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Turia Speech at Voice for Life AGM

Guest Speaker at the Voice for Life Annual General Meeting
Tuesday 3 May; National Library; 7.30pm
Tariana Turia, Co-leader

One of the most common questions tangata whenua ask of each other, is ‘No hea koe? Na wai koe?” Literally, who are you, and where do you come from?

Inevitably the answer, is not in the form of a street address, or the name on your birth certificate.

For what the question really asks, is where do your whanau come from, what is the place of your origins? Your whakapapa, your genealogical links.

To us, our whakapapa is everything about who we are, where we come from; it is absolutely central to our reality.

Whakapapa is much more than a ski-field on maunga Ruapehu.

Whakapapa is the bridge which links us to our ancestors, which defines our heritage, gives us the stories which define our place in the world.

And so it is with that background, that I was delighted to respond to the call from ‘Voice for Life’, to share some of our ideas with you about whanau, whakapapa and the wonder of life.

The concept of a voice for life is one which resonates with tangata whenua. In our way of seeing the world, all life forms - animate and inanimate - have divine origins as we all have a genealogy back to the gods.

We treasure the source of life and being from the moment of conception. Indeed, a special ritual within our traditions is that of the oriori, a chant or lullaby that welcomes a newborn Maori child into this world.

An oriori is like an oral map, a wish list of our deepest desires for that child, based on the whakapapa into which the child is born.

The voice for life heard by the newborn, may involve recital of information such as significant ancestors, important events, a celebration of the landscape and world which welcomes that child.

The oriori may also relay details of the child's conception, gestation and birth. Karakia to Hineteiwaiwa, goddess of child-birth, may have been recited to ease the birth process.

The oriori may identify particular gifts that whanau members wish to nurture in the child, gifts associated with the wisdom of previous generations.

In many ways oriori can be instructive, motivational, a textbook for life for the child and whanau gathered around. Child-rearing practices were described; the special significance of children was promoted; all elements of the creation cycle revered.

I have often said, that if each child born had one person who truly believed in them, who invested in their potential, our world would be a whole lot richer. What better gift to give a newborn baby, than a lifetime of belief in them?

I remember a couple of years ago one of my staff used to play ‘He Oriori Mo T?-Tere-Moana’ at his desk. Listening to the ancient chant was not a practice of mere entertainment – it was a thoroughly serious business. As the verses built up; layer upon layer, in many ways it demonstrated the wonder of whakapapa in its finest form.

Looking at the concept further - you are probably aware of the concept of ‘papa’ – such as in Papatuanuku –something broad or flat. ‘Whakapapa’ is to place in layers, layers one upon another.

So as my friend listened to the layer of layer of recitation through the oriori, he was able to build up a picture in his own mind, of the history and genealogies he had inherited – and would pass on to his mokopuna.

I believe the concept behind oriori is something which has universal applications across other cultures.

For instance, ‘ Hinduism Today’ describes

“the mother's lullaby should be divine and soul-elevating, infusing in the child healthy ideas of fearlessness, joy, peace and godliness”.

Many European cultures also demonstrate that childhood songs instruct the young child about life, repeating lessons learnt.

Just as some nursery rhymes leave behind clear moral messages, and points of instruction, our oriori remind us that whakapapa is precious and must be preserved in the interests of current and future generations.

Against this background then, we are deeply opposed to anything which serves to threaten the sanctity of the human gene.

As you can well imagine, this topic is an extremely contentious issue and the associated impacts of interventions such as abortion, genetic modification, genetic engineering, assisted reproductive technologies have attracted considerable debate within the Party – as indeed they have in the greater community.

The advantage that we have as a political movement is that we are driven by kaupapa (principles and values) rather than issues and portfolios.

The Party is also driven by a strong connection with Mäori people who span the whole spectrum of political opinion; and a strong connection with other New Zealanders who want the nation to move forward with Mäori rather than in spite of them.

We believe that our principles, values and models can be applied universally for the benefit of all New Zealanders. One of these values is whakapapa – which helps us to know from whom we descend, and what our obligations are to those who come after us.

And so in this, likewise with the motivations of your membership, our dedication to preserve and protect the value of human life, is guided by the key values of our constitution.

But there are other kaupapa too, which I believe it is important to bear in mind when considering the situation of the unborn child.

One of our concepts is that of manaakitanga. Put simply, manaakitanga is behaviour that acknowledges the mana of others as having equal or greater importance than one’s own.

It also requires all people to take care of others and yourself. The responsibility to care for yourself and your child from conception is absolute, and in times past and for some today, the whanau took this obligation seriously.

Manaakitanga drives us to consider the heartbeat of the emerging child alongside the heartbeat of the mother.

Nothing is black and white – a case of ‘For’ or ‘Against’ – even though the Parliamentary environment forces one into positions of absolutes.

For although our belief in the mana that comes from whakapapa, or the genealogy of the person is significant, we also need to acknowledge that there will be exceptional cases in which an individual may need to make a decision which is difficult to support.

In these cases, manaakitanga should be exercised, to demonstrate understanding for an individual, even if the action they have taken is not able to be supported.

Another of our key values, whanaungatanga, helps us in situations of crisis, such as those confronting the whanau affected by the 18,510 abortions performed in New Zealand during the December 2003 year.

Whanaungatanga requires that we consider the collective rights and obligations of the whanau, as uppermost. In this regard, the notion of individual choice has often been one which we do not see as being positive for family or for society.

One of our leaders in Whanganui, Archie Taiaroa, has always said that there are many areas in our life where we do not have a choice. We do not have a choice about the iwi that we emerge from. We do not have a choice about the whanau that gives birth to us. We do not have a choice about the obligations and responsibilities we must take up through virtue of our whakapapa.

Sometimes it is natural in a time of crisis to want to take flight, to take the easy way out. It is at these times that the advice given is balanced to take in to account the impact on family as well as the individual.

The most critical task ahead of us is to stay strong; to restore the hearts and minds of our whanau, that we can take responsibility for the next generation.

Many of us are committed to a pathway which weaves the influence of whakapapa throughout the centuries and generations.

My proudest achievement in life is the legacy I will leave through virtue of our six children, 24 mokopuna, and five mokopuna tuarua. If I take just one of these great-grandchildren, a stunning four old year girl, her name illustrates the vested interest our past has appearing in the present, and influencing the future.

Mereaneta is named after her great-great-grandmothers on both the paternal and maternal sides of the mother. Through the gifting of these names, the newborn baby was promised the richness of her genealogical imprints, as well as the distinctive characteristics and personal qualities of the women four generations ahead of her own.

In this sense, her whakapapa is also her history, her personal enyclopaedia of the deeds and actions of her tupuna, who will shape who Mereaneta is today.

The whakapapa she was born into, is an intertwining one, ensuring that allegiances and connections are woven together over successive generations.

Anything which threatens this process must be regarded with deep suspicion, or at its very least, challenged to live up to the scrutiny of the collective.

We must take care during pregnancy, we must take care during birth, and we must take continous care throughout life to preserve and maintain the links bounds by whakapapa.

Whatever waka we may travel on through our life, whatever choice we take up, there will be one certainty that grounds us. That is the significance of our ancestral connections which are both divine and human, which sustain our passage throughout the generations.

As one of our whakatauki signifies:

He hono tangata e kore e motu; he taura waka e motu

The lines of whakapapa can never be severed, unlike the mooring lines of the canoe.


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