History of mana wahine celebrated

As Emma Frost walked out of Te Papa where she had just shared about her tupuna Meri Te Tai Mangakahia she felt cleansed and reinvigorated. “Moving out of Te marae I gratefully ran my fingers along the kohatu with the cleansing waters running over it,” says Emma who is HPF’s Activities Coordinator and Office Manager. “For our talks had so moved us all there felt the need to wash away the tears, revitalise ourselves and move forward to new challenges.” Emma was a panellist at a gathering of Māori historians, curators, archivists, and mokopuna who got together at Te Papa in Wellington on Sunday (August 12) to share an afternoon of kōrero and waiata in celebration of the diverse history of mana wahine. In May 1893, Meri Te Tai Mangakahia (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Te Reinga, Ngāti Manawa, and Te Kaitutae) was the first woman to speak in any New Zealand parliament, presenting the motion that women should be able to vote and to be ‘accepted as members of the parliament’.  Her reasons included whanau who had no male issue or tane to look after their land. Or, their men were koretake in managing their whanau affairs. “It never occurred to me that wahine Māori were involved in this world history action that not only helped shape our nation but that of nations around the world,” Emma told her audience. “I was immediately impacted by this new knowledge because …. what I am familiar with in terms of great icons of women leadership in the history of Aotearoa are Jean Batten and Kate Shepherd. “But this wahine: whose photo sits on the walls of our marae,  who was the daughter of our great Chief Re Te Tai and the grand-aunt of my mother, Irene Frost became someone I could personally relate to, not just because of our toto but because we are both antagonists of women’s reform, kaitiaki of our burgeoning young women, keepers of the values important to us – whanau, hapu, iwi relationships, te Ao Maori and a future that inspires justice and peace… that is why I am moved to try and preserve and tell her story.Emma explained how Meri was also behind Ngā Komiti Wāhine, national forums for Māori women to debate land, cultural, and political issues. “I currently sit on the Women’s Centre Waitakere, I’m tuned into campaigns advocating the rights for women – gender equality and increasing the presence of women on governance boards. As a member of the MWWL Wahine Māori Toko I te ora I am proud to continue her legacy of supporting and presenting on women’s issues.” Emma said the memorable event was well received and there was a lively Q & A afterwards. “Questions centred around what Mana Wahine meant to us? What do we think about funding for Captain Cook commemorations and how have the women who moved us inspired us professionally or in other ways? Some were moved to ears and we’re still asking ourselves ‘what happened’ Kiwi musician Ria Hall’s video of her open letter to the Prime Minister earlier in the day generated much discussion while her strong vocal range during her live performance at Te Papa was also one of the highlights of the afternoon. Aroha Harris who was also a panellist summed up the event: “If you weren’t there, you missed out. Something powerful happened.  I loved it – loved being a part of it; loved hearing you all and getting to know the women you chose.” Others who payed tribute to the diverse history of mana wahine Matariki Williams (Tuhoe, Te Atiawa, Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Hauiti) talked about the lady in the portrait by Wilhelm Dittmer titled Maori girl, whose identity is unknown. Helen Brown (Ngai Tahu) focused on one of the “ordinary, yet extraordinary” women who populate our histories — Mere Harper (1842-1924) who was of mixed descent (Tahu mother and Pequot father). Over six feet tall she was famous for her work as a porter. Aroha Harris (Te Rarawa, Ngapuhi) not only want to talk about Akenehi Hei  as the first registered Māori nurse, and a pioneer in that sense, but also as a woman working steadfastly (and in historiographical terms, invisibly) at the frontline of Māori health. Melissa Matutina Williams (Te Rarawa, Ngati Maru) centred her talk on Mira Szaszy as a complex woman who was both  of and before her time in terms of gender politics and defining what a ‘modern Māori woman’ could look like, do and achieve in the mid-to-late 20th century. Leonie Hayden(Ngati Whatua o Kaipara, Ngati Rango) chaired the talk capably and with foresight and understanding of the issues our ‘inspired women’ were facing.       REMEMBERING: Our very own Emma Frost pays tribute to her tupuna Meri Te Tai Mangakahia at an afternoon of kōrero and waiata in celebration of the diverse history of mana wahine Te Papa, Wellington.       SHARING: HPF’s Emma Frost, third from left, joins other panellists in celebration of the diverse history of mana wahine at Te Papa, Wellington.   Banner pic: A commemoration plaque to Meri Te Tai Mangakahia at her marae in Waihou. Photo by Juliet Lagan