Our say | We are one, but we are also many

Cultural markers: Some snaps I took at the Aotearoa Fest on the weekend, and an 1890s photo I found online from Auckland Libraries, showing the traditional moko markings. They are becoming a more regular modern sight.
Cultural markers: Some snaps I took at the Aotearoa Fest on the weekend, and an 1890s photo I found online from Auckland Libraries, showing the traditional moko markings. They are becoming a more regular modern sight.

Before last Saturday, if someone had asked me what a moko kauae was, my best guesses might have ranged from some Polynesian holiday resort to perhaps the latest anime comic book hero.

But, after Saturday, I feel a bit more educated.

This is because I was surprised at how many elegant chin markings –moko kauae – I saw on women at the big Aotearoa Fest, a celebration of local Maori culture held at Campbelltown Showground with dancing, arts and crafts, stalls and food.

Firstly, a big thank you for the very warm welcome I received from our local Maori residents, even when I was asking dopey questions such as “are the tattoos permanent”. They are. And a source of great pride, as I discovered in many a friendly chat.

It was explained that when NZ was colonised the ancient practice almost faded away, but in the past decade or so there has been a big resurgence of women receiving the traditional face ink, even among NZ parliamentarians.

The process, I was assured, is not just picking a pretty design – it is intensely personal and covers everything from their own personal achievements to the ancestors who “have their back”.

With other things from the magnificent Haka to the beaming smiles of the groups preparing to sing, to the lovely ladies explaining a hangi to me, I left feeling very included. Ki ora.

It was timely reminder to a sometimes too-cynical has-been editor that – in a world of (deliberate) division whipped up by certain populist politicians – the things that make us similar (such as creativity, kin and kindness) are much more than surface things that make us different.

I couldn't help thinking back to the Campbelltown farmers of 100 years ago, using the Showground to exhibit their cows and crops, and wonder what they would think of sounds of the Haka on stage. I reckon they’d probably be fascinated.

I wonder how the local farmers of 100 years ago might have reacted to the sights and sounds of the Haka on their Showground?

People have always been people. After all, it was at the height of “White Australia”, in 1902, that on this very same piece of ground, that the winners of the vegie section of the Show were named as local Chinese market gardeners Wong Fong and Mow War. Onya Campbelltown.

I admit, love the inclusive pride I see at most cultural events – from a German Oktoberfest or a Vietnamese Moon Festival to a St Patrick’s Day event, or even an Aboriginal smoking ceremony. Like the song says, “We are one, but we are many”.

My own family tree includes convicts, gold diggers, brave bush nurses, shearers, Anzacs, and brumby chasers (a la The Man from Snowy River). I couldn't be more proud of being an Aussie.

But that doesn’t mean that the roots of my family tree aren’t wrapped in tartan, and that when I attend a Highland Gathering, and hear the bagpipes, something older stirs deep within my DNA. I feel like painting my face blue and charging through the heather with Braveheart.

Each to their own.

But one thing I think that crosses all cultural boundaries is that good manners and respect. They cost nothing, and they work.

The great Greg Percival, a veteran of WWII, had good reason to hate the Japanese, but instead he helped forge Campbelltown’s successful sister-city relationship with Koshigaya. Building bridges is the way ahead.

If you have the chance to attend a cultural event, please do – prejudice rarely survives personal interaction. It’s also educational.