Growing up as a teenager in Levin, my peers would often refer to the town as a hole.

A hole by its very nature is a dark place you fall into and can't get out of, a small, dingy, and shabby place.

Very quickly I caught on to the opinion that as soon as possible, I would escape to the city lights, and if I didn't, I'd somehow get stuck in the hole and struggle to get out.

So I did, I left Levin and swore never to return.


But I had a mindset change, I saw this region with a new set of eyes, and came home.

I allowed my roots to grow and now I connect with this land, so much so that I can feel the ground shifting with the inevitable move towards growth and change, and it excites me.

I realised that what matters is not where you live, it's how you choose to live and how you choose to make a difference.

I fell in love with Horowhenua. Aspects such as its rivers, the Trig walk and its panoramic views, the black sand beaches that appear to go on forever, the absence of traffic, snow-capped mountains in winter, affordable housing, birdsong and the untainted night sky, to name a few.

Horowhenua's natural beauty beckons you to walk life a little slower. PHOTO: ASHLEIGH COLLIS
Horowhenua's natural beauty beckons you to walk life a little slower. PHOTO: ASHLEIGH COLLIS

This town in my eyes is no longer a hole. It's transformed into something else.

A recent Stuff article suggesting Levin's name could change to Taitoko/Levin has ignited a debate through the town.

What many may not know is that Taitoko is the town's rightful name, according to the Muaupoko Wai report released last year by the Waitangi Tribunal. When Maori sold the Horowhenua Block in 1886, the contract included a condition that the town would be named Taitoko.

The report confirms that local iwi leader Te Keepa was in charge of the Horowhenua Block sale negotiations and named the Block after his daughter Wiki Taitoko.

Taitoko translated into English means ray of sunshine or beam of light.

What a beautiful gesture.

However, that agreement would later be broken, in effect violating the Treaty of Waitangi.

Following the Stuff article suggesting a town name change may be on the cards, I was visiting the council building to pick up a document. While I was there, I witnessed a disturbing scene. An elderly bloke was talking to a customer service representative and his anger at the prospect of a name change was evident. Holding the article in his hand, he spouted off statements like "Maori feel they are entitled".

With grace, the young lady stood up to let the man know that she was in fact of Maori descent, but that didn't seem to phase him, and he kept offloading his opposition to the potential name change.

After the man left, I watched as the lady let her guard down, her hands shook as she took deep breaths to calm herself, holding back the tears.

Later I asked her if this had happened before and she said that every day brings a different experience of racism.

The misunderstanding about a name change arose through the use of the name Taitoko in council's consultation document for Levin's town centre strategy - a beautiful gesture, I think, on behalf of a council who had never used the Maori name prominently in a document before.

I sat at a cafe in Levin's town centre and heard the thoughts of another man on the matter. This man looked out across Levin's largest car park, arguably the centre of the upgrade strategy, and pointed out the beauty of the sun which shone through the trees.

Of Maori descent, Robert Warrington said that perhaps the point of using the name had been misunderstood.

He said the point wasn't a name change but rather a concept of how Levin might look in the future, linking together the region's history and natural beauty.

"I wish there was as much attention paid to the word 'transforming' as there was to the use of the name Taitoko." Warrington said as the region grows, it faces exciting choices.

"Transforming Taitoko/Levin provides a platform for us to take part in that transformation, to take part in a mindset change," he said.

Warrington feels that by using the name Taitoko in the document, it perhaps could ground the transformation process and link it with nature and history.

"As the town grows wouldn't it be nice to retain our country feel and our connection to nature?

"Instead of transforming into a concrete jungle, we retain our connection to the trees, waterways, fish and birds.

"Imagine, if as part of the transformation process we could adopt nature as a motif."

I couldn't help but envision the picture Warrington painted, and I valued this Maori world view of kaitiakitanga (guardianship of nature). His concept, I felt, truly reflected the name Taitoko. It was a ray of sunshine and a beam of light into a vision of our future.

Warrington said Maori have been waiting for Levin to adopt its original name for more than 120 years.

"It might give pride to the Maori community, but if you don't like them having pride, stick with the name Levin."

Warrington's argument resonated with me. Though a name change is not on the cards right now, I argue that perhaps it should be.

Perhaps restoring the name of the town will be a catalyst for another kind of restoration. Instead of having our town named after a railway director who never lived here, perhaps we should honour the agreement made with Maori all those years ago.

This town is not a place to jump on a train and leave from, a place you'd choose not to live in, as I once did, as Mr Levin did.

Let's see it anew, as a ray of sunshine and a beam of light; let's see it for its possibilities and opportunities but most importantly, its beauty.