Whilst growing up we were told many stories of the spirit world pertaining to being Maori that still have an influence in our lives to this day. As much as the world hides away from the notion of being spiritual, spirituality and connected to our past life, being Maori in itself clearly makes that distinction about being spiritual and connected nature. Although I live in Cambodia and much of the culture, spirituality and traditions are very different I can’t help but feel that there are some similarities to that of Maori culture and tradition. It has made me appreciate the richness of diversity, culture, tradition and spirituality of Khmer people irrespective of ethnicity, religion, faith, politics and social differences.
Living in Cambodia I have forged myself a new life, a new family and a new reality that is at large very connected to me being Maori outside of my own Maori context; therefore over time I got to thinking about my understanding of land and ownership and identity. It is something just as important to my family back home too. Of course land and spirituality resonates in Cambodia too as I began to see similar patterns and themes among the indigenous and non indigenous people where our sense of spirituality and identity plays an important role in who we are.
In this story the ‘Blue Line – Kahurangi’ I have taken it from the Maori TV series that first aired about 10 years ago called ‘Mataku’. Mataku the literally means to fear or be afraid. Or to fear the unknown. Rightly named for such a TV series as there was much controversy over the stories aired simply because they portrayed Maori, in the eyes of mainstream media, government, and some Pakeha (European Settlers), as a backward culture, superstitious, un-Christian, and an outdated people. Nonetheless each story resonated with the realities of what it means to be Maori and spirituality and this story talks about our spiritual and ancestral connection to the land we come from.
Synopsis: ‘The Blue Line – Kahurangi’
Spirits are restless when a property development company begins to clear some land in order to build a casino. A young executive is possessed by the spirit of an old Maori woman, who insists that the land remain sacred and untouched, and she will do whatever it takes to see that it does!
The story in itself teaches us about our ancestral connection to the land to where we come from. During the colonial wars between Maori and the British Crown land had been wrongfully taken from Maori by force. In this story an elderly woman is killed for her land, prior to her death she curses the British Solider responsible ensuring that the land will go back to the rightful owners in time. Over 100 years later the same piece of land is for sale and under construction to build a casino. Maori protesters are demonstrating against the ownership of the land in that it was wrongfully taken. A woman who is on the staff of the corporate company gradually begins to understand who she is and her connection to her own people and seeks revenge for her ancestors.
When I first came to Cambodia I gradually came to understand the concept of land and the common themes it had with indigenous peoples. Issues of land grabbing, deforestation, land confiscation, and intimidation by the rich and government authorities, became a common obstacle that indigenous and the poor faced when trying to keep their land and homes. I also recall the Australian Embassy coming under criticism when there was a campaign by the government to remove the poor from squatting on land not belonging to them so that the Australian Government can build their new embassy. This was a clear example over the controversies that outside governments contribute to the confiscation of land for their own use.
Land in Cambodia is seen as a commodity and many of the indigenous peoples have disputed how the government has taken their land for commercial and private use. To counteract the governments and rich peoples acquisition of their land by intimidation, illegal means and violence the indigenous peoples have also resorted to seeking spiritual guidance in protecting their land. Sacrifices of animals are made and prayers are made to the spirits for guidance, help and retribution.
One might see this approach as superstitious but to me personally conducting rituals to protect their land is just as important as one would write in a land title and deed as a form of protection. Our spiritual connection to the land is what makes us who we are as people of the land. Nonetheless I’m saddened that not all people see it this way. The indigenous peoples lives and identity is surrounded and connected to the land they have lived on for hundreds of years and to call it superstitious for conducting such rituals is just another form of neo-colonialism to dismiss the traditions and rights of indigenous peoples.
Being Maori or Cambodian or any other race isn’t just about being a specific identity when it comes to our homes and land. It is about asserting and protecting a heritage that is at the very core of who we are. I feel that spirituality and land is one of the same thing. It grounds us and brings us closer to our ancestors gone before us.