Tūrangawaewae – a place to stand

“Inā kei te mohio koe ko wai koe, I anga mai koe i hea, kei te mohio koe. Kei te anga atu ki hea”
Maori Proverb

“If you know who you are and where you are from, then you will know where you are going”
English Translation

Who am I? And where do I belong in this world?
These kinds of questions have been asked for many years, and people have looked to the arts, sciences and religions for answers – to offer insight into life, what is the purpose of it and what does it all mean?

What makes me different from you? What’s your story and how does it connect with mine? How different would my life be if I turn left instead of right, or choose A instead of B? Where am I going and why?

These questions keep people up at night, lying awake wondering what choices to make to get the most out of their lives. How do I know I’m making the right choices? Where do I want to go and what do I want to achieve?

To understand where we are going, first we must know where we have come from – to understand our whakapapa, our genealogy, and our whenua, our land. We want a sense of belonging in the world, to feel like we matter and we have a place within society. We want to contribute, and to be an important part of a team or community.

We want Tūrangawaewae, a place to stand.

“Tūrangawaewae is one of the most well-known and powerful Māori concepts.  Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel empowered and connected. They are our foundation, our place in the world, our home” (Te Ahukaramū, 2007).

We are connected to our whenua, our land, because we understand that we are the land. All life is born from the womb of Papatūānuku, mother earth, and is nurtured by the land. The land nourishes the people, and the people nourish the land. This is why it’s so important in Maori culture to be returned to the land when one dies, and to offer the placenta (which is also termed whenua in the Maori language) back to the earth, to nourish the future generations. We are nourished by our ancestors as our ancestors nourish the whenua/land that nourishes us, and as the whenua/placenta nourishes the future generations.

This is our whakapapa, our genealogy. But whakapapa is so much more than genealogy in the sense of the english definition – it is not simply a family tree or culture lineage, it is a way to understand the interconnectedness of the world. Whakapapa connects us to the universe, our ancestors, our past, present and future. Our whakapapa helps us to understand who we are and where we fit in the world. Our whakapapa is our Tūrangawaewae, our place to stand.

The picture above is of Mount Taranaki (viewed from Taranaki township). Taranaki is my Tūrangawaewae – my place to stand. It is my whenua (land), my maunga (mountain) and my iwi (tribe). This is my connection to my land and my connection to my ancestors.

The cover photo of this blog post (the photo at the top) is Mount Maunganui, my home town and the place that I have lived for the longest (I have lived all over New Zealand). These are the two most important places in New Zealand to me.

Although I have not been as physically connected to my Maori lineage as I wish I had been, it was when I started studying Midwifery, and learned the belief systems and childbirth practices of Maori, that I identified common beliefs, and I realised how spiritually connected I was, and had always been, with my culture. The belief of people as the children of the earth and the tapu (sacred) nature of pregnancy and childbirth, the customs and traditions, all resonated with me perfectly.

I felt connected to my culture, and therefore understood my place in the world a little bit more. Through my journey as a Midwife, I rediscovered this vital piece of who I was, and felt overwhelmingly grateful for this amazing and sacred profession.

This is something I have reflected upon a lot as of late, as I have pondered what gives people the urge to leave their motherland, what makes people want to travel? I often hear people talking about discovering their place in the world and I wonder if this is just an expression, or if they truly are searching for their place in the world, and have yet to discover it.

I too have an urge to travel, but I do not have an urge to find my place in the world, as that journey is complete. I am enjoying exploring the world, but I am very aware of where I have come from. I am not searching to find myself, or to find my place in the world, I know where I have come from and I know where I am going. 

I have my place to stand, my tūrangawaewae. I am honoured and proud to call Aotearoa/New Zealand my home.

I carry my culture, my ancestors and my land with me, wherever I go.

“Ko au te whenua, Ko te whenua ko au” Maori Proverb

“I am the land and the land is me” English Translation




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