“I am, We are, He/She/It is”: Learnings from the South Pacific

IMAG0166.jpgby Talitha Fraser with Kaumatua Gregg Morris

Allow me to invite you to join in for a game of kilikiti, to sing and dance with us, to walkabout…  sit here at the campfire and I will tell you story…

Coranderrk was one of several Aboriginal missions set up in Victoria .  Wurundjeri leaders William Barak and Simon Wonga advocated for Aboriginal people to live in their own place, their own way. Many times to petition the Victorian Government Barak and Wonga would gather a delegation together, speak to motivate and inspire them, then they would walk together the 60 miles (12 hours) to deliver the message: “Please leave us alone, give us our land back, don’t take it away again”. Leaders of one people to another, approaching as equal and in person.

The Mau was a passive resistance movement seeking Samoan Independence.  When hundreds of members were arrested, hundreds more turned themselves in until all were released because there were more than the system could contain.  People stopped paying taxes and gave the money to the Mau. All local Councils and committees stopped meeting, children stopped turning up to Government run schools which were forced to close, instead of working in the plantations to harvest bananas and coconuts the women would play kilikiti all day.

Communities at Ratana, Hiruhārama, and Parihaka in New Zealand saw a farm converted to a township as taking people was more urgent than the harvest; a poet-led commune of Maori and Pakeha living together; an invading army greeted on the marae with songs, food, and children holding white feathers of peace running counter to the cultural tradition of utu.

All of these expressions of non-violent resistance share elements in common:

  • they were born out of an intention to create safe space – refuge for the dispossessed. Any political activism or engagement brought about was a by-product, not an intention, of what these places existed to protect.
  • they were led by or held in close relationship with indigenous peoples of the land.
  • there was, be it tendril or tap root, a connection to and influence of Christian belief.

Having people elected over you who are imposing laws and structures that are not aligned with what we know about how to live in harmony with each other and with the land is not a new idea.  Romans 12:20 says: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  How may we engage a world that is broken, challenging what comes our way – to change it or be unchanged by it – preserving our peace and not be overcome?

As High Chief and leader of the Mau, Tupua Tamasese Leolofi III, lay dying his last words were, “My blood has been spilt for Samoa. I am proud to give it. Do not dream of avenging it, as it was spilt in peace. If I die, peace must be maintained at any price.”  The message of  Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi, leaders of Parihaka: “Just as night is the bringer of day, so too is death and struggle the bringer of life.”

We need to tend to the sovereignty of our own belief in what is right, to the inspiration of ideals bigger and beyond ourselves, to seek the Spirit and be led thereby to feel and act. Who do you look to, to define who you are? Come, sit here at the campfire and tell me a story…

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