Awhi – the embrace of community

“We embrace with the spirits when we embrace each other.”

Māku e ringiringi kīaka o roimata, 
Ara e ahu ana ki te kāinga 

Kai te manatu au mo te whenua 
O ōku tīpuna ki te kāinga 

Ka tawhiti atu te kaiwhakamārie,
I tōku wairua. Aue, hoki mai! 

Kāore e taea te huna 
I āku manako mō te kāinga, aue!

E awhi reinga,
E awhi tāua.

I will pour out jugfuls of tears 
on the trail that leads to home 

I am homesick for the land 
of the old people of my village 

Far away is the comforter 
of my soul. Alas, come back to me! 

I cannot hide my longing for home, aue!
We embrace with the spirits when we embrace each other.

— Jim Hall, Air New Zealand “Amazing Journeys” TV advertising song 2006. http://folksong.org.nz/awhi_reinga/index.html

I don’t do well without my friends. This I have discovered while living away from home – in New Zealand – for three years. 

My life has felt thinner, the challenges more challenging, the highs less high.

And the reason is that my friends help me experience joy, as well as being there for me when things get tough. In short, they’ve got my back. And I can share my emotions with them without being judged.

The Maori have a knack for having already figured out all the important things in life, and given a name to it. The word Awhi I learned recently, coveys the meaning of community, but also embrace, or hug. I love this, as this is how it feels to be surrounded by people who ‘get you’, in the place that you belong. 

Community can mean many things, it can be a group of people sharing a geographical location, it can be a group of like-minded people gathering online, it can be a group of people brought together by adversity, for instance a disability. For me it is a sense of belonging, and trust – that when you step out of your door, you feel safe, and you have a right to be there. It is something I have been searching for for years, and in Glasgow I finally found it. But I have really felt the lack of community in these past years. I didn’t feel that anyone out there really saw me, and it gave a lightness, an unreality, to my existence.

I was reminded of what Awhi feels like recently on my birthday. My husband had arranged a ‘video hug’ on a new app which allows you to collect video messages from a number of people, and puts them together into a short film. And it was a lovely surprise, being reminded that in different places, people are thinking of you. This is what ‘home’ is.

Although a big part of where you feel at home is about your own identity, and therefore deeply personal, there’s also a big part of it that is about being accepted by others. It’s where, when you arrive, you can shed the layers of pretence you adopted to fit in, and you can just be you.