What’s in a Name?

” . . . Cook circumnavigated New Zealand and proceeded to rename the entire country at will. This renaming was at one level entirely arbitrary, responding to the fortunes or misfortunes of those on board the ship and to the impressions gained from out at sea of the land they were observing. Other names, however, recalled the geography and people of Britain. These names and the landmarks associated with them were inscribed on maps and charts and thus entered into the West’s archive as the spoils of discovery. The renaming of the world has never stopped. After the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 and settlement by the British settlers became more intensive, townships, streets and regions were renamed after other parts of the British Empire. Some towns took on names which reflected Britian’s battles in other parts of its Empire, such as India, or Britain’s heroes from its various conquests of other nations. Naming the world has been likened by Paulo Freire to claiming the world and claiming those ways of viewing the world that count as legitimate.”
Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies

“Let me hand out your name tags . . .” Somehow we were all named John. Guess it made it easier for Captain Cook to remember each of us in the group that way. I started my Saturday, February 23rd on a walk with the fictional Captain Cook. A tour/theater production of Captain Cook Thinks Again led us on an unpacking of the lasting effects of colonialism. It was lighthearted and full of laughter, but with a serious look and questioning of the renaming, the “discovering”, the power that not only takes over a place, but steps on others in the process. We have seen how colonialism values certain lives and livelihoods over others. We know this and know how the systems continue to create these power structures. I thought it was such a visual on this tour when he had folks physically line up to create a tiered representation of such a hierarchical colonial power structure. After he had everyone in that line stand up and link arms and walk way together. (You can see in the photo below).

I heard a term today in reference to shame and the societal pain that we have in certain ways. It made me think so much of the pain that was created and continues to be created by colonialism. The idea the other is less than, or that one life is more valuable than another. The little violence on the other that creates a broader and harsher sense of shame inside individual hearts, and even broader a societal pain. A broken cord that needs to be repaired. The James Baldwin quote, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” It is a messy business, pain and the feeling of shame. If you know about the compass of shame by Nathanson, that is used in the restorative practice world, it shines a light on the large scale societal pain and response by individuals. It is just another example of why we need more restorative approaches, not only in our schools so we can learn healing ways of responding to shame, but also in our broader society.

The Captain Cook tour was a fun way to learn a little more about New Zealand, to have a good laugh, but more importantly to remember that the past plays a role in the present and we can choose how we want to move into the future together. I think this is a concept New Zealand as a country, or at least some of the folks I have met here are trying to approach their history, even the difficult bits, with ways of healing and moving forward together.

So what’s in a name? What’s in the language we speak? What’s in the culture we uplift? Identity, acceptance, and value are all answers I would give to those questions. The original name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, which in Māori means land of the long white cloud. Personally, I find that a more beautiful name.

I ended my day on Saturday at the Te Matatini Kapa Haka Festival. It was a beautiful evening of Māori music, dress, haka, dance, and culture. A celebration of traditions past, present, and future that are reconnecting a whole new generation, a whole country to their ancestors, their roots.

I love this poem by Maraea Rakuraku and Vana Manasiadis that starts this short collections of poems called tātai whetū seven Māori women poets in translation


She is nothingness
Becoming Space
Becoming the in between
Becoming form
Becoming stars
Becoming nebula. Words
Becoming sentences
Becoming sounds

matter and imprint. Waves light voice earthquake water
She is friction skimming the saddles and sea beds
the asteroid belt agitating. She is no stationary atom.

She is the fixed point on which all revolves. She is the solitary figure,
the crowd in the face. She is all at once and none at all. She is the seven sisters:
the haughty, the indignant, the humbled, the bowed, the fist,
the velvet, the glove. The stretched, the stretching, birthing the new.

Have you seen her chorus? Have you heard their stares? They are calling
for echoes. Their tongues are evening the diphthongs and shouting glaring
coaxing adjusting punching allaying or firing their first syllables.

For it’s here where silence dwells and an elbowing of space can be read
as a declaration of violence. Yet it’s in the aftermath of this act that a birthing
takes place. But, it’s also here where if you listen carefully there is a whispering
that looks like a tsunami sweeping across fields of long grass.

Don’t take cover, humming loader won’t help. Weather is growing over
the old reserves and breakwaters. The energy is shifting. Breath, belly, umbillica,
composition, cry: there are no choices here. The fields need levelling.

The reckoning is here. Turn your head towards where the light burns bright.
There is the distance, flowing, unmoving. She awaits. Truth.

You can’t unsee her, white through your eyelids, open wide.
The electrical impulse. The inverse cast against your skin. Time.

Nor, unknow. Once grasped. Its beat, though irregular, settles, comforts.
Becoming Presence. Becoming. Now.

I want to leave you with a video that was shared with me last week when I visited a well-being social services center serving the urban Māori community: https://loadingdocs.net/soldiersrd/

Names matter. Language matters. Representation matters. Culture matters. It matters when we listen and hear each others stories and value our unique ways of being in the world, as well as valuing our shared mana (worth).

The opinions in this piece are my own.

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