“I want our tamariki and wāhine to have audacity,” writes Qiane Matata-Sipu about her new series of books. (Photo supplied)

During a year of studying full-immersion reo Māori, storyteller and activist Qiane Matata-Sipu wrote a children’s book as part of an assessment. Now, it’s not only been published (in both reo Māori and English) but is the start of a series of pukapuka aimed at passing on mātauranga Māori to future generations.

 Here, she tells Siena Yates why that mission is so important, both as a māmā, and as a well-known proponent of change.

 

I have this big, not-so-secret plan to empower all of our Indigenous kōtiro so that they can rule the world when they get older. This new pukapuka is part of that. It’s like planting a little seed of resistance.

When I was young, there weren’t many pukapuka Māori at all. But I still have a copy of one of my most favorite books written and illustrated by a wahine Māori, which is Taniwhā by Robyn Kahukiwa. It talked about the importance of pūrākau, our ancestral stories, within whānau, and about the value of whenua, taiao (our environment), and also some of the smaller things that we as Māori consider taonga. 

At the very end of the book, the little boy shows his friend different things he’s collected on his journey and his friend basically says to him: “Oh, it’s just a feather and some dirt.” But his koro says: “These are taonga that tell me that you’ve been in the taiao, you’ve met these ātua, you’ve had this very Māori experience. These are very precious things.”

Those are the kinds of books I was privileged to have. There were very few of them, less than a handful, but they had strong, powerful messages within them that really shaped the way that I saw the world. And that’s what I want for our mokopuna too.

I want to create pukapuka that help shape the way they see the world, and where they can see so much value in their mātauranga, their identity, their Māoritanga, their pūrākau, and their values.

I want books that aren’t just about princesses and castles, because I don’t want my daughter to learn about that. I want to equip her with our reo and Indigenous knowledge so that when she grows up, she won’t still be searching for those things like so many of us are. She’ll have had it from the start, and that will make her so much more powerful.

I’ve got funding from Creative New Zealand to write five more books this year, and they’ll all be focused on passing our mātauranga down to our tamariki, especially our kōtiro.

An illustration from Qiane’s pukapuka tamariki. (Image supplied)

Ngā Kupenga a Nanny Rina is about Matariki and mahi raranga (weaving) but there are also many layers of mātauranga within that. For example, the plot showcases the importance of intergenerational knowledge-transfer by having the main character learn not from books, but from a kōrero with Nanny Rina in their home. There’s mātauranga about Matariki and about understanding which whetū (stars) connect to our taiao in which ways. For example, Nanny Rina knows whether to focus on weaving a net for kūmara or fishing, based on which star is brighter, Tupuānuku or Waitā.

Within that is another layer of mātauranga, encouraging whānau to think about tirohanga (observation) and the fact that, if we want to know something about our taiao, we can go outside and look with our eyes. Plus, there’s the more basic layer of mātauranga, which is understanding where food comes from. And that’s only one pukapuka.

Another one of the books focuses on te arapū Māori, the Māori alphabet. But it doesn’t say “M is for Makimaki (monkey).” It says “M is for Mana Motuhake.” Our tamariki are never too young to be taught these empowering words and concepts.

The books are also for the adults who will be reading them to tamariki. They’ll be reminded of these concepts as well, or perhaps learn about them for the first time.

I’d especially love the arapū Māori book, which is called W is for Wahine Toa, to become a pocketbook that both tamariki and adults can carry around and think: “Yeah, this is my little book of kupu, and I’m going to use it because it makes me feel powerful.”

These are the kinds of pukapuka we need. And we should be the ones writing them, from a Māori perspective, but also specifically from a wāhine Māori perspective because these are things that aren’t available — they’re not out there. But they should be.

That’s why the mātauranga in this new pukapuka comes from a kuia character, Nanny Rina, who is drawn from many wāhine in my life. My grandfather’s mother was named Te Rina, my mum’s younger sister is Marcia Rina, and my sister is Ngarina. So Nanny Rina isn’t an individual person, so much as she’s reflective of wāhine in general who, as we saw interviewing 100 Indigenous wāhine for Nuku, are our holders of mātauranga and whakapapa, and often, our main drivers of change.

Qiane with her daughter Haeata te Kapua. (Photo supplied)

There are other strategic aspects to this book. The main character has my daughter’s name, Haeata te Kapua, because I wanted to normalise seeing long, double or triple-barrelled names in kids’ books. In general, books often shorten Māori names, or just have characters with short, easy-to-pronounce names, and that’s fine. Short names also carry a lot of mana.

But more often than not my kōtiro is asked what her name is and then straight away, what her nickname is. And it’s like: “Actually, no. Her name is Haeata te Kapua. Yes, it’s three words. Figure out how to twist it around your tongue and say it.” My hope is that by normalising names like hers, I can have some influence over how people see tamariki who have long names and stop asking them to shorten them.

Another thing that’s really important is that people know I wrote the book in te reo Māori first. For me, that’s a whakamana o te reo — an elevation and validation of our reo. I wanted it to be clear that the English version is the translation. Te reo Māori wasn’t the second thought here. It was the first

Writing in te reo first was an exciting challenge to myself: to use our reo and pair it with my talents and creativity, because I didn’t go and do a year of full-immersion learning for nothing. I did it to reawaken te reo Māori within myself, to enliven myself, to pay homage and respect to my tūpuna, and to ensure that my daughter walks strong with her reo in this world.

So it was exciting to say: “You know what? I’m going to write these pukapuka in te reo Māori, and I’m going to go and get it published too. Why? Because I have the audacity to do so.”

I want our tamariki and our wāhine to have that audacity too. Because then they can start to believe in all the things that they’re deserving of, and they start to advocate for them. And one of the ways they get there is if we share our mātauranga and experiences through our stories, to show them a new perspective.

Take the current situation with the government, for example. Yes, the government is shit, but the reality is that every government is shit. We need to be asking how we can create mana motuhake over our own lives and find ways of living that allow our whānau to thrive, regardless of which government is in power at the time.

And maybe one little pukapuka tamariki can shift someone’s perspective enough for them to go: “Wow, the cost of living sucks. Maybe I need to learn how to grow kūmara. Maybe I need to learn to plant harakeke, to weave a kūpenga to be able to go fishing.”

Maybe we can return back to our Indigenous systems, knowledge and practices, and prioritise those things over what the western world wants us to believe, which is that our only opportunity to survive is to go to the supermarket.

This is the whakaaro I share so staunchly in everything I do: “You are enough. You’re enough as you are, with what you have right now.” Our stories and mātauranga tell us that. They show us that we have the answers, the rongoā, and that we already know what to do for our families to thrive.

The more our people hear and read those stories, the sooner we start to believe in our own enoughness. Then we can pass on that audacity, so our mokopuna can grow up and take over the world.

 

Qiane Matata-Sipu MNZM (Te Waiohua, Te Ahiwaru, Te Ākitai, Waikato, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Pikiao, Rarotonga, Mangaia) is a Māori-Pasifika storyteller, writer, producer and award-winning journalist and photographer based in Ihumātao. She is the creator of NUKU, a series of multimedia profiles and book championing Indigenous women and their knowledge.

Qiane runs her own multi-media production company QIANE+co, is a marae trustee and chairperson and, along with her five cousins in SOUL, led the resistance to the development of Ihumātao. She received a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the arts 2023, and was named as New Zealand Women of Influence Arts and Culture 2022.

As told to Siena Yates. This piece was made possible by NZ On Air through the Public Interest Journalism Fund.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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