Challen Wilson, NCWNZ member and great- granddaughter of Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, gave this speech at the Suffrage 130 celebration hosted by NCW Auckland Branch at Te Hā O Hine Place on 19 September 2023. The speech is presented here with many thanks to Challen for sending it to us to publish for all to enjoy.
|Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia (1868-1920), circa 1890. By FW Mason, photographers, Napier, NZ - edited photo from Auckland War Memorial Museum, ref C5101. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1594634|
Te Rarawa Kaiwhare
Mihi atu ki a koutou
Mihi atu ki a Io
E here mai, here atu
I to iwi
Ngā mihi nunui ki a koutou i te rā nei
Ngā mihi Te Kaunihera o Tāmaki Makaurau me Te Kaunihera ngā wāhine o Aotearoa mō tēnei hui.
Ko Te Reinga te maunga
Ko Te Reinga te hapū
Ko Te Reinga te tāngata.
Ki te taha o tōku pāpā
Ko Nga-toki-mata-whau-rua te waka
Ko Hokianga whakapau karakia te moana
Ko Waihou te awa
Ko Waihou-nui-a-rua te marae
Ko Wai-miri-rangi te whare tupuna
Ko Te Rarawa te iwi
Ko Meri Te Tai Mangakahia toku tupuna
Ko Challen Wilson taku ingoa
No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa
Our tupuna, Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia was born into an era of tremendous change. As a child, she was nurtured and guided by her father, Rē Te Tai and mother Hana Tēra. Rē influence was instrumental in shaping Meri's future role within the world of politics, particularly her passion for the rights of Māori and, specifically, wāhine Māori.
Meri's upbringing was deeply rooted in mātauranga Māori – our traditional knowledge and wisdom. She was raised to understand and value He Whakaputanga, the 1835 Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand. This upbringing shaped her worldview and her desire to ensure the sovereignty, rights, and interests of Māori were upheld.
Meri's life was also marked by her arranged marriage to our great grandfather, Hamiora Mangakāhia, who became the first Premier of Te Kotahitanga Paremata. Together, they had four children, and despite the demands of their political roles, their home was filled with warmth and wairua. Meri, also a gifted musician, used music to unite, inspire, and uplift those around her.
Meri's strong mareikura whakapapa, her lineage of female leaders, informed her worldview. She was raised to understand the critical role of women as leaders of whānau, whenua, hapū, and iwi. Despite not being located within her own whānau once married to Hamiora, their environment together helped her understand the rights of wāhine Māori across Aotearoa through their many engagement with whānau, hapū, and iwi, fuelling her passion even further for the critical recognition of wāhine Māori, particularly within governance structures.
Thursday 18 May 1893, a significant day and turning point is Meri’s life, and what she is most well-known for. At 21 years of age, Meri stood before Te Kotahitanga Paremata, becoming the first woman to do so. In this speech she urged that women should not only be allowed to vote, but also to sit in the Māori parliament as members. Many Māori women owned land in their own right and were entitled to have their say in decisions affecting them.
I will now relay a translated (reo Māori to reo Pākehā) transcript of her 1893 address to te kotahitanga paremata:
I move this motion before the principle member and all honourable members so that a law may emerge from this parliament allowing women to vote and women to be accepted as members of the parliament.
Following are my reasons for presenting this motion that women may receive the vote and that there be women members:
1. There are many women who have been widowed and own much land.
2. There are many women whose fathers have died and do not have brothers.
3. There are many women who are knowledgeable of the management of land where their husbands are not.
4. There are many women whose fathers are elderly, who are also knowledgeable of the management of land and own land.
5. There have been many male leaders who have petitioned the Queen concerning the many issues that affect us all, however, we have not yet been adequately compensated according to those petitions. Therefore, I pray to this gathering that women members be appointed. Perhaps by this course of action we may be satisfied concerning the many issues affecting us and our land. Perhaps the Queen may listen to the petitions if they are presented by her Māori sisters, since she is a woman as well.
This was a pivotal moment, not just for Meri, but for all wāhine Māori. Meri’s experiences had led her to understand the injustices faced by her whānau and the critical role of women within Māori society. This was the next steps to her tireless efforts to elevate the visibility of women in politics by advocating for their right to vote.
Meri has been a key figure in the establishment of the Māori Women's Welfare League, a testament to her enduring commitment to the well-being of Māori women and their whānau. She was also an entrusted member in the Women's Christian Temperance Union movement, advocating for the reduction of alcohol consumption for the betterment of our communities.
Today, we continue to honour Meri's legacy. We strive to uphold her values, her vision, and her commitment to the rights and welfare of Māori. We are unwavering in our dedication to our tupuna and her legacy. Alongside our whānau, we now have the privilege to develop a resource about our tupuna Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia, bringing together a community of skilled whānau, bringing together the whakaaro of whānau to drive forward a whānau led resource to share more of her story. This has incorporated a series of whānau wānanga involving our tamariki mokopuna right through to our kaumātua. We hope to release our rauemi this time next year and look forward to sharing this with the education sector and beyond.