When the news started filtering through from late 2007 about the dispute over James Takamore’s tūpāpaku I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Being a Christchurch-raised urban Māori with a Pākehā mum, with almost no contact with my hapū or iwi until my 20s I suspected that, however the dispute ended up, the adult children of James Takamore would suffer disenfranchisement, loss and estrangement from their whakapapa, and that this suffering would last generations. 7 years later, and the niceties of the legal issues and disputes aside, I still have the same feeling.
A small digression to put my sinking feeling into context. I remember the one and only time I visited my father’s marae and kāinga in Ahipara as a 7 year old skinny white Māori girl with patent leather shoes (really, and in a navy-blue sailor suit, no less) how terrifying and strange it all was. And that was with people who cared about me, and wanted me to be there. It wash’t until my nephew died some 8 years later that I returned, and then again, another several years after that until a third visit. And then another, and then another. I’d love to say that me and my hapū are tight now, but it wouldn’t be strictly true. I have some pretty good relationships now, but the real-life ties (as opposed to the metaphysical ones) are still pretty fragile. That’s often the way for us urban-borns. Of course I can’t presume to speak for all of us, but some of us will never truly make those ties that enable us to really be part of the functional group. We will remain liminal creatures, some talking up the mysterious nature of the connection we feel with the ancestral land of our tupuna in an attempt to feel the connection. In most cases those feelings will be absolutely heartfelt, but for some, grounded in little reality. Take us to that place, let us out of the car outside the homestead, with that pathway leading up to the front door, and that journey of a few steps becomes very long indeed. A few months ago, I attended a wānanga at one of my marae, did the karanga on behalf of those coming on, only to learn I had completely botched one of our Northen tikanga. I was told gently by my aunty a couple of days later. After the feeling of mortification had passed, and the flaming in my cheeks had subsided, I was OK with it, failure at our tikanga is just something to be expected for those of us not raised in it. All I can do is try and be better. Some 12 years ago the late, and lovely Associate Professor Nin Tomas, a whanaunga of mine externally marked a law assignment of mine, where I mentioned in its pages my own default disenfranchisement from hapū and iwi dynamics. She wrote in the margins: “So come home.” Perhaps it could be just that easy for us, the children and grandchildren of the urban migrations. Except, for many, it’s not.
I can’t presume to know how the adult son and daughter of James Takamore feel or have felt over the past 7 years experiencing their own cultural estrangement in such an horrifically public and prolonged manner. From public documents it’s pretty plain that at the time Mr Takamore was taken north, the children, and their mum were at a significant cultural disadvantage in negotiations with the Kutarere-based whānau who came to Christchurch to ask for his tupapaku to be able to return to them. The following excerpt comes from the Supreme Court judgment available here:
Ms Clarke and Mr Takamore’s son resisted the request but Mr Takamore’s Kutarere family continued to press into the night the claim that he should return with them to the Bay of Plenty for burial. The discussion was heated and, for Ms Clarke and her son, distressing.
 After the son appeared to acquiesce reluctantly, Mr Takamore’s paternal uncle (who also lived in Christchurch) intervened to say that the son was being pressured and that the discussion should be continued the following day. At least one member of the Kutarere family stayed with Mr Takamore’s body while Ms Clarke and their son went home. The next day, after some delay and after it appeared that Ms Clarke was reluctant to return to resume the discussion, the Kutarere family, now with the support of the uncle who had intervened the night before, took Mr Takamore back to Kutarere. The Kutarere family believed their actions to be justified according to tikanga. They may have considered that the son (whose views were culturally of particular importance) had sufficiently acquiesced to give them the moral authority according to tikanga to take Mr Takamore home, at least when there was no resumption of discussion the next day and they were left with Mr Takamore’s body. If so, there was significant cross-cultural misunderstanding. For their part, Ms Clarke and her children were completely at a disadvantage, since they had no understanding of the process being followed and the risk they ran in appearing to withdraw from contending for their rights. [paras 18-19]
I read that passage and the clash of rights aside, I can at least imagine how traumatic this episode must have been, how unsure of the cultural landscape they must all have been, while fresh in their own grief for the sudden death of their Dad.
There is no doubt that tikanga, when allowed to operate as designed, can be a wonderful instrument to achieve equilibrium, but this case shows that it can create disequilibrium (albeit as a result of a clash with Pākehā law as well) in the pursuit of some larger goal of the larger collective entity. I can’t presume to make any judgment on the correctness or otherwise of the tikanga used in 2007 or in succeeding years up to and including yesterday’s attempted exhumation. I’m wondering instead how tikanga can henceforth be used to reconcile and repair. Counsel for the Kutarere whanau at least acknowledged this longterm view of the role of tikanga, before the Supreme Court in the transcript of argument:
I would say on the evidence [tikanga] imposes obligations that ensue beyond the decision and, with respect, the Court cannot compel those of any party in the sense of that restorative long-term process and, you know, I don’t know what will be the situation, but in a generation’s time when, as I say, Mr Takamore’s mother has passed, if Ms Clarke has passed, is it, would it be a different conversation that those future generations are having about all of this and where they all sit? Possibly, one can’t guarantee that.
So perhaps the Tūhoe based whanau are prepared to accept the cost in the short to medium term at least that their whanaunga in Christchurch must suffer in order that the interests of the collective are met, on the presumption that generations to come will heal the rift, that utu will be restored. I don’t know. But knowing how hard it is to make that cultural journey just when all that gets in the way is unfamiliarity and insecurity, how much harder will it be for the Christchurch whanau, left with the legacy of pain and perhaps even humiliation they now have, to take those steps? When tamariki and mokopuna come (if they have not already), what will being Māori mean to them? Regardless of the means, tikanga, Western law, whatever, used by both sides of the dispute, how will the children and grandchildren of each side of this dispute feel about each other in years to come? Maybe, and this is the heartbreaking risk, just maybe, they won’t think of each other at all. Maybe that is the ultimate price the children of this case will pay.