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‘She who Rocks the Cradle, Rocks the World’

‘She who Rocks the Cradle, Rocks the World’
Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Celebrating our Leaders:
Mana Wahine Week 2005. 14 April 2005

My Whaea Tupuna, my many mothers, nurturers, e nga wahine toa o te roopu….tena tatou katoa.

Thank you for your invitation to speak with you today.

You will all be familiar with our whakatauki, Ma aro koe te ha o hineahuone. Pay homage to the essence of womankind.

The women who nurtured and shaped me into the person I am today,
were my grandmother, Hoki Waewae, my Aunty Waiharakeke, Aunty Paeroa Hunia; my mum Dawsy; Mererikiriki, matakite and prophetess, Iriaka Ratana first Maori women MP, and others.

They were my first models of strong competent, determined leaders of my whanau. When I saw the topic of your korero tonight was to be to celebrate our leaders, it was to these women that I turned.

My kuia were women of tradition and protocol; who lived by kaupapa, tikanga and karakia.

They valued and gave life to the rites, rituals and protocols of our manawhenuatanga.

They respected the mauri of the marae and complied with kawa or tribal etiquette. The demands of protocol were never something they shirked.

They knew the importance of te reo, history and culture.

They were versed in tribal knowledge; strictly observing protocol, recitation of genealogy.

They were steeped in oral tradition yet just as comfortable with writing as a means of carrying information over space and time.

So when I think of leadership, it is these kuia, and it is whanaungatanga, that has always served to inspire me.

My aunts, my grandmothers, my kuia were literal pillars of strong whanaungatanga.

They knew the value of keeping relationships strong.

In those days, they often raised their children closely and together; each of them assuming responsibility for the other’s offspring.

They taught me that whanau, when working effectively, operate on the basis of a series of responsibilities and reciprocal obligations.

We were disciplined and cherished, challenged and nurtured by a network of strong mothers and aunties.

They were also women of grace and dignity.

Many a time the reprimands of Aunty Wai have served as a touchstone for me, helping me to bite my lip and retain a sense of composure.

Our aunties shone with feminine wisdom, intuition and compassion. Their knowledge was always active, practical and reflected commonsense.

They were loyal to their whanau, church and community; capable of showing exceptional aroha to all members of the whanau, particularly in difficult times;

Most of what they did was mahi aroha.

They were willing to assume the most mundane tasks; going quietly about the business of keeping family ties strong and tight.

Marriages were seen as strategic and political; consolidating important linkages between hapu and iwi.

It was through the education from my aunts that we learned how to karanga and also how to work in the kitchen preparing food.

We were trained in setting the tables, waiting on guests. It was our utmost responsibility to be active in the preparation of the marae; cleaning of showers and toilets, the arrangement of whariki mattresses, sheets and pillows.

Woe betide anyone who failed to smooth out the creases, who swept dust under the mat, who neglected to make the cutlery shine.

Their sense of responsibility and marae management came in handy as they also served on committees; land trusts ; local schools and church boards.

They were women of considerable power.

Our nannies, our aunties, often possessed complementary knowledge with others.

They became blenders of available resources of knowledge; builders of bridges between the teachings of the church and the elders.

Through their skills and strategies they wove connections between the generations.

They worked hard to explain in English things that only had meaning for them in Maori; trying to interweave new understandings.

They worked with intersection and connection, avoided divergence and opposition; often bringing together religion and politics as these were never seen as separate worlds.

Indeed I celebrate these leaders, natural teachers, gifted in the arts; with the natural graces of our ancestors.

Our kuia were able to mediate the concerns of two different generations.

They were attentive to attitude and spiritual guidance.

There was purpose and meaning in everything they did;

Wahine Toa, who were never short of new and inventive ideas.

The women who ran the marae, composed songs and poetry; took on the responsibility for the transmission of knowledge.

They learnt and taught the importance of knowledge, respect and gratitude.

Theirs was a heritage on which they were to take pride; they respected the tikanga of other marae; understood what motivated people and events;

Our leaders of past generations took seriously the responsibility to pass down knowledge to the new generations.

It was their greatest calling to share their view of life; and their circumstances.

They were immensely generous with their time; forming alliances with daughters, sisters, and female cousins; taking special care to get it right.

I am sure many of you here tonight will have your own memories of such special wahine, women who were clear and lucid storytellers; certain about the things that belonged to a man’s domain.

They preserved the marae to be governed by rules of the whanau and took special precautions to protect those untrained and unaware of the subtlety of these rules. They observed basic behavioural rules; knowing that marae etiquette was immensely important.

Our kuia were able to traverse the junctures between Maori and Pakeha, past and present.

They had a deep sense of responsibility, taking on the task of instructing the next generation on how to performed as competent tangata whenua in a world surrounded by Pakeha rules and conventions.

Their influence is always with us. It was our nannies who named their moko to carry on a particular line. They nurtured mokopuna and observed them constantly. Looking for their flaws and focusing them to change. Mostly they looked for their abilities and fostered those.

They were ambitious for their mokopuna; wanting them to have the best of everything, education, status and well-being and did all they could to achieve this.

Areas designated as tapu were kept distinct from other aspects of domestic life; illnesses were treated with herbal remedies and medicines and if necessary by a tohunga.

Water was seen as healing and redemptive. For us of the Awa, the spirit of the river has protected all our descendants;

Genealogy is about the continuity of life and the history of our people.
I believe there is nothing more important than the influence of our whakapapa, the leadership within.

Leadership is about keeping a sharp eye to the future.

Let me finish with a story. A tribal chief in India had lived for many generations at the base of a large mountain. He summoned his three sons together as his time to pass from this world was near.

“Before I go I want to choose one of you to succeed me as head of the tribe. Go and climb our holy mountain and bring back something beautiful. The one whose gift is the most outstanding will be our next leader”.

The first son climbed the mountain and brought a rare and beautiful flower. The second son brought back a wonderful stone, full of the colours of the rainbow. The third son climbed the holy mountain but came back empty handed.

“Father, as I stood at the top of the holy mountain, I saw that on the other side was a beautiful land, filled with green pastures. There is a crystal lake and lush vegetation. I have a vision where our tribe could go for a better life”.

His father said: “My son you shall be our tribe’s new leader, for you have brought the most precious gift of all, the gift of a vision for a better future”.

Real leadership is about inspiring a new generation to continue, while standing on the shoulders of those who came before us; guided by their knowledge. It is only by looking to the past that the present can be seen clearly.

And so in paying homage tonight, to the essence of womankind I thank you for a wonderful opportunity to think back to the inspiration of our ancestors. Real leadership is about inspiring a new generation to continue with the gift left to us of a vision for the future.


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