I grew up not knowing I was Māori.

One day, when I was 18 or so, my father passed a comment and the vegetables across the dinner table.

 “Are we Māori, Dad? I asked.

 “Yes,” he replied. “Now give me the toti /salt.” And he would say no more. It took decades for me to understand his hesitation. After the passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act, 1907, being Māori was not a wise thing. It was not unusual for teachers to beat in school children for speaking Te Reo Māori (the Māori language), and Māori people were looked down upon by many Pākeha (white people). For many of my father’s generation, getting on in life meant leaving their culture behind or, at the very least, putting it one side, in being more Pākeha than the Pākeha. Taha Māori went underground for many years.

By the 1980s, things were beginning to change. People were talking about the Te Tiriti O Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi), and the Māori language was starting its slow return to the front of the stage. Opportunities began coming to me to engage. However, I was not sure I wanted to walk in such a foreign and somehow unsettling land. I, who had studied five other European languages, ironically felt a distinct unease every time I went near Te reo Māori. Here there be dragons.

 But I went that way anyway, dragged kicking, screaming and fearful, onto a path I have since realised I was taking anyway.

 By the beginning of 2015, I was living back in my birthplace of Ranfurly, in the Maniototo district of Central Otago. I was working as a contractor to Ngāi Tahu, the iwi (tribe) whose rohe (area) is Te Wahi Pounamu, the South Island. I had almost completed my work, developing a set of affirmation cards based on IO Matua Kore, The spiritual tradition predating colonial times.

 My Māori friends, many of whom were matekite (seers), were telling me to go home (to the Far North).

 Why? I would ask.

Because then you will know who you are.

I  know who I am, I would reply.

You need to go home.

In August 2015 after a journey of 6 months, I made it to the Hokianga and settled in Rawene. Then I began to engage with my own (whakapapa) genealogy. In the three years I was there, I found the trail back to my waka ( canoe) and the name of the tupuna (ancestor) who had arrived with the great Polynesian navigator, Kupe. I learned of my descent from a line of Te Rarawa chiefs, and my connection to that place and to Te Puna I Te Ao Marama.

 A pepeha is a way of describing yourself and who you are, which ties you to iwi and to the whenau (land) of your people.

I am the sum of all who have gone before me, and who stand with me even now.


Tihei mauri ora

Ko IO te matua

Ko Tangaroa raua ko Tāwhirimātea raua ko Tāne Mahuta ngā atua

Ko te tiirairaka me te kahu me te tohora ngā kaitiaki

I te taha o toku papa

Ko Pukerangatira ki Tauwhare te maunga

Ko Hokianga te moana

 Ko Punehu te awa

Ko Matawhaorua te waka

Ko Waiparera te marae

Ko Te Rarawa te iwi

Ko Tahaawai te hapu

Ko Paiaha te whānau

I te taha o toku mama

Ko Takitimu te maunga

Ko Awarua te moana

Ko Ōreti te awa

Ko Endeavour te waka

Ko Ngāti Wikitoria te iwi

Ko Groves te hapu

Ko Fox te whānau

Ko Tony Bridge toku ingoa

He tu poto tēnei

Ki te whakautu

Nga mihi kua mihia.

Tēna koutou, tēna koutou, tēna koutou katoa.

Ki ngā aihua maha

Haere, haere, haere.

Who I am

Behold my right to speak

IO is the  Creator

Tangaroa, Tāwhirimātea and Tāne Mahuta are my gods

The fantail, hawk and albatross are my guides

On my father’s side

Pukerangatira to Tauwhare is the mountain

Hokianga is the ocean

Punehu is the river

Matawhaorua is the canoe

Waiparera is my marae

Te Rarawa is my  tribe

Tahaawai is my hapu

Paiha is my family

On my mother’s side

Takitimu is my mountain

Awarua is the water

Ōreti is my river

Endeavour is my canoe

Victorian settlers is my tribe

Groves is my sub-tribe

Fox is my family

I am Tony Bridge

I stand for a short time

To speak to you

My respects to those who have spoken

Greetings, greetings to you, greetings to all of you

To those who have gone before

Welcome, welcome, welcome.