“Although it is small, it is greenstone.”
This is one of the first whakataukīs (proverbs) I learned in my Māori course this year, and the only one I memorised, because it’s so simple yet perfect and profound.
We applied it to teaching – perhaps a student made a few edits to a paper that caused significant improvements. Or for ourselves, we took small steps to get to know individual characteristics about each student or learn bits of Māori. They are small efforts that are valued and can end up making a big difference.
Pounamu is a taonga, or treasure, to Ngāi Tahu, the main Māori tribe on the South Island. Greenstone is also just a very New Zealand “thing.” You see lots of people wearing pounamu pendents, often carved into different shapes: a swirly Koru loop symbolising new life, growth, strength, and peace; a fish hook Matau representing good luck and safe travels across water; a Tiki person associated with fertility.
I especially identified with the Koru when I first moved to New Zealand, and I bought a fake one at the dollar shop during my first week, which I hung in my room all year. I later discovered, however, that Māori believe pounamu should never be bought for oneself, but should only be gifted. Traditionally, once the greenstone was crafted into a powerful symbol, it was given to a spiritual tribesmen, who then handed down the taonga to a young person, and is continually passed from one generation to the next.
I never told anyone, but I thought to myself a long time ago if I could get one thing from New Zealand, it would be pounamu. I wanted one, but greenstone is expensive, and for me, it was a fantasy genie wish. Tonight, Aladdin showed up.
The friends I have made here, especially those in Christian Union, are amazing, and, right now, I am overwhelmed by their love and thoughtfulness. Jovita and Rachel, and all the others who helped pull it off, planned a surprise birthday/going away celebration for me. Shamatay ruined the surprise a few days ago in the stress of planning how to not get me to take her to the airport after all (not cool, but oh well). I tried to play along, though, and I still knew no specific details.
Literally every night this week, I’ve had a different outing or party where I have had to say goodbye to people, but many of them secretly knew this final farewell was still ahead. We enjoyed a typical New Zealand summer barbeque, and then, since it was my party after all, I introduced the newbies to my all time favourite game: lap tag (think rough and tumble wrestling over risque, you dirty minds).
What an honour, that they had all come to celebrate me; I was so tickled just to be with them. They filled me with the extra dose of joyful brightness that I get when I feel really loved. It makes the leaving harder. In and outside of life group, they have embraced my quirks, my energy and enthusiasm (eg my American volume issues), and the honesty I bring to my life and faith. They have consistently supported me, and they’re simply good people.
Before heading over to watch Love Actually at the outdoor summer theatre, they presented a brown paper bag with a “Ngāi Tahu Pounamu” label. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but when I looked inside, I saw a square cardboard jewellery box. My heart rose in my chest as I pulled it out and opened it. Holy guacamole – they had gotten a Toki pounamu pendent for me!
It is perfect, exactly what I had dreamt of. A simple rectangle, traditionally used for carving canoes and detailing. In Ariana’s card to me, she wrote, “The Toki represents strength, determination, and courage. These are qualities we see in you and hope it will be a daily reminder of this.” Though it won’t be a normal “thing” to hang a relatively large semi-precious stone from my neck in the States, I intend to wear it most of the time. It represents these friends, this year, and characteristics I will need to summon within myself as I venture into the next life season. I can’t believe it is mine to protect, treasure, and, eventually, pass on to the next generation.
Thank you for the memories I have formed with each of you this year and for such a special send off!