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Sport 40: 2012


page 6


I became one of those girls who take great inspiration and comfort from the stories of grandmothers and great-grandmothers. These stories were missing when I was very young so, while I did not think I was much in need of a mother, I thought the world a bland and frustrated sort of a thing. Something was missing, I knew. It was as if I had access only to a watered-down version of things—washed-out pastels and black-and-white surfaces.

As a teenager I became reacquainted with the mother I had never known and a heritage that was richer than I had imagined. Mothers brought with them whole tribes, I discovered. Aunts and uncles! A grandmother! And stories about the people who had gone before. There was the one about the great-grandmother who taught her son to pig hunt in the bush because her husband was too busy with the drink; the one about the great-great-grandmother who bestowed her land to the hapü and took my own grandmother to look after when her mother died. We have a sepia photo of this kuia from a film she was in—fierce brow, sharp but nearly blind eyes, strong chin jutting forth a challenge. I named my first daughter after her simply for the staunchness that emanated from her image. You needed that kind of kaha, I believed, to get by in this world. My grandmother, of course, followed in her footsteps. Having been whangaied by others, she looked after everyone, her own and not her own, spending lifetimes between marae and courts and social workers, until her heart gave way.

There were countless ancestors like them, these immediate grand- mothers: providers all, warriors some, women who spent their days in service and survival, leadership and sacrifice. They were extraordinary women to look up to. My life has always been too soft and comfortable to make me their equal. This inheritance, though, has been even stronger than the stilted upbringing. These grandmothers brought me a world shot through with bold colour. They suggested origins that ranged from earth, sea and mountain, to the vastness of space: te pö, they whispered, te korekore. Sometimes they gave me access to te ao marama—the world of light, where one can see clearly.

Nature and nurture tugged at each other and came to a sort of page 7 uneasy truce. I’m learning to live with the disagreements between one inheritance and the other. ‘Harmony is the acceptance of contradictory things,’ says Shekhar Kapur, and ‘ultimately the universe is a contradiction’.1 My universe certainly is.