maumahara girlie

Mya Morrison-Middleton
&    mix by Sophie Yana Wilson (aniwaniwa)

“Sometimes the memories flow like a river. The currents cross and recross, and when the passions are in full flood they join, swollen, together. You live this long, these things happen. Reality and unreality. Yesterday and today. Madness and sanity. One minute there. Next minute gone. But you still live on and all that life, all that history, is like waves of the sea bursting above you, curling you down into the sand. But somehow you always find yourself bursting above the waves again, raw with the need to breathe in the air. Even if you don’t want it, your body is traitorous. It forces you to fight for breath – madness. People only remember the big events of history. But for a woman, history is intimate. It has to do with the birth of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.”

Woman Far Walking, Witi Ihimaera 2000

GIRLIE is the ingenue. GIRLIE was the daughter of Alice. She lives many lives. Tuberculosis kills her at twenty-nine when she has five young babies. GIRLIE raised all her mokopuna and others too. GIRLIE’s mokopuna all look like her. She has credit card debt that will outlive her. Her and Tamatea travel from Hawaiki to Te Waipounamu in the waka Tākitimu. Her skin is turning into pounamu on a river bed in Murihiku. She is raising nineteen children, some days all they eat is plums off a tree from the backyard. Her father is a lay priest in 1868 when the crown fails to uphold treaty contracts. She pulls fire from her fingernails for Maui. GIRLIE has one wairua and one mauri.


Act One


  1. Te Marie Tau, I Whanau au ki Kaiapoi: The story of Natanahira Waruwarutu, Otago University Press, 2011

She reads the script as a receipt, an extended subtweet of colonisation.

As an essential means of survival, GIRLIE has had hundreds of names and multiple identities. She was born twice, once as Mahalia and secondly as Matilda. She is known as Tilly on the marae and she was born again to the church as Mary. Years later she unlearns shame, finds te ao Māori and becomes Merehana.

Older generations of Māori are often whakamā about discussing their hardships for justified fear of retaliation. How do you then hold anyone's stories other than your own? As soon as you talk about anything deemed Māori, you are taken to be speaking for all Māori. As if there is a singular indigenous voice or experience. As if plurality doesn’t exist.

Often grand narrative structures are attached to these histories, that follow a Western linear trajectory of a single ‘true’ account. Māori history does not operate in this way. It is made of multiple narratives that occasionally cross over. It is moulded to the tempo of shared mythologies.1 Many Māori believe their ancestors walk alongside them, thinly veiled from the ināianei.

The line where her whakapapa transition
from ancestors to myth blurs.
Myth and whaikōrero are framed within a universal whakapapa
A personal narrative structure that western epistemology cannot account for or facilitate.

SCENE ONEExt. Arahura River – Night

GIRLIE is engulfed in water. It is black and slippery against her fingers. She grasps for salvation, reaching for the sky. The current flows around her but she is stuck. Poutini’s hands are clasped around her ankles pulling her deeper into the water. He tugs and she resists, becoming more and more worn out until her head is tilted back gasping for air and her limp body is submerged. Poutini drags her to the depths of the river.

SCENE TWOInt. Hospital – Day

GIRLIE stands behind a basin, she is methodically cleaning medical instruments. Her co-worker, Kahu, is on a break and walks around her idly.

KAHU It was a brutal game last night. We got floored.

Girlie Oh. Damn. It would’ve been a sad night out in Hamilton then.

KAHU I didn’t even get to make it to the pub. I was too late being held up here.

Girlie Oh that’s so sad. I’m sorry.

KAHU Yea there was even a real racist lady too.

Girlie Wait, what? What happened?

KAHU I was walking up to the game with my missus and my best mate and his missus. They’re all white as. The door lady turns and looks just at me and asks me how much I’ve had to drink. She didn’t ask anyone else.

Girlie But you were the one who missed the pub!

KAHU Yea aye. I wanted to dob in my friend who was drunk as just to prove her wrong. People are always treating me like some hori.

Girlie Yea people always act like New Zealand isn’t racist, but it is. Mum is brown and whenever we go to the shops together the shop people treat her so differently. When I go shopping alone they’re always offering help and being so nice straight away! But when I’m with mum they’ll just stand behind the counter and ignore us or follow us around. It’s rude as.


Act Two


  1. The policy of ‘pepper-potting’ was introduced into New Zealand during the 1950s and 60s and was designed to integrate Māori families into non-Māori communities. It was hoped that by deliberately placing urban Māori migrants within predominantly non-Māori communities it would assist the process of assimilation by allowing Māori to adopt western lifestyles. In one sense the policy was successful in that isolating Māori from each other (particularly within urban areas) broke down traditional lifestyles and unity.
  2. Angela, W. (2009). In/Visible Sight: The Mixed Descent Families of Southern New Zealand. New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books, 146.
  3. Habitus is a concept outlined by Pierre Bourdieu as the physical embodiment of cultural capital (symbolic elements such as skills, tastes, posture, clothing, mannerisms, material belongings, credentials, etc. that one acquires through being part of a particular social class)

The collision of colonisation, capitalism and western individualism has divided the indigenous subject. Assimilation tactics, such as pepper potting2, have over many generations created a contemporary indigenous subjectivity which is disconnected from land and people and has a fractured sense of self.

During assimilation processes, such as pepper potting, a great deal of shame was attached to being of mixed Māori and Pākehā descent. Many urban migrants who held whakapapa ties to the south were careful to hide their iwi affiliations. Many, for example, inherited important taonga such as harakeke baskets and mats but these were kept out of sight in the home and rarely placed on display.3 Adopting the habitus4 of being white and middle class was a survival tactic by many mixed Māori. The end result being a safe (economically and socially) invisibility within pākehā New Zealand in order to gain access to education and employment.

Bodies entrenched with histories
The numbness of western individualism
How to be mixed, a hybrid 101
Performing an identity
The anxiety of being fractured into markers of a race
The matrix of whiteness.
You can have memories that are not yours
Rewiring the mamae in our DNA
How to find an identity again
Cataloguing the self in pākehā constructs of history
‘Kia ora, my baby’ GIRLIE says when she gets in the door
GIRLIE doesn’t really know where her mokopuna end and she begins

SCENE ONEExt. Urupā – Day

GIRLIE enters the urupā with her moko and sister on either side. They walk slowly from stone to stone searching.

Girlie She said they'd be by the Kōwhai tre

MOKOI think that's a pohutukawa over there so this must be the kowhai.

Girlie I didn't know kowhai lost their leaves in winter

MOKO They must do because here she is. Mahalia...and there's Alice.

They all join around the two gravestones and stare.

Girlie You can see that's your great great grandmother's grave because it's the biggest. She was the matriarch.

SCENE TWO Int. Split setting, two teen bedrooms – Night

GIRLIE is laying on her bed on her laptop. Boy is sitting at his computer desk.

Boy Hey! Are you online right now?

Girlie Hey! Yeah, sorry I left Facebook for a bit. How are you?

Boy I’m not too bad. Just Monday night doing homework lol and yourself?

Girlie Well, it’s a Monday night so not great but not bad. I’m already excited for the weekend though.

Boy Oh really? What’s on the weekend?

Girlie There’s an eighteenth on Friday which should be good.

Boy Oh awesome! Who’s eighteenth?

Girlie Charlotte. She was in year thirteen last year.

Boy Oh yea. I know her, she was in my photography class. (PAUSE) Is she only just turning 18?

Girlie Apparently. Crazy aye?

Boy Yeah that doesn’t make sense. Unless she is like really brainy or something haha.

Girlie Wouldn’t surprise me.

Boy Yeah I don’t really know her. Anyway. Did you have a fun Thursday night?

Girlie Thursday night? I can’t even remember what I did. (PAUSE) I probably did. (PAUSE) Did you?

Boy Oh I saw you walking down the street with your friend. I think it was Thursday. Or was it Wednesday? I’m not sure. But yea I think I just got really fucked up that night (LAUGHS).

Girlie Ah right. Yeah I went to a gig. It was alright. (PAUSE) Studying hard then?

Boy Oh always, you know me. I’m just study study study. I live for that shit.

Girlie Hell yess. That’s pretty much my favourite thing to do. Anyway, I’m going to go! Have a good night and see you tomorrow?

Boy Yeah have an awesome sleep and shit. I will see you tomorrow. I’m pumped as fuck for class (LAUGHS). Just before you go I just want to say that I think you are like so incredibly beautiful and have for like the last year but just have been too much of a pussy to say anything to your face at school. Do reckon you might want to go out with me?

Girlie Oh wow thanks man. That just made my night. I actually just started seeing someone though. I guess I’ll see you tomorrow (LAUGHS).

Boy See you tomorrow.

SCENE THREE Int. High school classroom – Day

GIRLIE anxiously enters the classroom. The teacher is discussing Once Were Warriors and the effects of urbanisation on Māori. Most of the class aren’t listening except for a few who look annoyed.

Boy interrupts the teacher

Boy Why do we have to be sorry for what people in the past did? I didn't do anything. It's not fair that we have to take the blame for things that happened before we were even born. I wasn't on Captain Cook’s ship. If the English didn't come here they...

Boy looks directly at GIRLIE

Boy (CONTINUES) They would've still been wearing grass skirts and playing in the mud without us. We gave them all civilisation.


Act Three


  1. Cherryl Smith, Cultures of Collecting in Resistance: An Indigenous Response to Neoliberalism, edited by Maria Bargh, 2007
  2. Dr Te Kani Kingi, Indigeneity and Māori Mental Health, 2005, 4

“Both colonisation and globalisation were born out of the antithesis to the idea of groundedness to a place.”5

By returning to discursive sites of colonial trauma (history, institutions, genealogy) we can decolonise modes of belonging to both whenua, whakapapa and te ao.

“There is at least one primary characteristic of being indigenous, that is, the relationship that indigenous people have with the land and with natural resources. It is not uncommon for indigenous groups to hold significant views on the land which extend to more than just its capital or economic value and which are more often than not considered from a spiritual and even maternal perspective. Indeed, to many indigenous people, land is not simply a means through physical life is sustained but likewise a mechanism for spiritual, emotional, and cultural enhancement. It is not surprising therefore, that land loss has impacted on indigenous groups and in such a profound way. And, that compensation which is calculated in fiscal terms only can tend to miss the point or at least how the value of indigenous land is determined.”6

Like if you ever got a growling for playing in the mattress room at the marae.

Ko Rakahuri tōku awa
The biographies of space and land
Dissociating and reassociating to locations
Pepper potting

How many more generations of disconnection will there be?

GIRLIE holds on to the warmth of her tūpuna, like sun heated river water slipping through her fingers. When GIRLIE thinks about dying she imagines her eyelids sprayed with dirt. There will be soil in her nose. Her finger nails will clog up. Kawakawa roots will twist curiously through her arteries. She can't imagine laying frigidly underneath the earth.

SCENE ONEInt. Marae – Day

Four women stand in the wharekai, one is holding a Vacuum cleaner. Three are manuhiri. They are all talking about GIRLIE. Aunty recalls the house GIRLIE raised nineteen children in, with sacks over the windows and no electricity. She jibes that there were no WINZ benefits back then.

SCENE TWO Ext. Urupā – Day

GIRLIE (as a child) walks around the edges of the urupā. She traces the wire fence, head down searching for worms and things to eat. Her Aunty showed her an edible plant earlier in the day, one with long leaves and white flowers, and she's been searching for it all day. GIRLIE’s Mum follows her from the car, video camera in hand, recording this endearing ritual. When GIRLIE gets to the gate to leave she stops her search and turns back to look at the gravestones. Her eyes trace the sun touching the stones of her whānau, the ones she recognises, and the grass below them. She washes her hands without fussing and turns to leave.


Nana tells GIRLIE how proud she makes her. She is on the phone to her cousin on the marae and gushes over her, she refers to as her ‘little whitebait.’ They are in the car driving over a bridge on the way to Kaiapoi.

AUNTYThis is your river. We swim here in summer.

NANAWe’re on your whenua now, bub.


Act Four


  1. Kāi Tahu Writing and Cross-Cultural Communication Author(s): Michael J. Stevens Source: Journal of New Zealand Literature: JNZL, No. 28, Part 2: Special Issue: Cultures of Print in Colonial New Zealand (2010), pp. 130-157 Published by: Journal of New Zealand Literature and hosted by Victoria University of Wellington
  2. Decolonizing Cultures in the Pacific; Reading History and Trauma in Contemporary Fiction by Susan Y. Najita (2006)
  3. Tau, Rawiri Te Marie, Nga pikituroa o Ngai Tahu, Dunedin, N.Z., University of Otago Press, 2003

“Kāi Tahu encountered, traded, fought and intermarried with takata pora (literally, boat men) earlier than most other Māori groups. This lead to material and cultural developments within Kāi Tahu that continue to set present-day iwi members apart from those of other iwi. One obvious example is the biological consequence of widespread and sustained interracial intimacy. There was, as a result, also an earlier uptake of the English language and quicker relinquishment of te reo rangatira amongst Kāi Tahu compared with other iwi. Indeed, it is estimated that the intergenerational transfer of te reo rangatira as the main language of communication has not occurred within Kāi Tahu communities for 80 years in some areas, and up to 130 years in others.”7

The erasure of native languages has caused immeasurable cultural alienation and devastation caused by ultimately ‘weakening the cultural emotional and psychic links from one generation to the next.’ 8

A milieu of discourses intersect under post colonial aotearoa's colonial authority edifying hybrid cohabitation. Māori are both assimilated into pākehā society and yet generally face subtle forms of restriction enforced from pedagogic and state power structures. Māori minds are seen as less precious than their divisible bodies.

SCENE ONEInt. Kitchen - Night

An empty kitchen. Clean but cheerless.

Yellow light bleeds in from the streetlights outside. The TV is audible from the living room.

GIRLIE sits at the table, staring intently at the floor. Her Mum is standing at the sink doing the dishes.

Girlie(QUIETLY) It’s like there is a room and everyone is inside talking. You’re inside and so are all the Aunties. Everyone is eating and laughing. But I’m sitting outside the room.

MUM Uh huh.

Girlie It's like I can see in through the windows and I can see everyone all happy and warm, but I’m still outside. Like there is something big I’m missing.

MUM You’re not missing anything baby.

Girlie I know. Its part of me. The missing bit. It’s just been misplaced or something. People are always confused when they find out I am Māori. They always ask me ‘are you really?’ or if I can speak Māori. When I say I can’t they look at me so weirdly. As if I shouldn’t even identify as Māori if i can’t speak the language. I know how light I am, maybe they are right.

MUM But you are GIRLIE. There’s just no other way around it.

Girlie But without te reo I don’t know how to be Māori. I feel like people want me to just erase it.

SCENE TWOInt. Rural classroom – Day

GIRLIE sits at a long desk writing in a book of equations. Her cousins sit next to her on either side. They are talking about swimming in the river after school. GIRLIE accidentally uses a word of reo, not knowing the English translation. The teacher overhears her and her fingers are struck repeatedly with a cane.

SCENE THREE Ext. Arahura River – Day

Tamaahua has chased Poutini across the country searching for GIRLIE. He reaches the river and narrowly misses Poutini who eludes him. GIRLIE is laying on the riverbed. Her skin is ghostly white like inanga. Tamaahua approaches her body, he looks alarmed. Her skin is cold and smooth. He touches her cheek only to realise she is pounamu.

Trying to cut: life from death,
Māori from Pākeha,
trauma from history,
emotion from discourse
and myth from fact,
is like cutting water and mercury with a knife and fork.9
She feels protected from the apocalypse in te waipounamu
because she was born swathed in oral myths.
When the locusts come
Hine-nui-te-pō will welcome her back to the void,
with her tuākana in tow.
Arms open, her skin will smell like salt and pomegranate seeds.