Meet Mereana Houkamau

Business Graduate, Serviced Accounts, Tāmaki Makaurau

I grew up in a little town called Wharekahika, a very small community, I guess about 250 people. So we’re really tight, and everyone knows everyone. My parents owned the local general store, which meant me and my siblings learnt a lot more about the people of our community from behind the counter.

Te Reo Māori was my first language. I went to kōhanga reo (Māori language pre-school) and then went onto Kura Kaupapa Māori which is a predominantly Māori kura.

This is where I learnt about my culture, the history of my tribe and whānau. I come from a strong bloodline of Māori warriors, who fought for my tribes survival.

When I turned 12 I was sent to a Māori boarding school, St Joseph’s Māori Girls’ College. This is where I learnt English and my educational journey started.  

I guess when you start in Kura Kaupapa Māori schools, Te Reo Māori and tikanga Māori (Māori beliefs, values and cultural practices) is something we live and breathe. We have a proverb that we would say every morning at kura. “Kōrero Māori I ngā wā katoa, I ngā wahi katoa” – Speak Māori all the time, and where ever you are no matter the place. Once I moved to boarding school, I really struggled with learning and understanding the ways of the world. I knew I needed to work hard, and go beyond my abilities just as my tipuna did to survive.

I was not the brightest student, but I sure was one determined cookie.

Matariki is an important time for my people and my culture. It is a time of celebration, a time where we remember those who have passed, and prepare for the future. There are so many things to look forward to when Matariki comes around. New harvest, fishing, kai moana and more. But my favourite part is just the fact it brings people together. After seven long months away from my whenua I am going home. Home to my whānau, to my whenua, moana, maunga, marae.

To me, Matariki is about remembering our past, appreciating our present and preparing for our future. Because without our past, our future would not come.

A lot of my whānau have passed away but I always hold them to the achievements of today. My successes are their successes, because ‘Ehara I te toa, he toa taki tahi, engari he toa taki tini’ - My success should not be bestowed onto me alone, as it was not individual success but success of a collective.