Jan 26, 2012

Let a Woman speak

The Manawatu Standard reports:

Labour's Te Tai Hauauru candidate has blamed "iwi politics" for preventing her from addressing her party leader on her home marae at Ratana celebrations.

Soraya Peke-Mason was stopped from speaking during a powhiri to welcome members of the Labour, Green and Mana political parties on to Ratana Pa during yesterday's traditional political gathering.

Ms Peke-Mason, who finished second in the Maori electorate in November's election, said she was not disappointed at what happened as the message she had wanted to deliver was presented on her behalf by the chairman of the executive committee, Waka Palmer.

Ratana Church secretary William Meremere said Ms Peke-Mason had asked to speak on the marae but that was opposed by "family members".

Mr Meremere said the objection was not because of concerns about anything Ms Peke-Mason might have said, but because of tikanga.

There were protocols regarding who could speak on the marae and whether women could speak, he said.

Special dispensations had been made at times, Mr Meremere said. Former prime minister Helen Clark had been allowed to speak at Ratana in previous years, he said.

A Woman’s right to speak during powhiri is an interesting debate. There appear to be two schools of thought. One side says the rules, or kawa, of the powhiri are laid down by the Gods to protect mauri (life force) and, therefore, cannot be altered. The other view holds that the guidelines, or tikanga, of powhiri are flexible and change with time to meet differing conditions, changing norms and so on. I like to subscribe to the second school of thought, but the first school, I think, is the culturally correct view.

But cultures should be flexible and, in my opinion, there is no need to hold steadfast to the rule that women are not allowed to speak from the paepae. There is no longer any rationale for the rule, other than superstition. The role of women in Maori society is changing and the rules of powhiri should change to reflect this.

I should add that not all Marae prevent women from speaking from the paepae. I think some Marae of Ngati Porou allow women to speak, as do a number of others across the motu. One of my Marae, Kokohinau, is particularly rigid when it comes to a woman's right to speak. Even during the last night of tangi (the po whakamutunga) where a ceremony for the immediate family is held, women are forbidden from speaking. Yes, even the wife of the deceased would be barred from speaking at her own husbands’ ceremony. There appears to me no good reason for this, other than the patriarchy holding steadfast to long diminished cultural rationales.

My explanation for this is thus: given we, as Maori, lost many aspects of our culture we’re determined to keep a tight grip on what we retain. Often this means we’re reluctant to let go of or change what we have. Which is fair enough, but there some things cannot continue into the 21st century.

In 2005 Pita Sharples led the call to give women the right to speak during powhiri. It’s a shame his call didn’t gain much traction. It wouldn’t hurt us to reopen this debate.


  1. Any change will have to come from Maori men, so it's great to see your support for it.

  2. Culture by its very nature is transient, and while I believe some traditional values are to be treasured and maintained some degree of adaptation must be allowed in order to evolve tikanga to suit our needs in the present day.

    Bearing that in mind however,my toua always told me me; that while men may brag of their whakapapa on the paepae, the most influential discussions will be held in the kitchen of the wharekai.



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