On Te Hokinga Mai, Māori share their journeys of reconnecting with whenua and whakapapa in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same.
Kathleen Mantel – an award-winning Māori filmmaker – admits that she was raised disconnected from her whakapapa Māori. Her koro was part of the generation who were beaten in school for speaking te reo, so he never taught her mum their Ngāti Kahungunu mita, nor te reo Māori at all. “He was traumatised as a child, I suppose, and he passed that onto my mother,” says Mantel. “He didn’t see the value in being Māori because he was taught there was no value in it.” As a result, she says, “my brother and I have had to find our own path.” For her, that has looked like “learning te reo Māori on and off for 14 years” and becoming a Māori storyteller. But Mantel accepts that her reconnection haerenga is different to that of other tāngata whenua. Her newest show – Te Hokinga Mai The Return – deeply explores that kaupapa.
Te Hokinga Mai: The Return
Te Hokinga Mai – airing 8pm Monday nights until December 18 on Whakaata Māori and Māori+ – is a celebration of eight people or communities and their distinct journeys reconnecting with their whakapapa Māori. “Some people are moving back to the whenua, and others are just finding out who their iwi are,” says Mantel. Two of the eight episodes are deep dives into people uncovering their whakapapa, while all eight document people returning to their tūrangawaewae. And since every episode is about a different rohe, localised mita is heard in each.
Returning home is as much about reconnecting with whakapapa as it is about rejecting the disconnection forced upon Māori by colonisation and urban drift. “I wanted to normalise the experience of disconnection to show you shouldn’t be embarrassed about who you are,” says Mantel. The process of returning home looks different in each episode, but Mantel sees each as equally valid.
“It’s OK wherever you are on that reconnecting journey; we all have really different stories,” she says. By documenting diverse experiences, Te Hokinga Mai highlights that everyone with whakapapa Māori is equally tāngata whenua, no matter how steeped they are in te reo me ōna tikanga. Mantel says, “To be Māori doesn’t mean you have to be brought up on the pā. It doesn’t mean you have to have the reo.” Shyla Jolley – who shares her own journey in episode five – agrees. “If you whakapapa Māori, you are enough – that’s the biggest message of the show. You’re enough to wear your moko, to speak your reo and return to your whenua,” she says.
Returning to stolen land
Episode six (airing Monday, December 4) follows Ngahina returning to their tūrangawaewae, Parihaka, after living overseas. This episode uncovers a depressing dynamic in that Ngahina purchased stolen land to return home. Mantel explains, “A lot of people, when they’re returning home, are purchasing the land that was stolen off them in the first place – which is horrible!” Similarly, in episode one, two wāhine who returned to Waimārama detailed a disagreement with a local farmer about who owns the whenua.
Those you are returning to: the ahikā/haukainga
Alongside outlining stories about people returning home, Te Hokinga Mai is also about “the people you are returning to – the ahikā”, explains Mantel. “Sometimes it is really challenging for both sides,” she says. “People go away and come back with these ideas, but the people who have kept the fires burning – even through real hard times – say taihoa.” Through her new show, Mantel hopes to build an understanding that the perspectives of both the haukainga and the returnees are valid.
An uncertain welcome
Episode five (airing Monday, November 27) follows Jolley, including her journey to reconnect with Ngāti Apakura in Kawhia. One of her whanaunga was rejected by the ahikā when they returned home in the 1990s, which made Jolley wonder if she would be accepted in 2023. “The fear of not being welcome and wanted holds us back,” she tells The Spinoff. But times have changed, and Jolley was welcomed back as a whanaunga.
As part of her reconnection with Ngāti Apakura, she learnt about the atrocities that happened at Rangiaowhia during the Waikato War, even learning specifically about the experience of her tupuna Charles Cowell during the Crown invasion. Without giving away too many details, Mantel explains, “It was horrific what happened to Ngāti Apakura and everyone should know that story.”
Jolley’s episode of Te Hokinga Mai – which also includes a trip to Rotorua – was only one part of her reconnection haerenga that will culminate in Jolley and her daughter Derrin getting their moko kauae later this month. “Doing this journey has given me the strength to be confident in getting my moko kauae. I don’t know te reo fluently, but I feel like I am enough now,” she says.
Who is the show for?
Mantel and Jolley speak to the mamae and intergenerational trauma their parents’ and grandparents’ generations experienced from the violent suppression of their indigenous identity – and this show is in honour of them. Speaking about her mum, Mantel explains, “In our whānau, it was her father’s trauma at being forced to leave his reo and tikanga at the school gate that was passed onto her. I don’t want her generation to feel any sense of shame about what was done to them.”
As well as being for the kaumātua who were culturally suppressed, Te Hokinga Mai is also for rangatahi and tamariki. Both Jolley and Mantel speak affectionately about their children as part of the generation most confident in their indigeneity since the urban drift. “The next generation is coming through, blazing a new courageous, empowering, positive, fearless path. Not me! But my kids’ generation. They are fierce. They are teaching us and doing it with humility and kindness,” says Mantel.
Te Hokinga Mai The Return documents eight journeys of Māori reconnecting with their whenua and whakapapa. In making the show, Mantel aimed to demystify and normalise returning to one’s tūrangawaewae in the hopes of inspiring other tāngata whenua to make journeys of their own. Jolley has a similar hope for Te Hokinga Mai. “What I’m really hoping from these episodes is that other people will also feel encouraged to do their own haerenga – go back home to put their feet on the whenua, in the sea and the grass.”
Te Hokinga Mai The Return airs on Māori+ and Whakaata Māori at 8pm every Monday until December 18.
This is Public Interest Journalism supported by NZ On Air.