Thursday, September 20, 2007

Whakapapa

As I mentioned in a previous post, USA Rugby people got together a couple of weeks back for a meeting of the new Board and Congress. The talk was around how we could all pull together to inspire Americans to fall in love with rugby. Core to this dream were a couple of beliefs.

The first is that rugby is a game that can be played and enjoyed by everyone, irrespective of body shape or size. Second, only rugby transcends the local to create a timeless global fraternity. I have also found that only rugby forges brotherhood through blood and respect, creating unbreakable bonds. As most of you know by now, the great passion of my life is centered on the New Zealand All Blacks. To me, they have always been the living embodiment of unbreakable bonds. Hopefully they have now begun what will turn out to be a 7-week odyssey to win the Rugby World Cup for all of New Zealand.

In my last piece on USA Rugby, I wrote about the Maori concept of Whakapapa, which explains a person’s place in the world. It is genealogy merged with mythology, spirituality and sustainability - a simple, beautiful view of the world. New Zealand’s indigenous people, the Maori, see themselves as part of a flowing line of ancestors linked arm and arm, from the beginning of time through to the present, and into the future through yet to be born forebears. The sun moves slowly along this interlinking chain of people and it signifies each person’s life as it shines down upon each of them. And so during every life, the individual is seen as a representative of the people and the custodian of the people’s heritage and values. The chain is unbreakable and the line of people immortal.

These unbreakable bonds are at the core of my own personal value set. Last weekend I spent some time thinking about just that, as I traveled back in time with a bunch of mates. I last played rugby with them 40 years ago in Lancaster and we all came together to watch the USA Eagles kick off their World Cup challenge. 40 years on the bond that held us together was still vibrant and real. It also got me thinking about another concept I discovered through great Maori leaders in New Zealand; that of mana. Mana is a Maori word which we can define in English as respect and presence. You know when someone has mana. When they walk into a room, a bar, or any group situation, they are immediately granted respect from those around them. Sometimes no words are spoken. Their presence is enough. Mana is bestowed, not claimed. The character of someone with mana is summed up in a beautiful Maori saying talking about one of their food staples, “the kumara does not talk about its own sweetness”.

Mana comes from Whakapapa and its connections, through to descendants who have performed great deeds, the personal performance of great actions with humbleness, and being part of a group that has bestowed great charity on others.

All three create belonging and legacy. Sean Fitzpatrick exemplifies it. So does Tana Umaga. So did Buck Shelford. And so does Richie McCaw.