As most of you know we have hurtled through the first half of a jam packed 2018, which was capped off by our 11th National Pacific Business Trust Awards in late June. I can now take just about a five-minute breath to set our course for the remainder of the year before we launch ourselves into our next big thing.
There have been lots of big things lately… really big things, which we are really proud of. But for me, in the aftermath of the Awards and with the commencement of Cook Islands’ Language Week, one quite small thing has started to snowball into a bigger thing. This ‘small’ thing emerged when I was trying to capture all the really big, amazing and awesome things in one quite small editorial piece I had to write for the Awards programme. I had the sentiment, tone and words, but no matter what hit the page it was lacking. No matter how many times I started and restarted hacking away at my keyboard, it was missing something fundamental. The essence of the message just wasn’t there, and I couldn’t find the heart in what I was writing. Time was running out and print deadlines were looming large and still, I couldn’t put my finger on why I couldn’t finish the piece. After all, I had all the words. I always have the words. And then it struck me. I had the words, but they were English words. These were not the right words.
Not for the first time in my life, I felt acutely the absence of my father’s language. It was however, definitely the first time I felt this absence viscerally, followed by an almost desperate yearning to connect with that language and near foot-stomping frustration that I simply did not have the right words. So… I did what most would do in a similarly frustrated state, I phoned a friend. A very special Kūki ‘Āirani friend who is really more like family and is infinitely kind, giving, and empathetic and so naturally she just got my semi-coherent rambling about trying to find some words… any words in Māori Kūki ‘Āirani. And with that, she instructed me to leave it with her and hung up. An hour passed, and a message came saying she was meeting with one of the Papas because her words weren’t enough and she wanted it to be special and the words had to be the right words.
An email pinged in my inbox. The printers needed the finished editorial piece in the morning. No later. There were to be no more extensions. A phone call from my friend followed. The Papa wanted to give me a Pe’e and that this would be special and the words would be the right words. I started hacking away at my keyboard again. Confident that the right words were coming…and so my English words started to flow. It was like the piece was writing itself and then it was finished with a snug gap for Papa’s Pe’e. My English would bookend his beautiful Pe’e and it would be perfect and apt and the community would see in words how much I care about my heritage and the work that we do. It was past midnight and so I fell into bed willing the Pe’e to appear in my inbox by morning.
Morning came and I emailed my Awards editorial for proofing and layout. I included a hopeful line in the body of the email about the words that were to come, but it was too late. At 10pm that night (well after the print deadline had passed) an email pinged in my inbox…the words had arrived…and what beautiful words they were.
E atua tutara ko koe e lo
Tangaroa e, tutara oi te mareva o te ao
Ko koe e Rongo, te atua o te tua moana
Ko te kaveinga teia I te teretere’anga no taku ui tupuna
Mei Avaiki pa mamao
Ki Avaiki, e tae roa atu ki Avaiki tautau
Tutara ei I te au oneone tei pueu iaia
Tutara ei I te au Ngakau ora
E Akaatinga’anga rangatira
E tupuanga tiratiratu
E toa uritumu
Ko toku ia ui tupuna
Ko Taku ia e mou nei
Ko toku ia ririnui
Supreme God, God of the Land, God of the Sea
He who has guided our ancestors across the long seas
From Avaiki, To our Islands and to Aotearoa
We have overcome many challenges
We are armed by the courage of our tupuna
Strengthened by their commitment
Inspired by their knowledge
We are warriors
We are their warriors
Hold tight to this inheritance
It is a strength to know who we are and where we have come from…
These are the perfect words. Absent from the Awards editorial, but they were still perfect. Most importantly they reminded me that my words were equally perfect even in English, because my strength and authenticity lies in who I am and where I have come from. They weren’t late, but rather arrived at just the right time…I don’t need my work or my commitment to be validated in the language of my grandfather and father, because I had this timely reminder of who I am and the journey that brought me into being.
The language is mine and I have made the commitment to learn it, but for myself and on my own terms and in my own time. I am no more or no less because in this moment I cannot speak the words, but I do feel them… in my bones.
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