Tūrangawaewae

A couple of weeks ago I discovered the blog of an author who goes by the name of “Bearer of Discomfort.” Rather than being discomforted by the encounter, however, I felt a profound sense of kinship, a feeling of having journeyed afar to a foreign land only to wind up home. That land is New Zealand (a place I have never been), and the home I found there is Tūrangawaewae.

Tūrangawaewae is a word with a deep and complex meaning in te reo Māori (the language of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand). The purpose and philosophy of the Tūrangawaewae blog and the identify of the blogger, Bearer of Discomfort, are intimately and intricately connected to its definition:

Literally tūranga means ‘standing place’, and waewae ‘the feet’, thus it is most commonly translated as ‘a place to stand’, however it is a translation, like most translations across languages, that fails to capture its full meaning. Not only is tūrangawaewae an acknowledgement of the place one is connected to through whakapapa – our foundation, place in the world, or home; it also signifies a place where one feels empowered or connected.  Feeling and being connected – to our earth mother Papatūānuku, and to ngā tāngata katoa (people), is critical if the point of your blog is to be, well – critical.  To shake the tree of knowledge and see what bad apples fall down.  Or in other words to bring uncertainty to the certain; to challenge the ideas that dominate.  To be a ‘bearer of discomfort’.

My first encounter with the above passage sent my mind reeling through so many thoughts about why I am here in the wilderness of cyberspace, a rebel, a renegade, a maroon, howling and ranting in digital bits and bytes at the glow of the computer screen. I started this ceremony of dark old men—this ritual of drawing words like blood to be sacrificed on the altar of the blogosphere—six months ago. I selected the opening scene from the movie Quilombo for my inaugural entry to signal my intent to be a “bearer of discomfort” and to establish a “place to stand.” I didn’t know the word Tūrangawaewae then. But I understood instinctively the spirit it represents and the power it conveys to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Bearer of Discomfort writes passionately and perceptively about issues of social justice and human rights. She provides an outpost—an island of enchantment and empowerment in cyberspace—in which to develop and enhance the intellectual rigor and spiritual armament we need to free our minds and our bodies. Her most recent post on Tūrangawaewae concerns how Africa is presented and represented in the media. Earlier entries have dealt with the Occupy Wall Street Movement, negative imagery of black/brown males, and racism. In every instance she illuminates these topics with a keen sense of history and demonstrates a razor-like ability to strip the hide off bullshitters, hypocrites, bounders, and bigots. Every entry is a reminder that we all face the same foes in the fight for basic human rights worldwide. Every entry demands we get off our assess and leave our comfort zones to confront and contest those forces that divide and conquer us to keep us ignorant, dependent, and confined to the big plantation of neo-colonialism. Every entry reminds us who we are … and who we must become.

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2 thoughts on “Tūrangawaewae

  1. Wow. I have been dwelling on the ‘whys’ of my blogging, wondering whether expressing that which is in me to say (or scream) really matters or makes sense! I re-started my blog 2 months ago in an effort to get writing again with the eventual hope of re-engaging in a PHD I began several years back. When I started the thesis writing process (had a flash scholarship and all) it was crippling to find myself unable to write a thing (pretty much) for 2 1/2 years. It wasn’t for lack of trying – blood, sweat and tears were expended and yet I could not find it in me to ‘speak’. Looking back on that hell and the variety of reasons I became ‘mute’, I can see now that in part I was resisting the invitation to converse with an elite group of ‘intellectuals’ on topics that felt so personally and collectively important (at least to me). I did not want to debate in the rarefied area of academia – produce a work that would languish in a thesis cupboard and yet be inaccessible (both in language and location) to those I cared most about. I wanted to speak and to cry with my friends and my whanau (family, in the broadest sense) with people who might think similarly, or challenge my pre-concieved ideas, but always in the aim of wanting/having more. I may yet go back to a PhD, or turn my blog writing into one, but the freeing exercise of writing and raging and rejoicing makes that process a possible bonus outcome, rather than a necessary aim. Speaking what was most important to me, as Audre Lorde has previously recommended, has become enough. For now.

    The rejoicing part is provoked by what you have written here. When I found it, I was moved to tears, particularly as I have read and so appreciated in turn, your writing. Such is the power of expressed appreciation and felt kinship. Thank you for your generous assessment of my work; I am humbled by your words and if I can aspire to create what you describe then that too will be more than enough. Nga mihi mahana kia a koe e hoa (warmest greetings to you, friend), your friend in “howling and ranting” – Erika

  2. Tēnā koe, Erika. Ko John ahau.

    I can relate to your struggles with academe, as a student and as a professor. “Ourstorian” has been my mode of escape from the mental asylum that higher ed has become. It has provided a refuge and enabled me to rediscover a voice in me that has been dormant for too long. Yet despite my joy at having this opportunity to express my ideas, my daily routine at the med school where I work often consumes so much of my time and energy I find it difficult to give this blog the attention I would like. I am overflowing with ideas, but unable to develop and present them on a timely basis. I have a backlog of drafts at various stages of preparation sitting in queue like orphans waiting for someone to come and take them home. Each one is more brilliant than the next. Of this I’m absolutely certain, as I watch them expire from lack of attention.

    As I stated in response to your comment about the “Soundtrack” piece, I wanted to write something about Tūrangawaewae as soon as I encountered it. Even though I am a novice in terms of maintaining my own blog, I have read many and have commented on selected favorites with some regularity over the years. I know, therefore, how hard people labor in their vineyards to produce and serve stimulating and intoxicating beverages, day in and day out, often without ever hearing the smacking of lips and murmurs of appreciation from those who drop by to sip and savor. What, no bloody tips? Not even a hello? But we keep pouring anyway. I know this and could not drink your fine wine without showing my deep and sincere appreciation. How could I? It was fresh with the age of wisdom. It was sweet with the words of a poet who writes with a machete dipped in honey. You need to know this as much as I need to tell you.

    You need to know that your “love of words” is evident in every passage, on every page. Even as I stumbled blindly through the darkness of cyberspace, they drew me, a kindred spirit, right to your doorstep. Thanks for keeping the light on for me and others to find our way.

    Your friend in “howling and ranting”—John

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