Growing towards Haukāinga

Growing towards Haukāinga
by Serena Ngaio Simmons

I grow more and more full as the months pass. I visited my haukāinga, the ancestral home of my hapu and our tūpuna, during the two week mid semester break this past March. The drive took eight hours from restless Auckland to the stillness of Te Araroa, way out on the East Coast. It is a different type of silence one experiences when arriving there. The ocean and your thoughts are all the sounds you get, maybe the occasional fantail bird.

The marae can be a scary place for people who are not used to responsibility. I was given a break this time, despite my age, mainly because of how long I have been separated from our tikanga and culture. I will know that next time around where to go and what to do.

On the marae, everyone has a job and every small detail is necessary for the well being of the marae. We help each other out, no matter how meagre we may think our contributions, we help.


Our maunga tapu and resting place for many of our tūpuna, Whetumatarau, towers over the small township of Te Araroa, he kaitiaki for the generations of whanau who once lived there and their descendants. Te moana crashes in the background against the rocks and sand. Our ancestor, Tuwhakairiora, is there on the hilltop watching his ope taua practice on the plains below in days long passed. The wairua is constant and always present in this place. Our culture and tikanga have not died out here. Te mana wāhine is strong in our iwi and hapu. The reo is alive and well with my people on the coast. Half of my blood and bone comes from this part of Aotearoa, and I am proud to be from here.


Te Reo in My Tongue

I am grateful. I am so so so grateful. I have been in Aotearoa since mid February of this year as an exchange student. While some of the courses I’m enrolled in are far from ideal due to the old-dead-white-male literary death grip and an insistence on zero to no communication between instructors and students, my experience with my Maori language class at the university and outside of it has been nothing short of amazing. I am currently taking an introduction to spoken Maori at school and an additional Maori language course outside of school called Te Ataarangi, situated in South Auckland.

I cannot describe the joy I feel the four days out of the week when I wake up knowing that I have to speak te reo that day and that there will be other Maori youth alongside me doing the exact same thing. I consider myself lucky to have several family members who are fluent in our language and who are willing to practice with me all day, everyday.


This partial immersion into the reo has prepared me for places like my haukāinga, where almost everyone has at least some knowledge of the language. In addition to learning the language, I have learned more about the customs of not only Maori as a whole, but about specific iwi and hapu and their individual tikanga. In Te Ao Maori, the process of learning and the transference of knowledge is a sacred one, therefore increasing the importance of this understanding.

I take my learning seriously, but do not hoard it.

I share with people who want to know and with people who don’t want to know, but need to know.

We learn from each other.


I learn from my teacher at school and my relatives about different structures and protocols from my region, and put that knowledge into practice when we go down the coast. I speak my language and dialect as much as I possibly can, whether it is when I am joking with my aunty at home or when I am saying ‘goodnight’ in te reo to my best friend in Spain and having her reply in Spanish. I exchange mātauranga with all types of people ranging from my fellow Maori classmates to my Kanaka Maoli brother all the way back on O’ahu motu.

Since I have been here, I have not stopped learning about my culture, my people, and myself.

Since I have been here, I am finding it easier to speak and understand my language and the types of knowledge that only our language can unlock.

I am humbled.

I am excited.

I cannot wait to get out the door every day and feast on everything my kaiako me ngā hoa have to teach me.

I cannot wait to share it.

I am so blessed to call this home.


all photos by author

One thought on “Growing towards Haukāinga

  1. Beautiful, Serena! Your journey to rediscovering te reo and regaining those pieces of yourself is pretty profound. Gives me the urge and desire to do the same with olelo and go back to the old ways! Excited to read more!


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