Papatūānuku and women
Traditional Māori culture aligns women with the land, because the land gives birth to humankind just as women do. As the world was born from Papatūānuku, so humankind is born from women. A woman’s womb, called te whare tangata (the house of humanity), is seen as the same as the womb of the earth.
Authority over land
In tribal history, individual women had authority over, and embodied, particular areas of land. Ruawehea, a high-born woman of the Ngāti Hako tribe, had particular authority in the Hauraki region. Visitors are welcomed with the following expression:
Haere mai, nau mai
Haere mai, kuhu noa mai ki ngā hūhā o Ruawehea.
Come forth, welcome
Come forth and enter the thighs of Ruawehea. 1
This saying recognises Ruawehea as the doorway to the land, and as being one with the land.
Women and land
An oft-quoted saying associates women with land, and expresses the extraordinary degree to which men will act to protect the mana (status) of their women and land:
Mā te wahine, mā te whenua, ka ngaro te tangata.
By women and land do men perish.
Women also exhorted men to act, to fight to secure land, or to express a particular kaupapa (plan or proposal). Women played an important role in keeping issues alive and resolving grievances and problems. Waitohi, a sister of the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha, was instrumental in convincing Ngāti Raukawa leaders to move south with their people. She said:
Ngāti Raukawa, e hoki ki Maungatautari! Mā wai o koutou e mau mai aku werewere hei noho mai i runga i te whenua i haha nei? 2
Ngāti Raukawa, return to Maungatautari! Who of you will bring my barnacles here to settle upon these lands that have been procured?
Traditionally, a chief is likened to a mighty whale. A whale’s barnacles can only move when the whale does, and similarly, the people would only move if the chief did. This powerful metaphor bore fruit when the Ngāti Raukawa chief Hūkiki Te Ahukaramū replied that he would bring the barnacles on the broad back of the whale. It was accepted that those who migrated did so because of Waitohi’s invitation.