May 16, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Make sure you’re in the right seat, by Kiwa Huata

5 min read

Many have taken to social media sites to raise the issue of women sitting in the front row of a powhiri.

This all came about when two female members of Parliament arrived late to a powhiri and found the two closest available seats in the front row. This behaviour caused a stir in the Maori community creating a whirl of riots; some feeling disrespected and dishonoured by the fact that they did not uphold Ngati Awa tikanga. Others went on air to publically announce these protocols must change in order to fit the new age we currently live in.

The contact of rejection of Maori womens voices goes well beyond the argument surrounding speaking rights on the marae. In spaces outside the marae, reflections on roles and positions have and who is able to speak also impacts on Maori women. Numerous examples occur daily. I have witnessed schools and classrooms turn into a quasi-marae, and boys are only given the right to whaikorero, even if that means choosing a boy with little to no reo understanding over an adult Maori female teacher. I have attended conferences where in the marae Maori women struggled to be heard by their own people. It is argued that these influences have a significant role to play in the under-representation of Maori women in decision-making processes.

For years now Ive wondered, What would happen if each iwi changed their protocol to ensure both men and women had the opportunity to sit at the front row of a powhiri and whaikorero?

In some tribes men have been at the forefront of the powhiri for centuries. Men sitting at the front represent their commitment to protecting women, children, iwi and hapu. By upholding this tikanga, it is a sign of respect to our tupuna who created a system for Maori to connect with other iwi and hapu.

By allowing women to sit in the front, this embraces change. Were in a new age where we must suit our practices to fit the needs of todays sovereignty. If Maoridom is to develop, we cannot expect a different outcome with the same practice.

The marae atea is considered by some hapu and iwi as the terrain of Tumatauenga, and therefore the domain of men. However, it is stressed that not all iwi follow this agreement. Ngati Porou, Ngati Kahungunu, Te Whanau a Apanui are iwi that have history of Maori women speaking on the marae atea. Furthermore, Ngati-Tahu-Matua believes it is the tuakana that is expected to speak on the marae, and if the tuakana is a woman then she is expected to fill that role. Many women fought in wars, spoke on the marae, sacrificed their needs for the betterment of their iwi or hapu. Rongomaiwahine, Hinetapora, Te Puea Herangi, Te Atairangi Kaahu just to name a few. However, during colonized years Pakeha only wanted to trade with men, which left many women (and high ranked women) out of the discussion process- devaluing their mana.

In the early 1900s, Kahungunu and Porou women earned the right to speak on the paepae. It was never a right for them. It was a privilege which they rightfully and diligently earned. Today, Kahungunu females are encouraged to whaikorero in Kura Kaupapa. In fact, for some its a daily practice. The motive of this story is simple; women are in a day and age where they can fiercely protect themselves physically, spiritually and mentally. Whaia McClutchie and Mihi Kotukutuku of Ngati Porou and Niniwa-i-te-rangi of Ngati Kahungunu were renowned for skills in whaikorero.

However, many media have overlooked the fact that we would be more accepting towards a Pakeha male- with very little or no understanding of Maori- to sit in the front row over a Maori women who has dedicated her entire life to Maoridom. Wheres the sovereignty in that!

Colonial ideologies have constructed certain discourses related to Maori women who have contributed considerably to the rejection of particular roles and status. Ideologies of race, gender and class have interacted in multifaceted ways to manipulate and undermine many of the stories, values, beliefs and practices linked to Maori women. The knowledge of Maori women has been marginalised and their roles redefined in line with colonial notions. Information related to M?ori women has been ignored or re-written to become conducive to colonial belief systems.

It is not a right to be seated in the front row of a powhiri; it is a privilege that must be earned by both men and women. If women want to sit at the front row of a powhiri, first they must be part of the decision making process. Women must also be prepared to carry the weight of their people; that includes speaking Te Reo Maori, having a deep understanding and background of Te Ao tawhito, and Te Ao hurihuri. Women must be able to stand staunch even if that means standing alone. Most of all, they must uphold the mana of their iwi with dignity and pride. Instead of seeing it as a gender issue, we must put our best people forward- be it male or female. By putting our leaders at the frontline, our people are sure to be protected and nourished.

The significance of this discussion is to highlight the sinister nature of colonial ideologies and the power to which they have infused Maori thinking and the representation of our own cultural institutions. It is clear that the complexities of tikanga must be considered what constitutes speaking and who speaks on the marae. It is important that I highlight in particular the privileging of Pakeha male voices over those of Maori women. If we add to this idea that the paepae itself as a place for speakers is a colonial construction, then the critique becomes even more complex.

If we are to accept this change for Maori, it must be implemented by Maori- not by a politician who felt embarrassed that she was asked to move to the back. For starters, any person in their right mind would know it is disrespectful to show up late to any welcoming be it a ceremony or a powhiri. The kawa in Parliament must uphold the decision of the Ngati Awa people; it is in my belief that the Ngati Awa leaders (especially female leaders).

So, should women sit in the front row of a powhiri?

My personal belief is this, if it doesnt create World War III then I dont see what the major harm is.

Whakarangatira ai o tatou nei wahine!

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5 thoughts on “Make sure you’re in the right seat, by Kiwa Huata

  1. We are definitely overdue for a NEW movement, a NEW birthing of things lost to be retrieved…and definitely the PLACE Wahine on the Marae is part of that I quote Maori Whakatauik: “He waha mana tonu te waha wahine i nga ra to tupuna”. Even the voice of women still had Mana in the days of our Ancestors. By Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki. The crown lore of divide and conquer is alive and wel!! Where children are to be schooled while the parents work in slaveship society of rich middle and poor classes. Maori society has long become a reflection of this colonised behaviour. Where are the WHANAU WHAKAPAPA BASED Marae’s? Where are the rights to speak is SHARED? Not selfish adults only of the male line? And OLD age dominates. Information passed on from histories stories have become lost again and need reminding by re-telling!! Our Te Arawa ancestors remind us of the Ariki as 1st in Authority and the Rangatira as 2nd in Authority male & female lines in the balance of power!! E.g Tamatekapua te Ragatira, Ngatoroingi te Tohunga (Judge & Priest combined)!! We have moved away from our ancestors stories told with an exampled purpose of heroines. Oho Oho Iwi!!!!!!!!

  2. Tena koe e kara i whakatakoto tenei wero ki te taumata. Tika tou korero, tautoko ana au. No reira nga mihi. I agree with this on so many levels. Working end to begining. It is not the place of any non-Maori to comment on the tikanga of our tipuna, particularly with the intention to make changes to these. Yes, there are many examples of the position and actions of our wahine which rightly reflect their right to stand and represent their hapu or iwi. Not to mention their absolute right to represent their progeny. The whole notion of the paepae seems to my limited knowledge of our tikanga to be a pakeha construct. That we would sit in nice tidy lines so the pakeha could take pot shots at our leadership suggests to me that someone thinks my people are stupid. Yes we should bring this korero to the hui unfortunately we also need to address the limited and narrow mindedness of our whanau who perhaps from continued colonisation find a place to stand and defend to their and our detriment. This is the korero of those with a vested interest in our tikanga not our economic development. Not to suggest for a moment their is no place for us to develop economically of course there is – my point – let tikanga dictate our actions not the endeavour for financial status. Tikanga will bring economic wealth but money will be our cancer.

    Thank you for this korero. Nga mihi maioha ki a tatou katoa

  3. I totally tautoko your views. Put the best person forward be that man or woman. I remember my mum saying that Nan would tell the men on the paepae what to say and if they didn’t she would get up and waiata until that speaker sat down. There are other questions. What happens if someone wants to be buried within 24 hours instead of the normal three days. We have just had a tangi go for 5 days?

    1. Teena koe Rudy,

      Such amazing feedback from this piece. I thought carelly about this topic and knew it would upset a few but would also inspire others to empower mana wahine and mana tane on the paepae. Whaikoorero for example should be used as a platform for connecting our people with the wider environment. Our tipuna knew what it meant to whaikoorero; there was a purpose to it. Not to say there isn’t purpose anymore but it’s becoming too political where the core message is swaying elsewhere.

      Thank you for your supportive words,

      Nga mihi nui rawa,


  4. Kei te tautoku tenei kiore of Ngati Whare O Tuhoe ki ou korero e Kiwa – I so enjoy your comments regarding different issues affecting Maori women. My mother hailed from Ngati Kahungunu o Nuhaka and was connected to Ngapuhi & Ngati Porou. She caused our father, whose whakapapa reached into Norway, some grief with her views on male and female roles. He was completely immersed in te reo maori anake and was bought up with the teachings of IO. She told me a story (which I’ve very rarely told publicly, for fear of reprisal) that Hinahuone was only the first of many females. Her mother, grandmother etc.. let it be known that the known world was populated by females only – that there were many Hine’s. In my personal research into the old specialised oral stories of pakiwaitara, I looked for similar pakiwai in other iwi, and in this case I didn’t come across any so I simply kept it in the back of my mind until now. It’s too long a story to write here but there is a korero pakiwai about ‘ te ira wahine’ which I am writing up for Potaua. But briefly, I agree with you, protocols should serve as tools to help consolidate traditional customs but in a way that suits the time and place and, most of all, which highlight the importance of good, healthy curious, motivational, debate. If that requires change then it’s up to the mana whenua to bring that about. I must say my congratulations to Potaua and whoever else is involved in setting up this site. This medium is the new marae of equality – no issues here regarding protocol. In a program I’ve developed called Mauri Hauora which you can google under OLLY OHLSON LOOKS FOR ANSWERS – I discuss this very issue. I encourage my tauira to question everything – it’s not rude – it’s necessary in this time and age. I also tell them – if only one aspect of what I share with you is unable to register with your logic, feelings and your spirit then consider it as ‘not a truth’ until those 3 things automatically kick in. Nga mihi nui ki a koe e kare – kia kaha. Mauri Ora!

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