He kākano ahau i ruia mai i Rangiatea – ‘I am the seed of my ancestors.’
Your culture is a big part of who you are. If you’re struggling to connect to your whakapapa (your ancestors and the land they are from), trying to make sense of the different cultures that are part of you, or if your family is from somewhere that’s not Aotearoa - it can get confusing.
You might feel like you’re living in two worlds. There’s your home world where you’re surrounded by your whānau and culture(s). Then there’s the Kiwi-fied world you live in when you’re at school, at work, or hanging out with your mates. Sometimes it feels like these different worlds are trying to drag you in opposite directions.
Living by different sets of rules is hard. You can feel like you have to act differently depending on where you are. Behaving the wrong way can lead to embarrassment, shame, getting told off or made fun of. The tension can build up or you start to feel bad about yourself for not being what’s expected.
Depending on how you grew up, you might feel like you’re not good enough for your culture, especially if you compare yourself to others with similar cultural backgrounds. For example, if you’re Māori but your knowledge of te reo or tikanga isn’t that flash, you might ask whether you’re ‘Māori enough’?
Sometimes it feels like the world expects certain things of you because of your name, skin colour or culture. These labels often aren’t true and can cause you stress (especially if you don’t really connect with your culture).
Family, cultural or church expectations can be a challenge to balance with other parts of your life like school or work. Older family members (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) might put pressure on you to fall in line with more traditional ways of behaving.
They grew up in a different time (and possibly a different country), and find it hard to understand what you’re facing, growing up in today’s Aotearoa. They’ve just had different experiences. It’s what they know.
At the same time, other people in your life (like your friends) might be putting pressure on you to act in opposite ways from what your parents and elders expect. It’s not easy to balance these different expectations. It can take a lot of skills to keep everybody happy and it can be very stressful. Just know that lots of people have been in this position and you are not alone in these struggles.
Another source of stress can be feeling that you’re separated from your turangawaewae or homeland of origin. It could be tricky to figure out where you ‘belong’ or what you identify with
Figuring out who you are is hard and when you throw your culture into the mix it can become even more complicated. But keep in mind that culture can be a huge source of strength, and learning to walk between two (or more) worlds successfully is a life skill that can be really useful in the future.
There’s a Tongan proverb, “Tā ki tahi, tā ki ‘uta,” - ‘able to perform in the ocean, able to perform on the land.’ This is said about someone that knows how to operate in more than one environment, and how useful it is to have this skill.
Experts say that having a positive cultural identity is good for your mental health, too - so strengthening connections with your culture can also help keep your mind strong.