Making sense of graduating with some messages from the late Rev. Māori Marsden
Updated: Nov 23, 2018
Nā Kama Papa
The further one delves into the mind of another, the more one can swim farther than ever thought possible. I would like to acknowledge the writings of the late Rev. Māori Marsden by discussing my recent experience of graduating in a Bachelor of Arts majoring in te reo Māori and human geography at The University of Waikato. I remember starting Te Tohu Paetahi (one-year te reo Māori programme) as a second language learner in 2015 and thinking ‘oh yeah, I know the basics!’
However, it is a curious thing to say that I have majored in te reo Māori as I would say (and others
may disagree) that it is only now that I have the basics. Based on the idea of how it takes 10,000
hours to become an expert in something – 9 papers and 3 years later – I have merely dented such a
thing with approximately 1500 hours at best. It will take some time yet to clock that up, but I am
content with the ability to converse with, and support my children through school.
Unbeknown to me, I selected Te Tohu Paetahi in search of social justice and cultural revitalisation of a Māori identity, self-esteem and dignity. The beauty of learning te reo was not that I was able to find such a thing as a 'Māori identity' but that I became able to see deeper within, to that which was actually there all along hidden in plain sight.
"Knowledge is a thing of the head, an accumulation of facts. Wisdom is a thing of
the heart. It has its own thought processes. It is there that knowledge is
integrated for this is the centre of one’s being. All things, no matter how
specialised must be connected to a centre… Of itself, such facts constitute an
unorganised set of ideas unrelated to his centre. The centre is where he must
create a system of ideas about himself and the world in order to regulate the direction of his life." (Marsden, 1992; 2003 59)
Graduation day filled me with emotions that I was not quite prepared for. I remember thinking
about university as a place that wasn’t really for ‘my kind’! But it turned out that hours turn into
days, days into weeks, weeks into months and months into years and then there you are! What I
expected to be just another day would turn out to bring me the most contention I can ever
remember experiencing. While I am still unsure as to what wisdom truly is, the late Rev. Māori
Marsden’s words resonate with me especially in terms of a centeredness of values about self and
As 86th of 90 graduates, my family (some of who attended are pictured above) were the most patient I have ever seen. Not only that, they enjoyed waiting for some three to four hours – that is absolutely unheard of! The smiles of delight and conversation about the celebration went on and on.
I felt the bubbling of desire of so many, particularly my family to follow in pathways at university.
This came from an emotional connectedness of selves in the world. Emotions that all were
experiencing simultaneously but on various levels. Through this, my mind and heart both melted
into my own centre and no matter how hard I think about it now – this experience is monumental
and momentary I cannot force it.
"Te Korekore is the realm of potential being. Te Pō is the realm of becoming and Te
Ao Mārama is the realm of being. Through the great path of Tāne linking these
three realms there is a two-way traffic: the spirits of the departed descending to
Hawaiki and that which is in the process of becoming ascending to the world of being."
(Marsden, 1979; 2003 21)
In the Leo season of 1985, my mother and father ensured that I was born into the realm of being (Te
Ao Mārama). A realm of being, created and fashioned by two very hard-core but loving parents.
However, when my father passed away in 1994 I allowed my mind and heart to fall into a darkness
and for a long time existed in what could be called the realm of potential being (Te Korekore).
Fortunately, I came upon what I would understand as the realm of becoming (Te Pō) when the birth
of my eldest child occurred. However, Te Pō was/is a very long road that tested/tests me over and
over again. Again, I am not completely sure as to the many interpretations of Te Ao Mārama but the
late Rev’s words reach out to me in my recent experiences.
My beautiful Aunty attended the graduation ceremony traveling all the way from Moerewa in the
north. In 2016 we had spent time together in Uawa, stories of her doing karanga were celebrated
and highly regarded (mostly by me). I asked her then if she would teach me karanga and she
explained a situation 20 or so years ago that left her unable to continue to practice karanga – so I left
it. When my name was called to go up to be capped and receive my certificate my whole being
silenced the entire crowd. I was struck by the sweetest calling voice of my aunty - my heart
trembled with both fear and awe! Following this was to be waiata tautoko. My mother decided at
the last minute to change the whānau song. So when she sang a lament, I was heart-struck because
unknown to most it was an acknowledgement to my father (and others) whom I have mourned for
many years and also who was and is at the centre of all that I have done and all that I do. My love for
him was celebrated in this way and I have finally regained rays of light that I thought had died too
since his passing 23 years ago.
"Science and technology produce ‘Know-How’ but it is nothing without ‘Know-
Why’. ‘Know-How’ is a means without an end, a mere potentiality. The real
problem is to turn ‘Know-How’ into ‘Know-Why’ – the potential into being
(reality) in order to achieve authentic existence. This process is only possible if we
can visualise and understand the meaning and purpose of life." (Marsden, 1979; 2003 112).
Prior to receiving my certificate, I was informed of the process in which you hand your cap to the
chancellor to be officially capped as a mark of graduating. As I walked up it was so important to me
that my children were with me because for me they had sacrificed a lot of time with their mother
over the course of three years and I felt that they deserved to be celebrated just as much if not more
than I did. After I was capped and handed my certificate I turned to my son and placed my cap on his
This was symbolic for me in two ways. The first was to acknowledge the quest for social justice and
cultural revitalisation by acknowledging the negative nature of stereotypical and racialised issues
that Māori have been experiencing and continue to face. By capping my son he, and all Māori, are
able to think about the ways in which Māori success in a changed world is normalised and natural
because we as influential people/parents etc. no longer aspire to it we know it and expect it in due
course. Interesting to me was the absence of media apart from the live feed setup by the university.
If we think about the ways that mainstream media have dominated the negative grand narrative of
Māori, then those who were present are to be the only ones that would have seen an entire world
filled with a plethora of Māori that do not fit the bill. A sea of successful minorities is a celebration
that is truly celebrated due to the ways in which these are among the groups of ‘very firsts’ for
The second was that while we are able to celebrate Māori success as attainable in a changed world.
We must not allow institutions to become the giver of validation. For me, being capped is cool and
all but it is not the institution that I seek validation from. I respect the institutions ability to achieve
knowing how to do things but with respect it is the people who ‘Know-Why’ that I seek authentic
The capping of my son ultimately comes down to what I see in the words of the late Rev. Māori
Marsden. It is my ‘Know-Why’, it gives me meaning and purpose. In particular this reflects the way in
which I came to the University of Waikato. I assumed that in chasing the ‘Know-How’ of a Māori identity that I would feel more complete. I understand now that it is knowing why being Māori is so important to me that my life is complete, because through this I can see more clearly my world is filled with meaning and purpose.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge one of the families who stood proudly and expressed that their
mokopuna was the first in their family to graduate. This is a real reality for many Māori. In my own
context I graduated as one of three from my koro Te Ao Hou Papa from the Hokianga and one of two
from my nanny Kawe Such of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, but I stood as one of very few if not the first
graduate from my nanny Venus Matthews of Te Aitanga a Hauiti and my koro Jim Pari of Tūhoe. I honor them all at this time. The significance of this is duly noted in the words of Rev. Māori Marsden
which is a major component of the ‘Know-Why’ for myself and many others>
"It is a social principle that when identity, self-esteem and dignity are restored
then crime, violence, sexual abuse, mental and inorganic ill-health and other
negative social conditions are arrested and reversed. In economic terms the
savings would be enormous; in social terms the quality of life would be so
enhanced that psychological security, confidence and peace to the nation would be restored."
(Marsden, 1987; 2003 132-133).
Kama Papa Ngā Puhi | Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei | Te Aitanga a Hauiti | Tūhoe
Kama Papa is a māmā of five, two of which have a rare disorder called ALD. She is a current Masters student at the Unviersity of Waikato and holds a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Te Reo Māori and Human Geography. Her interests include te reo Māori, marginalized Peoples and breaking cycles. These interests are particularly in regards to growing up as a young Māori girl with/from a low socio-economic urban Māori background. She has also endured life-threatening challenges in regards to the health of her two sons which is a key driver for her in pursuing better days and to keep pushing and grinding in all things. Her partner and children whakapapa to Waikato Tainui and they all live together in Kirikiriroa.
Marsden, M. (2003). The woven universe: Selected writings of Rev. Maori Marsden. Otaki: Estate of Rev. Māori Marsden.