs instead of being greedy.
Most of all I’m proud to call Rarotonga my new home, even though I will always maintain that I’m manuhiri (a very grateful visitor).
Thankful for the people I’ve met who have taught me that no matter what happens in your life, no matter how far you get pushed to conform to the ways of the masses, that no riches or material wealth in the world can replace retaining your mana motuhake over your land and culture.