March 07, 2020
Should Maori women speak at Waitangi ?
Should Māori women speak at Waitangi?
Dr Rawiri Taonui
The call for Māori women to speak on marae was reignited this year when Mere Mangu, the Chair of Te Rūnanga ā Iwi o Ngāpuhi, welcomed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and other political leaders to Te Whare Rūnanga at Waitangi. The male taumata (front row of speakers) tried to make her sit down. They have been deservedly admonished.
Māori and Indigenous human rights lawyer, Annette Sykes, criticised their ‘kawa (custom) that said only Māori men can sit on the front row and speak’ but allowed National Leader Simon Bridges, Green Leader James Shaw and the Prime Minister ‘to speak English over Māori women who speak Māori’. This echoed Titewhai Harawira’s stand in 1998 blocking then Labour Opposition Leader Helen Clark from speaking on Te Tii Marae; ‘You let Helen Clark speak but not Māori women’.
More broadly, Labour MP Willie Jackson has said Māori women should speak on the marae as many speak better Māori than some ‘idiot young men’. Similarly, Green Party MP Marama Davidson lamented the frustration Māori women feel when male speakers fail to deliver. Far North doyenne, Mira Szaszy always advocated same.
Unfortunately, ethnocentric Pākehā misconceptions, which presume tikanga (custom) is archaic and childlike rather than subtle and complex, often distort this debate in the white media.
One assumption, that women sitting behind men at pōwhiri is discriminatory and sexist, is wrong. Physical placement varies at different stages of pōwhiri. Kuia (older women) karanga (first call) while leading groups on to marae with men and all others behind. Kuia from tangata whenua (home people) stand in front of men and respond with their karanga. In earlier times karanga were a much longer equivalent to whaikōrero.
For whaikōrero (ritual speech making), koroua (older men) speak from the taumata or paepae. Kuia sit behind them. Speakers must have their support. All other men and women are further back. Everyone is together in waiata. For Māori the roles are equal, women in front for the karanga, men in front for whaikōrero, side-by-side for waiata.
Another misconception is that all men whaikōrero and all women karanga. Traditionally, the tikanga of tuakana (senior/eldest male or female) and teina (younger/junior male or female) dictated that older senior men spoke, and younger men did not, and that older senior women gave the karanga and younger women did not. Elders were held wiser and younger people perceived to require spiritual, cerebral and reproductive protection especially te whare tangata (the womb). Metaphorically, older men and women shielded the people.
A further fallacy is that women never speak. Once, the harirū (embrace), hongi (sharing of breath) and/or hākari (meal) have lifted the tapu of the pōwhiri business begins. Both genders speak, often kaumātua (male and female elders) first followed by pakeke (adults) then rangatahi (youth). Decisions and responsibilities are distributed according to skill, merit and respect. Women lead some tribes, others are CEOs. Most Pākehā who accuse Māori of sexism and discrimination do not witness this because they do not stick around to do the dishes.
Women have spoken on marae often according to circumstance, particularly at Waitangi. Te Pūea Hērangi, the great Waikato leader, spoke at the 1940 centenary of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi. Whina Cooper lifted the tapu of the newly carved Te Whare Rūnanga.
In 1997, at Te Kōpua, Sykes spoke as land rights leader Tuaiwa Eva Rickard was laid to rest, appropriately over the objections of men whom Rickard always challenged. In 2014, Green Party co-leader Meteria Tūrei spoke at Rātana and on Te Tii marae at Waitangi.
Some tribes have recognised women with particular mana as speakers. Whaia McClutchie, Mataroa Reedy, Mihi Kōtukutuku and Niniwa-i-te-rangi of Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungunu were renowned orators. McClutchie always said that when she spoke it was ‘complementary to supporting men on the paepae’. In 1985, she spoke on behalf of a group of protesters she led to Waitangi. The taumata was clearly disconcerted until Whina Cooper stood and answered thereby restoring balance.
The men at Waitangi this year should have comprehended that Mangu was key to balancing the multiple cultural concessions they had granted to Pākehā female and male political leaders that day.
Other than the landmark effort from Minister of Justice Andrew Little, our Pākehā politicians delivered little more than a post-colonial mockery of kawa and te reo.
There was no tapu lifting hongi or harirū. The Leader of the Greens, James Shaw, gave what he thought was a short mihi from paper then spoke English. Opposition National Party Leader, Simon Bridges, to his credit without paper, spoke awkwardly and briefly in te reo then ranted in English. The Prime Minister, who spoke from the mahau (porch) to accommodate her gender, gave a short unconvincing mihi then a speech in English, both from paper. Most of the support sang from paper.
Speaking on marae is a high form of oral and aural art and reciting poorly pronounced mihi from paper during formal occasions is simply unauthentic. The male leaders except Little should have spoken from the mahau because their raho were swinging in a tapu space that their reo did not fortify. Any kawa prioritising that parody and excluding Māori women constitutes nothing short of a gross chauvinistic belittling of our mothers and sisters. Mangu’s place was rightful.
Decline and Revival
Other factors have been shaping this debate for some time. Between 1900 and 1960, the Education Department attempted the linguistic genocide via forced language death of te reo by enthusiastically beating the kia ora out of successive generations of Māori children. The infamous Hunn Report (1961) reinforced this approach describing te reo speakers as ‘backward and retarded’.
Urbanisation escaping impoverishment from land loss initiated a demographic shift from 80% rural in 1940 to 80% urban in 1980 further eroding te reo by separating whānau from papakāinga (homelands).
The combined impact was that Māori leaders, grandparents and parents stopped speaking. Intergenerational transmission broke down. The language began to die. Between 1900 and 1990, fluent speakers fell from 90% to less than 5%. All my full-blooded Māori uncles and aunties lost their reo.
As revitalisation initiatives gathered momentum during the 1970s and 1980s, younger people began filling speaking and karanga gaps with many, in an irony of colonisation, paying fees to universities, polytechnics and wānanga to repossess the mother tongue stolen from their parents.
Māoridom is crossing another threshold. Numerically, there have never been more speakers, however, with a larger population never more scattered and dispersed from homeland marae there are not enough whaikōrero exponents.
There is a crisis in fast disappearing competent male speakers. Male speakers, who traditionally dominated te reo speakers aged over 50 years, are passing away more rapidly than non-speakers. Male speakers also predominate in emigration seeking work overseas. Others become less unavailable after taking up cultural advisory positions in public organisations that while admirably expanding their corporate cultural acumen do so without counting the cultural capital they remove from communities.
In contrast, more Māori women than men are learning te reo. In 2001, men were more likely than women to speak te reo in all age groups over 20. Now more Māori women do so in every age group under 40.
In part, this is because Māori women are faring better than Māori men in tertiary education. There are two Māori women for every Māori man enrolled in Bachelor degrees.
In mitigation, while racist barriers exist for all Māori in education, like being seen as less likely to succeed, there is a particular prejudice against Māori men via a gendered colourism that preferring middle-class indigenes with European features and light skin perceives them as dark male predators.
Māori women are also more determined because they have borne the greater weight of colonisation and urbanisation. With 41% of Māori children in single-parent families compared to just 17% of Pākehā children by the mid-1990s, too many Māori women were and are the sole pou tokomanawa (centre post) of too many whānau Māori.
The cumulative outcome is that more Māori women than men know all parts of their pepeha – tribal names, rivers, mountains, ancestors and canoes. The ratio of men to women identifying with an iwi is also dropping, from 96 men for every 100 women in 1991, to 89 men for every 100 women in 2013.
Māori men are sometimes the architects of our downfall. Some have internalised false Victorian European Christian notions about the superior and inferior status of men and women. Several finding female assertiveness threatening reject modern ‘Mana Wahine’ in favour of a mythical ‘Te Mana o te Wahine’. Others overromanticize warrior culture neglecting that our ancestral forefathers spent more time gardening, building, hunting, fishing, birding and being good dads than they did oiling each other’s bodies in the corner of pā in preparation for the next pakanga (battle).
Māori women are now the more prominent emancipatory leaders. They led the Māori Land March, Te Hīkoi ki Pōneke, Raglan and founded Kōhanga Reo. Pania Newton led Ihumātao, Renae Maihi the landmark defamation-racism affray.
There are the politicians Dame Tariana Turia, Marama Davidson Louisa Wall and Nanaia Māhuta, skilled tribal leaders like Mangu, Dame Naida Glavish and Professor Margaret Mutu. And others, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Donna Awatere, Hilda Hawkyard, Mereana Pitman, Merepeka Raukawa-Tawa and Linda Smith. Too many to name, they walk in the footsteps of Te Pūea, Cooper, Rickard, Szaszy, Hana Te Hemera and many others.
Some decades ago, my aunties asked me to speak for our whānau. As we look to the future fewer men are learning te reo. One ponders who will speak when darkness falls.
My eldest daughter has been the whānau stalwart from a young age. She may do my poroporoaki and if challenged might reply ‘Mehemea kāhore e whai raho ngā mea tāne o te whānau ki te ako i te reo, me tū atu ahau te wahine ki te whaikōrero mō tōku pāpā’.
At the end of the dawn service on February 6, Waitangi National Trust chair Pita Tipene called Mangu to be the last speaker. On our national day, it is appropriate that the head of the largest tribe in Aotearoa New Zealand be the first and the last kaikōrero.
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