• Tangata | People

    Wāhine Toa: Warrior Women

Hineahuone

When Ranginui – Father Sky and Papatūānuku – Mother Earth were separated, their son Tāne, god of forests and birds, created the first human – Hineahuone, a woman made from the soil of the earth and given the breath of life.

And since the beginning, women were deemed as te whare tāngata and represent the house and essence of humanity. Regarded as the creators of life and esteemed as sacred beings, women have always had a revered place in Māori culture, elevated in many ways.

Take from me my flesh and bone

You may already be familiar with the legendary demi-god Māui, but if you listen closely, you will learn about the central women responsible for his feats. One was Māui’s grandmother, Murirangawhenua, who provided him with her jawbone to enable him to fish up the North Island and slow down the sun.

There was also Mahuika, also Māui’s grandmother, who was the goddess of fire with fingernails made of sacred flames and was eventually deceived by Māui in order to bring fire to the world.

Women were also the source of great love, including the story of Māori nobility Hinemoa who fell in love with a common warrior named Tūtānekai. Hinemoa’s love was so great for Tūtānekai that despite their family’s efforts to keep them apart, she risked her life and swam across Lake Rotorua to be with him.

Listen to my call and deny not my gaze

When your journey finally brings you here and you arrive at Tamaki Māori Village, your first encounter will likely be with a woman.

Before you even see her, you will hear her voice. Unwavering and commanding, you will listen to this first voice, of a woman calling and summoning you to follow. It is her karanga – a unique oral artform reserved for Māori women alone and required before any Māori ceremony or gathering can begin.

So, it is how we will welcome you to our sacred grounds, an essential part of cultural protocol that showcases the value of women in Māori culture front and centre.

This carries on to kapa haka, the Māori performing arts that combines song, dance, expression and movement, where women boldly face the battle on stage. What stories do her moko kauae tell? What does the traditional female chin tattoo say about her family heritage and status?

And where does the source of her power lie? It’s as if the ferocity in her pūkana, her facial expressions belong not only to her but to those before her – so much so that you dare not blink.

“Singing, dancing, the performance part of our culture is significant because it is where you can come on stage and be equals. We have different roles off stage, but on stage it is like going to war. We hold each other’s backs. We are doing this with each other, for each other, it’s that sort of feeling. Each individual has that within themselves.”

Rosie Te Rauawhea Belvie
Cultural Performer at Tamaki