Nga Kupu Aroha Epilogue

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Once you put something out there you just don’t know who will pick it up and where it will go.

Since its birth in 2004 Nga Kupu Aroha has grown into a well respected and much enjoyed commentary on the social state of New Zealand. Now Nga Kupu Aroha has come to an end various commentators want to share their stories about how the blog has impacted their lives. Read their commentaries below in this ongoing epilogue.

Dr Jules Older PhD

Jules Older is a writer, videographer, broadcaster, speaker, and consultant, based in Los Angeles. He can be heard weekly on Radio NZ Afternoons with Jim Mora. Jules wrote the Pakeha Papers – Hone Tuwhare said of it “Jules writes from a source near the testes and perhaps vulnerable to the boot” 

“This Denis O’Reilly person… ever since we first met – back when free-range moas were roaming the South Island – I’ve thought him one of New Zealand’s most interesting thinkers. Or a most thoughtful person of interest. I think of Denis as a long series of amazing tales. Let’s see… meeting me at Wellington  Airport with a full posse of Black Power members, showing me how to see Maori history on the slopes of an apparently undistinguished Napier hillside, introducing me to the down side of town after midnight, and wandering the streets above the Cathedral, both of us dressed as Catholic priests and chanting rock ‘n roll songs. Don’t ask. Denis sees things differently. Does things differently. Opens eyes to the possibilities of different. That’s why I so value his blog. Every time I read it, I mutter, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?”

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Armon Tamatea

Armon  is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology , University of Waikato

“My initial exposure to Denis was as ‘gang spokesman’ on the popular media, but I was able to make more meaningful contact with him as a researcher and soon discovered the frenetic pace that reflects his vision for his community. As a fairly recent reader to these blogs (from mid-2010 onwards), I have been struck by the variety of topics that he has focused his lens towards, matters that ranged from political commentary on national affairs and tributes to well-known identities in Aotearoa, to chronicling the development of the New Zealand gang community as he sees it, as well as deeply personal life events. In many ways, these blogs serve as an underground commentary that is by turns provocative and enlightening, emphasising one of the cherished freedoms that NZers have – the freedom of expression – but in a way that invites intelligent discussion rather than as an opportunity to rant about the latest media controversy. At the risk of this sounding like a eulogy, it is regretful this activity will now cease. However, a legacy of sorts has been created for us to contemplate as we seek to identify our own role in our own communities. Cheers, D!”

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Dr Robbie Shilliam

Robbie Shilliam (BA, MA, DPhil) is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations Queen Mary College University of London.

I moved to Aotearoa New Zealand, along with my wife, in July 2007 to pick up a Lectureship in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington. Back in the UK I had been researching the histories of African enslavement, the struggles for emancipation and liberation, and the philosophies and spiritualities that enabled and supported those struggles. My move to Aotearoa NZ was, to be honest, random. I got offered the job on a phone interview, and at the time we were both fed up with the life in the UK, so we got on a plane and arrived. I had only a cursory knowledge of the cultures, histories and peoples of Aotearoa NZ, mainly garnered through a month or two of reading before I left. However, I believe that if you are teaching international politics you have to start where your feet are, not where your head imagines you to be. So I was desperately trying to catch up with where my feet were going. I knew there was a Treaty of Waitangi. That was about it.

Almost as soon as I got off the plane I started to see (predominantly) M?ori and Pasifika Rasta; I kept hearing Reggae music (quite rootsy, even); and the ites gold and green seemed to be a prominent colour theme, alongside the red white and black. Then I heard that there had been (were there still, I wondered?) a Polynesian Panther Party, and there was also a group called The Black Power: the latter tended to scare people more than the former for some reason. In an attempt to integrate into New Zealand academia, I gave a paper on the Haitian Revolution 1791-1804 at a history conference. This was the revolution that enslaved people embarked upon, defeating the English, Spanish and French (twice) to inaugurate the first post-colonial post-slaveholding polity in the Americas. Afterwards, a M?ori historian, Lachlan Paterson, approached me and told me that the K?ngitanga movement had written propaganda pieces on the Haitian Revolution during the wars of the 1860s.

I never really imagined that my research on African enslavement, emancipation, liberation, Rastafari and Black Power would find its feet in Aotearoa NZ. It was pure serendipity – facilitated with a large dose of naivety!  But within a year I decided that I had to dedicate my foreseeable research time to learning and understanding this deep inter-connection between the struggles of our African Diaspora and those of the indigenous Pacific, including all involved in those struggles. At some point, as part of my research, I put a random search term into Google and found myself on Denis O’Reilly’s blog. On that page he was remembering a visit to Aotearoa NZ in 1979 from a Black London theatre group called Keskidee, and a Rastafari music troupe called Ras Messengers. Denis, along with a number of prominent activists at the time, had arranged the tour to help catalyse a process of cultural self-determination amongst M?ori and Pasifika youth. So I eagerly got in touch.

Denis’ stories, perspectives and contacts enlivened my research greatly. As he regularly visited Wellington he kindly agreed to come give a lecture for my undergraduate course entitled Race and Racism in World Politics. I told the students the day before that a special guest was going to give them a lecture on Reggae, Rasta and New Zealand. After the lecture some of them came up to me and said “we thought we were going to get some hippy long-hair M?ori guy but instead we got this loud big bald old white guy!” Those students talked about the content of Denis’s lecture for at least two years after it was given. On a trip back to London I managed to catch up with some of the Ras Messengers, who talked warmly about their sojourn to the South, and brought out the Rakau that they had been gifted 30 years previously! In 2010 I organised a retrospective on the Keskidee Aroha tour, held at Te Herenga Waka, the Victoria University marae. In attendance were a good number of the original organizers and one of the Keskidee performers, Wanjiku Kiarie-Sanderson. Some had not seen each other for quite some time. Critical discussions were had on the results and prospects of the tour, including unfinished business, personal and political. Colleagues and students at Victoria University were also present to take in the vibes and the knowledge.

In 2011 I organised a day’s workshop on Rastafari in Aotearoa NZ, entitled Caribbean Connections.  Ngahiwi Apanui, Miriama Rauhihi-Ness, Ruia Aperahama, Tigilau Ness, Ras Nandor Tanczos, DJ Dubhead and Denis engaged with diverse elements of these connections. The videos of this korero are on Youtube. Through Denis, I had got in touch with Eugene Ryder of the Wellington Black Power, an erudite, forward-thinking, sharp and humorous man. And around the same time as Caribbean Connections, Eugene graciously came and gave a talk on M?ori and the CJS to my honours class. One of the students afterwards confessed to me that ideas that he had thought to be non-sense beforehand now seemed eminently reasonable.

Subsequently, I wrote two academic articles, one on Keskidee Aroha (in the Journal of Historical Sociology), and the other on the Polynesian Panthers and the Black Power (for a book entitled Black Power Beyond Borders). You can have a look at them both for free here. Next year I will publish, through Bloomsbury Academic Press, a book entitled, “The Black Pacific: Anticolonial Struggles and Oceanic Connections”. Flush with Harry Potter cash, Bloomsbury Academic give you three options: buy the book as paperback or as e-book, or download it entirely for free as a pdf.

All of this mahi was, in part, a result of reading Denis’s blog, Ng? Kupu Aroha. As for me, I am now back in the UK, lecturing at Queen Mary College at the University of London. I am happy to say, however, that one of my masters students from Vic, Erina Okeroa, has just completed a thesis entitled “Unfurling routes of self-determination: A case study of the Black Women’s movement in Aotearoa, 1978 to 1982”. It is a bold, original and highly sophisticated retrieval of a central and often ignored part of the M?ori and Pasifika struggle against colonial oppression and racial discrimination in Aotearoa NZ. Erina got in touch with me in a similar way to how I got in touch with Denis: she responded to an online advert for a research assistant to help with my project on Black Power in Aotearoa NZ.

It’s obvious, but needs saying anyway: once you put something out there you just don’t know who will pick it up and where it will go.

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Ross Bell

Executive Director NZ Drug Foundation

Nga Kupu Aroha, Denis O’Reilly’s “Words of Love”, began in 2003, a time when New Zealanders really acquired a strong taste for methamphetamine.  But even before meth use peaked and plateaued (about 2006), Denis was already beginning to challenge this tricky substance’s place in his community. This is Denis’ hallmark – being ahead of the pack.

Nga Kupu Aroha has charted Denis’ journey over the decade, and as a reader I always felt a real sense of privilege that he brought me along with him. His blog was in-part a dissertation, a diary, a soapbox, his confessional.

I’m grateful I’m more than just a reader of his blog. Because I hang out in this drugs business, I have the chance to work alongside Denis. (And yes, when I think I’ve found the next new shiny thing, Denis reminds me he did that stuff back in the 80s – there’s nothing new under the sun). Denis has a rare trait – one that more people should share – which is he tests his ideas, he questions his strategy and if he reckons it’s not working he’ll stop that shit and start doing something else. Where many people persist in pointless projects, Denis is never satisfied he’s doing enough or doing it right. Rarer still he’s happy to lay it all bare in the bright light of day in the blogosphere. Lots of us remain fearful of admitting failure.

But make no mistake, his failures are few and far between; He has been too hard on himself on many occasions. Denis should instead stand proud of his work these past 10 years: he charted new thinking and new action on community level drug harm reduction. His leadership on challenging the place of meth in his community started just as Mr Key was elected to Parliament; the PM’s P plan not even a glint in his eye. (Of course, once Prime Minister Key got behind meth action Denis was in there boots-and-all grabbing that opportunity as only he knows how).

Denis is a well-travelled man and he’s chosen some great fellow travellers: Dr Ian Prior, James K Baxter, Sir Robert Muldoon. It shows: Denis is a wise, well read, and bloody-minded chap. At 60 he’s decided to embark on a doctorate – I would have thought he could simply submit the many words of love written this past decade (he’ll at least have the hit the dissertation word count!). I am truly excited by this next stage in his journey, and wish him the very best.

In his final words of love, Denis ponders a run for Parliament. He gets my vote.


Tags: Armon Tamatea  Denis O'Reilly  Jules Older  Robbie Shilliam  Ross Bell