News | 21 April 2022
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The mystic bringing Te Ao Māori to life

Creative and musician Te Awanui Reeder has always cut his own path – and each fork in the road has brought him closer to his tupuna, or ancestors. He may have left Tamaki Makaurau nine years ago, but he’s found community, connection and a way to give back in Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

Te Awanui Reeder standing in the sun.

Te Awanui aka Awa (Ngā Pōtiki, Ngāti Raukawa) first came to live in Wellington for love. His ‘missus’ and three young children are his inspiration for his work, and he feels compelled to push his limits out as far as possible so that their future is brighter.

All his life, Awa’s had this burning motivation to lift up his people, and that massive work ethic has paid off. His hip-hop outfit Nesian Mystik celebrated Pasifika culture and rhythms with tracks that have become enmeshed in the fabric of Aotearoa’s musical identity. Now it’s his creative agency, Big River Creative, that’s putting Māori and Pasifika in the limelight. Their recent success is fuelled by a government that is trying to help improve wellbeing outcomes – but for Awa, it runs so much deeper than that.

“Our main priorities are Māori, Pasifika, the rainbow community, disabled whānau. If we do not have Māori in those positions then those campaigns will not land, they will underserve our people in every category. I headhunted the best in the country. They are all Pasifika-Māori, they’re all parents so they get things done.”

What it’s like to be invisible

Despite his success, Awa has many stories of what it’s like to be invisible. When he wanted to buy a house at the tender age of 20, he walked into a real estate office and said, “Oh hey, kia ora, I’d like to buy a house today. No-one would serve me. They must have thought I was taking the p*ss.”

He wasn’t as unprepared as they thought. He’d done his research, completed courses, sorted his finances, and was ready to “go shopping”. He bought a place on Weymouth Road, Manurewa, and that’s how he first started his investment portfolio, which is now based in Wellington. Awa started with the idea that he could: “But then it takes the discipline and the vision and the plan. I am happy to put in the mahi when no-one else is.”

Today he uses that same focus to solve problems in health and education where he sees that Māori and Pasifika are mightily underserved.

“When I look at my children, I don’t want that to be the case. My job is to fix that for my kids. If I do that from a Te Ao Māori perspective, it will help everyone. Whereas, if you try to help everyone, Māori always get left at the bottom.”

Harnessing the voice of community

Here in the city, Awa is radiant about the vibe and potential: “Wellington city is amazing. Where I think we can improve is in harnessing the voice of community more. The answers are with the people as they always have been. Let them figure out what they want for themselves and then facilitate that. When you have community, you have people that will help one another, and it will do wonders.”

Awa talks about a beautiful concept in Samoa called ‘tautua’ – which means ‘authority through service’. “It’s a really cool way to remind us to be humble about how we do our mahi,” and he constantly tells himself to “use your skills, and use your expertise, and use your opportunities and privilege to help those you care about. What we do is not for us.”

Having aced so many fields, you’d think he was fearless, but he had this humbling analogy to share with us: “When I get scared, I think about what my tupuna did, what my ancestors did. How can I not get out of bed and attack the day when they navigated and traversed the biggest oceans in the world and fought for our land with taiaha and tefa tefa in the face of cannons. What have I got to complain about? Who am I to be scared?”

How do you think that Te Whanganui-a-Tara can embrace Te Ao Māori and grow the local Māori economy? Let us know by taking our survey on Lets Talk.