A glimpse of mana motuhake

Recently a group of us had the privilege of seeing mana motuhake [Māori self determination] first hand.  And it was beautiful.

Let’s start with this term “mana motuhake” – what does it really mean?  Te Aka online dictionary defines it as “separate identity, autonomy, self-government, self-determination, independence, sovereignty, authority – mana through self-determination and control over one’s own destiny.”  It is often used synonymously with tino rangatiratanga, and both terms refer to the autonomy promised to Māori in Te Tiriti o Waitangi -see my previous post.

But the words mana motuhake and tino rangatiratanga can sometimes make us non-Māori uncomfortable.  Why?  Perhaps we fear that if Māori have more self determination, we might be treated similarly to how Pākehā have treated Māori – i.e. that we might now experience dispossession and oppression.  Luckily this fear seems unfounded, because Te Tiriti mandates peaceful co-existence, and Māori have consistently upheld their part of the deal.

However even for those of us supportive of mana motuhake, it can be hard to imagine what this might look like in reality.  So here is an example.

The context is that last month a group of us were on a learning journey called Ki te Hoe, which I am honoured to help facilitate as part of my work with Tūmanako Consultants.  We were staying on a marae in the tribal lands of Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, and Tūmanako’s founder Haimona Waititi took us to watch a practice of a newly formed kapa haka group called Te Taumata o Apanui.  The group is famous not only for their star-studded line up including Rob Ruha, Ria Hall, Rawiri Watiti and Haimona, but also for forming the group a mere four weeks before the regional finals.

And here, from my Pākehā perspective, is what we saw:

  • Cultural excellence.  We watched the kapa haka group learn the first waiata [song] from this set.  In just two hours they went from a first attempt to the precise, spirited performance that would win them third equal in the regional competitions two weeks later.
  • A warm welcome, but the kaupapa [purpose] was paramount.  After a short acknowledgement and response, the performers went back to their practice and we were free to watch, explore or chat.  It felt a bit like arriving at a friend’s place and having them say – “great to see you, come on in, we’re a bit busy right now – but just make yourselves at home and hang out.”  And that kind of upfront relationship is special – but it’s only possible with mutual respect, honesty and trust.  Just like the relationship offered in te Tiriti o Waitangi.
  • Kapa haka is not just performing arts.  It is a space that provides reconnection to culture and heritage, builds connections, identity, unity and wellbeing, and, in Haimona’s words, “for our kids it normalises their culture so it is as natural as the air they breathe.
  • “It takes a village to raise a child.” We saw this adage in action – kids were everywhere, with the aunties, on the hips of the performers, sliding down the bank, practicing poi.  “Kia ora” I said as I waved to a small boy, toddling along with his sister.  He regarded me solemnly, walked on a few steps, stopped, looked at me again, graciously waved, then hurried after his sister.  Even the babies know to welcome visitors.
  • Manaakitanga and generosity.  When lunch was ready, the kids were served first, then us, then everyone else.  And all of the food was both healthy and delicious.  With difficulty I refrained from taking some fresh-caught crayfish, worried that the extra guests might mean there was not enough to go round.  I should have known better – there was plenty for everyone.
  • An unspoiled environment. The practice was held at the marae in Raukokore on the way to East Cape, across the road from the sea which provided the crayfish for lunch.  It is an idyllic spot, although maybe a little too close to the ocean in a world impacted by climate change, another unwanted artifact of our Western way of life.  But for now the waves unfold lazily on the beach, the cream and red marae buildings stand surrounded by green grass and towering pohutukawa trees, and beauty abounds.

So this was our glimpse of mana motuhake, or tino rangatiratanga, in action.  It’s Māori cultural expression, on Māori land, in the Māori language and according to Māori values.  And it’s not scary.  It’s beautiful.

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  1. Oh Kate – so beautifully written and from the heart space. So natural and so real… I could feel myself in the same space.
    Simple powerful words. It is so hard for me to fathom why some people feel threatened rather than empowered in our journey together to make Ti Tiriti work in every way.
    Keep up your messaging. I appreciate how succinctly you articulate your message.

    1. Utterly tautoko what Rosemary has said, Kate. This is a beautiful experience brought perfectly to life for us readers. I felt I was there with you. Magazine-worthy. Ka nui te mihi ki a koe. Arohanui 🧡

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