Category Archives: He Tangata

HE TANGATA: Chicken ‘n’ Chips

It’s a drizzly Auckland Tuesday morning and I’m sitting in a kebab shop on K road waiting for my decided-upon lunch for work that day.  The shop owner seems, well let’s just say, less than pleased to be standing over hot grills at 8 o’clock in the morning. He glumly stirs my falafel as if it is the embodiment of his miserable fate.

Much to my relief, the next customer totally saves the vibe.

A rather short and nimble fellow with an orange high-vis jacket, shorts that used to be white, joint in hand, and no shoes plods into the store, managing to pull off an impression of both walking on air and having weights in his ankles all in one go. His cheerful whistles and rhythmic swagger are refreshing.

Without looking at the menu, he proclaims his order:


“Chicken ‘n’ chips please boss”

*blank expression and no reply from behind the till*

“Boss, chicken ‘n’ chips please boss thanks”

*more hesitation*


“Do you mean the Deluxe Wings Combo? Or the Family Lunch Pack? The Chicken Snack Pack? Or the Chicken For Lunch Deal?”

“Yeah nah just the chicken ‘n’ chips aye boss”

*hugely massive sigh equivalent to the ones heard while sitting in 5pm Auckland highway traffic*   “Sir, you must choose one of our packs. You can’t just have chicken and chips they are all chicken and chips you must specify”

“Oh boss I don’t care aye just some chicken ‘n’ chips would be mean aye boss”

“Excuse me Sir I need you to choose a pack you must specify which chicken and chips you want there are so many chickens and chipss please tell me which one you want WHICH ONE DO YOU WANT WHAT IS THE NAME OF THE PACK THAT YOU WANT”

“Oh, uhh…”

“Oh for goodness sake how about you just get the bloody family lunch pack?”

“Does it have chicken ‘n’ chips in it?”


“Okay yes please boss. Cheers. You da man.”


And I packed my kebab and hopped on my bus with a rather hysterical grin on my face which lasted the whole journey to work.

Life is great.


HE TANGATA: “The Education System Failed Me”

“I didn’t get my School C because the education system failed me. Not because I’m dumb, not because I hate learning, but because I didn’t fit into the system. But I’m telling you, Cara, I didn’t give up there. When I discovered I was adopted, I took that as my next learning opportunity. I decided to read up on etymology and whakapapa. Etymology teaches you a lot about ancestry. The connection between your name, your family’s names, and your whakapapa, is incredibly powerful, Cara. And finally, through my learning, I found my identity.

And so the education system told me I was a failure, but I can tell them, Cara, I can tell them, that the SYSTEM is the failure, not me. Because I learnt a lot, Cara. I learnt a lot. I learn in a way that the system doesn’t recognise. And because of that, Cara, the system got to my head. And I made some bad decisions when I was your age, Cara, because at your age, you think you’re invincible. And when you don’t fit into the system, it gets to your head and you do things that have devastating consequences for the rest of your life. 

Cara, you have no idea how severely criminal convictions restrict your opportunities. I believe I’ve changed, Cara. But the system doesn’t. 

You have had a very privileged upbringing, Cara. Don’t waste it.

The system accepts you, Cara. Don’t take advantage of that. 

Think hard before you make decisions, Cara. Don’t throw away all that privilege that you have, that so many of us will never have.”


… And I walked home shakily crying, and gratefully smiling, and desperately asking God why the world is so fucked up.

He Tangata: “For example, if I were to ask you out…”

I shift my gaze to the right to find a man’s face a couple of inches from mine.

“oh! I thought you were drawing!”

“nah, just studying.” I had woken that morning so excited to see an absence of rain that I just had to do my study in Civic Square that day. And the interaction that follows made it well worth the effort.

“Are you an artist?”

“No haha, quite far from it! Are you?”

“I do Maori carving! Look, I made this guitar pic from bone! What about music, do you do music?”

“I do actually! Piano and voice, mainly”

“Wow! I sing like a dying ngeru. That’s Maori for cat, by the way. Look, I’m learning the windpipe! Except I sat on it so I had to duct tape it. Why is duct tape called ‘duck tape’? It doesn’t quack!”

The gentleman rummaged in his bag and pulled out some cracked wooden tubes, strung together with rainbow-coloured yarn, sporting a new addition of grey duct tape around its edges. After giving me an impressive demo, despite the circumstances, the conversation continued:

“So, you study? Where?”

“Victoria- just up the hill there.”

“Oh, Victoria! That’s really hard to get into. I tried. But they won’t take Maoris who can’t read or write very well. I wanted to do carving there, you see. And WINZ have let me down this week. You see, I’ve got all my carving tools in storage, but I missed my storage fee this week because WINZ stuffed up. Anyway so I’d better not lose my storage, because then I’ll have nowhere to keep my tools!”

(I’m pretty sure Victoria don’t teach carving but that’s beside the point).

“That sounds really frustrating!! Do you know somewhere else where you could study carving?”

“I’ve asked Whitireia- they want people who can read and write too. You see its so hard for us guys. And WINZ keep telling me I need to get a job, but its not as easy as that you know? And I almost have my bus driving license, but its too expensive to do the last bit. And, e hoa (friend), you should see the men’s home! Oh! I didn’t introduce myself!”

After an exchange of names, my new hoa continued.

“Yeah anyway the men’s home is terrible- I’m not a lunatic, you know! I said to WINZ, don’t put me in there with all those crazies, I’m not like them, you know! The guys always ask me if they can play my XBox with me, I say nah man! Get your own! I don’t really trust them with my stuff that much aye.”

The gentleman blessed me with more insight of what its like to be scraping and crawling everyday to make ends meet, only to be treated by society like its your own fault. The topic moved from WINZ, to the expenses of Wellington CBD, to job prospects, to bike repair, to Maoritanga, to his previous jobs driving tourists around Fox Glacier.

And then I learnt about his new security guard friend who’s been giving him dating advice…

“Yeah, he said, bro! Don’t just ask a girl out when you first meet her! She’ll be running down the street to Stuart Island! You’ve got to get to know her first! You know, like, if I wanted to ask you out, I’d make the effort to get to know you first, like what I’m doing now…”

uh oh… I know where this is going…

“Yeah so like for example, if I were ask you out, just for example…”

Pull out now bro… Don’t do it…

“Yeah, uh, I suppose I’m asking you out.”


And I just felt disappointed.

He wasn’t dangerous. He wasn’t creepy. He was just lonely, and excited that someone had actually bothered to treat him like a valued human being.

I felt disappointed because, at this point, due my age compared to his, my gender, and potential vulnerability, I needed to withdraw from the interaction to ensure my safety.

I felt disappointed because the encounter, until now, had been incredible. It was definitely soul-restoring for me, and it may well have been for him too. And now, unfortunately for the both of us, the conversation needed to end.

Finally, I felt disappointed for him. He has great potential to develop and maintain meaningful social connections, if he just practised a little more self-control. Then my disappointment transferred to anger at our social systems that have stripped so many of our tangata of the opportunity to operate as equally valued members of society. I am convinced that my new friend’s lack of social self-control is not his fault.


Nevertheless, I made a connection which enlightened my mind, fulfilled my heart, and renewed my soul.

HE TANGATA: Chapter 3: From Cage to Carriage

Usually an exchange of smiles is all Aucklanders can handle with strangers on public transport, but this afternoon was different.

My smile was met with a friendly comment about the weather, followed by an eye-opening personal story that I have never forgotten.

“Gees it’s cold out there tonight, isn’t it?”

My acquaintance for the journey offered a warm, genuine grin, with firm but kind eye contact. The ‘Maori Wardens’ uniform he was sporting suited his strong, fit build, and his scars and missing teeth perhaps have a possible insight into his past.

“Yes, it is!”

“Where are you from, anyway?”

“Right here in Auckland.”


The gentle hum of the moving train enticed my body to sleep-mode, as the Warden and I watched trees wisp by in silence.

I’ve always been intrigued by the Maori Wardens program…

“Hey, what made you decide to work for Maori Wardens, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“They found me, actually. I was a cage fighter.”

“Oh wow.”

“I wouldn’t have lasted much longer. That stuff is bad for you.”


This encounter sparked an uncomfortable picture in my mind. One of this poor gentleman caught up in the life of what is deemed the most dangerous sport of all. Succumbed to the expectations of those around him. Needing the money maybe. Unable to see a way out.

Of course, this is just an assumption.

But regardless of the details of his story,

Imagine having a life like that.


Side note: For those who are unaware, Maori Wardens are an amazing organisation who serve our communities in numerous ways. They provide our people with new skills and ways forward, and train them to volunteer in our communities providing health, safety, and community development services. Check out their website if you’d like to support them or find out more: 


HE TANGATA: Chapter 1- Joyologist By Day, Superman By Night

Point Chevalier shops bus stop on a very hot December afternoon. Slurping a juicy mango in the most uncoordinated manner possible.

“You know, you can sit down.”

“Oh yes, thank you very much. I just didn’t want to spray you with mango juice!” I replied.

“You seem cheerful and full of joy!” remarked the smiley man, who seemed cheerful and full of joy himself!

“Oh yes well the sun is shining, and I found a mango for $1 at the supermarket!”

“Yum I saw those,” said the smiley man’s wife.

“I’m a joyologist,” said Mr Smiley.

“Me too!” added Mrs Smiley!

“Haha, I love it!” I said, with a giggling grin.

And it was here that Mr Smiley began his autobiography and collection of answers to life, with no prompting or questioning from me:

“All we need is joy, and so that’s why I’m a joyologist. I’m an expert on joy. There is not a second in my day that is not filled with joy. Joy is the most valuable thing you could master. All throughout the Bible joy is proclaimed. To be with God is to be filled with joy. Are you a joyologist?”

Before I could answer, Mrs Smiley affirmed her husband:

“Yes, joy is everywhere! Keep smiling!” she chirped.

“And at night, I become superman. I fly to the Grand Canyon, and Great Barrier Reef. I zoom all around the whole world and make it back by morning. I believe in perspective and adventure. No point wasting my time staying where I am. Might as well be superman. I see everything, learn everything. Adventure is the most worthwhile thing you can do. Don’t go and buy lots of plastic crap- go on adventures instead! Last night, I went to Italy and Greece. The Good Lord says put yourself out there!”

I finally managed to fit in some minor contribution to the conversation:

“Wow! So do you do this superman thing in your dreams?”

“No?” he replied, confused. And then continued:

“I have the best life ever. The best of both worlds. Joyology and adventure is all one needs. God bless you!”

And just like that, with a pat on my shoulder from Mrs Smiley, the pair hopped off the bus and strode through the busy Auckland traffic, smiling their infectious, and seemingly permanent, grins.


He Tangata.

He Tangata

He aha te mea nui te ao?

He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

What is the most important thing in the world?

It is the people, the people, the people.


This Maori proverb has always spoken significantly to me.

When we shift our focus away from ourselves, away from material things, and away from our addiction to busyness and success, we are left with something quite beautiful, and much more meaningful.

He Tangata.

If we really make the effort to venture deeply into the observation, celebration, and connection of the beings around us, it is incredible the beauty we encounter. It is a unique kind of beauty. A beauty that is vast in all ways. A beauty that can only be experienced in the depths of the heart, and can only be ingrained in the depths of the mind.

He Tangata.

Maybe I’m observant, or maybe I’m nosy. Maybe I’m approachable, or maybe I have shaky boundaries.

Whatever it is, I seem to often have very interesting encounters with people, the most interesting often being random members of the public. Some are fun, some are uncomfortable, some are sad, some are educational, some are hilarious, some are particularly deep and meaningful. But there is always one common factor. ALL are beautiful. ALL teach me something new about how human beings operate. ALL fulfil me deeper than any other worldly experience.

He Tangata.

People are worth celebrating! We are all so unique, and providing each other the chance to express ourselves authentically, to connect deeply, and to learn from each other is, I think, one of the most worthwhile ways to spend our time.

So I’m starting a new series of blogs, called He Tangata. In this series I will share snippets of my interactions with people in my travels through life, in the hope that others may realise the beauty in connecting with random members of the public.

So stay tuned!

He aha te mea nui te ao?

He tangata,

he tangata,

he tangata.