Manase Lua (centre) and friends at Waitangi this year. “Given recent events, we wanted to show solidarity, as Moana people, to our tangata whenua cousins here in Aotearoa.” (Photo supplied)

If ever there was a time to be at Waitangi on Waitangi Day, it was this year, writes Manase Lua. He was part of a contingent of Moana people who felt compelled this year to show up and show their support for tangata whenua and tino rangatiratanga.


E kore au e ngaro, he kakano i ruia mai i Rangiātea!

I will not be lost, I am a seed descended from Rangiātea!

I don’t mind being called a shaman or a charlatan. I just hate being called a bystander. I love to prod, provoke, sometimes to challenge. That’s one of my jobs as a matāpule or talking chief. At the very least, I like to spark dialogue and debate. Tongans call this “faile ’atamai”, or filing — as in, sharpening — the brain.

A more sinister and Machiavellian form of this dialogue is “komo ‘uto”, which means, figuratively, sucking out your brain. This is a reference to people who want to colonise your mind with their ideas, usually for their own selfish ends. They have an agenda, and they’re underhanded and manipulative about it.

I’d like to think that I always have people’s mana at heart. Call it my Māui superpower. So, I’m more of a brain-filing kind of guy.

A Tongan doctor, Viliami Puloka, recently told me: “We (Tongans) are unique in the Pacific because we were never colonised. We have a sovereign mind.” This really resonated with me and intrigued me in equal measure.

When you tell me something “can’t be done”, it’s like waving a red rag to a bull. Or me seeing a KFC store after fasting for 24 hours. I suppose it comes with being unapologetically Tongan, and hailing from a powerful rebel clan and a village that marches to its own tune.

When I was growing up, I always wondered why Māori gave away their sovereignty or tino rangatiratanga. I wasn’t taught the full history of Aotearoa at school — none of us were back then. Instead, we were fed a narrative that always seemed mind-suckingly one-sided. We were supposed to believe that Māori willingly handed everything over to the benevolent latecomers and pretend-discoverers for mere nails and blankets.

That always seemed like a stretch for me growing up. But it sadly helped to reinforce the negative stereotypes of Māori — if we fell for the colonisers’ “komo ‘uto” narrative that Māori were lazy, dumb, and inferior.

I have since realised that tino rangatiratanga is also a mental state or a way of being. And once you understand this, you can’t help but see the term “sovereignty” as limited and transactional. It just doesn’t cut it.

A few weeks ago, a small group of Mana Moana (Leadership New Zealand) alumni gathered to kōrero with our leader and founder, Karlo Mila. Given recent events, we wanted to show solidarity, as Moana people, to our tangata whenua cousins here in Aotearoa. Just to be present and show our face, kanohi ki te kanohi.

Mana Moana at Tũrangawaewae, with Green MPs Teanau Tuiono and Marama Davidson.

So we decided to make the trek to Tūrangawaewae when the call was made by the Kīngitanga. That was truly amazing, and a massive event. Then, a few weeks later, we headed over to Waitangi, on Waitangi Day. There was definitely a Moana presence, and we were even featured and acknowledged from the paepae. The māfana (warmth) and vā (relational space) was palpable at both events. We felt we belonged there.

For many of us, this was our first time to Waitangi on Waitangi Day. If you were ever to go, this was the time. You often hear about the tensions and see the controversial side on mainstream media. Often, in the form of protests — or eggs, a clump of dirt or a stray rubber item flying across the TV screen and hitting some deserving person in the face.

But this time, there was none of that. Sure, there was fire in the belly and some drowning out of two MPs, ironically both Māori and from there, but they asked for it.

Waitangi Day is a form of “faile ‘atamai” — an event to remind the Crown of its “komo ‘uto” in trying to convince us that Māori back in 1840 signed away their “sovereignty”. Think about it and pull the straws out of your own brain for a second. Who in their sovereign mind would do that?

It’s like you popping over to my place for a meal and a drink. You bring heaps of kai and drinks but end up getting pissed, so I let you crash overnight. The next morning, you’re still worse for wear, so you ask to stay a bit longer and offer to pay for expenses. This goes on for a few weeks. One day, I wake up and you tell me that, because I let you stay over, and you’ve been “helping out”, that you now live with me and actually own my house!

So, suffer me this further indulgence as I conjure a spirit of sovereign curiosity from the Moana. The kind that propelled our ancestors to traverse the vast expanse of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa millennia before the pretenders. We discovered every inhabitable speck of land across more than 60 million square miles of open ocean.

Let that number sink in. Over 60 million square miles. If the right of first discovery was a thing, then that’s all ours. That is my sovereign mind thinking. Tino rangatiratanga, in other words, is also the right to coexist and flourish where nothing existed before your arrival.

I can still hear the deniers: “There’s just no way those savages navigated to these far-flung islands. They didn’t even have a compass or sextant! They must’ve accidently drifted or got blown off course.”

That’s funny. We didn’t have syphilis or typhoid either back then, but the stars still twinkled brightly for us. Did they not for you? Did you not think to use your hand and your mind to map the celestial orbit of those things up there to plot a steady course? We did. And that requires a sovereign mind. A Moana intellect that conjures the impossible to become possible.

So, when our cousins here in Aotearoa observed the conduct of these unruly savages from way, way up the north, behaving badly in Kororāreka (which they’d turned into the “hell hole of the Pacific”), they must have thought to themselves: How the hell did they find their way here? Oh well. Let’s let them stay and help them sober up a bit. And the rest is history.

So, as I argue here, for us Moana people, and I would suggest, also for tangata whenua who came from us, tino rangatiratanga is a mental state. It also helps to regulate our state of being. Rather than some nebulous legal or cultural right, like “sovereignty”, to control a people or a nation. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I aspire to be one, but this smacks of being a western concept to wrestle the obvious rights of fellow humans from their discovered possessions, for want of a better phrase.

Manase Lua with the Mana Moana group, showing solidarity at Waitangi. (Photo supplied)

Latecomers to this ocean called it the “Pacific”. A tad condescending, if you ask me. I think it means peaceful in Latin. The late, great Professor Epeli Hau’ofa, who was supremely gifted with a sovereign mind, called it “our sea of islands”. I prefer to compromise simply with “Moana”, our blue continent. All 60 million square miles of it.

What compelled our ancestors to traverse eastward is the greatest feat of human migration ever. All the way from Fiji, Tonga and Sāmoa where we evolved as Polynesians after the “great pause”. Then on to Uvea, Futuna, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Tahiti, Cook Islands, Marquesas, Hawai‘i, Rapanui, to name a few. And, finally, here, to Aotearoa. A remarkable feat of human engineering, navigation, and nautical brilliance unmatched to this day. Māori were among the best of us — the last of our great stock to discover significant new lands.

So, to think that they’d give away all that we achieved and discovered as a people, with a stroke of a pen, is just ridiculous. After all, this is the same pen that wrote us out of history. Suddenly, “they” discovered “us”. We were relegated to the footnotes as fauna and flora to be studied, sometimes admired, but mostly converted. We became bystanders.

I say “we”, meaning “us”. Yes, including Māori, who are the most recent and latest versions of “us”. The people of the Moana.


Manase Lua was born in Tonga but migrated to Aotearoa in 1975, during the Dawn Raids. He hails from the village of Vaini in Tongatapu and Ha’afeva. He is a matāpule or talking chief with the title Pakilau o Aotearoa, installed by his chief Lord Ma’afu, the head of the Ha’a Havea clan. Manase is a community leader and activist working as a disability and diversity manager for Te Pou.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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