A homeland is the land that is your home. That much seems fairly obvious. However a question that I thought about while reading Patricia Grace’s Potiki is what exactly distinguishes our home-land from our home. Grace seems to set up a tension between land and the people that inhabit it as what truly makes a home to the Maori people. This tension, strangely enough, reminds me of the trails I ran at around my house and high school, during my career as a cross country runner.
Grace constantly mentions the idea of a foothold, or a toe hold being crucial. This visual implies land as crucial in staying rooted. It is this foothold that allows us to respond to challenges and grow stronger, rather than weaker when attacked. Grace first mentions this idea when she describes the children’s war games, and the difference between those who can dig in to the sand with their toes in the ground to gain leverage over their attackers, and those who are easily toppled by such adversity. It is shown that those able to firmly root themselves in land are the ones who are able to succeed.
However this idea is brought into question when the white developers threaten the Maori people not by attacking them, but by destroying the land, cemetery, and sacred meeting house that they hold as incredibly important to their culture and community. As the land is destroyed by forces such as flood and fire, the Maori must turn to a different place to establish a foothold in order to overcome challenge. They must turn to the people which, in combination with the land, make up their home, their culture, their past, and their future.
Running is something that has been incredibly important to me for a long time. I started as a 9th grader as the slowest guy on my cross country team. But it was something I wanted to be good at, and for years I spent hours and hours running the trails and courses around Sunken Meadow (a park by my house) as well as around my high school. Eventually I became one of the top runners on my team, and I came to know ever step of every course I ran. Some of these runs were done in solitude, but a great deal of them were done with teammates that came to know the courses (almost) as well as I did. These trails and these teammates were my home in a way.
As I began my collegiate running career, I came to be plagued with over-use injuries that have kept me from establishing the same home on courses around Loyola’s campus. I have fought tooth and nail for 3 years to be able to run again and am only now finally slowly but surely getting back on my feet. I have still become hugely connected to my teammates, but they are not necessarily home in the way my high school teammates were (that came from a great deal of miles together). When I go home over break, I often times feel not at home at all. Home to me would be running on my old trails with my old teammates. I still hang out and am best friends with my teammates (some of which run still and some of which don’t) and despite injury I still try to get at least a few miles in on the trails I used to know so well “back in the day” whenever I am home. But neither of these is home in the way that running on those trails (fit and heavy into high-mileage training) at a moderate yet comfortable pace with my old teammates, discussing our chances in the upcoming season against a rival high school.
I think that what Grace is saying is that neither of these components of our home should be underestimated our over-looked. Our land and our monuments are important. They can give us some sort of continuity and connection between our past and our present, and in a way that is what a home is. It is a constant between our past and our present, and hopefully our future, that can give us strength. This land should also be able to connect us to our future, and if that is threatened, it is something worth fighting for. However land is not the be all and end all. People are what teach each-other about the land and about the past. They create the culture that makes the land our home. It is people that come together and work for a common purpose. Both of these components are what make a home.
Though my “home” was taken from me by chronic cases of plantar fasciitis and retrocalcaneal bursitis, and not white developers trying to make an aquatic tourist attraction, I for some reason identified my running journey with the quest of the Maori people. Perhaps it is because now that I am able to I am now fighting and uphill battle to regain this “home.” This summer when I go home, if I am able to train with my old teammates who still run on the courses we used to run every single day, I will truly be home for the first time in years. Hopefully my years of disappointment and hardship will help me, as it did Granny Tamihana, to overcome future pitfalls. Either way, it is a battle worth fighting.