Chief Adham and Awhina Twomey hongi after receiving her blessing atop Dun Ad. Finding a spiritual home away from home is a curious feeling. I’ve always said that I could never live away from New Zealand because I need to feel some sort of familial link to the land (yes, those of you who may know me know I live in Auckland, where I don’t actually have any whakapapa ties, but let’s not get too technical). I have travelled the Continental USA, and have visited Australia, Spain, the UK and Hawaii, and I can honestly say I felt this spiritual link in Hawaii, a place where I heard myself in their language, in their voices, I found myself in their brown skin and slanted eyes, and I felt myself in their traditions and beliefs. However, I was not expecting to feel such a heavy pull to my spirit in Scotland, despite knowing that I descend from there.
I often joke that, in terms of blood quantum, I’m probably more Scottish than Māori. My maternal grandmother (Priscilla Douglas nee MacDonald) has always proudly told us of our Mac Heritage, even going as far as once quoting her father in saying that I’m never to marry a Campbell because of the betrayal at Glencoe (made funny to me by the fact that I went to school with a few Campbells). She’s also spoken of our links to the McGregor clan. She married a Douglas, and to top it off, according to my father’s family, we descend from Robert The Bruce. Given all this, it seems silly that I was surprised to have been brought to my knees with emotion in my recent visit to Scotland with Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo, and yet, the effect was quite staggering.
We met a master swordsmith, who happened to be a MacDonald, who shared with us his martial histories and sword relics. As we travelled the Scottish Highlands, passing Inveraray Castle (the ancient seat of the Campbell clan), we had another MacDonald tell us about how when the castle once caught re, a Mac at the pub offered free beer to anyone who refused to help put it out. I started to think, heck, these Macs are everywhere!
We were taken to Fort Dunadd, one of the most sacred sites of the Scottish people, and we were instructed to fill bottles with water from the River Add. We were asked that once we entered the sacred space at the top of the mountain, that no English be spoken, lest the ceremony be tainted. Up until this point, our stay in Scotland had been surprisingly warm. As we began our ascent, and our tohunga began to chant, the rain began to fall.
As the bagpipes sung out, their call was met by our women who began to karanga to the land, to the mountains, and to the ancestors, theirs and our own. Our right feet were ceremonially cleansed by a young girl with the water from the river, and then we were instructed to place the cleansed foot in a footprint-shaped hollow in a rock, a place where kings once stood, and we were blessed, one by one, in a ceremony that goes back millennia. Our host made a reference to my Douglas tartan scarf and my MacDonald pin, quoting them as some of the most honourable clans around, and my spirit soared with pride, my eyes stinging with tears. To give thanks for the welcome we had been given, one of our men gave a speech that shook the earth, and then we performed a haka speaking of our shared longing to hear our mother tongues at home once more in our mouths. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Now I’m not saying that I’ll be booking a one-way ticket to Scotland any time soon. Indeed, there’s nothing in the Gaelic tongue that I found familiar, aside from the sentiments carried, and looking at my dark skin and wavy hair, you’d never guess at my Scott’s blood, but I am lled with wonder to know that my histories are very much alive in me, and I am awestruck to hear my ancient heritage singing through my blood. I hope that one day, you all get to feel that same sensation by visiting the place our forebears called home.
Hania Douglas is a translator, subtitle producer and reporter at TVNZ for Te Karere Maori News. She is a descendant of Tupuna #6 Hoani Makitanara (MacDonald) & #94 Teone Mekerika (McGregor)
Photo Credit: Te Anga Nathan