Fermentation & bush food lover Mikkeline Olsen
Mikkeline Olsen radiates joy! Brought up in a culturally diverse family, her passion for discovering her roots and connecting the dots have always been strong.
“Culture is not fixed and changes, it adapts through time and experience and must evolve to continue. My daily life practices and behaviour have also adapted through experiencing life and what it means to be a fair skinned bi-cultural woman living in Australia.”
Mikkeline’s business ‘All Things Aroha’ is a small artisanal food business specialising in wholesome and delicious food that use ancient techniques such as fermentation and other traditional and ancient food preservation practices. Her interest in Indigenous foods and medicines from around the world is forever growing, and slowly she is introducing them into her products range.
I sat down with Mikkeline to ask about her Island heritage and the influences it's had on her life, whilst sharing a lovely pot of her delicious “love yourself tea”.
What’s your connection to Island Culture?
“I am Māori. My mother is Māori from Aotearoa and I have always felt a connection with the greater Pacific and island culture.”
What was it like growing up in Australia with Pacific Island heritage?
"I was born in Denmark to a Danish father and a Māori mother, we migrated to Australia when I was 3 and it actually took years for me to feel at home here. I didn’t feel ‘Australian’. I also didn’t feel Danish or Māori enough, and so it has been quite a journey finding my feet in who I am.
Looking back, I see how diverse Australia is. It is more multicultural than Denmark and Aotearoa. Growing up I had friends from Aotearoa and other Pacific Islands and always felt a sense of kinship with them. That’s the beauty of growing up in Australia, it’s very multicultural. Having a mixed heritage has also made me more interested in other cultures as I tend to gravitate toward people from diverse cultural backgrounds including Indigenous Australian culture. My heritage has shaped me to be culturally sensitive and aware, and I love to encourage others to celebrate their own cultural background.”
How does your connection to Island Culture show up in your daily life?
“This is an interesting question to answer. It has always been a part of me, yet it is something that also evolves within me through my life journey of connecting the dots of where my ancestors came from, and how that relates to the place I choose to stand now.
“Culture is not fixed and changes, it adapts through time and experience and must evolve to continue. My daily life practices and behaviour have also adapted through experiencing life and what it means to be a fair skinned bi-cultural woman living in Australia.
“Each persons representation of their cultural heritage will look, sound and feel different. Yet they are all true and complete for that person. Because someone has been labelled as being ‘half’ of something does not actually sit well with me, and is a colonist segregation tool. I am not half Māori and half Danish, I am Māori AND Danish. Because I have been brought up in Australia, I am also somewhat Australian.
“Back to answering your question though… My culture shows up in my daily life through the music that I listen to, as I love to listen and sing Māori waiata (songs). I am also a hula (Hawaiian) dancer and have been involved in Kapa Haka (Māori performing arts) in the past. Although I haven’t picked up the ukelele or guitar in a while, I had been keen to learn in the past and have been inspired by the many talented Māori and Pacific Islander musicians.
“Food is a big part of our lives and I love creating healthy food for people. It is common among Māori and Islanders for food to be central to everything they do. Life is celebrated with sharing food together and this is definitely something I have adopted and enjoy. So much so, I started a healthy food business.
“There are certain values important to Māori such as arriving at a hosts house with a ‘koha’. This is some type of offering or gift and is seen as a reciprocal exchange. I usually bring food as a koha when visiting friends or whānau (family). Equally when you host others it is important to practice ‘manaakitanga’ (hospitality) and make sure your guests feel welcome, well fed and comfortable.
“As a spiritual and physical being, I feel my connection to nature and need to immerse myself in these environments frequently. I pay my respects to the elements that nourish us such as the plants, rivers, oceans and mountains through just being in those environments, through ‘karakia’ (blessing or prayer) said out aloud or a personal inward meditation. Most Māori feel their connection to nature and spirit and need to regularly visit the natural world to feel balanced and whole. If I have too much time in the city and not enough time in nature, I start to feel drained and uninspired.”
“Over the course of my life, I have been diving into my whakapapa (genealogy) and learning about my ancestor’s history and journey to Aotearoa from Hawaiki (our ancestral homeland). This year I had planned to go to Tahiti on a cultural trip where my ancestors that arrived to Aotearoa came from. Hopefully, in the not too distant future I will have the opportunity to visit Tahiti. Travel has been a huge part of my life and I attribute much of that to having parents from opposite sides of the Earth who descend from the Vikings who were the great sea voyagers from the north, and the Māori who were the great sea farers from the south.
“I lived in Aotearoa in my early twenties and continue to visit regularly. Through these visits, I have built connections with whanaunga (relations) and made some solid friendships with other Māori and Pacific Islanders along the way. I began my Te Reo (Māori language) learning journey whilst living in Aotearoa and this continues today. I did not have the luxury of growing up speaking the language or knowing and living cultural protocol, so it has been up to me to seek these things out.
“The fire within my spirit and thirst for understanding who I am and where I come from has developed a strength and resilience within me that has helped me with many other areas in my life. My grandmother whom I never physically met was a fluent speaker, although she lived in a time when it wasn’t popular to speak Māori so I think this is why it wasn’t passed on to my mother or any of her siblings. She also married a pakeha (non-Māori of European decent) whom was my grandfather who I also never met.
“I am thankful on my journey I have found the tools and resources, met the right people at the right time, and taken opportunities offered before me to find my feet in culture. You can even learn basic Māori online from anywhere in the world now! Everyday I feel the mana (spiritual power) of my ancestors, my culture, my soul and connection to nature and this influences everything I do and the way I choose to live my life.”
Is there an aspect of Island culture, that you love the most?
“Definitely the music, dance and performing arts. I also love the food, the focus on family connection and our shared heritage between the Pacific Islands. I also have a huge interest in whakapapa (genealogy and the story of the journey of our origins).”
How do you think your connection to Island Culture informs your creativity?
“In many ways yet most notably through food. My mixed heritage is probably more accurate to describe my style of fusing different tastes together. I am not scared to try new things and this definitely helps with my creativity in the kitchen. Music is another inspiration for my creativity as sound sets and/or matches vibration. I often listen to Māori, kiwi and Islander music to help get me into a creative flow and to raise or relax my energy.”
If the world could adopt one aspect of island culture, what would you love that to be and why?
“The love and expression of music. Cultures around the world express themselves through the medium of sound, music and dance and this is something that our Pacifica cultures share with many other cultures around the world. Humour is another big one, islanders know how to make fun and laugh!”
And finally: what does it mean to you to live a Big, Beautiful life?
“Dream big and follow up on those dreams. Even if they don’t manifest how you think they should, who knows where it could lead you or what they may be preparing you for. Believe in yourself and know you are loved and belong here. Know where you come from in order to know where you are heading and do the things you always wanted to do. We don’t know how long we have on this planet and in this life, it’s so easy to get complacent. At the end of the day If you can sit and say “if I die tomorrow, I die happy knowing I have done the things I wanted to do in my life” then kei te pai (it’s all good)."
‘All Things Aroha’ is a small artisanal food business specialising in wholesome and delicious food that use ancient techniques such as fermentation. All their products are made in small batches by hand and are transformed through food alchemy to make the most delicious, healthy food. They source local, spray free and organic produce and support other local, small businesses.
You can find out more information on Mikkeline’s business ‘All Things Aroha’ HERE and stay tuned as I talk further with her about all things fermented in coming weeks… plus she’s going to give us a recipe to try out!
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