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Hone Harawira: Births, Deaths And Marriages Bill

Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill

Hone Harawira, MP for Te Tai Tokerau

Tuesday 13 May 2008; 9.40pm

Mr Speaker, this Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Amendment Bill is important for many reasons.

But it is very important to Maori, because it deals with information which is an essential element of whakapapa, and whakapapa is a very, very special part of being Maori.

Whakapapa is not something introduced through 21st century computer-based family tree programmes, or family history websites; indeed, whakapapa isn’t even just about genealogy. Whakapapa is far, far deeper than that.

Nearly eighty years ago, Sir Apirana Ngata presented a paper to the Wellington Branch of the Historical Association, in which he challenged the prevailing practice of depicting genealogy and history, as having only started in this country with the arrival of the European settlers.

Ngata referred the historians to the minute books of the Native Land Court, describing them as containing …the most diversified use of the genealogical method, as illustrating the Māori customs relating not only to land tenure, but also to birth, marriage, death, war, peace-making, conquest, gifts, mana, chieftainship … and other aspects of pre-pakeha life of the Maori people.…

Mr Speaker, whakapapa is the basis of our history, the basis of kinship underpinning the whole concept of whänau, hapü and iwi, and an essential element in how Maori see ourselves, as tangata whenua here in Aotearoa.

I recall how just last year, a good mate of mine by the name of Joe Te Rito, gave another perspective on the complexity of whakapapa research. He talked about how he was trying to trace his whakapapa all the way back to Papatuanuku, with particular interest on the sixteen generations from Rongomaiwahine, high chieftainess of Te Mahia, down to himself.

Joe drew on Ngata’s legacy, to explain the concept of whakapapa as a genealogical story, told layer upon layer, ancestor upon ancestor.

He also talked about the many different ways Maori had to describe the detail and the history of births, deaths, marriages and relationships.

• Such as the notion of Whakamoe, or the intermarriages within a person’s lines of descent;

• Or the concept of Taotahi, listing ancestors names without including those of their wives or husbands; or

• Tararere: of tracing a single line of descent, without showing intermarriages or other kinship relationships;

• And the notion of Tahu: setting out the main lines from the progenitors of a tribe, ancestors for example like Ikanui and Wheeru for Aupouri, Tuwhakatere for Ngaitakoto, Rahiri for Ngapuhi etc, etc.

So you can see Mr Speaker, how identity, and having access to the records of that identity are crucial in enabling people to better understand their history, their place in today’s world, and their potential for the future.

I recall for example when I first came to parliament, and I was asked what name I would like to have on my door.

Naturally I told them that my name was Hone Pani Tamati Waka Nene Harawira, and just as naturally, parliamentary services told me that they couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t have my name on my door, that it was too long, did I have a shorter version, could I drop one of my names?

But the reality is that my name defines me through mana tupuna, and mana whenua as well. Indeed, with a name like Tamati Waka Nene it would not be possible for me to anything but MP for the mighty Tai Tokerau.

I carry my name with pride in my ancestry, and pride in the relationships I have through my tupuna to a goodly number of other MPs in this House, including MPs from Labour, National, NZ First, and the Maori Party.

Far be it for me to risk causing offence by chopping off one of my names, because through my whakapapa I am also the living image of those who have gone before us.

So rather than agreeing to chop one of my names off, I simply asked that parliamentary services work it out, and lo and behold, it came to pass.

Mr Speaker, whakapapa can be complex, it can be frightening, it is always keenly watched by observers, and it is a mark of maturity in those who are able to capture its essence, albeit at wildly different levels.

The recalling in proper order of whakapapa is one of the greatest skills of our most treasured orators, our kaumatua and increasingly, the young sharp minds of our rangatahi.

There is nothing like listening to a master in the art of whakapapa, and I have been privileged in my time to hear some of the truly great orators of the north including the Reverend Maori Marsden and Sir James Henare who

• used whakapapa to build connections between people who had no idea of their relationship to others in the same whare,


• used whakapapa to define the value of historical links between hapu and iwi who might have been at loggerheads with one another,


• and in a truly masterly display, Sir James Henare used whakapapa to completely destroy the arbitrary boundaries laid down for Ngapuhi, by highlighting the deep whakapapa connections between hapu inside and outside of that arbitrary boundary line.

Mr Speaker, I was speaking to Angeline Greensill, Maori Party Member of Parliament for Hauraki-Waikato, about this very bill, just last week.

And she said that it was really, really important that the Maori Party supported the right of tangata whenua to be able to access information about births, deaths, marriages and relationships, as one of those essential aspects of our whanau, hapu and iwi, that must be preserved.

I followed up that discussion, by making a call to Monte Ohia, Maori Party MP for Te Tai Tonga, to see what his thoughts were, and I was not surprised at all to learn that he was of the very same mind.

Indeed he said that the Maori Party should also support the right of all other New Zealanders to have access to that information for the same reasons, because he believed that genealogy helped people to build awareness of themselves and their relationships with others, through knowledge of their own ancestors.

And Derek Fox, Maori Party Member of Parliament for Ikaroa Rawhiti, added that the concept of Mana Tupuna was extremely important in helping Maori define our status as tangata whenua, and as a distinct people.

He said that Mana Tupuna was the bridge which linked us to our ancestors, which defined our heritage, and which gave us the stories which defined our place in the world.

And while we accept the importance of security measures to protect personal details from abuse, it is because of the critical importance of whakapapa to Maori, and the safeguarding of the art of whakapapa as a key asset in the survival and renaissance of Maori as tangata whenua, that the Maori Party will be supporting the right of whanau, to continue to have access to registered information on births, deaths, marriages and relationships for the legitimate purpose, of discovering more about one’s whakapapa, and all the relationships which flow from that knowledge, and those connections.

Ends


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