The Last Word

By Keegan Henman | Posted: Wednesday May 23, 2018

Tn r ttou, ko ng uri n maruwehi, n maru tuna. Greetings to you all - descendants of awe inspiring ancestors.

My name is Keegan Henman and, as you may already know, I am the “token Maori” at the school. Now, I could explain to you the 5 steps to being great or a great man, but I have no idea how to explain that to you, I was born like this. I could tell you that drugs are bad and homework is important and, while that is true, I am instead going to tell you about an experiment conducted with fleas and through this experiment I will tell you a lesson I have learnt that all of you can take with you.

Now, if you and I had the physiology of a flea we could jump home and back in just a few minutes. Fleas have the ability to jump an astounding 6 metres with one jump, and as disgusting as fleas are, that is undoubtedly amazing. So, the scientists placed some fleas in a box the size of a kitchen sink and upon it they placed a glass lid. The fleas would jump and jump and jump, however, they would always hit their heads on the lid. Two weeks later some of the fleas began to die so they removed the glass lid from the box. To their surprise, the fleas would only jump to where they perceived the glass lid to be, regardless of their ability to jump metres out of the box.

Because I am Maori and because I do Maori things and speak Maori there is automatically a glass lid placed upon me; glass lids like the barrage of comments I received after the academic assembly where, after I received my Excellence endorsed NCEA Level two, I had a number of people come up to me and say “Did you actually get that?”

Views like these put a lid on people like me. This becomes heavier through messages from politicians and social media. We become victims to a social construct of cultural hegemony. I see a lid of expectations supported by the statistics where my people are over- represented in the criminal justice system, under-represented in education and more susceptible to suicide by just being young, male and Māori. This is a normality that we have become moulded too.

However, I will not become one of those statistics because I am not a product of my circumstances. I am not a product of a broken home; I am in fact the proud product of a navigator.

Imagine a world where you did not have a compass. A world where Siri could not tell you when to turn on Google maps, yet you had the skills, the knowledge and the bravery to navigate the oceans by looking at the stars. Such was the ability of my ancestors-the navigators. They had an incredible ability to maintain high trust relationships. There would have been days when people died, when people were born, days when they had to throw their dead over board and days when people had nothing to eat. The one thing that everyone would have wanted to do was to throw the navigator overboard; but they knew that if they threw the navigator overboard, then everybody would have perished.

I feel most, if not all of us here, no matter where you have come from, have lost the ability to navigate. Now, our people jump on a boat and sail to an island that they can see. The future is now the weekend, and the weekend after that and the weekend after that.

I am not really talking about tangible islands. I am talking about navigating your life for a better future and maintaining an intergenerational vision further than the weekend, like my tupuna, my ancestors did when they navigated the oceans. They were thinking generations ahead of us, about how to sustain life.

So, my key message to you is that we all have the ability within to navigate ourselves and our whanau towards a better future. One of the most important tools that I use to navigate my life is my reo, my language. Toi tu te kupu, toi tu te mana, toi tu te whenua. This means -hold fast to our culture, for without language, without spirit and without land, the essence of being us as a people would no longer exist.

Today, we need to we need to remember these lessons from the past through our ancestors’ words so that we are not just thinking about ourselves and not just for our children or grandchildren, but for the descendants we will never meet.