Te Ika-a-Maui, Aotearoa New Zealand
May 30, 2021


This year, I'd finally lived in Aotearoa New Zealand long enough to qualify for the free, government provided course in Te Reo Maori, the language of the Maori people - New Zealand's first (well, technically second) people.

If you've been reading these letters for years, you know how much learning the language is a core part of how I've traveled - I'm not an extrovert, I'm not going talk to a million people or take culture courses.

But language – everything you need to know about a people and a place is in there. It's the words that exist. The ones that don't. Every major construct and power dynamic in society is enshrined in language. It tells you what people value, what was important enough to differentiate between.

And it helps you find the history that's hiding right in front of you.

A few months ago, I spent a lovely weekend in Tōtaranui campground, off in the Northeastern corner of Abel Tasman national park. When I wrote about it, it took a lot of effort for me to remember what letters went in what order. Which vowel had the macron? Was it totaranui or totoranui?

But now I understand. The Tōtara is a giant, gorgeous redwood tree, native to Aotearoa. I hiked among them, marveled at their size, and in one section, their charred trunks and fresh green leaves. They are astounding trees, and maybe my favorites in the country.

Nui, meanwhile means abundant, large, big.

Right. The place with tons of giant Tōtara trees - it's literally just called "lots of big Tōtara trees." Now it's impossible to forget.

Aotearoa is a place covered with Maori names. Whanganui. Takaka. Onetangi. Otago. Mangere. And until very recently, they've just been a collection of syllables to memorize.

Now, they become names, places, stories.

And it is so, so lovely.

Have a named week,


p.s. The best thing I saw all week was the weird, hilarious and so, so, authentic Natalie Tran of Community Channel. Enjoy "tell them I said hi." :)

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