I bet your wild aaaaass weekend went down a little like mine did. Maybe you were on the tail end of Huinga Tauira or Huinga Roia creating your own respective Litty Committees? Or you and a few of your mains were cooped up around an alcohol-drenched beer pong table, bench or deck table with someone twerking up a storm in the background (No? Just my party? Oh, ok). You’re having flashbacks already, right? To the beer pong or King’s Cup game you won or lost? Fast forward to town and you’re on the d-floor putting in work and the next thing you know you’ve magically transported to the Bakehouse, enjoying a pie. Such a mean night from what you remember, but you also don’t remember all of it? Meh, who cares! Everyone gets wasted and loses pieces of the night - it’s normal, right?
It’s what we tell ourselves because well, let’s face it, it’s become a ture-ā-noho (social norm) for us rangatahi (youth) Māori. They say the relationships we foster at university will last for life and we put so much effort into maintaining them and keeping them in a positive state. But the one relationship most of us enter, and often overlook as important, is our relationship with alcohol. Dayum! A relationship with alcohol? I know you’re wondering where I’m about to head with this one and as per usual, here comes the over-sharing!
Lately, ya Aunty Tōmai has been swept off her feet with mahi, events and relationships. I’ve found myself wanting to reach for a bottle at 10-gaaaaahd-damn-30 on a Monday morning at times and thought, hold up, why is that my first option to relieve my stressy start to the week? What’s more is, for the past two weekends I’ve ended up crying while intoxicated and no one knows why, as both myself and my mates were waaaaaay too gone to remember. So, on my quest to figure out why my tangiweto (cry-baby) alter-ego has been making appearances, I decided to zero in on not only mine, but our relationship with alcohol as rangatahi Māori.
In Aotearoa, 80% of people over the age of 15 are drinkers. Alcohol NZ states that men are twice as likely to be hazardous drinkers than women. 1 in 2 Māori men who drink and 1 in 3 Māori women who drink are hazardous drinkers. And for us young ones, 2 out of 5 youth drink hazardously. The stats speak for themselves, but why are WE as young Māori like this? When I think back to my upbringing, I remember Fridays consisting of road trips to my Aunty’s farm in the King Country. She’d have dinner cooked for us kids and when we got there, we sat down to eat. That’s when Mum and Aunty would pop their wine bottles and Dad and Uncle would head out to the shed for a beer or two. It was normal; us kids loved the kai and seeing our cousins, but hated getting forced to dance with Mum and Aunty in the lounge. Not to mention their off-key singing (sorry Mum if you read this).
After speaking to a few rangatahi Māori on and off campus, it seems I wasn’t the only one with an upbringing like this. Luke Moss, a current student and founder of Kultured Clothing said, “It was normal for me to go to our marae for working bees and everyone had a beer after. It was the cool thing to do and I’d go to school and tell my mates about my weekend and the beers.” Additionally, Auckland University student Eruera Bidois said, “It’s what parents’ model to their kids and becomes intergenerational. It’s detrimental to our culture especially as young people. We see the fun Uncle drinking at the party, but don’t see the crimes they’ve ticked up or health issues they’ve gained as a result.” So, us rangatahi Māori can be partially responsible for our actions but it’s also a learned intergenerational behaviour that we learn is socially normal.
So, what does this ture-ā-noho (social norm) look like? How do we know it’s a norm in our circles? After interviewing students for this article, I caught up with my mates and told them about my out-the-gate drinking antics lately and told them I wouldn’t be drinking at a friends 21st this weekend. I thought I was Tofiga from The Laughing Samoans for a second because they then craaaaacked up laughing and said, “Yeah, sure you’re not. You’re so funny e hoa (friend), we know you’ll drink.”
I realised it’s kind of expected that I drink at a 21st, and especially with all my uni mates. Student and Māori mentor Te Maire Hoskins said, “Alcohol and rangatahi Māori is a must. Drinking has been a huge force in our social culture. Especially as a Māori student; it’s the norm or the expectation to drink”. It’s a common but worrying expectation. When I spoke to Rangipare Ngaropo-Belshaw, a previous university student and co-creator of the podcast Spilln’ Tī with Rangatahi, she said “What worries me is us rangatahi Māori, especially at university, have a unique relationship with alcohol because binge drinking is normalised. It’s normalised to drink Thursday through to Sunday sometimes and people say we’re ‘just students’, but if working class people did that then would it be acceptable?” I think back to my younger years and I remember going out Thursday through Sunday, getting up for class and going the next day and no one would bat an eyelid. But I dead ass doubt my colleagues at my future graduate job would turn a blind eye if it were to happen when working full-time. So, with the conditioning of our upbringing, coupled with a normalised expectation of what rangatahi are supposed to do with their friends, it’s pretty dang hard to say no to a drink.
To add to my out-the-gate antics, I unfortunately spilled some tea to a friend in the weekend that I wasn’t supposed to. Yeah, we’ve all done that before (don’t act like ya ain’t guilty too sis/bro, so lower your judgy eyebrows, thank ya). A bit of that liquid confidence and we’re all boss ass bitches that can say whatever we want, right? Te Waiora board member Moerangi Tetapuhi views alcohol as the “social lubricant of our generation”. Which is accurate, don’t you think? How many times have you found it easy to have a hard conversation with a friend, family member or partner when you’re sober? Moerangi also said, “Too many DMCs [deep and meaningful conversations] go down when downing a few. When we gon’ do dat over a cuppa tea, or on a maunga [mountain] or in the comforts of our own homes? Let’s open up to ourselves before we open up a bottle or 10”. Eruera, who no longer drinks alcohol anymore, says that he, “Struggled with emotions and used alcohol to help communicate. Alcoholism is excusable in society and is used to hide our true emotions. It’s a form of escapism”. Something in that resonating with you right now? Mmmhhmm, get comfortable being uncomfortable because that’s when you learn and grow honey!
Now, let’s talk escapism. It’s the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy. Luke said, “I think alcohol is a form of escapism for most. If you’re really stressed, or going through problems, it’s an easy getaway. It’s like an instant relief from your life.” Working as a bouncer, Luke saw constant fights and aggressive behaviour from drunk cats like us in town. “People would say ‘Oh he’s never like that, he’s only like that when he’s drunk’ but it’s still them, no one’s controlling them telling them what to do, they still know what they’re doing when they’re drunk”. Actions when we’re drunk cannot only have lasting effects on ourselves, but also the people around us. I now have to make an awkward apology to a friend for spilling some tea that I shouldn’t have, but for some people, their drunk antics can have far more harmful effects. Rangipare said that some people “make very temporary decisions - like cheating, that have long lasting effects for the people involved. The fact that some people blame alcohol isn’t good because you can still make your own decisions, you didn’t have to drink if you were vulnerable to doing shit like that. It’s become a normalised practice, drinking and cheating. It’s controversial but true”. It’s a hard truth to face, but it’s the reality for so many of us in this day and age. Even worse still, think getting into physical fights and drunk drivers getting behind the wheel; temporary decisions under the influence that have long-lasting effects. I’ll just let that simmer.
But regardless of our circumstances, we can still break the cycle and change our relationship with alcohol. Most people I spoke to believed that we can still have a positive relationship with alcohol. WSU President Nathan Rahui said, “Māori youth can have a healthy relationship with it though; even though we have inherited it, we don’t have to continue going down the same path”. Additionally, Te Maire said, “Drinking responsibly is about knowing that you’re in a healthy state of mind before you drink and if your wairua [spirit] is tau [calm, settled] sober then you can handle your inu [drink]. But when I’m not feeling good sober and I drink then I feel that and it escalates.” I’m no shining example, but I’ve tried to become more self-aware when I’m drinking by noticing what state I’m in before I drink, to be able to predict whether I’ll have a good time, and even whether I should drink or not. Rangipare agrees with me that we’ve become “reliant on it to have fun. Why? You can read a book or write one, go for a bike ride!” These were things Rangipare had introduced to her life after she realised she’d become stagnant, prioritising a social life over growth.
If you’re still with me and fought your ego to continue reading as I kinda bagged out ya best boo Mr. Waipiro (alcohol), well done pal! Pat ya damn self on the back for no doubt facing a few demons on the way throughout this article. As of lately I’ve realised I’m committed to being a life-long learner about myself, my culture, issues that affect us as indigenous youth and youth in general. I wanna be the best, baddest Tōmairangi I can be, and if I can help you do the same along the way then I’m all for it. So, take the kōrero above, mull it over, wrestle with it, get real with yourself and your habits, and evaluate which of those will help you be the best YOU that you can be today, tomorrow and beyond. Maybe you’re fine as you are, or maybe you need to make some new habits that foster growth?
As always, I’m forever lovin’ ya, leavin’ ya and keepin’ ya woke, Aunty Tōmai xx