Among the mourners and speakers at Moana Jackson’s tangi at Matahiwi marae was Mengzhu Fu, an activist, student, former youth worker, and member of Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga (ASTR).
Mengzhu met Moana as a 17-year-old in 2007 and shared a warm friendship right up to his death.
Here Mengzhu recalls his wisdom and guidance.
Driving Moana Jackson around was one of my favourite pastimes. When he visited Tāmaki Mākaurau, I’d sometimes pick him up from the airport and we’d go for kai at the K Rd food court, or for Chinese food on Dominion Rd. Once, we headed to Ihumātao together.
During those car rides, he would chat about his beloved mokopuna and his own university days. He would offer encouragement and support for whatever I was working on at the time, usually as an activist for Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga.
Our rōpū was merely one small part of Moana’s huge network of commitments. But he took time and care to guide us, teach us, and to be our friend. He treated us young people as equals and even sought our opinions on his writing and work.
Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa is the ocean that connects all our lands — and like the ocean whose name he carries, Moana’s legacy is just as deep and expansive.
I want to share this for his whānau and mokopuna in case they may learn something new about their koro. I’m also sharing in the hope that others may join us to help fulfil his dreams of constitutional transformation.
Moana taught me, a young Chinese activist, the meaning of solidarity and what it means to be living on this land as tangata Tiriti who respect tangata whenua.
We first met at a Pōneke conference in 2007 where I was speaking about being Asian on colonised land. I was born in Tianjin, China, and had moved to Aotearoa with my parents in the mid-1990s. We arrived during the “Asian invasion” era of xenophobia, and I experienced jarring public and systemic racism as a child.
In high school, I got involved in youth-based grassroots activism through the anti-war movement which was protesting against the US war on Iraq. I met Māori activists involved in the movement and began to make links between the injustice of the US occupation of Iraq and the Crown occupation of Māori land.
Then, during the so-called “anti-terror” raids in 2007 — where armed New Zealand police invaded Ruātoki in Te Urewera — several of my friends were accused of “terrorism”. I started to come across writing about being Asian on colonised land, in the Mellow Yellow zine by Wai Ho and the book Jade Taniwha by Māori-Chinese author, Jenny Lee-Morgan. These things provided so much clarity on how racism, colonialism and Pākehā dominance works in Aotearoa.
This initial understanding of te Tiriti was immensely influenced by meeting Moana Jackson on that day in 2007.
Moana told me many years later that the conference was the first time he’d seen so many non-Pākehā people of different cultures talking about te Tiriti, and he recalled how he’d spoken to the audience about his koro.
In that kōrero, Moana remembered, when he was about 11, hearing his koro raise the issue of prejudice against Chinese people during a Ngāti Kahungunu hui. There’d been an incident where some of their relatives had dug up vegetables from a Chinese family’s market garden. And rather than go to the police, the Chinese family had gone to Moana’s koro for help. His koro found those responsible and made them repair the relationship by spending a week remedying the damage and replanting the gardens.
To me, this is such a powerful story of the possibilities and effectiveness of tikanga Māori approaches to justice that don’t involve the colonising state.
Just over a decade after our first meeting, Moana connected me with Darryn Ooi, a young Asian law student in Pōneke with an interest in Treaty issues. We organised a public event where Moana agreed to give a talk on “Te Tiriti and Asians” at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington law school.
In his kōrero, Moana shared older stories of solidarity between early Chinese miners and market gardeners and the tangata whenua of Waikato and Parihaka.
They were stories we’d never heard before. So many of us had grown up in Asian communities where racism against Māori was normalised, and where Asian immigration specifically was presented as a threat to Māoridom.
But here was Moana, telling us that Te Tiriti was for everyone who wants to make this place home:
“The Māori words of the Treaty, what we call Te Tiriti o Waitangi, is that the agreement was seen rather like a marae. There’s always a kawa on the marae or rules about how you behave when you go on to the marae. So, you go on to the marae and you accept the jurisdiction of the people to whom the marae belongs. You accept their authority. You accept that they will set the kaupapa of what will happen. They will set the agenda.
But, on accepting that as a visitor, you do not give up your own independent authority. And what the interaction of the marae of what we call a pōwhiri — the process of welcome and response to welcome — really seeks to do, is create a sense in which both sides are clear on their authority and their independence. But, more importantly in that situation, [to] welcome a chance for interdependence.”
As he answered the questions that followed, I remember him saying: “I believe that all the great changes in human history haven’t come from up here” — and he gestured with his hand up high. “They began with ordinary people talking with each other.”
His talk galvanised our audience that night — Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga Pōneke formed as a result of that kōrero.
We stayed in touch over the years as I moved away to York University in Canada to pursue a PhD about Indigenous and Asian solidarity in Aotearoa and in Canada-occupied Turtle Island.
In one email exchange about my thesis topic, he again shared stories about his koro’s empathy for Chinese immigrants.
“I’m not sure if I have told you but during the ‘Yellow Peril’ scare after World War One the government used images of a ‘beautiful Māori wahine’ with a dragon leering behind her as part of its publicity. Anyway, some of the Chinese people at home in Hastings were beaten up and our marae held a hui to offer shelter to them.
My koro was still quite young then and helped organise the kaiawhina at the marae. For years afterwards, different families and their mokopuna would visit him.
He was a great gardener and I remember that when he lived with us, he would swap fruit and vegetables with them. When he died, they came to our marae which was really nice. I’m sure other whānau have similar stories.”
It made me tear up learning about this — and it was even more meaningful when we got to pay our respects to Moana on his marae. In many ways, Moana was carrying on his koro’s legacy through the relationships he created and maintained with us.
To me, Moana was the embodiment of his own description of whakapapa as being a series of never-ending beginnings. He showed true manaakitanga for the communities of migrants who ended up here in Aotearoa.
One Waitangi Day, instead of going to Waitangi, he decided to stay in Naenae and speak to a group of rangatahi. They were Māori as well as Asian, Ethiopian, and Somali youth. He understood that white supremacy and racism affected so many of our communities, and that they underpin colonisation. He always found a way to educate us that didn’t flatten our differences but saw our struggles as interconnected.
Before Moana’s tangi, I was in touch with his whanaunga, Anne Waapu. We had shared many moments with Moana together. One time, he told us both that his greatest regret in life was that he’d never been arrested! He said we should mention this at his tangi.
Anne encouraged us to attend and offered suggestions for us to consider in deciding how we might best honour our friend and mentor. That we might choose to wear what is culturally significant to us. That we would speak if we wanted to. That the pae would be open for wāhine to speak, including in our own languages.
As Anne said in her whaikōrero at the tangi, Moana planted so many seeds and nurtured so many seedlings. Many of those seeds, by now, have already grown to a full forest. He built an ecosystem where all the plants he nurtured can also connect with and nourish each other, and flourish together.
Listening to his dear friends and wāhine toa speak at his tangi — those such as Ani Mikaere, Papaarangi Reid, Mereana Pitman and Annette Sykes — gave us a renewed energy, and fired us up to organise and act. We are more determined than ever to do everything we can to carry through mātua Moana’s vision for constitutional transformation. There can be no compromising on that vision.
Since the passing of our friend and teacher, the waves of sadness continue to ebb and flow in us. So when I think about Moana’s legacy, I try to think about his orientation towards action.
In his piece responding to the March 15 white supremacist mosque shooting in Christchurch, he wrote:
“While love might prompt a desire for change, the change itself could not occur without the practical exertion ‘of weary feet and sharp minds’. It involved active toil and an honest analysis of historic cause and consequence, as well as the willingness to dream different dreams.”
We made this promise to Moana at his tangihanga:
We will continue to support Māori sovereignty, to work together to eliminate colonialism and racism, to struggle without end, so that one day, your dreams will become reality for the generations to come.
Me ū tonu mātou ki tēnei kaupapa o te tino rangatiratanga o ngā tāngata whenua, me mahi tahi ai kia whakakorengia te tāmitanga me te kaikiritanga, ka whawhai tonu, ka whawhai tonu, ā tōna wā, ka ea, ka tutuki ō moemoeā mō ngā uri whakaheke.
By Mengzhu Fu, with support and input from ASTR members, Julie Zhu, Mahdis Azarmandi, Jasmin Singh, and Darryn Ooi. Special thanks to Kassie Hartendorp for her helpful feedback.
Thank you for reading E-Tangata. If you like our focus on Māori and Pasifika stories, interviews, and commentary, we need your help. Our content takes skill, long hours and hard work. But we're a small team and not-for-profit, so we need the support of our readers to keep going.
If you support our kaupapa and want to see us continue, please consider making a one-off donation or contributing $5 or $10 a month.