Women that inspire me – for specific reasons

I aspire to be a better boxer (do a few more fights and hopefully, and basically ride out all the corporate cards I can get), a better dancer (I still want to perform in my island’s te Maeva Nui squad and create my own dance atlas exploring body language and gender roles in different indigenous cultures – or at least learn a little about it), a better advocate (fortunately I have a great network of role models regarding that goal), and a better person in general. I have specific reasons why I’ve tried to make these my “things” fueling me towards this vision of myself and the world I want to create, but that’s not the point of this post! It’s to celebrate women that inspire me to be better at these things.

Below is a mish-mash of women I think are impressive, well regarded, and are at the top of their craft or heading in that direction. They are in no particular order. However, most of them are based in the Australasia/Pacific region, otherwise, I’ve had some engagement with them. This is no discredit to other writers/authors/artists which I adore and are based further abroad (i.e. Roxanne Gay, Michelle Obama and more) but this list is a bit more specific to my world.

Not every woman here is a woman of colour. And I have no further comment on that point. All photos are taken from google and the internet in general, I take no credit for them.

Also, because the internet is the internet and we all love to be offended – I may have simply missed some women which I haven’t come to know or read enough about. The internet is a great tool of information but it doesn’t mean I’m endlessly trawling it, so if I haven’t included someone it doesn’t mean I’m intentionally excluding them.

Edit: I aim to continually update this post when time allows. There are some women not mentioned here, especially some of the friends I’ve made over the years. I want to keep celebrating female peers and leaders because

  1. It offers a counter-narrative to female intra-sexual competition and competition in general (because unless you’re competiting in an actual competition i.e. sports, education, or science, what is the constructive benefit and point for competing for the male and patriarchical gaze when it’s destructive to the equality and human dignitiy of women?)
  2. Female peers are often my sound-boards (like “peer-mentors” almost), will sometimes call me on my bs if they care about me enough and will help influence/shape me since they’re part of my vā/ close social-environment
  3. Sharing life and breaking bread with women that have shared values is a blessing and privilege that shouldn’t go unappreciated!

So, heres my list:

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Moena Maiotui – Ori Tahiti expert

I managed to take a Ori class when she was here with my old Ura Tabu girls and my Ori cup was definitely full after that. She did some more warrior-inspired choreography in that set she taught and I am here for it e va’ine toa.

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Genah Fabian – Muay Thai/MMA Fighter

She is just an all-round bad-ass and I admire women in combat-sports. It’s a lonely but character-defining and tough journey in my opinion.

All the female fighters at Mayhem Boxing – some of them have punched me in the head and given me tips/direction, which I’m grateful for. No photos because I’d die of embarrassment if they found this post lol.

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Rachel Reed QC – Lawyer

In my first legal role I had the privilege of meeting Ms Reed. I’ve said something really embarrasing in front of her which makes me cringe regularly to this day; and sometimes I can’t sleep because of it. It serves as a lifelong reminder to read the room and try to know influential people before you meet them. It’ll have that timeless effect for as long as I’m an advocate -_-

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Julie-Anne Kincaid QC – Lawyer. Again, privileged to know her. She is a fantastic advocate in my opinion.

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Lisa Taouma – Writer & Producer

She’s produced Marks of Mana, was the founder of Coconet and many other amazing projects. Plus she’s also from Faleasi’u (village represent). ‘Nuff said lol

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Parris Goebel – Dancer, Choreographer, Business owner

Several reasons. And also, how could I (and others) not admire her?!? She has given the world enough reasons.

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Tyla Va’aefou – Tattooist & artist

I’ve happily been inked by her and am looking at more ink for my annual birthday ink session. I may have also drunk snapped her through a friend which is slightly embarrasing now that I think of it.

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Tapu Misa – Journalist & writer

I have never met her personally but I have a memory of someone in high-school telling me that she called the highschool asking why her daughter hadn’t been crowned head-girl, and then I saw her for the first time in our school hall in the front row for an awards presentation at an assembly where I was doing my head-girl weekly announcements. I don’t know if the phone call was true, but maybe one day I’ll get to ask her. I was slightly horrified when I found out because, my parents come from a humble background when I found out she was elan educated woman. In any case, I admire her and what she has done for Pacific journalism. To put her kaupapa into perspective, here is what she said in a recent article:

“You don’t have to be a particularly sensitive person to be profoundly affected by this [how Pacific people are framed in mainstream media]. How we, as a society, tell stories about ourselves and each other, makes a difference. Our stories create the lens through which we see ourselves and our neighbours and the world around us. Storytelling has the power to shape who and what we are.

I know first-hand the impact that an unrelenting onslaught of bad news and negative stereotypes can have. For me, an immigrant who arrived here at the age of eight, it’s meant a sometimes crippling lack of confidence, and a sense of never quite belonging.

I want better for the next generation of Māori and Pasifika women.”

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Faumui Penelope Ginnen & Judge Ida Malosi – District Court Judges and part of the pioneer Pacific Maori female lawfirm King Alofivae Malosi.

I didn’t make it to the swearing in ceremony for Judge Ginnen because I was working that day but it was a pensive moment when she sang Ua fa’afetai in the Northern Club given the history of that place.

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Ladi6 – Musician. I respect her for all the free concerts she did during the Ihumatao campaigns.

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Aarahdna – Musician. She sings and speaks with conviction, which I love.

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Maisey Rika – Musician, as above with Aaradhna, her soul pours through her voice. It’s beautiful to hear and witness.

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The women of Ura Tabu – Polynesian dance. The collective learning and culture in this crew has always been a joy to watch and experience.

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Seiuli Fiao’o Fa’amausili, Fa’amoana Leilua, Niall Williams & women in Rugby generally – Sportswomen. Fiao’o is a beast, I admire her tenacity.

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Leonie Pihama – Scholar & activitst

My friend admires her way more than I and has a lot more to do with her. I’ve only had the privilege of hearing her speak at the Mana Wahine event run by the Women’s Centre in Tamaki Makaurau. She speaks with conviction. I have yet to go through her works.

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Natalie Coates, Maia Wikaira and Annette Sykes – Lawyers

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Tofilau Yolande Ah Chong – Media personality, Pacific Media Network broadcaster

I will forever stan her comment on the Pacific vote. She has been around forever and has done a lot of work in Pacific Media. I just admire her MC ability.

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Chlöe Swarbrick – Member of Parliament

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Jacinta Ruru – Academic

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Soana Moala – Judge

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Helena Kaho – All-round amazing woman

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Loana Tanielu – Doctor, mother and my ex-Sunday School teacher. I fangirl her mum, Dr. Lonise Tanielu. That family is just full of brown excellence.

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Moana Maniapoto – Singer & activist

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Emaline Afeaki Mafile’o – Social entrepeneur

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Pania Newton – Advocate and activist. Her conviction and fearlessness is unmatched, and she is a definition of va’ine toa if I ever met one.

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Angela Tiatia – Artist

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Goretti Chadwick & Anapela Polataivao – Actresses

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Luti Richards – Poet

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Tessa Temata – HC to the Cook Islands

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Jahra Wasasala – Dancer

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Olive Asi & the other women of the South Auckland Poets Collective – Spoken word artists

Honor Ford – Lawyer. She is eloquent, caring and fierce. And I’m grateful to be able to call her a friend.

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Vea Mafile’o – film maker

Belinda Sellars QC – Lawyer. She helped pioneer the Public Defence Service.

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Indira Stewart – Journalist

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Teresia Teaiwa – Scholar, Poet & Activist

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Selina Tusitala Marsh – Writer

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Sia Figiel – Writer

Motherhood: sacrifice & love

Today is mother’s day. It is a day of recognition and appreciation for all that mother’s do. I don’t like to catch myself reflecting too much on the point because the realisation of what my mother has done for me can sometimes be crippling, with reference to everything that follows. Because when I think of her, the first word that comes to mind is sacrifice. Because in my mind, to be the recipient of someone’s sacrifice is the greatest form of love. 

My mother chose the name Siobhan because it was unique, unlike anything she’d heard before. And because it meant, in Irish Gaelic, “God is Gracious”. An odd name for a Polynesian woman but a poetic and strong name for the woman she wanted to raise.

Shortly after I was born, my mother took me to Mitiaro for some months. I’m not quite sure how many months, but she has retold stories of me running around our yard (beside the church) in nothing but a cloth nappy for weeks at a time.

In Aotearoa, she taught me my ABCs, 123s, how to spell simple words and write them. She would do this via a cardboard poster which she made, cello-taped to my red plastic children’s table and chair playset. I would hold the pen in my right hand, she would place hers over mine and guide the movement of the pen until I could spell my name on my own.

My mother also taught me how to dance; nothing extravagant but just the simple moves. It was not a significant focus for her, what she aimed to do was feed my mind with knowledge and discipline.

Although she was strict, she has a soft spot for me. When I cried at kindergarten because my mum wasn’t going to stay there with me the whole day, she decided that it wasn’t for me and I stayed at home until my 5th birthday. She did not work for a large part of this part of my life, and spent most of it with me. 

When I started primary, this obviously meant I wasn’t the best at making friends quickly. She would come to school during lunch time and see if I was ok. And naturally, I would spend lunch with her. This eventually waned until I was less socially awkward and made friends.

She structured her working hours so that it would fit in with me and so that there was always one parent at home in case anything happened. She would do shift work in the evenings and be available during the day for any school events and sick days needed.

As I got older, my mother would take me to my sports games and piano lessons. And when I got to high school, she would still help me make my lunch from time to time (this was when my sister came along so she was busy raising another child too).

At University, she would check in and make sure I wasn’t too overwhelmed with my work load. When I woke up early to study, and she was awake, she would make me breakfast. And when I returned home from work after University, she had left me some dinner, sometimes with my name actually spelt on the gladwrap covering the plate of food.

She told me to keep away from worldy distractions and focus on finishing my studies. To pursue something greater for myself and for us as a family. As an adult, and thankfully, a more liberal Polynesian woman, she no longer gives strict direction, but rather guidance and advice. The world’s we both grew up in are so different, and to a large degree, the world’s we currently experience in our working lives mostly are classes apart based on several socio-economic factors. 

This woman, did not have the same upbringing as me. She received beatings, for some tragedies that a woman should never be beaten for, was blamed for things out of her control and was made to leave school before she was 10. My mother was the carer for her other siblings and was kept home to do house chores while her brothers had their education prioritised. She didn’t relive these beatings on me (not in any great way past my primary years). She didn’t tell me to aim low because I was a woman but to be the best that I could be. 

My mother accepted what she couldn’t control but capitalised on things that she could and the best way she knew how. And she did that as best as she could for me. And throughout my entire life, more or less, she has sacrificed her own pleasures in life for mine and for the greater good of our family. She could have moved back to Mitiaro to look after her father at an earlier time before he passed, but she stayed here to help pay the bills and raise my younger sister. She could have spent her money on purchases that she wanted for herself, but instead she spent it on uniforms and laptops for my sister’s schooling. 

She has sacrificed, loved and raised me to be the woman I am today. But I don’t only owe my make-up to her. There are a handful of other women who have raised me, sharing their energy, time and guidance with me. The power to shape and influence another being, their identity, character and qualities, is a remarkable thing. I don’t take my mother’s, or these people’s influence lightly. You are the sum of the company you keep. 

I don’t know if I will get to experience motherhood one day. If I do, I know I will be eternally grateful to these women, including my mother, for showing me the strength, responsibility & power of motherhood.

And I know it’s not Christmas but, I love Kaitlin’s poem below, as a signal of the strength of a woman and (obviously in this case, biological) mother.

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Women, Race and Class by Angela Y. Davis

Fay Van Kerckvoorde

#onthisday in 1944 Angela Y. Davis was born. She is an American political activist, philosopher, academic and author. She wrote over ten books on class, feminism, and the U.S. prison system. She was a member of the Communist Party USA until 1991. Also, she was jailed for charges related to a prison outbreak, though ultimately cleared.

Women, Race and Class is an historical analysis of the women’s movement in the U.S. from abolitionist days to the present. Davis demonstrates how emancipation movements always have been obstructed by the sexist, racist and classist biases of its leaders. Unfortunately, to this day these exclusions still exist in a lot of social movements.

The book was first published in 1981, but it is not dated. If you want to read a coherent book that places the feminist struggle in a broader context from an intersectional view, I’d highly recommend it! In my opinion…

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We Should All Be Feminists & Dear Ijeawele by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Fay Van Kerckvoorde

Why should we be feminists? Why not egalitarians?

“Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general- but to choose to use the vague expression human rights (or egalitarians) is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender.

It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human.

For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution acknowledge that.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (°1977 in Nigeria) is the bestselling author of novels Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun,The Thing Around Your Neck (short story collection) and Americanah.

She also…

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Kia Mataara : Resources from Kia Mōhio Kia Mārama Trust

Leonie Pihama

Tēnā koutou katoa,

This blog is to share the Kia Mataara series of resources on the history of Aotearoa and a range of political issues up to the end of the 1990’s. The Kia Mataara series was created by Kia Mōhio Kia Mārama Trust.

Last year I was given permission to digitally reproduce this series so that it could be made more widely available. This is the first public sharing of the resources in digital form with the agreement of those that produced the publications. Finding a full set of the publications took some time and it was Bronwyn Yates and Barbara Menzies that provided the set that is held by Literacy Aotearoa to enable the digitising of the series. The series was produced through the efforts of Kia Mōhio Kia Mārama Trust and the graphics for the series were created by Moana Maniapoto. What is clear is that this…

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#TeamSelfSabotage

I can be a bit of a princess and self-sabotage a lot of good things in my life in an attempt to “protect” myself based on past experiences (cue childhood trauma and other trauma generally). I’d say a lot of people do this to be honest. One of my girlfriends pointed out a few ex-boyfriends that are now loving husbands, but I cut them off or didn’t invest because of the “what ifs” that put me off. Another girlfriend pointed out how I am addicted to doing the most (cue all the crazy milestones and goals I have to date) because I attach most of my value to my achievements and productivity – I can see why this is slightly toxic because I get annoyed at people around me who aren’t “doing the most” either. I think I get this from my mother who is a workaholic in her workplace and at home.

Anyway, I really want to liberate myself from some of these problematic thoughts or beliefs that I generally hold, so I don’t shoot myself in the foot when I’m trying to shoot my shot – in my relationships (romantic and platonic), career, health and in life.

Below is a list of some of the self-limiting thoughts I want to work on; all this from a few nights reflection on some of the behaviours I thought were toxic – that’s a more personal discussion that I won’t share.

I’ve read a little bit about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other therapies that can help with tackling thoughts/behaviours that just don’t serve a purpose anymore – but maybe once used to. I used to see a therapist for specific matters but am trying a bit of self-help CBT and I don’t want to dedicate time to seeing a therapist atm. TBH – the most value I got from her were the questions she asked me when I presented her with a situation or problem I was facing. And the real learning about myself came from the reflection I did on my own, in my own time, after that question, not the time we spent during the one hour session together. Regardless, she was a gem, but I’m attempting to question myself a lot more instead this year rather than booking in with my therapist – not as an attack on my integrity or confidence, but just a quicker way of self-improvement and tackling #selfsabotage

Romantic relationships:

  • I can’t find someone I trust to be emotionally invested and vulnerable with
    • If I’m emotionally invested and vulnerable with my friends, I can find a partner just the same
  • I’m scared of being hurt or deceived again
    • I’m smart enough to use my mind and heart to confront any red flags with integrity, before getting hurt or lied to
  • I can’t find someone who will be emotionally available for me
    • My friends are just as busy with their careers as I am, the right person who is interested enough in me will make time for me in their busy life
  • I don’t trust my decisions with love because of what has happened in the past
    • I trust myself enough to get to know someone long enough with my head and heart to make the right choice

For the romantic relationships that didn’t last, I noticed a trend in what I liked about those people. My first serious boyfriend, it was his confidence, something I didn’t think I had a lot of at the time. I’ve now developed enough confidence that I feel like I have that quality within myself. My second boyfriend, it was his charisma, charm and how he stood up to me. He was able to connect with a range of people and wasn’t shy with sharing his own opinion. I’m now at a point in my life where I think I have that more or less. And finally, the last serious relationship that didn’t work out, I admired his love and dedication for his family. I’m still sour over that one ending because I hoped it would be my last romantic relationship, but anyway, I’m working on building this quality within my own life, which I’m happy to say, is improving a lot.

I like the positive elements of being in a long-term committed relationship. Despite my previous relationships ending for several reasons (the unhealthy ones – because of cheating or deception; the good ones – because of my emotional baggage and just didn’t “connect”), I enjoy having someone to share lots of moments with and someone to count on – in a healthy relationship. I also like how a partner acts as a mirror. How I am with a partner reflects aspects of myself that I sometimes can’t see and amplify inner growth and learning. It’s the complete opposite in an unhealthy relationship – the worst parts of myself were reflected and amplified in a past toxic relationship. There was still learning, but with unnecessary flow-on emotional baggage.

Familial relationships:

  • Some family trauma is so deep for close family members that some familial relationships will never heal
    • People’s perspective and positions can change
  • I haven’t been the best sister I could have been growing up
    • I can start being a better sister now

There may be fewer goals than my romantic ones but, these ones are quite big.

With my sister, we have a 10 year age gap. This always made it interesting spending time together, but usually it would be at home baking/cooking, watching a movie or just hanging out at the beach/park. Sometimes we would go to the movies, the mall, an event or a theatre show (yes I took her to some – because I thought she would do good in the arts and had a curious enough mind to explore emotions), so I think I spent a decent amount of time with her.

I would put pressure on her a lot in high school to achieve as high as she could but she had “checked” out for several reasons (some of which I don’t blame her for at all). I’ve given in to the fact that I was projecting on her, because of some of the ridiculous standards I hold myself to. I think she’s problematic with a lot of things going on in her life at the moment, but regardless, I try and give her my well-intentioned opinion when she asks. She’s turning into an adult after all and her choices should be respected, even if I think it’s wrong. From my projections, telling-offs and high standards, I just hope that I haven’t added to the childhood trauma she may/may not have suffered. What I hope for her, is that she just becomes a person of good character and values in life; treats the people around her with the care and love that we have given her for the most part (I have the same outlook if I were to raise children one day and try to apply the same care-taking process with the relationships/friendships around me).

With the family trauma, this is around a complex set of relationships each reacting to the others around it. And I haven’t taken any time to reflect on what positions each of these people are probably coming from – which is probably the first task, and then trying to make sense of what people actually want and seeing what resolutions might be available (it doesn’t help that people don’t always know what they want either – myself included). I haven’t confronted or made any moves regarding this space in my life because the pain was still raw for most, but I think this year is a good time to begin having some open, constructive and challenging conversations in this area; I hope those conversations can mend relationships or open hearts a bit more. I know I’ve already had one that is positive.

Because I have a beautiful and strong friend network/sisterhood, that I’ll continue to invest in, I think it’s only fair that I give as much time to this family as I do to that – because my family deserve that attention and care, for the same that they’ve given to me. It’s going to be an uphill trail run is all.

Health, work-life balance and wellbeing:

  • My body isn’t designed for particular activities
    • My body will adapt to what activities I want it to do, with consistent attention
  • I don’t have time to get fit
    • I have time for what I prioritise and so I just need better time management & to cut off the fluff
  • I should be working instead of working out
    • Working out gives me a clearer mind for work and the extra blood flow definitely gives me a lot more focus – integral to making me a better advocate
  • I should be focusing on my career and financial goals and taking a break is selfish
    • I need an occasional break (with and without people sometimes) and need to enjoy not just endure life – just a little lol

I don’t even want to go into how much of a workaholic I am. My friend constantly says I fit 87 things into my day, even when others are involved and… she’s not wrong at all. All of my close friends can attest to how I’ve been over an hour late to some social engagement because I was finishing up something else just before seeing them. Or failing to attend at all because I came down with a headache or was too tired after doing everything else before seeing them. I say I want to aim for a lot more balance in the next year but the reality of my move to Whangarei is that is a big fat no. My work-life balance will be non-existent for the next 2 – 3 years (if I can stay up here for that amount of time) which I’m ok with, it’ll just mean that I have to take my breaks alongside the workload ebb and flow. As for the goals around being ‘fit for purpose’, I want to do a lot of different walks/hikes on my future travels so conditioning and being cardio-fit is the aim this year. It’ll be great for if I ever want to do another fight (probably not anytime soon with this mahi) and for future diving experiences (I plan on getting my diving certificate this year so I want to make sure my lungs are big, happy and healthy for that). So far, my routine has been good enough that I can get moving consistently – I haven’t struck the balance I want yet, but we’re getting there.

Career:

  • I’ll never be as competent as others around me, particularly the white male lawyers
    • See the last point – this one is definitely positioned in my identity as a Polynesian female
  • I do not have enough experience
    • I have enough smarts to be strategic for the job right now and learn the intricacies as I go along
  • I don’t belong in this profession because I’m a little too different
    • I shouldn’t minimise the value I offer – I belong because I offer a unique perspective

I’m grateful for these beliefs up until this point in my life, they’ve managed to keep me safe and get me to this not-so-bad point in life thus far. But it’s time to bid farewell.

It was a bit of a profound moment when I questioned why I was so fearful about how stupid I felt when comparing my opinions to other white male lawyers/professionals. I think I have a lot of work to do on this belief that might not be done within 12 months or any specific time frame – but I know I’m hyperaware of it now. I always felt it when trying to bring my ideas and opinions up, which were sometimes validated by that demographic but never specifically identified it as a pattern. It happened when I was at uni and my first few jobs. That’s all I’ll say on that for now but I’m looking forward to exploring why I feel/think that way as I think it’ll be a major personal development point.

Mana Wahine Readers

Leonie Pihama

Tēnā koutou,

This blog is not so much a blog as it is a means by which to support the dissemination of two online resources related to Mana Wahine that have been developed with Te Kotahi Research Institute and supported by Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga.

The ideas to develop a Mana Wahine reader was generated from the many requests that Linda and myself have had to provide references or support in the area of Mana Wahine, both as theory and as lived ways of being. The concept of Mana Wahine is not new to us as Māori, as whānau, as hapū, as iwi, rather it is embedded within the whakapapa and whanaungatanga relationships that are themselves grounded within tikanga. Over the past 32 years there has been a steady increase in the writings and creative works by Māori women, each of which contribute to an affirmation of ourselves in…

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Marks of Mana

My review follows a hectic few days. I wasn’t going to go because I was salty about a lot of things from earlier in the day but the documentary gave my soul more peace than I had started that day with. I took myself on a date and don’t regret it.

The documentary started with the story of Taema ma Tilafaega; the two women that swam to Fiji to learn the art of tattooing and then returning to Samoa only to be confused when they returned. Their chant, which originally held that women would be tattooed, instead said the men would be tattooed. And thus tattooing on women was initially lost, but the “malu” resurged and has been growing since. Women get them for several reasons however there is always pain to be endured before you are bestowed one.

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Credit: Director Lisa Taouma, Western Samoa, NZ, 2018

For a good snippet on the myth of Taema ma Tilafaega check out these posts. Or even Sia Figiel’s “They who do not Grieve” which makes several references to the twins.

The story starts off in Samoa and travels to Aotearoa, Papua New Guinea. To a lesser degree, the story also covers female tattooing in Fiji and the Cook Islands.

Malu (adj; noun) – to protect; the top of the house of a fale; shelter. Also known or depicted as the entrance to the first house of humankind. The womb. Hence the symbol of the diamond.

Patterns in the Samoan malu design centre around the feminine and feminine strength. The imagery and the story-telling were both was ethereal.

First of all, can I say how empowering it feels to be privileged as an audience? When the story is and was created by someone like you, for you; by Pacific women for Pacific women (including Maori). 

I highly recommend seeing it if you can. I’m not sure if copies will be available on DVD/electronically, but if you’re an indigenous woman exploring your identity, this is a 56 minute deep dive you will definitely want to check it out.