In 1992 to 93 my cousin Quentin Ngaronoa came to live with us in our grandparents old homestead back home in New Zealand, I was 22 at the time and my cousin was 21 years old. The house still stands today. It was the centre of my family whenever we would come together for Christmas, New years, and other celebrations whilst visiting our grandparents. Not long after my grandfather died in 1992 we had several cousins come to stay with us in the home. Over time I moved into my grandfathers room. There were two single beds in the room and an office adjoining where my grandfather would do his lessons for Church as he was a Priest.
My cousin slept in my grandfathers room with me. He slept on the bed that looks out into the garden facing the door whilst I had the bed against the back wall closer to the office door. That night we settled into bed and said our good nights to each other. Usually the house is cold and it can get completely dark at night save for the street light shining onto the gardens and the main road. All was quiet and silent that night as my grandparents home is in a rural farming area and isolated.
The following morning as I woke the sun shimmered through the window in the room. I sat up and saw my cousin looking at me with a blank face, dank and drained staring at me as if he had seen a ghost. I smiled at him and said “Good morning cuz. Did you have a good sleep?” His reply was sombre and somewhat distorted and afraid. He said that he didn’t sleep well at all. His face was ashen in a tone of fear and it was as if he had experienced something beyond meaning and understanding. I wasn’t sure what he meant so he elaborated more. He told me that during his sleep someone or something put pressure on his head and whole body pushing him into the bed. He wasn’t able to call out to me or do anything to break free from whatever it was that was putting pressure on him. It was as if time had stopped.
He continued to add light to the experience and said I got out of the bed, turned on the light, walked over to his bed and started to sweep whatever it was off his bed, removing whatever it was that was putting pressure on him. He said I started to pray over his bed. I responded and said that I only remember getting up and turning the light on and then turning the light off again and go back to bed. This was all I remembered of that night. But as I thought about it I started to question why would I get up and turn the light on and then off again? It didn’t make sense. There must have been a reason for me to do this. He replied that after I prayed and swiped his bed I told him to go back to sleep and turned the light off and went back to bed.
We definitely felt perplexed at that time and frightened from the experience. My cousin didn’t sleep again in that room the following night and I don’t think he has ever done so since that time. He lives in Australia now and has his own family. Although I haven’t seen him in near 20 years we still chat and think about this time. I chatted with him on Facebook the other day and he said that he thinks often of that time too. He also said that maybe this experienced helped him become more spiritually and mentally focused and strong within himself and his own spirituality. I think maybe he is right because whatever it was that night definitely made us look deeply into who we are spirituality and mentally as Maori, as cousins, as family and as people. My cousin is a proud father and husband now and I guess that is what this all means in life to be mature enough to be a strong Maori man: te taha wairua, hinengaro, whanau, iwi me nga hapu (spiritually, mentally, family, and among his people). There is a big lesson in this and I’m glad we are able to talk openly and freely about it to help us become stronger people especially in the world of being Maori.
I wrote this story because the same type of spiritual encounters happen here in Cambodia too. Many friends and family here have shared their experiences with nature and the spirit world in Cambodia as I’m sure it is the same in many Asian and Indigenous peoples. A lot of this material is sometimes undocumented and forgotten until something happens and it disturbs peoples sense of reality and beliefs. When I first came to Cambodia I quickly picked up on the deep spiritual identity that this country has, and from my own experiences back home, I also got to appreciate and respect the cultural and religious beliefs of Khmer people. When I speak of this with family here they share their experiences too opening the door of awe, respect and understanding of each other. I feel that we should not apologise for who we are and the experiences we have because of our beliefs on such matters. It is our right to believe and experience what others might deem untrue and superstition. To me superstition is a colonial word to try and rationalise and subjugate the realities of indigenous peoples around the world. We must own our stories and be proud of the experiences we have in life.
Finally, thank you to my cousin Quentin for letting me write about this and share it with a wider audience. With love Paddy.