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Mana Wahine: Mana Whanau

Address to Mana Wahine Dinner, Tatum Park, Manakau,
29 April 2005. Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Mana Wahine: Mana Whanau:
Celebrating our Ordinariness

I have to say I may be here under false pretences. For the concept of mana wahine is not one that fits comfortably in my notion of the world. It’s not something I have ever used to describe myself – or those around me.

At home in Whanganui I can not recall mana wahine ever having been discussed. Certainly, it was not a hot topic in the korero of our kuia, which is where I would get my lead on the issues of importance to our development.

So in coming here tonight, I thought I’d carry out a snap poll – having had recent experience to convince me about how influential polls can be in changing the nation.

I carried out my initial research looking at the advice from Te Minitatanga mo nga Wahine. The direction was clear:

Mana Wahine week is celebrated each year with a wide range of activities organised by community groups, iwi and hapu as well as those organised by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The theme for this year’s Mana Wahine Week is ‘celebrating Mäori women leadership’ and will be held from 11 April 2005 onwards.

Well, now I know what the week is all about, but it didn’t give me much steer on the concept itself. And I had to chuckle also at the initiative of our people to define a week as lasting past the seven days. Perhaps this is mana wahine at its best – redefining and reclaiming calendars to suit our agenda.

I decided to turn to the future for inspiration, asking three kotiro aged between four and six years what mana wahine meant to them:

“special lady; tangata whenua; kotiro; tama, powhiri; take care of yourself; patiki”

Out of the mouths of babes, there was nothing there that I disagreed with. It pleased me to know our babies appreciate the significance of karanga, value the impact of manaakitanga, of aroha ki te tangata, of caring for ourselves. Most of all, that they situate women firmly within the whanau, kotiro alongside tama.

And I was fascinated in the allusion to the patiki. My aunty Wai always told me that the patiki never returns to the same nesting ground – you get one chance to spear a patiki – and you must take up that opportunity at that time or lose it for ever.

I was intrigued that my four year old mokopuna clearly knew of the key findings from the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor New Zealand study which showed that Maori women stand out as 'opportunity entrepreneurs'.

'Opportunity entrepreneurs' are people who identify available business opportunities and exploit them as opposed to 'necessity entrepreneurs', who create self-employment in response to job loss or redundancy.

It is that our ability to identify and spear that patiki, to take advantage of the moment, that means that if Maori were a nation, we would be the fourth most entrepreneurial in the world.

All this whetted my appetite for more, so I asked another three young wahine, aged between 14-16 years. Their responses were interesting:

“strong women; women that can do anything that they want to be; do what they want to do. Women who believe in who they are, and achieve the goals they set – they’ve got mana”.

Clearly the catch-cry ‘women can do anything’ had been influential – as too, the notion of strength, wahine toa. All of these are positive affirmations that we can and should celebrate.

However, there was one other response from these young kotiro that interested me.

This was a statement that ‘mana wahine’ was often used in the playground as a bit of a joke to make the boys stop hassling them

‘don’t pick on me. I’m mana wahine’

It was this last throw-away comment that reflected some of my uncertainties around the concept of mana wahine. I have too frequently heard ‘mana wahine’ or ‘wahine toa’ used as an expression to identify the special status of women – to separate out, to stand alone, without sufficient attention given to contextualising that within the concept of whanau, or sitting alongside mana tane.

We do not want to get into a situation where concepts compete with each other – where the politics of the playground see ‘mana wahine’ used to depict ownership, exclusive control, - and as a barrier to keep others, namely boys, out.

In the words of black poet, Audre Lorde,

‘In our world divide and conquer must become define and empower’.

We can not run the risk of setting up dividing forces within our population – when instead we could be empowering each other with recognition of our special and complementary status. To have mana wahine should not negate mana tane; to be pro-woman should not result in a defacto position of anti-men. Most importantly we can not ever consider the mana of the wahine without looking at the fuller picture of the whanau.

In my time, our basic frame of reference was mana tangata – the mana associated with every living person. Alongside that, our tupuna guided us to know the impact of the mana associated with atua, whenua, whanau, mokopuna, tupuna, wahine, tane.

I am a firm believer in the strength and power of whanau as the greatest influence on people’s lives. I believe our greatest hope is in creating opportunities within the whanau to develop enterprising thinkers and doers, as well as identifying and resolving problems or issues. To make our whanau our site for exploration as well as our haven of warmth and protection.

It’s all about whanau. Whanau is the key social unit to gain social, economic, and cultural advancement. It is within our whanau that we transmit and uphold the values of our tupuna, that we can foster confidence and pride amongst individuals as well as the whanau; that we learn about who we are.

And of course, there have always been and always will be awe-inspiring wahine within our whanau.

When I think of whanau here in Ngati Raukawa, and in Whanganui, I know there are abundant examples of the mana of wahine.

We can recall the legacy of Kahe Te Rau-o-te-rangi, admired for her heroic swim from Kapiti Island - and who was one of only thirteen Maori women to sign Te Tiriti o Waitangi. And of course, Rangi Topeora, the powerful chieftainess of Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa, who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi at Kapiti Island. At home in Whanganui the kuia, Rere-o-Maki signed on our behalf – and that of Muaupoko.

None of these women are remembered as ‘wahine toa’, or famous because they demonstrate ‘mana wahine’. But as my young mokopuna put it, because of the achievements they set themselves, they had mana. They were truly representative of power from the people; they signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi for the future of their whanau to come.

Their mana is associated with the contribution they have made for and on behalf of the people. They do not stand alone, they do not stand separated. Their mana is through their connection, their power demonstrated in the recognition of whanaungatanga and whakapapa.

One of our leaders of the Ratana and Maramatanga movements, Mere Rikiriki, had a saying:

‘E ringa kaha, E Ringa Poto, Kaore e whakahoa’.

In this she always reminded us to hold true to ourselves, to be self-controlled without friend or favour.

In many ways I think the mana of women is all about being true to ourselves, being self-controlled, reclaiming our humanity. Our strength lies in reclaiming the beauty of the ordinary.

Around the globe, as indigenous peoples, we seek to restore our rangatiratanga from the ravages of colonisation. For too long we have been situated as the ‘deviant other’ – marginal, different.

Restoring faith in ourselves is reminding ourselves of the special knowledge that has been entrusted to us as women, without falling into interpretations that define this process through other eyes. Our Aboriginal sisters proudly share histories of “women’s business” sitting alongside “men’s business”. The business can be distinct and yet also co-exist, without the difference being seen as threatening.

Indeed, I believe what unites us both as indigenous and non-indigenous women could be the differences among us. In this way we can say to our sisters we are more like you than different to you. We can also say the same to our brothers – our celebration should be the reclamation of our difference as ordinary.

We strive instead for a world where our roles are complementary rather than oppositional. Where difference is cherished, our ordinariness celebrated.

Te mana o te wahine is also encompassed in the wonder of a spiritual presence. Merata Mita explained this as:

“The principle of Mana Wahine, a Maori concept which exceeds the boundaries of feminism and incorporates a dimension of spirituality emanating from the primary element of Hine-ahu-one. I am Maori, 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”.

As Merata points out, the problem is in limiting a concept within the boundaries of one viewpoint, in her case, that of feminism. We seek instead for the fullest understanding of our potential and the endless possibilities. I know that Reina Ferris will follow on from me by looking at this area in more depth – the significance of wairuatanga.

We should always be mindful of the uniqueness of the female element – and respect our relationship to the male element. The whare tangata is balanced by the ure tarewa.

The sacred powers of the whare tangata are of course immortalised in the ritual of the pito, the whenua being returned to Papatuanuku to retain the link with one’s own land. Our mother, Papatuanuku, is an ongoing source of nourishment and shelter for the people. Ko te whenua te wai – u mo nga uri whakatipu. The land provides the sustenance for the coming generations.

To this end Papatuanuku, and te whare tangata, are cherished for our vital role in sustaining the survival of the people. Our tinana, our sacred specialness, will be an area that Nuki Takao will address in her korero.

Other interpretations of the female element include reference to the power of Hine Ngaro, the power of the mind, the intellect. This is something that we embrace in all of us – male and female. This will be something that our final speaker, Alison Thom, will share with us later this evening.

I was asked tonight to think particularly about mana wahine in connection to the whanau. This to me is the obvious context – the ordinary, every day location in which our wahine survive and thrive. It is the broadest possible definition of who we are.

In many ways, in the taking up of the concept of ‘Maori’ for the Maori Party, we are also using the broadest possible definition to strive for the beauty of ordinariness. We are looking to restore in ourselves a sense of our humanity – to affirm that our kaupapa and tikanga can provide a basis for the nation which is both exceptional and unremarkable all at the same time.

We therefore look to mana wahine, mana tane, mana tangata as embracing all who we are. We celebrate the mana of our awa, our maunga, our whenua, our landscape in Aotearoa as providing the landscape for locating ourselves in the world.

And we can cherish the legacy of mana tupuna and mana atua, as making every day exceptional, marvelling at the beauty of what is ordinary.

The emphasis should be on our nation in evolution, our growth reinforced through a focus of never-ending beginnings.

We believe our histories, our knowledge can be added on to through the contribution of other histories, other cultural knowledge and experience.

This is a time of great anticipation, a time when we can learn from each other, and build a collective wealth passed on our collective cultural assets – he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

It is a time when mana whanau will be a worthy aspiration for all peoples, a time to actively pursue opportunities for everyone to be successful to the highest levels of their potential; a time when all individuals and groups in Aotearoa will be helped to strengthen their own well-being.

It is a time where whanaungatanga is our greatest resource.

As our babies proclaimed, mana is all about taking care of ourselves; as well as taking care of each other, and taking care of our nation.

We firmly believe that what we do today creates our tomorrow – let us make a tomorrow where we grasp the beauty of the ordinary, and celebrate the commonness of our difference.

No reira, ki nga kuia, ki nga whaea, ki nga tuahine, ki nga tangata katoa.

Kia kaha koutou ki te whai o koutou moemoea, mau ki to tino rangatiratanga! Kia kaha koutou ki te tu, kia kaha, kia kaha!


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