Wāhine o Waipareira: Women of Influence
Whaea Mereana Stubbings
“If I had my life over again, I would do the same thing.”
From a child that is brought up with the reo, and going to school as a five year old, my cousin was my teacher, when we left home holding hands, we would korero Māori to each other and as I got in the gate it had to stop. When I got home after school we weren’t allowed to speak Pākehā, we had to go back into the reo. The theory of my father at that time was, it’s only six hours of the day that you go to kura, but once you leave the gate at school “huri koe ki to reo.”
In standard two, you were strapped for slipping up at times, and I’d done something that I was reprimanded for, and I remember this word to this day, she called me a little shite. My Pākehā school teacher. And of course it was a new word for me, I didn’t know what it meant, and I went home to my grandmother: “he kupu hou I roto I te reo Pākehā,” and she said, well, tell me. And I said: “you little shite,” and I got a blimmin hiding! Because I didn’t know that was a swear word.
Today for our tamariki, I’ve only got to walk down the road to hear the changes of the reo with the Kōhanga Reo and the Kura Kaupapa that was introduced. I see a lot of changes that our tamariki are learning the reo, it’s tremendous coming from my background.
Where it was to do with my husband and I, and our five children, we travelled overseas with his job in the army, I felt lonely for home and the only way I could communicate in my reo was through my babies, and they speak fluent Māori today. I remember my own husband, being Pākehā: “huh, what’s the point? What do you want to talk like that to them? Nobody’s going to understand them.” Including his own mother, one time she babysat for us, and the oldest one at the time was two and a half, and he told his Pākehā nanny he wants the pottie in Māori, and she didn’t understand him. She said: “Mary you’re going to have to speak English to your kids because I didn’t understand what he wanted.” And my husband tautoko’d his mother: “Oh yeah, you can’t tell her anything.” My answer to that was: “My babies came from my body, I came from my mother’s body, not yours.” I’m happy that I was strong enough to overcome that.
When I was 22 years old, and you had to be 21 for the voting, and there’s the Māori party and there’s the Pākehā party. My husband, well, you’re marriage vows at the time when you got married, you were obedient. Your obedience is to your husband. And by the time I was 22 and I could vote for the first time, I went under the Pākehā roll, and when it was realised I was in the Pākehā roll, my answer to that was, my obedience is to my marriage vows. Til I got a bit stronger. I went back into the Māori roll. So there’s a difference, now it’s more equality.
I found it hard to have five children and working at the same time, we had two mortgages to pay for our home. I was a nurse and I used to have to wake my kids up at six o’clock in the morning, get them dressed, turn the main power on in the house, get them ready for school. My husband and I were both working and we’d leave home at seven o’clock to go to our jobs and there’s my three kids in the house all by themselves. I used to tell them, don’t you ever open the door, I had to use scare tactics, I said don’t you open the door to the neighbour she might go and tell the welfare and the welfare will come and get you and you’ll never see mummy and daddy again.
It was about boundary making. As I see it today, no longer is the nanny in place for the mokopuna when they are in times of trouble and for confiding. There were times when I was in trouble and I dare not tell my mother and father because I knew I was going to be reprimanded for it, I’d rather go and tell my nan, because she had a bag of lollies, I’d tell her and then she’d take me home so I knew I won’t get a hiding from my father. How precious my nannies were to me.
I had the best of everything - put it that way. I had nannies, they were my friends, they were there to pull my ears if I played up, and I learned at the sides of my nans. Today, where are the nans for our mokopuna who are getting into trouble now? Those kids that beat up that shop keeper? I think that our nannies and the mothers and the fathers who conceived those children, they should be the ones locked up, not those kids. I’m quite strong about that. Today, with our kuias and us as mothers, I don’t see that. You will see a mother, and I observe a lot of times, I see the mother sitting there with her little ones and for entertainment she gives the kid her car keys or her packet of cigarettes to play with and when they break the cigarettes or lose the car keys they get a hiding. Simple little things like that. Because if you don’t teach them, it’s not their fault. The nanny’s not in place. I don’t know I might be speaking out of turn, but I feel so sad, because we are losing our babies.
Years ago in the Rangatahi Culture Group with the Catholic Society, I joined my children in the culture group at Avondale, anyway, there was a hikoi to Te Kuiti, first time I’d been to Te Kuiti, because I’m from up north, and there was a kuia there, she did a moteatea, a moteatea is a history, a lament, and she stood on her tokotoko, little old kuia, after the whaikorero, and they’d powhiri’d us on, and there she stood on her tokotoko and started to do her moteatea. And she was talking about the kūmara. The kūmara came with the wakas. And if you cut the kūmara open you will see it has discolouration, like purple veins. The kūmara hasn’t changed its taste, it hasn’t changed its appearance, but the Māori people have changed. She related this to the introduction of contraception, if women didn’t want to have a baby they could have an injection, to prevent you having a child, and did the kūmara change its appearance and its taste? Now today the scientist is telling me it’s going to change the appearance of the kūmara to take that discolouration out in the middle. Don’t they realise the kūmara is a kai rangatira? The Pākehā wants to change the appearance because it doesn’t look good. And when that happens there will be no Māori. Māori has changed but the kumara hasn’t. Will it be worthwhile having Māori? I’ve always remembered that kuia, she was a kuia from the Barrett family, a kaumatua there by the name of Tiki Pareta, Dick Barrett, and this kuia came off that lineage. If the Pākehā change the appearance of the kūmara on the inside, there will be no Māori.
My heart goes out to people who are living homeless, because of the financial situation. We never felt hungry, because there was always kai. Then again, us as Maori, we were never put through, how to budget money, though I was, I used to be given six pence, six pence was big bucks to me, and out of that six pence, threepence, three cents, was taken out to bank. By the time I turned 18 I had a tidy sum of 15 pound. I thought I was so rich! But five pound came out of that for my school C.
It goes back to me as a mother, I never settled for fifty percent where it was for our five children, I wanted a hundred percent. Today, skills are lacking in parenting, whether it’s to put money aside, our people have got no homes, no roofs over their heads. So you find with our kids, once they hit intermediate they wag school and then they lose the want to go to school. When I look at it, for me with our children, they are fully established, because I had a thing when they got married, started having kids, once that baby comes off the tit, you get back to work. And I will look after those babies from the age of four months old til they’re five. Our children are in their fifties now, early fifties late forties, there’s sixteen years between the first three and the last two.
In that group of mokopuna of mine, we have 11 sets of twins and four sets of triplets, when people realized the multiple births, my mother’s a twin, my father’s a twin, my mother in law’s a twin, hence the multiple births, the Women’s Weekly magazine made contact, approached me about the story for these multiple babies and my answer to that was my mokopuna are not public property, they’re mine. Down came the money, for a story, 2,000 dollars. I looked at it and I said no, not public property. Until they can guarantee them a bed and a roof over their heads and a pillow to put their head down and kai in their puku, and another lot of money came down to 10, 000 dollars. I ended up telling them, my mokopuna are tapu. Money doesn’t buy what I’ve got, they’re my taonga, my jewels, they keep me going.
Future to me? My future lies in the hands of that fulla up there.
Every day is a bonus. I don’t celebrate birthdays, I don’t celebrate my mokopuna’s birthdays. I don’t give presents to them, but I’ve instilled in them, it’s a privilege to have a nanny, a koko and a pops, they call us kokopops. It’s a privilege to have us as your grandparents. When they have their birthdays I believe in voice contact. I’ll ring them wherever they are, if they’re not in front of me, and I sing to them.
I remember what my father said when my oldest brother turned 21, the Ngāti Hine’s came, the Tainui’s came, and the Kaikohe people where my mother comes from - this big 21st in Auckland. My father stood up to mihi his son but he paid homage to his wife, and this is what my father said, in Māori: “There’s only two things happen to a human baby - te rā i whānau, te rā i mate - in between - he karanga taonga. The child is whakanui’d on its birthday. And the child is not looking at your arms and your eyes, and hearing your heartbeat, he’s looking to see what you’ve got in your hands. And that’s what he called hami taonga. But he paid tribute to our mother, the one who brought his son into this world. We used to have a thing, my sisters and my brothers, every year when it was my birthday I would ring my mother up and say thank you for having me.
And I don’t celebrate birthdays because for me - for future - every day is a birthday. And that’s a bonus for as long as I’m still blinking. Does that answer that?