How different this idea is for us as Cook Islanders, for us as Maori in that we are taught not to stand on our own two feet, we are instead taught to stand on the shoulders of others. We are taught through our akapapa’anga, that we are connected shoulder to feet to shoulder to feet, on a long line of people before us and we are preparing as well to build shoulders to carry the generation quickly coming after us.
Our interdependence on those before us is captured in this idea of climbing on the back and shoulders of others, and then stabilising our feet as we work together to find balance. I cannot do this on my own and neither should I because isolation has literally been the death of too many of us and especially our men.
Isolation has isolated us from help, isolated us from talking about the pain in our hearts and isolated us from reaching out to those before us for the help we need. Connection we know has always been our strength and resilience factor. The opposite is also true, isolation has been our greatest harm and has been the silent killer of our relationships, self-worth, self-esteem and change.
As Maori we understand that we cannot do it on our own because we have learned that together we can achieve so much more. Ultimately we are left with our own choices to make in life, but when we remember that choice will have an effect on my connection to my past, or the shoulders I now stand on and my future, then I am not alone in my experience anymore. In fact I am not alone at all.
Too often people suffer in our communities and especially our men, suffer in silence and self-medicate with alcohol and drugs and the language they speak fluently is the language of control and violence.
This is despite the resilience factor built around Tuakana Teina or e vaka eke noa. We are in this Vaka together, we have always understood that for all the resources we didn’t have isolated by ocean in the middle of the Pacific we had each other. And that interdependence meant we could overcome any obstacle and why we are still hear today.
Why, I ask, did we change? Why did we listen to the voice of others who said stand alone, stand on your own two feet and be your own man or woman you can do it on your own? Because experience would tell us it’s simply not true.
As our prisons slowly fill with more young lives we understand we have a growing problem. As more young men slip out of school with few, if any, qualifications or future we know we have a problem. When more and more turn to self-medicating to numb the lack of purpose or direction we know we have a problem. And when yet another man takes his life, thinking it was a situation without hope or connection, we struggle to understand why or how we have a problem.
Visiting the prison on a Sunday afternoon, I sat there counting the lives caught up in the men now locked up. There were more than 60 of us there sharing a meal and talking, more than 60 lives in jail as well as the offender. Because when one life gets locked up every life attached to them goes to prison as well. Men, women and children are dragged into those cells for the sentence of the offender and we desperately need a paradigm shift in how we deal with the rehabilitation and integration of offenders or we will need to budget for a bigger prison and more lives locked up in the very near future. Men, we have some work to do and there is little time to waste as one generation slips away and another rises without a shoulder to stand on.
Our men’s group should be up and running again by the end of next week, but it is only part of the answer. The Blue Edge programme has begun in Puaikura, working with our youth and that, too, is only part of the answer. Men, it’s time to get honest with each other, with your partners and honest with God and seek out shoulders to stand on because you don’t have to do it alone, in fact none of us do.
Others are looking to you for somewhere to stand also and they needed that yesterday and not today. E vaka eke noa..we are in this Vaka together and as Moses declared. your God carried you as a father carries his son, we don’t have to do it alone anymore.