Waitangi 2024: Whakapapa

After wandering around Te Tii Marae and looking at the food stalls, the ‘merch’ stalls and the installations, I made my way up to the Treaty Grounds to find the Forum Tent.

I was lucky enough to arrive just as this rōpū of wāhine was about to share their kōrero.

Oh my goodness! What a panel full of powerful wāhine! Not just in terms of the roles they officially have but also the mana they have, the passion and the purpose that they have for their people and the kaupapa that sustains them. The title of this forum was Te Kāwau Koroki which translates as ‘The Talking or Singing Shags’. The Kawau has huge significance in te ao Māori and appears in kōrero tuku-iho and is referenced in whakataukī related to the habits and characteristics of the bird.

“Te Kawau-a-Toru was a sacred bird – a king shag, also known as a cormorant – loyal to Kupe. Possessing a huge wingspan, he was reputed to be ‘the eye of the ancestors’ – a special bird with insights into ancient knowledge.”  

New Zealand king shag – First peoples in Māori tradition

There are also many whakataukī related to the habits and characteristics of the Kawau;

“He kawau moe roa, or ‘a long-slumbering cormorant,’ and this refers to the habits of the bird. One sees a kawau perched on a snag or elsewhere for a long time, motionless and perchance asleep, but that bird is attending strictly to its business; its all-seeing eyes will cause it to spring into action when prey or danger is at hand.”

The Cormorant or Shag: | NZETC

I can theorise from the references below why the panel was called Kawau Koroki as I didn’t quite get the explanation at the start, but after listening to them I know that they are wāhine with great insight, they have so much knowledge and wisdom about their whakapapa, their people, their kōrero tuku iho and they tell their stories with mana and passion. 

New Zealand king shag – First peoples in Māori tradition

The Battle of the Birds – Te Ao Mārama – the natural world

The Cormorant or Shag: | NZETC

Māpunga, black shag


Hinerangi Himiona was the first to speak on the panel. She is an archivist and she talked about how important whakapapa is and how fortunate she is for it to be something known and talked about in her whanau. She acknowledged that not everyone knows or has access to their whakapapa and as she said this I thought of the tamariki in emergency housing who are displaced and separated from their whenua. I remember one of the kaiako at a school I work in saying, 

“We have no idea of the whakapapa in those whare, the mana that sits within it and what their potential is.”

Hinerangi’s father didn’t think she needed to know their whakapapa as carrying that knowledge was the responsibility of the males in the family. She joked that her brothers were more interested in and had greater skills for fishing and hunting and that it was she who enjoyed learning about whakapapa. However, wāhine have been the holders and kaitiaki of whakapapa for generations, they sing it to their pepi through oriori, it is written in waiata and mōteatea and passed down as wāhine sing and play with their tamariki. Some of the greatest and most prolific kaituhi of waiata are wāhine Māori. So, I wondered, when did the idea of whakapapa being the responsibility of males come from? Is that the influence of colonisation and the diminishing of the mana and position of women in society?  Ani Mikaere discusses this in her article. Māori Women: Caught in the Contradictions of a Colonised Reality | E-Tangata 

“With the deliberate destruction of traditional Māori philosophies and values and the attempted replacement of them with those of the missionaries and the settlers, Māori have been “caught in the contradictions of a colonised reality”

When I think of my own family, it is the women who have held and passed on family history through safeguarding photos and artefacts such as school reports, newspaper clippings and stories. My Mother-in-Law was the fount of all knowledge related to the family connections and interactions and now she has gone, others in the family miss being able to go to her for the stories she held in her head. My mother died too young to pass on much and as a teenager, I wasn’t much interested in all those family stories. Fortunately, I have been able to fill in some gaps through Aunties and recently, we cousins (mostly female!) had a big reunion and most of our kōrero was around our family and the various stories we all knew. Maybe too little too late but it was something and we plan to try and share more before we get too much older!

Hinerangi suggested that almost every Māori would have someone in their whakapapa who signed He Whakaputanga and/or Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It might be a complicated and tenuous connection but if you find it then it is very special. 

She talked about paying attention and listening as your whakapapa emerges or is revealed often at special occasions where whanau come together; births, deaths and marriages, but especially at hui mate. That is when you hear the stories and make the connections. I wondered then about what I have learnt about tangihanga and how much the tikanga of hui mate is part of whakapapa or does the whakapapa inform and guide the tikanga?  

I also reflected that it is when people die that we realise we need to know our whakapapa before the knowledge goes with the person. Is there also a sense that as people are faced with death they have a need to share their knowledge so that it is passed on to the next generations? My Dad certainly did. After years of denying or burying the past as he was dying of cancer, he suddenly felt a desire to share what he knew with me.

We know that the stories that are told are often from the perspective of the person’s place in that story. We realised that as we cousins talked about family stories – we didn’t always agree with the ‘truth’ of the tale! The truth depended on who had told us the story initially and the role that we played in it as well as the age we were when it happened.  We also know that the stories told about Aotearoa have been mainly told from the perspective of the coloniser – ‘HIStory’ is the story of the conqueror (and it is usually male!). So we need to have people in the spaces where the stories of Aotearoa are told who can provide different perspectives. Hinerangi said that we need Māori archivists in whare taonga who can interpret the archives with a te ao Māori lens, who can work with their Pākehā colleagues to ensure that a balance is achieved as they display and interpret the stories. She referenced the recent defacing of the Tiriti o Waitangi exhibit at Te Papa. Numerous approaches to say that the exhibition didn’t represent Te Tiriti o Waitangi honestly, or with integrity have been made over the years including by the group who acted recently. If the museum had worked with Māori archivists they may not have made the mistake they did in misrepresenting Te Tiriti.


Defaced or corrected? The future of Te Papa’s Treaty exhibit – Art News Aotearoa

Hinerangi’s final offering to us was a wondering whether the Crown will show true Partnership and instead of exhibiting Te Tiriti o Waitangi in the He Tohu exhibition at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington, the individual sheets will be returned to the rohe where they were signed for the local whare taonga to display them along with the stories of the rangatira who signed them. An interesting thought, I wonder how that might play out and whether it would lead to greater awareness and understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi? 

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