The signature quest.

By the end of June I was so ahead in my research, that my PhD supervisor looked me in the eyes and said “TAKE A BREAK!” There was, in fact, not much more that could be done. The plans for my clinical trial were in place, I was running a crowd funding campaign to cover the costs, and I had nearly finished my ethics forms, minus one small detail…I needed the signature of a Maori advisor. Enter *drum roll*…Mr. X. Sure, he might not have remembered who I was even after nearly knocking me over with his soul piercing gaze. And sure, he did witness me, in the front row of his class, performing the worst haka of all time. But he seemed to respect my research, and I certainly respected him.

So while my supervisor liasoned with Mr. X about stepping into the role of Maori advisor, I waited. I did some “tramping” as it’s called. I systematically tasted all of the ice cream from the grocery store. I discovered that cubes of foam are officially sold as “poi cubes” – which you then have to take home and cut down into spheres, while in America you can find spheres of foam at pretty much any craft store – but they are not used for poi.


Consequently, I discovered that the store which sells the “poi cubes” is next to The American Store, which contains 90% candy and 10% things I have never seen in America, such as catnip shaped as a football and made out of american flag fabric.


At some point I got word that Mr. X was on board, and we went about setting a time to meet. I was eager for him to sign my ethics form, but also wanted to get his opinion and advice on some things relating to my study and its place in Maoridom. After experiencing a few tough and interesting conversations with various Maori artists and poi practitioners, I needed a bit of help understanding how my research, coming from a non-Maori perspective, might positively add to the discourse and findings regarding Maori poi and hauora (Maori wellbeing). At the end of July we found a time to meet. The chat was positive, with tea and many smiles, and ended in one additional task before Mr. X felt comfortable signing the form. I needed to speak with, and get the support of, a “poi expert.” Enter *drum roll*….Ms. H.

Ms. H is a poi legend, and author of the first written and published account of all things Maori poi. Heck, I even knew who she was before moving to New Zealand (which is saying a lot, both about the status of Ms. H, and about the unfortunate lack of knowledge around Maori poi artists outside of Maori culture). Fortunately, a fellow PhD student knew Ms. H personally and offered to put us in touch. Unfortunately, Ms. H seemed to be traveling around at the time and did not have a way to be reached. And so, after a few weeks of silence on Ms. H’s end, enter *drum roll*….a smattering of Maori people with varying degrees of poi expertise I randomly came across over the next few months.

If I couldn’t get the support of one poi expert like Ms. H, I naturally figured the next best thing was getting the support of many, sort-of poi experts, who’s combined knowledge would equal that of one poi expert, because, you know, it totally works that way. And so, freshly arrived in the country with no connections, and just about as non-Maori and non-kiwi as one could get, I set off finding Maori poi (sort-of) experts. I asked people at school. I asked people in my band. I asked people in the waiting room of the chiropractor. I asked anyone, and everyone, if they knew someone who was even a little part Maori, who might have done even a little poi, if they might be just a little willing to talk to me. As one might have gathered, this was no easy task. As I was increasingly aware that TAKE A BREAK June had turned into I’M GETTING WAY BEHIND September, I attempted to mold my scattered interactions with various Maori poi practitioners into one intelligible email. And knowing this email was nearly as confused and floundering as my worst haka ever, I sent it to Mr. X. I also sent it, with an additional line at the beginning which read something to the effect of “Please, by the grace of the Maori Gods, help me” to *drum roll*…my Phd supervisor.

And so my supervisor returned from his sabbatical directly into a whirlwind of meetings with various Maori people. There was not much for me to do except wait, and I began to wonder if I’M GETTING WAY BEHIND September was going to turn into, well, I QUIT. But after a few weeks of meetings, my PhD supervisor’s interactions had come to a pinnacle, and that pinnacle was, *drum roll*…Ms. A.

And so at the beginning of October I found myself, with my supervisor by my side, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Ms. A to our meeting. I did not know much about Ms. A, except that she was extremely well respected in Maoridom, a lovely human being, and possibly the key to my PhD moving forward (Mr. X had said in a recent meeting that if Ms. A was on board, he was on board). I practiced my pepeha (a way to introduce myself in Maori) incessantly while we waited. At some point my supervisor decided to step outside, and lo and behold Ms. A had been waiting for us at another table. My vision of her striding into the room and me clamoring over formal introductions gently fell away as we moved our water glasses over to her table and settled into a casual chat. She and my supervisor talked of many things that old academic friends talk about; family, mutual friends, former students. The conversation seamlessly slipped into my current PhD situation. Ms. A listened intently, calmly, and without judgement, and when the last words of my supervisor’s explanations had floated into the air she turned to us and said “What can I do to support your study?” Ms. A was on board.