I have been a bit haunted these past few weeks.
Last night I went to bed thinking about kehua, or ghosts, and of course had some pretty freaky dreams filled with zombies and hot sweats. As I was falling asleep, I kept thinking that I must have brought some kehua back with me from overseas, and I struggled to give them names and forms. Since getting back to Aotearoa, I have been smoking a lot of other people’s ciggies, and for me at least, I know that smoking cigarettes is about trying to fill a void.
I have not enjoyed thinking about what this void might be, or what over the past few months has enabled this void to appear. I perceive kehua as abstract places in the human psyche that begin to translate into the concrete realm. I know that over the past few months I have most definitely dealt with a type of emotional loss; I lost something I really really value, but at the same time, I have dealt with that loss in a very constructive way. In my dealing with that loss, I regained the aspect of self that had represented the loss of a particular value, and because I did so by surrounding myself with things I value most, rather than the many addictions I have battled with in the past, I regained a more beautiful and authentic version of what I had initially lost.
So when I woke up this morning I started to ponder again about the kehua I have brought back from overseas with me. Did I really bring kehua back, or is it more likely that I had left them behind before I left?
I suppose, if I am at home, and this is where I am experiencing the effects of kehua, then it makes sense that at home is where they are, have been, and continue to be.
So now I have identified that this, or these kehua have been part of the spatial and psychic reality of my home life, and home past, my task now is to begin to exorcise them.
The most pressing problem, or perceived problem that I have always dealt with in Aotearoa New Zealand is material poverty. I would say that I am quite rich of spirit, but that money has never really seemed important to me, mostly because I have not really ever had any. In the past two years I did manage to get my first full-time job as an artist in residence and tutor at an art school. It was really strange to have a lot of money all of a sudden, and even stranger to be offered a job doing what I enjoy the most. However, when things seem too good to be true, well, they are! The trade-off for having a good income, was having to deal with a huge amount of institutional violence in the form of bureaucracy, hierarchies of management and right-wing governance structures that constantly change. The symbolic violence was fairly easy to navigate. I simply ignored it and refused to fill in forms when they did not make sense to me. Whenever I felt bombarded with emails to do a particular thing by a given deadline, I wrote lengthy emails about why I was not prepared to do so. Even though I enjoyed the money, I resented having little time to make the kind of art that I enjoy. More than anything, I resented the feeling of having to hide the empowering pedagogy I had developed and taught. I realised that the violence was not really coming from people, but rather the institutional structure. Still, I did spend a lot of time angry at people.
In the end, I quit my job to pursue research. After all, how can one write theory about empowerment when enmeshed within oppressive structures.
It was not difficult at all to quit my job and then travel through the US and Canada with very little money. I have found that people are very welcoming when they encounter people who sidestep symbols of value like money, and exchange in things of actual value. It is very valuable to a person when they struggle with academic writing, to have someone stay with them who is able to ghostwrite and edit their research. It is very valuable to a person when they have someone stay with them who is able to help them recover from serious illness with relaxed conversation and good energy. People value those who are able to give time and aroha to their children. People value those who will listen to them when they feel unheard. Most of all, when people have more money and possessions than what most would consider normal, value can be found in honesty and the ability to peel back and describe the many layers of illusion that money and objects create; the simple truth of unconditional aroha through friendship can often be a highly sought after prize.
And so after a few weeks of dealing with an ancient addiction, I have come to know again the kehua of no money. It is hard to ignore material poverty when everyone around me struggles to buy kai, or food for their families, fix their homes, or dodge letters from collection agencies. I have most definitely been feeling poor again, even though to look at me, most people who do not know me would think me abundant with material wealth.
To exorcise this kehua; this age old foe of ‘not having enough’, I am going to drive out to Lake Tarawera to spend time with my ancestors. Whilst there I will internalise the many things of value of project into the lives of those around me, and the intrinsic value of knowing myself to be a good person.
In the history of my tribe, Tarawera was a series of four volcanic peaks which erupted in a cataclysmic fury in 1886, killing a huge number of my ancestors. The few who survived, including my great-great-grandmother Rimupae, great-great-grandfather Tene Waitere, and my great grandmother Tuhipo, did so in a meeting house named Hinemihi. Hinemihi now lives in Clandon Park in the UK. The tohunga, or spiritual worker of the time named Tuhoto Ariki, also a relative who survived, had warned of a terrible catastrophe before the eruption. He kept telling my ancestors at the onset of colonisation in New Zealand, that in our pursuit of money and wealth that the new tourism market of the time had begun to generate, things of real value were being lost. The fiction of money has indeed left a terrible scar upon my tribal landscape, and within my mind.
Time for me to finally fill that void of kehua, and beautify that scar.