Hebden Bridge My Tūrangawaewae
I had to move to New Zealand to understand what Hebden Bridge means to me.
I knew, even before the call of the Kiwi came, that Hebden was the place where I had learned to be happy. I arrived still searching. But in the bonds of strong community, I thrived. I latched onto the coat tails of professional musicians and fulfilled the fantasy diva inside. I met my man, had my children, and nurtured them within the protective valley. I ran and walked and camped on the moors, and my heart soared at the history and the heritage and the horizon. From the tops, I could see Black Hill where we had scattered my father’s ashes, and felt connected to my ancestors in their neighbouring valley. If you choose one place to settle, choose wisely, my grandfather told me. And I had.
I never expected to leave, and for a while felt bereft. Acceptance came through listening to the stories of the Māori, the first people of this new land. Through them, I learned that I hadn’t actually left at all, but rather that I carry the town with me as my tūrangawaewae. In te Reo Māori, the first language of New Zealand, tūranga is a place, and waewae are your feet, so your tūrangawaewae is literally your “standing place”, your place to put your feet. Conceptually, tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected, where we have a right to belong and to speak. They are our foundation, our home. Wherever we are in the world, our tūrangawaewae give us a strength that cannot be taken away.
For Māori, it is important on meeting someone that you cite your tūrangawaewae; your mountain and your water. Even better if you can also throw in your pedigree by naming the waka, or canoe, that brought your ancestors to New Zealand Aotearoa. It’s all part of the universal survival mechanism of checking out friend from foe. On such occasions, most can invoke the glistening harbours of the Pacific, a snow capped peak or an imposing volcano. They can also claim ornately carved waka, and recant tales of daring do in journeys across the southern ocean. I can only talk of a canal a few feet wide, a bleak moorland, and my metal waka courtesy of British Airways, where I dozed in economy. There is no word in te Reo for canal, nor for bleak. But what we can share is the passion we hold for our respective tūrangawaewae, and an understanding of what this brings to each of us.
Whether I return to Hebden to live remains unknown. An international life will continue for a while, which at least gives me opportunity to visit and reconnect as I pass through towards another destination. These are always joyful times. But what I now know is that I don’t need to live in the town, ever present, for it to be the place which gives me strength and a sense of belonging.
Auckland, New Zealand, November 2009