Ngatiawa community

Sunday, October 14

Dinner in the warm kitchen at Ngatiawa Today we left Otuku Marae and traveled to the Ngatiawa (the g is silent) community. When we first arrived, the sparseness hit us immediately. The housing, mostly under construction, held no enduring touch of creativity, as if it slid off the symmetrical 90 degree angles and bare complexion. Small patches of grass in sight were swallowed by dusty pathways and a parking area. I was overpowered by confusion with a greater sense of doubt. The article I’d read didn’t help much, as I had formulated an image of a presumptuous community who embraces intentionality, with all of the self-righteous attitudes that so often overshadow the good. It was also apparently a Pakeha community that ran itself as a Marae, and we’d already lived in Maori Maraes for several nights on various occasions. The concept of biculturalism was as foreign to me as the woman standing outside of our bus with the patchwork dress and horn-rimmed glasses.

We were led inside a large room with a few worn couches, the space immediately creating a bit of an echo as 20-some of us shuffled in. Glancing around the crowd about two-thirds our size, I found kind eyes and welcoming smiles. An obviously Pakeha man, looking the same age as a few of my peers, began speaking in Maori. We’d experienced a powhiri (Maori welcoming ceremony) several times before. The first few times, the words of speeches worked themselves through our inexperienced ears. Although they held no translated meeting, they held meaning in the sounds. As Maori words lift off the tongue, there’s a rounded echo quality, as if each sound reverberates off the sides of the mouth as they escape. Yet as we’ve sat through these lengthy foreign speeches before, I must admit they’ve lost a bit of the romantic quality they once held. However, this Pakeha man spoke the language as well as some Maori. Each sound had been practiced, each word studied. And, unlike a few others on Maraes, it added a quality in its brevity. It was followed by the waiata (a Maori song) ‘Te Aroha’.  What came out wasn’t presumptuousness, but humility.

Over the next few days we spent at Ngatiawa, this humility continued to reveal itselfJen Shenk conquers the mountain! in various ways. From the meals that were just as delicious as they were organic, to the 3-a-day chapel services held in the gorgeous newly built wooden structure. These times of worship were my favorite. The flickering of the flames that each person held seemed to dance to the Taize-style chants. It wasn’t the four part harmony that non-Mennonites and non-singers like myself were terrified by. Rather, these simple repeating phrases unified all of our voices together: the visitors and the residents sharing in one experience. Each time the phrase is sung, it reaches a depth of meaning that only comes with repetition.

When we left, we had visited a community rich with experiences and passion. I’m sure that each of us was inspired by every person we met, as they shared their stories of radicalism and migration. Some were even arrested as a result of their determination towards change. Justin Duckworth, the founder of Ngatiawa encouraged us, saying, “Disobey your parents. There’s nothing worse than a 20-something year old who’s boring”.

-Jennifer Shenk


Sunday, October 21

 Once Were Warriors

From the mountains of the north

To the slums of the south

From the blood of the mighty

To the labor of the weak

From the deeps of the forest

To the shades in the jails

From the pride of their ancestors

To the shame of their mothers

From the line of the brave

To the ones who gave up hope

Once were Power

Once was Fire

Once were Warriors

– Litza Laboriel

Litza makes a new friend