So I’ve shared a lot on this blog. Nothing that I’ve been uncomfortable with, but a lot that has come about as a part of my path, and although I can’t deny in many cases it’s been healing, I would say that in nearly every case, the defining point about whether to share something about my own world, has been whether it would benefit others or not.
At times, I’ve considered writing about moko kauwae, as I’m often asked about them, I guess because of mine – and it’s never quite felt like the time.
Now feels like the time.
An online “debate” (that’s pākeha media speak for an assault on Māori that we’re standing up to) is raging – instigated by a pākeha woman who has assumed the right to wear a moko kauwae. And Māori men who assumed the right to grant it to her.
There are those who would support her access to this realm of Wahine Māori:
There are many more OF that realm that would not:
One thing is not up for debate. It is a Wāhine Māori realm. And not unlike other territories – we have plenty of our own who would justify giving it away. Some might cite historical context (ie pākeha ancestor XYZ was gifted territory back in the day). Some might say Māori cannot look after their own territory so why not give it away. Some would say that our ancestors would not be happy with how we look after our territory so perhaps we shouldn’t have it, or occupy it, or indeed have no right to defend it.
These are not new, or novel, positions. We have heard every justification for giving our territory away in the past, we have seen plenty of cases where individuals have subverted collective territorial rights – and it has caused no less than war. Oh yes, historically we have given… and given… and given… and we have had far much more taken… and yet still, the bottomless appetite of the colonizer sends them back for more. For these reasons, in this contemporary context, we are charged to hold on to what territory we have left. I have no intention of giving away any more territory. I also have no intention of ceding authority to men, or tane, or non-Māori over this, Wāhine Māori, territory.
But what I really want to write about is this notion of what it takes for Wāhine Māori to “deserve” moko kauwae, because now, more than ever, I am seeing a lot of judgement on Wāhine Māori flying around the place. And I reiterate that this is in relation to WĀHINE MĀORI.
There are statements that infer, or outright declare, that Wāhine Māori should be examining their own behaviour or pathways before they take on moko kauwae.
Statements that outline what is acceptable for a Wāhine mau moko to do, or what she MUST do now that she has taken up this birthright.
Statements about how much Wāhine must achieve in other peoples’ eyes, or how much she must contribute to her community before she takes up her birthright.
There really is no way to make these kinds of statements without first making a judgement about Wahine in general and that is…
That in your natural state of Wāhine – you are not enough.
That as a member of a line of wahine who descend down from Hina – you are not enough. That as a survivor of multiple generations of attempted genocide, as a survivor of this very specific battleground of settler colonial racism and patriarchy – you are not enough. That as a vessel for the continuation of our existence as Māori – you are not enough.
And to that I say:
E Hine, You ARE enough
Now I can say that to you from where I am sitting – but the most important point is that you believe this, inside of yourself. Over the years since receiving mine, I have been asked many times by other Wāhine about my moko kauwae journey. Unfailingly this has been because they too are on a journey of their own. And I have my journey, and my story – but that is mine. It is not theirs… and so my response has been quite consistent – be at peace with your decision. I say that not as a prerequisite for deserving anything – but as a measure of self-protection. Because only you will awaken, in your skin, in the middle of the night, with your thoughts, with your angels, and your demons. Only you can defend your heart from the barbs of others. If you are truly at peace with your decision, at peace as a Wāhine Māori, then you will be fine. If not, well there is very little that will mess you up like wearing the tohu of your ancestors on your face and feeling that you don’t actually deserve it.
It’s a sad thing that so many people, right now, are prone to sit in judgement of each other, and at times of their own, in this sense – because it amounts to a bully mentality. When teaching children not to bully, we consistently ask them to consider that the person they seek to bully lives in a world much larger than that you see. That the little girl who you tease for wearing broken glasses lives in poverty. That the boy you make fun of for stuttering is actually healing from being severely abused. That the child who cries easily has just lost a parent. Yet here we are with grown adults who still seem very prone to judging Wāhine Māori based on their own observations and values.
So when I hear people’s anecdotes of this Wāhine Maumoko they saw down the pub, drunk, or that one they saw with a glazed look in her eye, or another that was in trouble with the law well… you just sound like the same old bully making a judgement, to me. Wāhine Māori deserve aroha on our winning days, and on our challenging ones, and that is the case whether we are wearing a moko or not. We deserve aroha on our learning journey not just at the end of it. So rather than judge, how about extend aroha and realise you may not know the full picture, nor is it for you to sit in adjudication of any Wāhine Māori in relation to their own birthright. How do you KNOW what her relative contributions have been in the past, are on any other day of the week, and will be tomorrow? What do you know of her reo journey? Where is your yardstick for what counts as a valid contribution? I have heard EVERYTHING in fact here’s a list of some of other peoples’ prerequisites. Most of these come from men, or Wāhine who DON’T wear moko:
- You have to have te reo (although nobody seems to know exactly how well so I guess they’ll need to develop a test for that one).
- You have to be post-menopause (no doubt because menstrual blood is “icky”)
- You have to have experienced loss, death (I don’t know if killing idiots counts but that could potentially be solved immediately if someone is saying this to you).
- You have to have esteemed whakapapa/genealogy (just as well everyone descends from a Māori princess).
- You have to have contributed significantly to your community – which apparently must take the form of… a degree from a university, or a lifetime of public service, maybe not so much driving the kura bus, or, you know… producing the next generation.
- You have to karanga now (I have no idea if this meant you have to move home to your marae or should knock on the door of the local marae and introduce yourself as their new kaikaranga or if one is meant to just burst into karanga at any given moment on the street).
- You cannot put anything unclean into your mouth which apparently relates to:
- Drugs (I guess the non-prescripted kind)
- A Penis (no really this has been said I kid you not and apart from the very obvious point that many members of the male community are quite clean – It should also be noted that for many women, this wouldn’t at ALL be sacrifice. In fact for some it might be a reason to get it. One thing’s for sure… even if that was the case, which it’s not, I don’t know any who would say “ohhh dang I was gonna get my moko kauwae but I just can’t possibly give up playing the skin flute it’s my fave!”)
So anyway… I could go on I’ve heard a bunch of conditions and they’re all very colourful. Depending on who you’re talking to and what they value, be it your parenting, your whakapapa, your commitment to the environment, or your community, or te reo… they all have their little lists that they like to put forward. If you tried to fulfil them all you would never succeed, not least because some of them cancel each other out. But there come times in your life when you must abandon the need to please others, because it’s not them that must live, and die with your moko. It is you. He hoa mate MŌU. In death, and in life, through the ups and the downs, through your messed up days, your bad decisions, your good ones. Through your learning journey, through your ongoing contribution as a Wāhine Māori. We survive the onslaught of settler colonialism, and the onslaught of racist feminists and faux spiritualists who assume themselves our sisters until they don’t get what they want from us, and then they go on the attack….
We survive the onslaught of patriarchal misogyny and toxic masculinity not only from others, but also from our own. We survive the attacks of men, and women, every time we are placed in a position by our own brothers to have to defend our territory. We survive to see another day, to pass the legacy of our ancestors forth to another generation, to protect, and reclaim, our territories and birthrights.
And so with every breath you take you contribute. Your existence, in a genocidal settler colonial state, is an act of resistance.
You, e Hine, are enough.