Leave your shoes at the door, not your culture – The church and Māori culture

This is an excerpt from an upcoming eBook and collaboration by Aroha Puketapu with Graeme (Kereama) Smith. Watch this space for more…!

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In this place, we leave our culture at the door and adopt a new one.

I was told this by a well-meaning, non-Māori Christian leader upon entering the church.

I wondered what was wrong with the one I had.

This was very different from the Māori Anglican hahi I grew up in as my form of church at the marae.

But what was this culture?

The assertion that I should leave my culture, my way of being Māori…culture, something that I saw as an extension of my existing spiritual being, at the door to this church seemed strange to me.

This is not a discussion of what religion is right and wrong. Or about which denominations are better or worse.

This is a discussion of identity and my personal experience and conversations with Io Matua the Supreme Being or God my Creator and as a follower of his son Ihu Karaiti.

So I asked another question.

“If my culture is so wrong then can you please show me what is wrong with it?”

After a long while the response was:

“What was the first thing I said to Mohi?”

I was surprised to get a response and quickly looked it up in the Old Testament.

Again, surprised I replied, “You told him to take off his shoes and said you are standing on holy ground.”

Then he went on to say this:

“What is the first thing you do when you enter the wharenui?”

I replied, “You remove your shoes.”

Peace overcame me and I sat enjoying this revelation or return ki te Ao Marama.

Later on, I decided to check in with my father and ask him. I knew the answer but wanted to hear it again from him.

“Why do we take our shoes off before we enter the whare?”

His response was this:

“To leave the puehu or dust we carry from the outside world at the door.”

In other words, when we enter the wharenui we leave the worries and cares of the world at the door and enter the whare, being the domain of peace (Rongomatane), with humility and respect.

Bare feet connects us with the earth.

Marae of old had dirt floors.

This helps us to remember that we are created beings and the ground we tread is only for us to steward while we are here on earth.

The wharenui is the centermost point of all Māori activity.

Our iwi hariru or shake hands at the door, not after the whaikorero.

We don’t eat in our whare.

We mourn our dead and we welcome our newborn in the wharenui.

We celebrate our union in marriage in the wharenui or in days of old consecrate it.

And we karakia or set it aside to pray and talk with Io Matua our Supreme Being Creator.

So what did I learn from this? After that whakawhiti korero or conversation I learned that yes, the wharenui is holy ground.

But I also concluded that this should not be something to fear or leave out of my life.

Rather I should embrace the tikanga and principles that are passed on and taught by those groomed to know.

And not every Māori person regardless of age is groomed to know.

This is an excerpt from an upcoming eBook and collaboration by Aroha Puketapu with Graeme (Kereama) Smith. Watch this space for more…!

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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