The Valley and Te Reo Māori

It’s important to me as part of my journey into my own family history that I make an effort to connect not just with the culture of my ancestors, both European and Cook Island Māori, but also with the people of the country where I live now, New Zealand. Te Reo Māori, the Māori language, is a big part of our lives, but also far smaller than it should be. Almost none of my contemporaries speak enough of the reo to hold a conversation, myself included, although we are making efforts to include more Māori words in our day-to-day conversations.

I want to take the opportunity to incorporate the Māori language and culture into my game, so I can learn more at the same time as hopefully teaching others, and I thought it would be great to have a concept attached to each of the 4 “mentor” characters, a farmer, beekeeper, trader, and forest ranger, who teach advanced skills in foraging and crafting to the players’ characters, but make sure it aligns and isn’t disrespectful.

Even finding a word that definitely meant “valley” in the same way as I mean it was difficult – after searching for translations on Google, I thought “Raorao” might be that word, but it’s not even an option in the Māori dictionary entry.

One word that I have heard a lot recently is “manaakitanga”. I can infer that the -(t)anga ending seems to imply a sense of (something)-ness, so if manaaki means “kind”, then manaakitanga probably means kindness. I have certainly seen it used as the Māori-language equivalent of our government’s Covid-19 mantra, “be kind”. But I still decided to look it up, and learnt that it can mean a great deal more. 

This article talks about manaakitanga, but also two other concepts that make a lot of sense in relation to the artisan mentors in my game: kaitiakitanga and kotahitanga. I realised that I could incorporate these concepts into the missing element of the game – the way to tie the two halves together mechanically as well as thematically. I will discuss that in more detail when I cover the Cottager cards and the attributes.

Cottage card with attribute dice from our Wellycon prototype

I already saw the Ranger as a kaitiaki, a guardian and steward of the forest. It was a perfect match, therefore, for her character’s role in the game. 

I felt like the Farmer was the best match for the welcoming and supportive manaakitanga concept: “hosting, caring, nurturing, nourishing, entertaining. Enhancing the mana of your manuhiri (guests), I would use multiple koru, indicating the strength of one koru benefiting the growth of others” (a quote from a friend expanding on the meaning of the expression). My farmer is a small-holder, raising animals and cultivating crops with nurturing care.

Kotahitanga, or togetherness, made a lot of sense to me when thinking about bees and the ones who care for them, and this was a good match for my beekeeper, especially as the Beekeeper’s skillset to skin care and other forms of pampering and āwhina (support). 

Artisan Trader cards on the corner board of our Wellycon prototype

For the Trader, I see them as a person who teaches skills in sales and negotiating, giving good customer experience and service, and the knowledge of making things beautiful (packaging, displays). For them, I was considering:

  • mōhiotanga = knowledge, skill, know-how
  • mātauranga = knowledge, guiding paradigms that connects everything

I feel like both words have that sense of mentoring and guiding from a place of wisdom – but mōhiotanga can also mean “acumen” – so that’s the concept I selected. 

Each character is also attached to a colour and a symbol, as well as the artwork on their sector of the board

I wanted to give the farmer a kūmara as her symbol, but I feel like the stylised shape, even in purple, might be misunderstood… And I don’t use the traditional, Māori koru, but rather make my own stylised version of an unfurling fern frond, as a nod to the koru but without using a traditional design with its own meanings and uses.

In the same vein, I am using a coin for the trader instead of traditional Māori trade goods, such as whale bone/pounamu/paua/taiaha, because 1) this is set in the near future, so coin is more likely to be used, and 2) that definitely feels like it would be misunderstood. A lot of the race relations problems we have in NZ today stem from what I will generously call “mutual cultural misunderstandings” of trade and sales and what that meant to each of the two cultures involved in Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

At this point, I had to either fully commit to making a game steeped in Māori lore, which is not my intention, or the style of game that I want to make, and would require extensive consultation, or to step away from incorporating anything of a culture that I don’t understand sufficiently deeply. I am also mindful of the catastrophe that recently occurred when well-meaning Turkish immigrants called their new business Huruhuru, intended to be a respectful acknowledgement of their new country, and it backfired spectacularly.

After discussions and advice from several quarters, I have decided to inform my character design using these concepts, but not include the words or any traditional designs in my game artwork, so that I can learn and celebrate without appropriating, or appearing to appropriate, the mana of te ao Māori.

While I don’t plan to print the Te Reo words and the Māori concepts on the game components, I think it’s important to incorporate and recognise them as the inspiration for the Cottager Attributes in the rule book.

Draft rulebook layout for the Corner Boards page

Published by Drayer Ink

Artist, designer, ideas person

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