Matariki Williams

Matariki Williams is one of the editors of a new book about the history of protest in New Zealand, Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of Resistance, Persistence and Defiance, along with her Te Papa colleagues Stephanie Gibson and Puawai Cairns. Here she reflects on the background to the book and the role that protests have played in her own life.


Icebergs. They may not be what you immediately think of when it comes to kaupapa Māori, but it’s a helpful way for thinking about how we share kōrero — and what kōrero we choose to keep below the surface.

I first heard this metaphor used earlier this year, at Te Hā Kaituhi Māori Writers’ Hui, with Witi Ihimaera suggesting that workshop participants use it when crafting their stories: what we write is the part of the iceberg that sits above the surface, yet the author knows that there is a depth to the story that is unknown to others. He insisted that both parts of the iceberg were crucial.

When applying this idea to protest, I think about the kōrero that people hold close to their chests. Often they’re very personal, about the gains they want society to make in order for them to be freer versions of themselves. They may also be histories that evoke painful events for their whānau, hapū, iwi, friends, and colleagues. It’s in these instances that objects can act as symbols for their thoughts and convictions.

One example of this is a badge. My colleague Stephanie Gibson, Curator New Zealand Histories and Cultures at Te Papa, has long been an advocate of what she calls “tiny activism”. For many years now, she has collected ephemera, like badges, to provide an enduring snapshot into the protest movements that occur as time and society marches on. She speaks of how people may wear them in solidarity with movements if they don’t feel confident enough to display more overt signs of support. In this way, she says, they are literal “badges of courage”.

I was in my first year at Victoria University when the foreshore and seabed hīkoi marched into town. I remember it as a highly politicised event, divisively represented in the media — and I felt uncomfortable as one of the very few Māori sitting in my 101 history lectures, knowing that this charging foam swirled around our lessons about New Zealand history.

It was through badges that I showed solidarity. Over my years at uni, the amount of badges I wore increased, slowly spreading down the strap of my satchel — such a uni student cliché.

I remember taking part in a march protesting against the policy change that scrapped the Manaaki Tauira scholarships for Māori students, a move undertaken without consultation, and arriving at Parliament to hear Hone Harawira implore us, challenge us even, to storm the barricades.

I remember protesting against the weapons conference out the front of Te Papa alongside activists dressed as clowns, many of whom were arrested before they made it to the forecourt. Their outfits gave away their intentions, whereas I was rendered invisible in my everyday clothing. That experience taught me about visibility and invisibility, and that people can have impact even when their outward appearance belies their resistance.

I remember being part of a hīkoi in response to the “terror” raids that took place in 2007 across the country and, most pertinently for me, in Rūātoki. Most recently I attended the School Strike for Climate with a bunch of my Te Papa hoamahi.

At each of these marches, I thought of the people who have marched before me, who have occupied spaces before me: their feet taking steps for change, their bodies on the line, their voices hoarse with conviction. Holding them in my mind as I step, they are the iceberg below the surface.

Pouwhenua at the head of the Māori land march, 1975. Photograph by Ans Westra. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (O.009298/02).

The pou whenua that was carried at the front of the Māori Land March, 1975 — and which “will not touch the ground until all Māori land is returned”. (Photograph by Ans Westra. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.)

As part of researching and writing for Protest Tautohetohe, there were multiple moments of discovery and delight. For me, many of these moments centred on the 1975 Māori Land March.

Being from Tūhoe, we have an inherent understanding of mana motuhake going back centuries. In 1872, Te Whitu Tekau was established where 70 rangatira of Tūhoe hapū joined together to protect Tūhoe whenua and keep out government authority. Their catchcry was: Kaua te rori, kaua te rūri, kaua te rīhi, kaua te hoko. No roads, no survey, no leasing, no selling.

In 1970, our great-grandfather Kupai McGarvey referred to our tūrangawaewae of Rūātoki as being the land that was claimed and held — te whenua i pūritia, te whenua i tāwhia. He then bemoaned how Tūhoe were forced from our land and it was taken from us. Five years later, he was gifted a tokotoko from Moka Puru, of Ngāpuhi, the man who carved the pou whenua that was carried at the front of the 1975 march, and other marches since — the pou whenua that will not touch the ground until all Māori land is returned.

In our koro’s tokotoko is the conviction of mana motuhake that ripples through our whānau, our hapū, our iwi. A conviction that flows out to connect us with others.

Like many of the taonga represented in the book, it resonates with histories that are supremely personal while maintaining universal messages of endurance. It’s this conviction of message that we want to resonate with readers: for them to know the power of the placards painted by many hands, the armour worn to protect, the badges pinned in solidarity, the artworks distilling millennia of histories, the songs composed and sung — and the many, many other ways in which people have resisted, told through taonga.

As with many people in my whānau, I have a photo of Koro Kupai where he holds the tokotoko. It sits alongside whakairo given to me on my 21st birthday, which depicts two of the maunga I whakapapa to, Maungapōhatu and Taranaki. Above both of these is a ceramic banner by Sarah Hudson (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Awa) declaring “Ko Ohinemataroa tōku awa”. I see these taonga every day, and every day they continue to resonate, to encourage me to kia Māori ai te tū, i ngā wāhi katoa — to be Māori in the way that I stand, in all situations.

Finally, a Pākehā friend and museum colleague, Nina Finigan, recently referred to the museum as an “irredeemable colonial project”, an assertion that I think many would probably be surprised to hear. But to look at this through a Māori lens — to see the cataloguing systems, the deliberate losses of knowledge, the taking and stealing that are associated with museums — we could never hope to convey what lies beneath the surface.

Being in the museum and working with our taonga and mātauranga provides a way for kaitiaki Māori to share parts of the iceberg in ways that uphold our mana motuhake, where our taonga and mātauranga are framed by us.


Matariki Williams (Tūhoe, Ngāti Hauiti, Taranaki, Ngāti Whakaue) is a Curator Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. With Bridget Reweti, she co-founded and co-edited ATE Journal of Māori Art.

© E-Tangata, 2019

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