What does home mean to people?
Is it the place where one grew up? The place where one is living now? The place where one’s ancestors lived?
Or is home defined by the people with whom one lives together? Family. Friends. Neighbours. Those people surely are needed to make a simple geographical location into a home. Connection to a place is often tied to experiences, shared between a certain group of people.
Māori culture and literature can show us how ambivalent and varied the perception of home may be. As Polynesians, Māori have a nomadic history where mobility and the impetus to find a new home play a huge role. Even today, after living in Aotearoa for hundreds of years, the mythical home island of Hawaiki (where Māori originally came from) is central to Māori spirituality and folklore. The connection to one’s ancestors and family also is an important part of Māori culture. Whakapapa (genealogy) is an integral part of identity for Māori people.
“Transient” is a short story about the uprooting and feeling of disconnection a lot of Māori (and Indigenous people in general) are confronted with. It mostly takes place in New York and is written from the perspective of a Māori woman living in the US.
Deep down I ache constantly for home and family. I have flown back a few times but things have changed since I left. It’s clear to me that my homesickness is not just longing for a place; it’s a yearning for people and a time that have passed, that no longer exist and that can never be reached again.(p. 147)
This part of the short story shows the struggle with being disconnected from the place where, and people with whom, you feel at home. Even though the protagonist has been living in the States for five years already, she is still homesick and feels foreign in her new “home”. This may also be connected to the struggle of all Māori people after the arrival of the people who are now called Pākehā. Like a lot of other Indigenous peoples, Māori had their home stolen (in a geographical and cultural sense). Their land was forcefully taken from them or was purloined through unfair contracts (most guarantees to Māori in those contracts were not maintained). Additionally, Māori people were (directly or indireclty) forced to live like Pākehā people did and were encouraged to abandon their spiritual beliefs. These experiences may have led Māori people to travel to other countries in the hope of finding a new home, a chance to get different tools to fight for their rights back in Aotearoa, or as a means of proving their worth (e.g. the Māori Battalion in the Second World War).
An uprooting is also shown in the short story through the waka huia, an item which may have been stolen and is now exhibited in the museum the protagonist decided to visit. A waka huia is an intimate object which contains personal treasures and is exchanged between different generations, families and tribes. It was often displayed hanging from the ceiling in traditional Māori whare (houses), hence part of a family’s home. In my opinion the waka huia symbolizes the violation of Māori people through colonialism and imperialism. Both the waka huia and the protagonist are uprooted from their homes and stuck in a foreign place. While one could argue that the protagonist is studying in the States of her own volition, I believe that it shows that even though Māori people aren’t direct colonial subjects in today’s world, the collective uprooting that was done to them in the past and the social and cultural problems caused by that still have considerable repercussions on contemporary Māori society.
In conclusion, I think that “Transient” does a good job of showing the relation of Māori to their home and the personal problems and feelings they are confronted with due to the continuous violent occupation of their home. It’s not possible to understand the problems Māori face in today’s world and the society of Aotearoa without understanding the connection between Māori and their home, which is why I believe that it’s important to read literature written by Māori authors.