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.
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).
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.
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.