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 land owners
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 land owners and leaders in their own right. The 1897 petition from the Kotahitanga to Queen Victoria was signed by Māori women and men.
At the battle of Ōrākau in the King Country 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).
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 give emphasis to 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 the insult, her husband also refused to sign.
In 1993 a group of Māori women filed a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal alleging that the Crown’s actions and policies have, since 1840, systematically discriminated against Māori women and deprived them of their spiritual, cultural, social and economic well-being protected by the Treaty of Waitangi. The claim reflects a range of poor socio-economic indicators for Māori women. For example, around 50% of Māori women smoke, and Māori women’s incomes tend to be less than that of Māori men and of women overall.
Land and voting rights
Despite this Māori women of rank continued to champion the efforts of their tribes. They fought with 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 the 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 based at Pāpāwai, 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 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.