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An Indigenous construct by Olly Ohlson 30 March 2014


ohunga are highly trained and experienced practitioners in different persuasions like healing, astronomy, building construction, boat building, carving, weaving to name a few. The Tohunga Suppression Act of 1907 made it illegal for them to continue their work. One of my ancestors by the name of Rua Kenana (you can Google him) was put in prison because he would not comply. He encouraged our Tūhoe people to resist the Pakeha (White Fellas) government who were only

after their land. By the time he was released the people had lost their lands to the government under a law of confiscation. They had lost their economic base and were forced to live a life of poverty. Worse still - they lost hope. Within a short period, they were totally Christianafied by the missionaries who were ambassadors for the government. The word Tohunga means ‘keepers of the hidden symbolic languages’ which contained the precious knowledge and spiritual beliefs of the wise ancestors. The Tohunga Suppression Act was revoked in 1964. I was ten years old when my father said to mum on his death bed, ‘Don’t let him (me) become a Christian.’ By 1964 I was 20 years old and I knew I couldn’t really read – I’d been parroting and rote learning everything throughout my school years. Through a lot of effort and determination, I managed to get into teachers training college! While I struggled to maintain good grades in written assignments,

Above and next page: Participants expressing what they’d learnt through dance and poetry at a hui (gathering) at the Ohinemutu marae in Rotorua, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. Images supplied

I excelled in practical teaching in the classroom and I graduated! But I still struggled with reading. By 1970, I knew I could read anything and I left the teaching profession, which I loved dearly. I bought a dozen different Bibles and read them all. I wanted to understand why my father didn’t want me to be a Christian. After 4 years of formal theological and religious studies, I spent a further 5 years studying history to track down the man at the centre of Christianity – Jesus. I did not find any conclusive evidence as to his real existence. Many others have been down the same road and come to the same conclusion. Nowadays I view Jesus in the same way I look at our culture heroes. So I returned to Maori spirituality to see if my people had a philosophy and belief system of their own - and I found it! It had been sitting right under my nose. It was in the stories my parents and relations told me as I was growing up. It was in the songs, the poetry, the chants, the dances, the drama and even in the arts and craft work I’d been exposed to as a child. I lived right beside a whare tipuna, which is a carved ancestral meeting house. These buildings are cultural monuments and libraries which contain the entire belief and spiritual system. It was literally right at my door step. And there are many of these cultural libraries around our country. My name is Te Hatapihopatapui Olly Ohlson. I am the youngest of 24 children. My father was a Norwegian Maori and my mother was a full blooded Maori. Dad was raised under the teachings of Io and it was he who influenced me immensely. Before I came along, he had gone through phases of aggressiveness against

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our mother. But this soon abated as he became more and more immersed in the teachings and took ownership of them. I have resurrected them in a construct which I call Mauri Hauora based on ancient wisdom perspectives. Its main challenge is a statement that says – every human being is perfect. I have spent many years and tears over the simple truths contained in this belief system – tears of joy and incredulity. At no stage does it put down or belittle anyone. It uplifts and motivates, it inspires and shows initiates their possible potential. The beautifully coloured rafters and beams inside a carved meeting house show visual patterns which emphasise cause and effect. They tell us that very thought and decision we make sets up a reaction and therefore a consequence. The different solid symbols around the walls of the ancestral house glow with their many truths known only to Tohunga and initiates. Oral stories flow like the melody of a song from the mouths of our story tellers – our cultural ambassadors. I am proud to say that I carry the

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title of a Kaiako – a teacher learner. I am not a Tohunga. My people had no name for the teachings which I have put together in a package I call Mauri Hauora which means ‘the health of your consciousness energy.’ It is a cultural framework which I have used to help people from all walks of life change their behaviours and solve problems and deal with a variety of issues within their lives and within their businesses. It’s application is multiple. At its centre is the realization of who you are and can be. There is a whakatauki; a wise saying that says, ‘Hold on to your precious dreams, goals and aspirations because they make your heart sing like a bell bird. After all; the greatest thing in life is you and your happiness. When you are happy you will automatically affect your family. And when they are happy they automatically affect the community.’ My dream of dreams is to help other indigenous people use my framework to re-examine their own stories, dreams, songs, dances and visual arts and crafts to reveal

their spiritual messages and beliefs and, like me, put them into a cultural package in a way that it can understood and taught. My wife and I are happy to travel and run workshops. I still see the affects of the teachings on my people. They stand taller after the first session. I’ve witnessed a spark of life return to eyes that were once clouded, I’ve been right there when someone has had a lightning eureka moment and I’ve sat beside great big strong gang members as they’ve cried tears of joy and understanding. All of the people I’ve just described are Maori. Cultural teachings have their own energy and way of affecting its people automatically. I’m not surprised though. I remember when I first began this work how much it lifted me up because it came from my ancestors. It was not imposed on me from an outside culture. I still carried the collective spirit back then. I still do. All we need do as Kaiako i.e. learner teachers, is expose our people to them once again, sit back and watch the sparks fly. It still amazes me.

An indigenous construct  

by Olly Ohlson 30 March 2014 Tohunga are highly trained and experienced practitioners in different persuasions like healing, astronomy, buil...