Not knowing where you belong and not feeling like you’re part of the crowd is a common feeling for most rangatahi/young people, especially those from different cultural backgrounds.  But turning your back on your whakapapa (your ancestors and the land they are from) or your culture just to fit in gives away a big chunk of who you are.

Learning more about your background gives you a better understanding of why you think, feel or act in certain ways.  If the way you do these things is making you feel like you don’t fit in, try looking at it in a different way - the things that make you different also make you unique.

Knowing about your whakapapa/ family history and culture can help you know where you come from, and that’s a part of who you are. It can give you a sense of belonging and pride. To carry a sense of ‘home’ wherever you go can be helpful, no matter where you are or who you are with. 

The Cook Islands proverb “Tooku kaainga te marae rotopu i toku ai tupuna e tooku ‘aanau” translates as “My home is the sacred cen­tre of my ancestors and descendants”.  

If you can speak the language, or want to learn, that’s great – having a second language is a special skill that not many Kiwis have. And it can help you connect with your iwi or other people from your community.

However, there are all sorts of ways of connecting and expressing your culture such as spending time with your whānau, taking part in family and community events, as well as the arts, music, food, clothing and heaps more.   

Have fun exploring your culture(s), but don’t feel like you have to be able to do certain things, like be a fluent speaker or know all the protocols in cultural occasions. Everyone engages with their own culture at different levels, and at different times in their lifetime, so it’s not an ‘all-or-nothing’ thing.

The Samoan proverb “O le gase a ala lalavao” translates as ‘The paths in the bush are never obliterated.’ This means your ancestors are always watching over you just like big trees, to make sure the pathways to your culture are not overgrown.  Knowledge about your culture is always waiting for you if you want to pursue it.   The main thing is that you’re happy with how much of your culture/s you know right now, or you choose to engage with.

In lots of ways you’re lucky – you’ve got the chance to draw on ideas from more than one culture and use them to make life better for you and your whānau.

He tina ki runga, he tāmore ki raro – ‘Contentment above, firmly rooted below.’ Those with a good family foundation and proper grounding in their own culture and heritage will find satisfaction and contentment in life.