“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say.
Watch and listen.
You are the result of the love of thousands.”
~ Linda Hogan
Kō Tony Bridge toku ingoa.
I am Tony Bridge
We meet for the first time and, perhaps alerted by exotic flavours in the accent of the person before us, we ask: so, where are you from? It is an expression of openness and interest, a hand held out, palm upwards. The other looks at us for a moment and then responds. India, Germany, perhaps Zimbabwe. In that one word, much is conveyed. And much is assumed.
Māori do it differently. If you ask me that same question and my inner sense is that you require more than verbal shorthand, then you will get a much longer and more complete reply. It is a mark of my respect for you and an honouring of your taking the time to ask.
I am the sum of all the people who have come before me, my ancestors, my tupuna. I chose my parents with great care before I was born, for the things they would give me, the challenges they would wire into my soul’s journey. I am the point at the bottom of an upside-down pyramid, carrying their dreams, hopes and aspirations. It falls to me to continue to weave these threads.
My mother was born in Invercargill in Southland, at the bottom of Aotearoa/ New Zealand. She was of English and Welsh descent, a good Anglican, and a gifted writer, and she instilled in me faith, a love of learning and a passion for thought and philosophy. I emerged from University with a degree in foreign languages, in Western thought and the gift of words, the province of Ranginui, the Sky Father, the atua (god/ guardian) of mind and belief.
My father came from the opposite end of the country, from the Hokianga region of Northland. His ancestors were Dutch, English and Māori. He too was passionate about the power of education, but he was also much closer to Papatuanuku, to Mother Earth. He taught me to listen to the land, to the messages our Mother the Earth, is sending us every minute of every day. He taught me to hear the messages carried down the wind and pinned to the trees, to acknowledge and pay heed to my intuition, to see beyond the labels we are taught to pin to what we see. He was passionate about photography and passed that gift to me.
So, I walked the spiral of my life, gathering experiences, some joyous and some painful, living within the body of Tawhirimatea, the god of the winds and the atua of change. I spent 30 years as secondary school teacher, until it was time to change and pursue my calling as an artist and professional photographer. Since that time, I have been involved in writing and publishing four books. I have exhibited and been sponsored by various photographic companies, along with working as professional photographer. I have trained as a labyrinth facilitator. And now I have come to my life’s work.
One day Tawhirimatea blew me into contact with my first matua (teacher), Te Hata Ohlson, who invited me to learn the Old Ways from him. He taught me of IO Matua Kore (IO the Master of the All), and the kaitiaki (guardians/ archetypes). Then one night, in class, he laid down the challenge: the Old Ways must not be allowed to die. Your mission is to preserve them for future generations. And a new journey began.
Other teachers followed, wise people who shared and taught and corrected and helped me grow. They continue to emerge at exactly the right time, and help me on my journey. Blessings and deepest thanks to you all.
Then, at the beginning of 2015, after a year living in Te Wai Pounamu, the South Island, my mother’s island, it was time to travel north to Te Ika a Māui, the North Island of New Zealand Hokianga and follow my father’s whakapapa, my ancestry. When I arrived, accompanied by only the things which would fit into my vehicle, I had no idea of what I would do or where I would live. However, a place to live soon found me along with work to do. My art changed radically and I soon realised that not only had I come home, but I had also come to the most mysterious part of Aotearoa.
For this is home.
Ko au Hokianga
Ko Hokianga ko au.
I am Hokianga, and Hokianga is me.