Eating an amazing Pastrami Sandwich (on wheat 😉 ) from one of my fave Huntington Park Restaurant’s Tom’s while scenes from Once We Were Warriors flash through my mind. It’s healthier than a cheeseburger, right? Meh, who knows.
I was 12-years old and kicking back in the living room of our old Downey house with my cousin Danny — who’s older than me by 9 months. We were bored on a school night flipping through 200 or so channels of cable entertainment and for whatever reason the remote sat still on HBO. I think that’s the moment we began fighting over the last slice of pizza. Anyway, by the time we turned our angsty pre-teen attention back to our most cherished babysitter & life coach — The Big Screen TV — there it was unfolding, Once We Were Warriors. A narrative film about a broken family from New Zealand’s “throwaway” population — the aborigines.
A family descended from Maori warriors is bedeviled by a violent father and the societal problems of being treated as outcasts.
We watched it, jaws dropped, eyes dry from the lack of blinking, and when it was over we both looked at each other — bonded by a deeper awareness or understanding or maturity or all of it — and said, “WOW. Dewd. That was Really REALLY great. Dewd …”
Since then I think about the movie off and on, some periods in my life more than others. I think about the Maori community, being representative of many indigenous spirits around the world, raped and broken by a brutal and demoralizing colonization. How the Europeans cracked their cultural, spiritual, and psychological foundations in half and ate them bit by bit with tea & scrumpets. I think about how centuries have passed since that happened, but their dismissed & unattended ACHE, their communal scream of defeat has manifested into self- & family- destruction through alcoholism, violence, and personal-intolerance. I think about the dejected state of their internal realities — how they carry the shame of warriors who lost the fight that forever cost them their “home.” While European descendants now “New Zealanders” scowl at their “uncivilized natures” on the same land, but far removed from their neighborhoods.
I was once at a luncheon with people from group therapy, and there was this girl from New Zealand there. She came from an upper middle class family and had problems with self-esteem, men, body image issues — you know, usual Western Society probz. Anywho, I asked her if she had seen Once We Were Warriors and what she thought about that communal state of self-destruction, and if she felt the New Zealand government (as a form of restitution, if not out of pure humanity) could do something to help its aborigine populations heal — psychotherapy, group therapy, personal empowerment workshops, etc. She replied to me, “They’re just living in victimhood. If they’d stop victimizing themselves, drinking & fighting so much, and actually cultivated a desire to educate themselves, they wouldn’t be such a mess. That’s not the government’s fault or responsibility.” Says the privileged girl who drinks bottles of vodka because a boy doesn’t like her. I think about how in that moment images of me performing my own version of Maori Warrior vengeance upon her filled my belly with fire, yet how I instead — passionately disagreed with her opinions and then let the conversation die because, after all, she’s also hurting and trying to heal herself. I think about how since then I’ve disliked her anyway.
I think about how she like her ancestors, and her government don’t give a flying dung and never will about the way they emotionally dismembered their aboriginal communities or help them heal through any consequential crippling anguish.
I then think about the Maori characters in Once We Were Warriors, and that if they only realized they were still were warriors, they could have healed themselves. They need nothing from their government or its privileged self-consumed. I think about the daughter in the movie — Grace Heke — bright & studious, unique, an indispensable young woman coming into her power in the midst of this communal self-destruction. I think about how she’s woken up one night by a drunken “uncle” / party guest raping her, and then hangs herself in her backyard. I think about her body dangling from the grey-bark tree and her mother whaling at the sight of it …
I think about her whenever I realize how blessed I truly am. Whenever I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunities I have had and continue experiencing that lead to massive amounts of internal healing and perception change. All the therapy, recovery, spiritual practices & philosophies, psychology-revealing literature & seminars, that have unveiled the depth, color, and health of an otherwise seemingly futile & imbalanced existence.
I think about how I wish I could I have told her all that I know now. I think about how they were all just characters in a movie, but it still makes me sad that they didn’t believe they were still warriors.