Associate Professor Leonie Pihama. Image: supplied

Moko kauae is the right of all Māori women. It is not a right for anyone else.

Pākehā life coach Sally Anderson has come under fire this week for receiving moko kauae, as has the tā moko artist that gave it to her. Leonie Pihama looks at the difference between rights and privilege when it come to wāhine Māori and moko kauae.

Over the past few days I have been watching from afar the debate raging over moko kauae and who does or does not have the right to wear this taonga that has been gifted to us by our tūpuna. I have been honoured to carry moko kauae for 17 years after being guided and supported by wāhine of Taranaki. I remember the first time my mentor Mahinekura Reinfelds visited with me and said that it was time. My initial avoidance response was ‘time for what?’ which she ignored and continued to say “It will be in the summer.”

Mahinekura was clear that to carry moko kauae is the right of all wāhine Māori. It is our whakapapa kōrero that we carry visually within the world. It is our affirmation of our whānau, hapū and iwi. It is our right as wāhine Māori to wear moko kauae and it is our decision to make. For many this decision is made in the context of whānau, hapū or iwi, for others it is a decision made in line with our fundamental right to wear the symbols of our ancestors.

In whatever process Māori women are engaged in, it is our right to wear moko kauae and it always has been. Far too many mythologies created through colonial belief systems have worked against the interests of Māori women to revitalise this taonga. Mythologies that say we have to be fluent in te reo, or old, or that we have to earn moko kauae, or that we have to have permission have all be constructed to deny our women our right to wear our own ancestral symbols.

As Tina Ngata has written:

“What I really want to write about is this notion of what it takes for Wāhine Māori to “deserve” moko kauwae, because now, more than ever, I am seeing a lot of judgement on Wāhine Māori flying around the place. And I reiterate that this is in relation to WĀHINE MĀORI.

“There are statements that infer, or outright declare, that Wāhine Māori should be examining their own behaviour or pathways before they take on moko kauwae.
Statements that outline what is acceptable for a Wāhine mau moko to do, or what she MUST do now that she has taken up this birthright.

“Statements about how much Wāhine must achieve in other peoples’ eyes, or how much she must contribute to her community before she takes up her birthright.

There really is no way to make these kinds of statements without first making a judgement about Wahine in general and that is…

“That in your natural state of Wāhine – you are not enough.

“That as a member of a line of wahine who descend down from Hina – you are not enough. That as a survivor of multiple generations of attempted genocide, as a survivor of this very specific battleground of settler colonial racism and patriarchy – you are not enough. That as a vessel for the continuation of our existence as Māori – you are not enough.

And to that I say: E Hine, You ARE enough.”

A recent Facebook post by tā moko artist Mark Kopua directly challenges the idea that moko kauae must be earned. He writes:

Over the last 30+ years, probably more, Maori have been manipulated to believe that wearing Moko, especially on the face, is something that we have to first be worthy of. That we have to seek and obtain a level of credit or ‘merit’ before earning the ‘privilege’ of Moko. Many early Moko recipients will be all too familiar with the old question/interrogation, “have you earned that? Or, the statement, “I thought only the chief got that?

Even as I write those two common statements I feel the hackles on my neck standing. I’ve come to know that those statements come from the western, coloniser perspective of ‘meritocracy’, a western ideology that styfles Maori into not feeling worthy. And for that reason alone it is a curse upon our culture, traditions and way of being.

‘Meritocracy’ is one of the 3 societal flaws alongside ‘individualism’ and ‘A-history’ that spell grief for society. It is a myth that would have us believe that there is equal opportunity, however Maori, in this society, endure it as a curse.

Nonetheless many Maori have fallen into the hinaki of thinking, that only the worthy (privileged) can obtain Moko, a misbelief driven by the concept of meritocracy.

Moko kauae is a part of a wider political and cultural resurgence that is an assertion of tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake. It is an assertion of our political, cultural, social and spiritual aspirations as whānau, as hapū, as iwi, as Māori. Within such a context moko kauae is embedded within a critical cultural regeneration that is deeply influenced by the political context of our time.

Life coach Sally Anderson received moko kauae from tā moko artist Inia Taylor, encouraged by her husband, Roger Te Tai, who also wears moko. Image: Facebook.

To speak about moko kauae in 2018 as if it is separate from our political context is naïve. In our bid to reclaim our taonga, all taonga, and in our bid to be self-determining in our representation of ourselves, we can not remove ourselves from a context of colonial oppression within which we struggle every day. The reclaiming and the carrying of moko kauae is an outward expression of our whakapapa and of our honour to walk this earth carrying the images of our people that speak to our cultural, political and spiritual aspirations. I am not saying that this is necessarily the conscious or articulated intention of every wahine that carries moko kauae, it is however the context within which we are currently located.

The raging debate over whether Pākehā women should be accorded a privilege to carry moko kauae is also located within this context. I use the word ‘privilege’ deliberately as it reminds us that any Pākehā women seeking to or wearing moko kauae do not do so as a right, they do so as a privilege. Moko kauae is the right of Māori women. It is not a right for anyone else. Moko kauae is the reassertion of an indigenous right that has been marginalised, demeaned and denied by Pākehā colonial dominance. It is not a right for Pākehā women. The resurgence of moko kauae is a resurgence of Mana Wahine. It is not a resurgence for Pākehā women.

What is clear in the current debate is that there are some people who assume that Pākehā women are deserving of such a privilege. Yet there is little discussion of the role of Pākehā women in the attempted erasure of moko kauae. There is little to no discussion by those that advocate for such a privilege about the colonial injustices that continue to be perpetuated upon our people which many Pākehā women are complicit in.

To locate the discussion related specifically to Sally Anderson wearing moko kauae the following is an extract from a request sent to a tā moko artist that outlines her reasoning for wanting to carry moko kauae. Anderson writes:

Why you may ask…?

(1) I am being called
(2) I believe it is the ending of something and the beginning of something, a symbol of triumph
(3) I believe turning 50 the next leg theres some significancy for me in turning a corner, a new era, an initiation to the next phase of my life
(4) I know I am a healer, a light worker, someone who bridges the gap between light and dark
(5) I believe I am a bridge between indigenous cultures and mainstream
(6) I believe I should have been born black but I’m white (Pākehā) yet bridge all races, creed, colour, and genders in a way no other practitioner can
(7) My husband and I co-lead together and have intentions of running indigenous workshops with Maori, Aboriginal, American Indian as part of our future together

It is a significant step as we launch the new company Evolved Leadership into the Australian Marketplace.

The 60 Minutes experience last weekend re-presenced me to what I have achieved in this lifetime and am beyond proud of how far I have come.

Roger who is more versed in Maori protocol than anyone I know understands its significancy (sic) and is totally supportive and saw it before I knew.

Love the opportunity to talk with you about whether you would partner me on this journey. I appreciate it is controversial for a Pākehā to wear a moko on the chin but this calling is bigger than who I am in my human form.

I look forward to hearing from you

Much respect Sally Anderson

There is nothing in this request that indicates an understanding or acceptance of fundamental tikanga that aligns to the taking of and/or carrying of moko kauae. The desire to take moko kauae is justified not on whakapapa, not on mana wahine, not on any aspirations for tino rangatiratanga, or mana motuhake or cultural resurgence. Rather the reasoning is about self transformation as a Pākehā woman who believes she should be ‘black’ woman, and a sense of self entitlement.

Where Inia Taylor, the tā moko artist, has stated online that he did not want to say ‘no’ and be considered ‘racist’ what he failed to recognise is that to decline such a request is not about race, it is about whakapapa, it is about tikanga, it is about rangatiratanga. None of those things equate to race. He also failed to see that racism is about power. Racism is about having the power to oppress and deny the fundamental human rights of another person based on their race. In Aotearoa, racism is about the ability to control the systems and structures that are grounded upon white supremacy and colonial occupation.

To say no to placing moko kauae on a Pākehā woman is not racism, as it is not Pākehā women who are oppressed and subjugated in this country on the basis of race, it is Māori women. Where there is a focus on this case at the moment we also need to remember that this issue is not merely about Sally Anderson. Recently we have seen images of a white couple in Germany wearing both moko kauae and mataora. White privilege and entitlement is a global issue that requires critical discussion.

A range of comments on social media have also made reference to Pākehā receiving mataora and moko kauae during the 19th century. While that did happen, we have to consider the context of that period. It was a time when our tikanga was in place. It was a time where we held and maintained many of the fundamental elements of tino rangatiratanga. It was a time when our taonga were not threatened in the same manner and where our tūpuna maintained significant control over what happened for our whānau, hapū and iwi. It was not a time, as we have now, where we have had to struggle to retain and revitalise the very fundamental ways of being Māori. It was not a time where our reo and tikanga have been denied for generations and where we have to struggle daily for te reo Māori. The impact of these conditions today means it is not the same context. As ta moko artist Mark Kopua has said:

I noted someone threw into this ‘hot’ thread the book “Pākehā Maori” which includes korero pertaining to both J Rutherford and Barnett Burns, with the poster saying that the practice had been happening for a long time, which is true, but you have to recognise the different contexts between early Late 17 to early 1800’s and 2018.
First of all, in the 17-1800’s Maori held total authority over such issues and decisions and initially these early Pākehā were held in captivity, as possessions to the iwi. They had no such decision making powers unlike this wahine Pākehā in 2018.

Our ancestors marked these captives with symbols of slavery, primarily to tell other iwi that they were ‘owned’ that they ‘belonged’ to an Iwi, hence they became wearers of Moko. One sure way out of the brutal, harmful life of slavery is to be a ‘good’ slave. So Barnett Burns for instance came out of slavery by making himself and his skills a valuable necessity to his capturers. First of all he became bi-lingual, so he became valuable as a liaison, sailor and a trader. Barnett was eventually married to Amotawa, a wahine tapairu of Uawa/Tolaga Bay & Tokomaru Bay connections, which basically meant that Barnett became part of the Iwi Te Aitanga a Hauiti.

He traded for them, he fought alongside them, he tilled the soil with them. He became a Pākehā Maori. So although his initial Moko was about him ‘belonging’ to an Iwi his following Moko were also about ‘belonging’ to an Iwi but as a member. And it is known that Barnett was fully Moko’ed from head to toe.

Image: Facebook

What Kopua raises here is the cultural, social, spiritual and political context within which those moko were given, and carried. To not consider these things is to deny the impact of colonialism and the significance of the marginalisation and denial of te reo and tikanga Māori.

Within the wider discussion there have been many statements that are grounded within ideologies that serve to undermine the place and positioning of Māori women, including the assertion that Pākehā women can be “more” Māori than Māori women. In a report by Radio New Zealand it was noted:

RNZ has not yet received a response from Ms Anderson but her husband Roger Te Tai, who has a full facial moko, told TVNZ it took two years for him to consider her getting a moko kauae.

He said although she was Pākehā, she conducted her life as a Māori woman, and had a pure heart.

To advocate for or support the taking of moko kauae by Pākehā women through the undermining and demeaning of Māori women is unacceptable. Pākehā women – Pākehā people – can never be ‘more Māori’ than Māori, no matter what their circumstances. Being Māori is embedded in our whakapapa. To undermine Māori women in order to elevate Pākehā women does nothing but create more layers of trauma.

In a recent blog post Rhonda Tibble responded to a press release by a group of wahine Māori that argued that moko kauae is for wahine Māori only. Rather than engage the issues, her post was framed in a way that demeaned the voices of the Māori women who wrote the release, as if our views are somehow determined by our jobs and not by the guidance that we have each been given by our own kuia and koroua. Tibble refers to the press release as a ‘proclamation’ stating:

What will your press statement enforce for retrospective breaches? Gee a whole industry can be created from this work. The Moko Kauae Protectorate Inc… This collaboration of wahine shows us exactly how a great use of Pākehā skills too effect change through Western Academic methodologies can be applied to changing Maori Cultural practice. Awesome work. Its irrefutable that these are Pākehā Skills used to achieve the press statement. Will we need to prove Pākehā whakapapa to use the sacred broadcasting techniques and strategies before we can safely issue a press statement?

The blog post says the statement is a result of western academic methodologies” with reference to “Moko Kauae Cops”. Let’s be clear. We are entitled to our view on this kaupapa as wahine Māori and as wahine mau moko kauae, as Māori women committed to the wellbeing of our taonga and who carry moko kauae every day. There is no expected universal agreement – if there was we would not be having this debate. However, it is our view that the resurgence of moko kauae is a resurgence of mana wahine. For others to demean such a position because we do not agree with Pākehā women taking moko kauae does little to enable open and frank debate.

These types of reactions are exactly why many of our wahine did not want to comment publicly, and did not want to have to deal with the deficient, demeaning replies that have come flooding into our emails and messages. The racism that underpins many of the responses that Māori women have received in the past 24 hours is another indication of the colonial imperative that we do not have the right to protect our taonga. The following posts are two examples of the racist messages our women have received. Why? Because we are saying ‘no’ to colonial appropriation and co-option of our taonga.

Image: Facebook

We can have this debate without demeaning each others’ views. I am very clear in my position and have said so in the press release. That does not deny that others can take a different position. The same may be said for tā moko artists – whose positions range from the assertion that moko kauae is for wahine Māori and not for Pākehā women, through to that it is for hapū and iwi to determine collectively if a Pākehā person has fulfilled their expectations in regards to receiving moko kauae or mataora.

What I have not seen is any tā moko artist saying that Pākehā have a right to moko kauae or mataora. Because they don’t. For Pākehā women to assume that they do is merely another articulation of white entitlement and white privilege. For our people to then affirm such a position through promoting deficient views about our own women and our right to our taonga – and for Māori men to claim that a Pākehā woman can be more Māori than a Māori women – is equally unacceptable. Such statements are yet another form of lateral violence that we do not deserve, and we are not going to tolerate.

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