National | Ngahiwi Tomoana

Long line of Ngāti Kahungunu wāhine speaking on the paepae

Sitting on the paepae is an arduous hard task and not one that Ngāti Kahungunu chair Ngahiwi Tomoana would wish upon anyone.

After 50 years of speaking on the paepae, Ngahiwi says the role is often undervalued and he believes those who take upon the role, shorten their lifespan.

“It's a hard, traumatic job to hold the mana of your hapū, of your iwi, of your manuhiri, of everybody together over that whatever period it is. So it's not a glory job. It's a hard job,” Ngahiwi says.

He says the kawa and tikanga associated with speaking rights are laid down for the protection of all those present so, when he was charged with honouring Dr Moana Jackson’s request to allow women to speak on the paepae at his tangihanga last week, Ngahiwi knew many would be opposed.

“And so we decided to just try and manage it best we can, knowing that it’s going to be fraught with colour, with texture, with diverse patterns, with disruptions and we knew that a lot of the lot of the fury would come from women themselves.”

He says the marae committee agreed to allow women to speak but laid out some conditions that in the end were too hard to police because of the large numbers of people who attended.

“So I just had to roll with it and just try and minimise any fallout, for the women themselves, for the speakers themselves, for manuhiri who may have felt disgruntled by it all and by the haukāinga as some of the older ones insisted women would not speak.”

Old tradition

Ngahiwi says, however, there is a long line of Ngāti Kahungunu women speaking on the paepae so the precedence was part of the iwi’s institutional memory.

“Just 10 years ago, Hine Paewai would speak on every marae in Wairarapa, a frail lady,you could hear a pin drop whenever she spoke and she didn’t have a loud voice. Lovey Huata Hema was another and our famous woman speaking here was Hinekatorangi. She would speak all around the country on behalf of Ngāti Kahungunu.”

Ngahiwi says women who wish to speak in Ngāti Kahungunu must be of high standing, be knowledgeable of te reo Māori and tikanga and have the support of their hapū.

“And so it goes for men as well who have to be trained and do their time,” Ngahiwi says.

He says it felt normal to sit next to a woman on the paepae and he was there to deflect any opposition.

Ngahiwi has been holding weekly wānanga for Kahungunu women who wish to sit on the paepae but he says the reality of having to get up to speak over and over again and incessantly on a whole range of topics meant the retention rate wasn’t high.

He believes, however, that Dr Moana Jackson’s tangihanga was a reflection of his work to open and challenge the status quo and that iwi and hapu must continue to develop.

“Moana put us where we want to be in our heads. And he said, tino rangatiratanga is in your head. You’ve got to just take two clicks to the right and you're there. You know, it's not magic.”