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Matariki, and Maori Cultural Heritage

[Delivered on behalf of Hon Tariana Turia]

12 Pipiri 2002 Speech Notes

E nga iwi, e nga reo, tena koutou katoa.


I am a descendant of the iwi of the Whanganui River. The whakapapa, traditions and history of the many whanau and hapu, up and down the river, are so closely intertwined that we are known as ‘te Taura Whiri a Hinengakau’.

This shared culture is part of our heritage – part of our identity that has been handed down to us by our ancestors.

The taura whiri is a powerful metaphor. It conveys the idea of diverse strands, deliberately organised to maximise unity and collective strength - a useful attribute in many situations.

Te Taura Whiri a Hinengakau also underlines the fact that the people and their culture are inseparable. The whanau and hapu are bound together by ties of blood, ties that are recognised and recorded in our kawa and tikanga, in traditions like taumau, whangai and kawe mate, and in our waiata, purakau and whaikorero.

The many aspects of our cultural heritage, our taonga tuku iho, reinforce our identity as tribal people, as tangata whenua. We therefore have an obligation to future generations of tangata whenua to protect and maintain our cultural heritage.

This is true of tangible cultural artefacts, and also of intangible taonga, our matauranga.

We have beautiful taonga pounamu, for example, that are almost indestructible, and have been handed down through families for a thousand years. And we have carved houses that record much of the history of a whole iwi.

There are laws and institutions that are designed to protect our tangible cultural heritage. Te Papa Tongarewa is a leading example.

Unfortunately, colonial laws and institutions have not often given sufficient importance to keeping alive the connections between the physical taonga, and the community whose taonga it is.

It is the living relationships that give meaning and cultural value to a taonga, and enable the taonga to fulfil its function of reinforcing the mana and identity and tikanga of the community.

In the past, many of our taonga have been kidnapped.

Having said that, I do acknowledge the pioneering work that Te Papa Tongarewa is doing to enhance the relationships between the taonga it holds, and the communities whose taonga they are.

As a nation, we are also grappling with the task of protecting matauranga Maori, through reviews of intellectual property rights legislation, and responses to the ground-breaking WAI 262 claim concerning intangible taonga. It is hard work for all concerned, but vital to our future as tangata whenua.

Paramount among our intangible taonga tuku iho is our reo.

A reo is a taonga in its own right, and it’s also the primary way of transmitting cultural value. The korero attached to any taonga enhances its mana, its cultural value as a taonga.

So we see our reo, perhaps the most ephemeral, changeable, and idiosyncratic of our taonga, as critical to maintaining all of our cultural heritage as something to be valued.

In 1987, the Maori Language Commission was set up to protect and promote te reo Maori. The first commissioners included the late Miria Simpson, and Timoti Karetu who is present today.

They adopted the metaphor of a plaited rope, a Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori, no doubt for the same reason as the descendants of Hinengakau – the idea that if the reo of the many hapu and iwi can be orchestrated, they will be stronger and sweeter.

But we all know how difficult it is to get a lot of Maori to speak with one voice!

The celebration of diversity is also part of our cultural heritage – mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga have a proud tradition of their own. And among tangata whenua, the distinctive mita of each different iwi is a badge of identity.

This difficulty of weaving a taura whiri i te reo Maori again underlines how the people and their taonga cannot be separated. You cannot speak with a single reo if you cannot unite the people.

The autonomy of whanau and hapu presents the government with challenges in protecting and promoting indigenous language and culture. These are matters for tomorrow’s hui.

Nevertheless, when the take was right, our old people could co-operate fully.

Today, Matariki may be one such take, which can help to unite the hapu and iwi as Maori.

One way it does this, is by placing us on an international stage.

As hapu and iwi, we usually identify with our maunga and awa – our local landscapes. This is how we position ourselves on the face of the land, and in relation to others.

But right across te Moana Nui a Kiwa, our tupuna used stars to orient themselves and to navigate, and to set their calendars.

Matariki is a name that is common to us all. Not just to the iwi of Aotearoa, but to all Maori people, as far away as Hawai’i and Tahiti.

So as we unite to celebrate this take, we also celebrate our common cultural heritage with all Maori people of the Pacific.

Together, as tangata whenua across the world, we may have a better chance of protecting our tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

UNESCO provides a global framework within which we may be able to co-operate. I welcome UNESCO’s interest and support, for the broader issues, for promoting 2002 as the International Year of Cultural Heritage, and for supporting this evening in particular.

[And as we celebrate, it is my pleasure and privilege to present a little koha to each of the young people who have shown that they can sing with one voice.]

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