Cultural commonalities strengthen the Maori-Tamil bond

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Young Ashtaen Harcourt speaking at the Maori-Tamil Hui held at the Waiteti Marae in Rotorua on July 2, 2022 (Photo Supplied)

Ashtaen Harcourt
Recorded at Rotorua on July 2, 2022

When I was first asked to give a speech about Maori and Tamil unity, I thought that it was a very difficult subject. I struggled to find anything to say, but then remembered a quote from the poem ‘The Human Family,’ by American Memoirist and Poet Maya Angelou:

I note the obvious differences
Between each sort and type,
But we are more alike, my friends,
Than we are unalike.

And that gave me some inspiration to find out what is common between the two cultures.

My mother is Tamil and when I was younger, my nanny, Marion, was Maori, and so I have some experience of both cultures. She is my second mother and her six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, is my sister.  One of the things I noticed about both cultures is that they value family: close family and extended family as well.

I read a Maori quote, ‘Ko te whanau te Timatanga o te Oranga, ko te aroha te Mutunga: Family is where life begins and love is where it ends.’ So, family is very important, and in both cultures you often find big extended families with lots of cousin-brothers and cousin-sisters and family members live close to each other. Grandchildren often live with or near their grandparents.

Both cultures respect their elders. For instance, everyone who is 20 or more years older than oneself is called ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle.’ It does not matter if we have never met them before. They are always ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle’ and we may never even learn their names. Sounds familiar? When every older person is ‘aunty’ or ‘uncle,’ you will agree that it is easier to make a connection with them.

Revered citizens

In both cultures, senior citizens are revered. Tamils touch the feet of elders, especially parents and grandparents, before seeking their blessing. Maori respect for their kaumatua or elders stretches right back to the beginning of their history. For example, Māui was rescued and raised by his grandfather Tamanui-ki-te-rangi and he gained knowledge from his kuia (female elders), including the secret of fire. Even today young people, like Maui, rely on elders for advice and guidance. Old people can be very wise they are respected in both Tamil and Maori cultures.

Tamils and Maori are also both social peoples. Both cultures have big extensive social networks and love a get-together especially if food is involved and almost always it is. For instance,

Matariki and Puthandu

New Year is always a big celebration. In Maori, it is known as Matariki while Tamils call it Puthandu and it is a time of coming together for lots of eating and traditional activities. And talking about traditions, for both Tamils and Maori heritage is very important

Language is especially meaningful to Tamils and Maori. Both cultures believe that it is important that the young learn their language, speak it, write it, cherish it. Tamil is actually the world’s oldest language still regularly spoken.

So, we can see that our two cultures have much in common and I am sure that each can learn a lot from the other and note that Maori and Tamils are “more alike, my friends, than we are unlike.”

The above was the speech delivered by  Ashtaen Harcourt at the Waiteti Marae in Rotorua on July 2, 2022, during a three-day Hui between the members of the Aotearoa New Zealand Federation of Tamil Sangams (ANTS) hosted by the Deputy Police Commissioner (Iwi and Communities) Wallace Haumaha, Chairman of the Waiteti Marae Trust A full report appeared in our July 15, 2022, Digital Edition. It can also be read in our Web Archives.

About Ashtaen Harcourt

Ten-year-old Ashtaen Harcourt, a student at Hillcrest Normal School in Hamilton is the son of Mark Harcourt (Professor of Human Resource Management and Undergraduate Convenor for Human Resource Management at Waikato University based in Hamilton) and Sandra Shanmugam a Chartered Accountant and a Fellow of CPA Australia.

Tweenager Ashtaen is an orator, having won four entries in 20221 in the Hamilton Speech Competitions for his age group, including best characterisation, best poem, best prose reading, and best sight reading.  This year, he won two first places in the Hamilton Speech Competitions for his age group.  He won the main trophy in both years.

Ashtaen follows elder sister Nisha, an honours student at Victoria University Law and a member of the New Zealand team at the International Jessup Competition, She trained at Chapman Tripp,  and is currently Executive Officer of the United Nations Association of New Zealand.

Ashtaen’s speech on Unity at the Pongal Festival held in Parliament in 2021 was well received.

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