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May 31, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Whaikōrero: A woman’s place too?

Traditionally, whaikōrero has been the domain of men. This article aims to broaden understandings about whaikōrero and the role of mana wahine within this practice, as well as reinforce the idea that Māori are a diverse people with varying opinions on gender roles.

Before continuing any further, a bit of a disclaimer: I am a young Ngāti Porou, born and bred, and the views expressed in this article will no doubt differ to others’ on this topic. The idea that Māori are all one people is one of the issues that arise when Māori are lumped into one category (usually not a very positive one), and the nuances that give us our own distinct tribal and/or sub-tribal identities are lost. So just to clarify, I’m writing from a tribal perspective where I know even within Māoridom there will be a lot of people who flat-out do not share my views.

Let’s begin by differentiating the concept of mana wahine from that of feminism. I always feel uncomfortable when people label women/events/viewpoints as being/possessing/lacking mana wahine, when they’re really referring to a perceived idea of feminism. Don’t get me wrong: I am in no way attacking feminist ideals. I am appreciative of and try to embody both feminist and mana wahine qualities; but I also subscribe to the view that mana wahine exceeds the boundaries of feminism. Of course, other people will have their definitions, but I appreciate how Merata Mita explained it, as:

“I am Māori, I am woman, I am family, I am tribe, and only one of the facets of who I am fits comfortably under the label of feminism”.

So when women wanting to sit in the front bench of a paepae or wanting to speak in a pohiri is explained as asserting feminism, it all becomes problematic and just feels oh so wrong. It is important to approach this topic, and others regarding tikanga Māori, seriously and respectfully with Māori concepts such as mana wahine as opposed to imposing other non-Māori ideologies, like feminism, on traditional Māori practices and worldviews.

Among Māori, views about women speaking on the marae tend to vary: some iwi are very forward and possess strong views on the distinct roles of men and women during a pohiri. I understand some of these views originated in order to protect women, because of the tapu nature of women as the whare tangata. There is a sense that women need to be safeguarded within the realm of Tu, hence men sitting in the front pae as a barrier and speaker to shield women from any unwanted attacks of a physical or spiritual nature.

However, not all iwi share the view that only men can speak on the marae, and for this I want to focus on specific models of this manifestation of mana wahine as female orators. No doubt there are examples of mana wahine in all iwi, but I feel comfortable focussing on my own because that is what I know, and where my heart is. Ngāti Porou are somewhat known for being liberal when it comes to the right of women to speak on the marae. In Ngāti Porou, there are examples of mana wahine with ancestors such as Materoa and Hinematioro, women who in their time would have had no contest to their right to speak anywhere. More recently there was Whaia McClutchie who, despite on occasion being disputed as a kaiwhaikōrero, was well known to attend many hui throughout the country where if necessary she would whaikōrero to ensure her message was heard. She would say: “I speak, for the benefit of the people”.

These women serve as the personification of a different realm of mana wahine, and the potential of what women speaking on the marae could be. There needs to be a discussion about what the priority for whaikōrero is: the gender of the person doing the whaikōrero, or the quality of language and thought that they are expressing. I understand that women have the opportunity to express opinions through karanga, but my argument is that if a women is the most articulate orator or most proficient in te reo Māori than any other person in her ope, why shouldn’t she have the opportunity to represent her ope in the area of whaikōrero? As we are going through a time of revitalising our language, we should use this time as a chance to celebrate and be encouraging of the most fluent, most proficient, most eloquent among us, regardless of what’s between their legs.

Admittedly, sitting in the front pae and doing whaikōrero during pohiri is nobody’s given right. This right is earned through the respect and consent of your people; it just so happens that tribes give their consent to speakers for different reasons. This consent is possibly given through your extensive knowledge and being articulate in either or both Māori and English.

During my time at university, I have met women who exemplify the characteristics of mana wahine outlined in this article, who if they choose, I hope they return to whaikōrero at their marae when the time comes. One day, with the consent of my people, I also hope to whaikōrero on my marae back home. I hope to do my tipuna, both female and male, proud in the knowledge that I am utilising and applying their taonga tuku iho, our traditions in our language that they loved.

Ultimately, a person’s gender should not be the main determinant for the right to speak on the marae. Whaikōrero has the potential to be anyone’s place to exhibit the best of who we are: our humour, our colloquialisms, and our distinct views that make us different to any other people in this world. I do believe that this is a part of the ongoing wider conversation that needs to be had about pohiri and tikanga processes. Possibly even within New Zealand race relations as a whole, to foster a wider understanding of these protocols that help make up part of our national identity.

Kati, i te mutunga iho, kei te mohio pu au ka whakahe etahi (tērā pea te nuinga, tera pea te katoa!) ki enei whakaaro ōku. Heoi, ka matua hiahia au ki te rongo i ngā whakaaro a etahi atu, he pai ake tērā i te kore korero me te noho wahangu mo te taha ki enei korero. Kei raro.


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  1. Joanna Morgan says:

    Tena rawa atu e Hine. I te tuatahi ka mihi ki a koe, mou ra te mana o ou tipuna e whakatinana i tenei ao.
    Ehara tenei i te kupu whakakahore i nga tikanga o iwi ke, e mohio whanuitia te mana o nga rangatira o Ngati Porou i korerohia e koe ka tika! Engari, kua pouri i te kore aronga ki te reo karanga e rangona tuatahitia ki runga i te atea. He ataahua nga kupu, he hohonu nga whakaaro, he tapu hoki te tikanga. Inahea te reo whaikorero i whakanuia ake ai i te reo karanga e hoa? He pai ake te whaikorero i te karanga hei kawe i nga whakaaro o te iwi? Ko te ahua nei, ki te kore te reo o te wahine e rangona hei reo whaikorero, ka kore te mana o te wahine. E ki e ki, e hika e, kia hapai tatou i nga mahi a koro ma, a kui ma hoki kia pai ai tenei tikanga ko te pohiri.

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