The debate to allow Māori women to speak on the marae was once again reignited at Waitangi this year, with the leader of the Opposition expressing her disappointment at not being allowed to speak during the politicians' pōwhiri at Waitangi and claiming that women growing into leadership roles have the same rights as men in such situations.
Who should and shouldn't be able to speak on the marae is not a matter for manuwhiri to decide, but rather the prerogative of marae on which the hui is being held.
It is a fallacy to say that women are not given the opportunities to speak on the marae. Māori women have always had equity with their male counterparts and the working of a marae depends on each playing their roles as tikanga and kawa of that marae dictates. Some may say that this practice is archaic and should progress and change to suit modern day society. That may have some substance, but it is not for Pākehā to push for those changes. It is up to Māori to determine what changes are in their best interests and not influenced by colonised thinking or Pākehā ethnocentricity.
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To even suggest that women are disempowered on the marae is ludicrous. Our tikanga may seem archaic but there are a number of subtleties and complexities that are not seen by those that view the world through a single lens. Women actually have many opportunities to have their say on the marae and have as equal rights as the men. What is different, however, are the roles that they each play. One cannot operate without the other.
Māori women are, in fact, very influential in marae proceedings. It is women who open the proceedings and lay down the kaupapa for whatever hui is being held, through their karanga. Experts will weave their thoughts and opinions into their karanga and lay down the kaupapa that will form the basis for the men who stand to whaikōrero so the karanga is the first opportunity that women have to express themselves and have their say.
It is women who stand in front to welcome visitors and it is women who lead the men on to the marae, have a supportive role during the proceedings and generally stand to provide waiata for each speaker. They also have the ability to intervene in whaikōrero, where they deem the speaker has either made an error or strayed from the kaupapa. Once seated, especially on the marae ātea, men will take the front seats, while the women sit behind them and the subtle message is that the men are there to protect their women. Once each speaker is finished the women will stand with them to waiata. It is a simple process where the concept of men and women working together to support and complement each other can be recognised.
There seems to be the belief that women never speak on the marae. However, that is another fallacy. At many hui, after the formal proceedings have been completed and the business begins, both men and women are free to speak. There are also many instances of Māori women, throughout history, who have stood on the marae to whaikōrero but these women not only knew the protocols and whakapapa, but held mana in their iwi and understood all things Māori. Ngāti Porou women, such as Whaia McClutchie, Matoroa Reedy and Mihi Kōtukutuku are well known for their prowess on the marae. Te Puea and Eva Rickard from Tainui were also known to have spoken on the marae ātea. Could the same be said of all of those who fight to have the same speaking rights and status as men? Let us not forget that well before the suffragette movement Māori women had equal status as Māori men. The very essence of surviving as Māori in a harsh environment relied on balance, co-operation and support.
Māori over the course of our colonial history have been forced to compromise their traditions and cultural practices and each year at Waitangi they are asked to make those same compromises and concessions to allow Pākehā politicians, men and women who cannot speak Māori, to address the congregation. These concessions include the use of the Pākehā language in what is probably the last remaining Māori speaking domain but that is another debate.
Hinekahukura Te Kanawa is a Waikato academic with connections to Tainui and Ngati Porou.
Ko Hinekahukura Te Kanawa tōku nei ingoa. Kei raro i te maru o tētehi o ōku maunga, a Karioi, i te taha o Whaingaroa moana e ngunguru ana i te ao i te pō ahau e noho ana. Ko te maunga kore nekeneke, arā ko Hikurangi tōku maunga i te taha o tōku matua. Ko aku iwi ko Ngāti Koata, Tainui-Tahinga, ko Ngāti Porou, ā, ko aku hapū ko Ngāti Hounuku me Te Whānau a Hinerupe.