Dame Rangimarie Naida Glavish. Image: On the Rag

The Kia Ora Lady: Dame Rangimārie Naida Glavish in her own words

When we decided to do an episode of On the Rag on ageing, I knew immediately I wanted to talk to one of my kuia, and I knew who I wanted it to be, writes Ātea editor Leonie Hayden.

Growing up, Naida Glavish (Ngāti Whātua) was one of my adopted mum’s very good friends, her confidante and spiritual advisor. Naida was called on to counsel and help make big decisions, or to gauge whether certain objects or people were OK or not. I recall a blood-coloured stone Mum had found in a river being summarily banned from the house on Aunty Naida’s say so.

It had been mentioned that we were distantly related, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I made contact with my (very large) whānau Māori and learned more about my whakapapa that I realised Aunty Naida was Aunty Naida. She is from Puatahi marae, I am from Kakanui, just down the SH16 on the Kaipara Harbour. Her grandmother and my great-great-grandmother were sisters.

When we sat down for a cup of tea and a chat on a chilly winter’s afternoon, Aunty Naida started at the very beginning. A very good place to start. Who am I to interrupt a yarn this good? So here she is in her own words.

In the beginning

I was born a long time ago in the front seat of my father’s Studebaker car. I was conceived in the backseat of it and in the front seat I was born. On the shores of the Kaipara Harbour as the car was heading to Mahurangi Hospital. I couldn’t wait, of course. I was in a hurry to get into this world.

My grandmother, my mother’s mother, arrived not long after I was born, wrapped up the afterbirth, the whenua, and took it back home to Puatahi marae. She buried the whenua then came back and wrapped up the baby and took that back home to Puatahi marae. No questions asked. I’m glad she didn’t bury it with the whenua! Instead, she decided to raise it. I spent the young days of my life on the shores of the Kaipara Harbour between two grandmothers. One side of the road was my Māori grandmother and on the other side was my Croatian grandmother. They were both young widows, both of them when I was born. I used to bounce from one to the other. Neither could speak English. I understood both of them. I had to go to school to learn to speak English.

They were friends that lived directly across the road from each other. It was a country road, at that. Highway 16 wasn’t a state highway at the time, it was just like a little goat track really, from Kaukapakapa to Wellsford, and we were kind of in between that.

They were staunch mana wāhine. I grew up with both of them understanding the tapu of women, of being female. In that one sense, they never disagreed with each other. With the Māori grandmother, I was actually raised to respect the fact that I was female and when I was old enough to have my monthly cycles, I was considered tapu. I wasn’t allowed in the harbour to swim, I wasn’t allowed up the river, I wasn’t allowed in the gardens. It wasn’t as though for you to do it is naughty, you’re not going to do it because you’re in your own sacred cycle and that had to be honoured. So, I prepared myself every month to make sure I got something done that I wanted to do before that cycle came on. The Croatian grandmother was the same. She was a very modest lady. She sewed, she preserved, she made soap. I hate to ask what she made it out of but she made soap.

Croatian grandmother loved flowers so her flower garden would go from the house right up to the road to where the cream truck would come and take your orders for groceries. She used to have her garden all lined with scallop shells. That was the plentiful in the Kaipara Harbour in those days. Māori grandmother loved vege gardens and we had to learn the cycle of the moon according to the pull of the tide, in relation to the planting season. There was the bird life in relation to the bush and the trees, and wherever that moon cycle was at, were indicators of the timeliness for preparing the ground for planting.

A bird would give a particular cry of to inform you it’s time now for you to prepare your soil. Then the bird would cry a different cry and it’s time for you to go and plant. Then it would give a different cry, and it’s time for you to weave your kete, the next cry is harvest. The environment was a part of you and you were a part of the environment. The harbour was never there to play in. We went out the harbour to gather food. When the sea birds came in, we knew there’s a storm brewing.

So, we’d go home and latch things down and make sure that when the storm did brew, nothing was going to fly away.

We had to learn to weave the fishing nets and the hole of the fishing net changed for different fish. We’d have to weave the hīnaki and then take them out and then bring the eels back in. Then we’d have to clean them. We had to make sure that the hīnaki was hung up. So was the sort of upbringing that I had. You never wanted nothing and you never wasted nothing either.

We didn’t have a deep freeze or a fridge, we had a safe hanging on the tree that no flies could get into. We used to have cream cans – the empty cream can was full of flour for the baking, for cooking your own bread. Gosh, I was only young when I learnt to bake all sorts of different styles of bread. The butter was kept in the flour, because it would never melt. It didn’t matter how hot the weather was out there, it wouldn’t melt that butter.

I could quite easily survive if power cut for a long, long. Because of that ability to live in the relationship between humankind, the bush, and the water, which holds a memory. For example, when the yellow kōwhai tree is in flower, it is a message to us that any seafood under the water that has a roe that is yellow is ready for harvest. When the red pōhutukawa is in flower, the koura, the crayfish, is ready for harvest. So, there’s a relationship between the bush, the sea and the environment. The maramataka has it all. If you don’t understand that relationship, you won’t survive very long. You would probably starve.

After teaching, Naida became Chief Advisor-Tikanga GM Māori Health at Waitemata District Health Board, a role she still has after 29 years.

School daze

I had a very chequered school career as you can imagine. Nothing about school reflected any of the values I was raised with. Nothing, nothing, nothing. I found that hard to come to terms with. My grandmother massaged te reo into me. I don’t ever remember learning it. School did the opposite. It bashed you over the head.

My Croatian grandma left our area and went to live somewhere else with one of her daughters, then my Māori grandmother had to go and seek work to live, basically. Some of our whānau had already moved to Pukekohe to the market gardens so that’s where we went. Well, that was the worst place under the sun for a young, fluent speaking Māori to go and attempt to learn English.

It was a racist town and there is no doubts about that. At that time, they had a native school and that’s the school I went to. The teacher was Māori but the public health nurse wasn’t Māori and she thought it was her duty to search through all our hair for kutus with her two bits of stick. There was a clash, definitely a clash. And then they closed that school. My mum and my dad had separated, then my mum married this amazing, beautiful Rarotongan man and they had twins. She pleaded with my grandmother to allow me to go back to help her with the twins. So I left my grandmother in Pukekohe and went back to mum who was in Te Awaroa, in Helensville, and helped her with the twins and then I went to schools there. Well, they weren’t any better than the school I was in in Pukekohe.

One of the things my grandmother taught me at a very young age which has got me into trouble all my life, right up to today, is: Inā kite koe i tētahi mea hē, hakatikangia. Inā kore ka rite koe ki taua hē. ‘If you see something wrong in front of you, then correct it because if you don’t, you will become like it’. Which led me to every day waking up and thinking, please don’t anybody do anything wrong in front of me because I’m going to have to do something about it. And I did. It didn’t matter who it was. It didn’t matter whether it was my mother’s generation or grandmother’s generation or my own or younger – they did something wrong in front of me, I was duty bound by my grandmother to correct it because I did not want to become like it.

A principal from one of the schools I was in, he wasn’t a very likeable person. I wanted to meet a mate of mine during lunch and he decided that he’d sit me outside his office rather than let me go to my mate. I wrote a letter calling him ‘that ‘f’n b’ and gave it to my mate. The next thing I see was the top of his bald head looking through the door and calling me out. I go down to his office and there on the desk was my letter saying extremely unfavourable things about him. He says, ‘Glavish, are you game enough to say to my face what you are game enough to write?’ I thought, ‘What a stupid question. I’m standing in front of you, of course I am’. So, I say it. ‘Mister is an f’ing bald headed blah, blah, blah’. I was suspended. All up I was suspended from two schools and expelled from one.

Naida Glavish addresses the crowd at the Oranga Tamariki hui Māori, July 2019. Photo: Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency

The Kia Ora Lady

I started work at the post office in 1975. The shutter would come down, I’d put a plug in it and say ‘Kia ora, tolls here’. It was acceptable in this little town, in Helensville, where I was working. And then I received a promotion to the big smoke, in Auckland. So, I took the promotion and moved to the city and did the same thing, ‘Kia ora, tolls here’. That that was in 1982 and for two years, it was acceptable. Then they transferred a supervisor from Taupō to Auckland to clean up the toll rooms.

This supervisor was all ‘Good morning, good afternoon, good evening’. I kept saying ‘Kia ora, tolls here’. Don’t matter what part of the day is. They gave me such a hard time. I got taken off the boards. I was placed on off-board positions, pricing toll tickets. And then one day, an aunt of mine died back home in Puatahi, so I went to this supervisor, cap in hand, determined, to ask for time off to go back to my aunty’s tangi. I thought, if he says no, I’m leaving. I am going to that tangi no matter what. That’s the right thing to do. Anyway, he gave me a fright and almost encouraged me to get out of the toll rooms, go home to the tangi, which is what I did. Well while I was at the tangi, our cousin got killed on the roads. So, I had to contact him again and say, ‘Look, a cousin’s been killed and I’m staying away’. He says ‘Well, that’s fine’.

So, I was at tangi for a week. On the way back to work, I was about to go over the harbour bridge from the north side and I thought, ‘Gosh, this supervisor’s been really good’. I was so grateful that he gave me the time off to be at the tangi, maybe I’ll ease off on him. I’ll ease off the ‘kia ora’, I’ll ease off giving him a hard time on that. Just as I got to the top of the bridge, I heard this voice in my ear say, ‘Nui ake tēnei take i a koe’. This is far greater than just you. And I thought it was the wind blowing through the window so I wound the window up. And it came back again. ‘Nui ake tēnei take i a koe’, this is greater than just you. I knew that my grandmother was in my ear. That was in 1984 and she died in 1972, still giving me a hard time.

So, I went to work, I went into his office, I thanked him for the time off that he gave me and I said to him, ‘You do what you have to do as my supervisor. You do what you have to do and I will respect that. I will do what I have to do as a mokopuna of my grandmother and I’d ask you to respect the same’. I walked out of his office, ‘Kia ora, tolls here’ on the board. With that, I got taken off again. I met Professor Ranginui Walker the next day. I said to him, you know what Rangi? I’m being treated really badly at work. They’re giving me a hard time. He goes, what for? Well, because I’m saying ‘Kia ora, tolls here’, that’s what for. He goes, ‘That’s racist. You realise that’s racist? We can’t let that continue. That’s a salutation indigenous to this country, why shouldn’t you be able to say it?’

‘Well, I should be able to say it, that’s what I’m saying!’ So he says, ‘You carry on and I’ll give the chairman of the New Zealand Māori Council, Sir Graham Latimer, a call and then we’ll work it out’. I says, ‘Oh, okay then Rangi’. So, I went back on the boards, ‘Kia ora, tolls here’.

At that time the Herald had an evening paper, the Auckland Star. I was living in Mount Wellington renting a post office house and I sent my daughter up to the shop to go and buy me a packet of lollies. Anyway, she comes back from the shop and she says, ‘Mum, the shopkeeper gave me this paper to give to you’. And there on the front page of the Star was ‘Toll operator chastised for saying kia ora’ and there’s a photo of me right on the front page. My daughter says, ‘The shop keeper said, is this your mummy? I said, yes, and so, he gave me the paper.’

I knew that if I was going to be dismissed for saying kia ora, I’d also be evicted because it was a post office house. I went back to work, ‘Kia ora, tolls here’, and everyone was ringing in wanting to speak to the Kia Ora Lady.

It jammed the toll rooms and they were not impressed one bit. I believe I fought a battle for our reo but it was actually the country that won the war. It wasn’t me. All the schools wrote supporting ‘kia ora’. The airline pilots at the time in ’84, they’d start off ‘Kia ora, this is Captain whatever’. Carl Doy had just finished writing a musical and he named it Kia Ora. Craccum, the University of Auckland paper, they changed Craccum to Kia Ora. The supervisor got demoted and I got promoted to international tolls and the moment I got into international tolls, it was, ‘Kia ora, Aotearoa’. So, the calls were coming in from all over the world, people were using their own language when ringing into here. So, it had an international impact.

Naida Glavish and Pita Sharples attend the Māori Party Annual General Meeting on July 13, 2013 in Whakatane, Naida was the Māori Party president from 2013 to 2016. (Image: Joel Ford/Getty Images)

O Captain, my Captain

I went on to become a secondary school teacher because I was a fluent [te reo Māori] speaker. Forty of us fluent speakers in 1986 were chosen to do what was called Te Ata Kura training to learn how to teach. I asked the principal at the time, ‘I’m a new broom about to sweep clean in this area of teaching. Can I have about 12 in my class so I’m not a baby sitter? I actually would like to be a teacher. But they have to volunteer to come into my class’. Well, 37 volunteered my first year. From the first bell in the morning, to midday, they were in my class and it was all reo.

Some of them were the highest truants in the school. Some of them came to school to light their fags on the Bunsen burners or get caught behind the bike sheds doing I don’t know what. After the first term, these kids had the highest attendance rate in the whole school because it was theirs. It was theirs. I threw all the desks out and we all sat on the floor on mattresses and that’s where the learning took place. I said, ‘You’re the teachers, you just tell me what you want to learn and my job is to try to find the resources but it has to be in the reo’.

The first thing I did with them was I gave them the whakapapa, the genealogy of the education department, starting from the minister. ‘This is the minister of education who has an office of this, who has a ministry of that, you get a principal who’s got a board, the teacher and you, the pupil. Guess what? All of that would fall over without you. You’re the most important person in this whole hierarchy.’ So, that gave them the sense of power, belonging and ownership.

We had what we called panui time and our panui time was where we would lock the doors and each and every one of them would be encouraged to speak their own truth about being in this class. Speak your truth, your truth matters. Some amazing things came out of those discussions. Who would believe that a class of 37 could hold confidentiality? Their class was their haven. They respected each other, absolutely respected each other for the things that they disclosed. We had one guy who came in late every day. We called him Ngaru, like the wave, it goes out and it comes back in again. So Ngaru would sit in the corner and he’d play his harmonica. One day, they had a school talent quest and the class, they called themselves Te Rito o te Reo, the core of the language. They went and put Ngaru into the talent quest and Ngaru went up there and gave it his best and won for Te Rito o te Reo. Do you know that turned his life around. It absolutely turned his life around. He was one with the class after that. He’d won for them.

What’s in a name

My grandmother’s father gave me the name Rangimārie. He gave four names before he died. He called the two surviving of his children, her and her brother, and said to them, ‘Kia maumahara kōrua, remember at all times, my mokopuna. Kia maumahara, koia ko taku tūmanako, that is my hope that you always look after these mokopuna i runga i te aroha. Express love always to these mokopuna, to the unborn Ngāti Whātua child i runga i te rangimārie.

Now, the aroha was aroha to each other. You two, aroha to each other, then you’ll be able to express aroha to my unborn Ngāti Whātua child.

There are a lot of people who believe that the term rangimārie means peace. Not to my grandmother and her father. Rangi is the sky, the sky father, where all the storms happen. The āwhā, the storms, the wind, the rain, the hail, the snow, all of it comes from the rangi. Mārie is peace on earth. So, rangimārie to him is that in order to achieve mārie on the earth, you need to insure that you blow away all the storms. You will never achieve mārie while there’s dissension, while there’s anger, while there’s any of those tensions around. You’ve got to get rid of them so that peace can reign.

So, rangimārie is the creator of peace, not peace itself. I was the one born straight after he died, so the name was given to me. When there is conflict, I’m required in my own circles to sort out the conflicts so peace can reign. It’s called hohou rongo. It’s the instilling of Rongo, the god of peace and goodwill.

My grandmother gave me that name, Rangimārie, for that purpose, but refused to allow me to go to school with the name Rangimārie because Pākehā school teachers murdered my mother’s name. Her name was Nohotakitahi and so they nicknamed her Nora because they couldn’t pronounce it. As a result of that, my mother got named Nora all her life. My grandmother did not want the name Rangimārie to be butchered in any shape or form, so the Croatian grandmother didn’t mind the use of the name Naida, which is one of my names.

So, when the damehood was offered, and I was asked what name I would like, I wanted to honour my Māori grandmother and that’s why I said that I would prefer that it was Dame Rangimārie. The world’s grown up since then and can pronounce Rangimārie.

Dame Rangimārie Naida Glavish at her investiture, Ōrākei marae, 10 November, 2018. (Image: Marae)

A classy Dame

It was all women who sat with me when I was honoured with my damehood at Ōrākei marae. We had received an apology from Dame Tariana Turia who couldn’t come up at the time. Dame Iri Tāwhiwhirangi, she was there. Moe Milne from Ngāti Hine because my hapū is Ngāti Hine, my iwi is Ngāti Whātua. And the other one that sat beside me was Mabel Wharekawa-Burt. Her and I have been friends for years, absolutely for years. And of course former governor general, Sir Anand Satyanand, he honoured the day by accepting the invite. So, I asked his wife, Lady Susan if she would come up and sit with us as well. At the back of us, keeping our backs safe was our kuia from Ōrākei marae, from Ngāti Whātua.

The significant thing about that day for me is this: In 1840, when Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed, Aperahama Taonui, the prophet of the North, he threw a Kiwi korowai on the table, a kahu korowai, to sign Te Tiriti on top of.

Along came the armed constabulary and threw the union jack over the top of that. Aperahama Taonui called out ‘Kaua! Do not sign Te Tiriti on top of that union jack because if you do, you have agreed to place your mana under the skirts of a woman from a whenua you don’t know’.

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The signing happened. ‘The time will come,’ says the prophet, ‘when your homes will be filled with nothing but cobwebs’. In terms of our reo and our culture, he was right. Nothing for many years but cobwebs.

So, on the day that Ngāti Whātua was honouring their first dame, the medal was hanging around my neck and I was given a rei [bone carving]. The rei is only given to certain people and this one was carved by Bernard Makoare. Anyway, he came along and he put it on my neck and it landed right on top of the medal. I said to them, ‘Well, kua huri te ao, times are a changing. In 1840, that union jack went on the top of a Māori tohu. Here we are now and a Māori tohu is going over the top of the medal of Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth to me’. So, that was a significant thing for me from that day, of becoming a dame. There’s only one regret and that’s that the grandmothers were not there.

Ageing gracefully

To me, it is a privilege to be of service. Surely all this so-called wisdom, call it whatever you like, hasn’t been bestowed on me to be laying around on a couch and reading. It’s for me to pass on, to my own children, to my mokopuna, to my great mokopuna, it has to be passed on. When one of our old people dies, a library of knowledge dies and I’m going to make sure my library’s empty before I turn my toes up and cark it.

I think every experience you have should give one a portion of wisdom. Your worst experience should be your best teacher, if you are prepared to learn from that experience. One of my favourite philosophers, I like to call him Arapeta Einstein, who comes from the shores of the Kaipara Harbour. Arapeta Einstein says, no problem will ever be solved in the same consciousness that created it. So, wisdom for me is to be totally conscious of every situation you’re in and you’ll receive wisdom from it. There’s a difference between knowing and wisdom. You can go to the highest university in the land and you can achieve great knowledge. However, there’s wisdom required in how to apply that knowledge. So, for me, yes, age gives you a form of wisdom, of life’s experiences. However, you don’t have to be old to be wise. You just simply have to be conscious in every situation you’re in and you, in that consciousness, are wise.


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