Story: Te mana o te wāhine – Māori women

Page 5. Leadership after colonisation

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Colonisation and Māori women

Māori women traditionally had a say in the affairs of the tribe. A newspaper editorial in 1861 noted the participation of Māori women in the rūnanga: ‘Ta te [M]aori, me hui katoa, te iti te rahi, te tane te wahine, te koroheke te ruruhi ... e uru katoa ana ki nga Runanga [M]aori, me o ratou whakaaro me o ratou korero; e whakatika ana tenei wahine me ana korero ano ...’ ‘(but with the Maori Runanga, all must assemble together, the small and the great, the husband, the wife, the old man, the old woman these all obtain admittance to the Runanga Maori, with all their thoughts and speeches ... this woman gets up and has her talk ...)’. 1

Sign here please

Māori women who signed the Treaty of Waitangi were Takurua, Te Marama, Ana Hamu, Marama, Ereonora, Te Rangitopeora, Kahe Te Rau-o-te-Rangi, Pari, Te Kehu, Ngāraurekau, Rere-ō-Maki, Hoana Riutoto and Te Wairākau.

Māori women landowners

Traditionally land was bequeathed to women, as the mana of women to give birth to descendants meant that mana whenua (authority over land) was not lost through marriage. During the Kotahitanga movement women argued that the law should recognise Māori women as landowners and leaders in their own right. The 1897 petition from the Kotahitanga to Queen Victoria was signed by Māori women and men.

Sticking together

At the battle of Ōrākau in south Waikato in 1864, Ahumai Te Paerata famously responded to the suggestion that the women and children should be allowed to leave, ‘Ki te mate ngā tāne, me mate anō ngā wāhine me ngā tamariki’2 (if the men die, the women and children die also).

Undermining women

Māori legal academic Ani Mikaere has discussed the impact of colonisation on Māori women, as missionaries and settlers sought to dismiss traditional Māori philosophies and values in favour of their own patriarchal belief system. Mikaere states that Māori cosmology and history was retold to emphasise the male characters, while church schools trained Māori girls in domesticity, to become good wives. Most missionaries and settlers struggled to recognise the leadership of Māori women, preferring instead to deal with their male counterparts. Only 13 Māori women signed the Treaty of Waitangi (out of some 512 signatures). The daughter of Te Pēhi, a Ngāti Toa rangatira, was not allowed to sign, as it was believed that women were not important enough. Angered at this insult, her husband also refused to sign.

Treaty claim

In 1993 a group of Māori women filed a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal alleging that the Crown’s actions and policies since 1840 had systematically discriminated against Māori women and deprived them of the spiritual, cultural, social and economic well-being protected by the Treaty of Waitangi. The claim reflected a range of poor socio-economic indicators for Māori women. For example, around 50% of Māori women smoked, and Māori women’s incomes tended to be less than those of Māori men and of women overall.

Land and voting rights

Māori women of rank continued to champion the efforts of their tribes. They fought alongside their men in the New Zealand Wars, and actively participated in the Native Land Court process. Sometimes, like Mākereti Hinewai of Ngāti Kaputuhi, they acted as the principal witness for their hapū, recounting tribal history and genealogical connections with land interests.

Women petitioned the government on land rights and argued for women’s suffrage along with their European counterparts, achieving this in 1893. These women’s rights advocates, such as Meri Mangakāhia of Te Rarawa, Niniwa-i-te-rangi of Ngāti Kahungunu, Takarea Te Heuheu of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Sophia Hērangi of Tūhourangi, also actively participated in the Kotahitanga movement, the Māori parliament that became based at Papawai, Wairarapa. They formed women’s committees and argued for the right of women to not only vote but also to stand for the Māori parliament, something they achieved in 1897. Niniwa-i-te-rangi was also an editor (and a financer) of the Māori-language newspaper Te Puke ki Hikurangi, a major commentator on Māori issues at the start of the 20th century.

Within the Māori King movement, Te Puea Hērangi of Waikato emerged as a major Māori leader in the first half of the 20th century. She led the establishment of Tūrangawaewae marae as the movement’s headquarters, negotiated a settlement of Waikato’s grievance over the confiscation of its lands, and through her charismatic leadership generally raised the public profile and national significance of the Kīngitanga.

  1. Te Manuhiri Tuarangi and Maori Intelligencer 10 (1 August 1861), p. 10. Back
  2. Quoted in 'MANIAPOTO, Rewi Manga.' In A. H. McLintock, ed., An encyclopaedia of New Zealand, originally published in 1966, (last accessed 29 April 2011). Back
How to cite this page:

Rawinia Higgins rāua ko Paul Meredith, 'Te mana o te wāhine – Māori women - Leadership after colonisation', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 July 2024)

Story by Rawinia Higgins rāua ko Paul Meredith, published 5 May 2011, updated 1 Jun 2017