'Northern tribes will have much to say'

4:07 pm on 23 January 2018

Opinion - News that Jacinda Ardern is to speak at Waitangi inspires mixed emotions.

Jacinda Ardern at her first media appearance after the announcement of the Prime Minister's pregnancy.

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

On the one hand, I am pleased that a Prime Minister is returning to Waitangi for the first time in three years.

And I'm heartened that, as a woman, she is being given speaking rights by the leaders of the marae, albeit from the mahau (front porch).

I am not a fervent advocate of women's speaking rights during pōwhiri. For me the pōwhiri is a ritual/tikanga that elegantly celebrates mana tane (men's power) and mana wahine (women's power) by creating distinct, equally important, mutually essential roles.

The Dawn Service taking place on the  Upper Marae at Waitangi. 6 February 2017.

The dawn service at the upper marae at Waitangi last year. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The women perform the kāranga - the call of welcome from tangata whenua (people of that place) to manuhiri (visitors) - or the reply, as we traverse the ātea (the open space in front of the whare hui). The kāranga calls to, and invokes, our ancestors to affirm this ritual ceremony.

That is our job as women, and the enactment of our mana. We stand, or walk, in front of our men to show Tūmatauenga, the guardian of the ātea, that this is a peaceful gathering.

Then our menfolk move forward. Their role as kaikōrero (speakers) is to greet the ancestors and then send them on their way so we can proceed with the order of business. The men move in front of the women on the paepae (speaking platform) to protect us, and our whare tangata (the house of the unborn, the womb), from spiritual and physical harm.

We, men and women united, confirm our support for our leaders, our kaikōrero on the paepae, by the magnificence of our waiata.

It is cause for optimism that it has been adopted and incorporated so frequently by Tangata Tiriti (those who are here because of the treaty, as opposed to Tangata Whenua, those who here before the treaty).

Ms Ardern speaking during the pōwhiri while pregnant flies in the face of this tikanga.

However, I know that she will be surrounded by Tama Toa (male warriors). Among them will be Peeni Henare, grandson of Sir James Henare, one of the great chiefs, philosophers and knowledge-holders of Tai Tokerau. If anyone knows the correct rituals, karakia, to protect Ms Ardern in this situation, the Henare whānau of Ōtiria are among them.

It is timely to have the leader of our nation at Waitangi, not just for the pōwhiri, but for the five days she intends to be there. It will not be an easy five days, there is much mamae (pain) among the Māori communities of the North, the acrimonious Nga Puhi Treaty Claim settlement process, the grinding poverty experienced at the flax roots, the lack of infrastructure or support for isolated communities.

The tribes of the North will have much to say to her. I hope that Ms Ardern has the strength to listen and where possible, to act.

I also hope that she is well protected, that her safety and that of her unborn child (not so much physically, but spiritually, for the marae is the place where spirits reign), is paramount.

Because this child really will represent a new start for Ms Ardern and her partner, and a heartwarming metaphor for what might be possible in her tenure as Prime Minister - new life, new hope, new beginnings.

* Dr Ella Henry (Ngātikahu ki Whangaroa, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kuri) is a senior Māori development lecturer at AUT.

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