18 Feb 2024

Kōpū: Leaving white feminism at the door

From Culture 101, 2:45 pm on 18 February 2024
Tuakoi Ohia

Tuakoi Ohia Photo: Supplied

A theatre show at this year’s Hamilton Arts Festival was inspired by an incident and debate at Waitangi in 2021. 

“We wanted to make a wāhine show but what sparked our stomachs, I’ll say, was a comment made by Judith Collins. It was quite a big stir,” says actor and writer Tuakoi Ohia. 

Then, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was the only female political leader allowed a speaking slot. Judith Collins, a National MP at the time, was critical of women not being able to speak on the marae, sparking a debate.

But it was Marama Davidson’s response that inspired theatre work Kōpū.

The Green Party co-leader said Collins’ did not have the “cultural expertise to be able to acknowledge wāhine Māori need to lead the discussion about what our roles are and where we put our voices.”

“What we wanted to support was Marama Davidson’s response,” says Ohia. “We’re kāranga, we sing and those play really big roles in the powhiri protocols.”

“We believe that (Judith collins’ comment) came from a white feminist lens - thinking that if you’re unable to speak, then you have no power. But that isn’t the case for us. Mana and power come in many different facets. 

“That separates what we think wāhine rights are.”

Ohia, Amber Curreen and Tainui Tukiwaho joined forces along with five other wāhine Maori artists to devise what Ohia describes as a variety show. 

It’s a comedic show with vignettes and skits which capitalises on the talents of the group. There’s kapa haka, musical, dance, abstract, and traditional theatre. It’s about having a laugh and the performers celebrating themselves. 

The show was initially scheduled to play at Auckland Arts Festival in 2022 before being cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. It was further developed before premiering at Te Pou theatre in May 2022.

Ohia spoke to Culture 101’s Perlina Lau about working collaboratively and the decision around the tagline “leave your white feminism at the door”.

Kōpū will be performed at the Hamilton Arts Festival on 24 February.