Words from Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia: Māori Suffragist

In the 1890s, Māori women seeking the vote fought on two separate fronts; nationally for the New Zealand parliament, and also within Kotahitanga Māori parliament. Many Māori women dedicated themselves to their retaining ancestral lands and sought political power to aid their aims. Between 1886 and 1896, forty petitions around land issues were presented to the New Zealand parliament, signed by Māori women on behalf of themselves or their Iwi..[1]

Historian Tania Rei notes that the Māori women who signed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) petition appeared to all have pākeha connections.[2] During the 1890s, a number of Māori women worked with both the WCTU and Kotahitanga.[3]

Image of Meri Mangakahia from Wellington Recollect's Trail of Light publication
Image of Meri Mangakāhia from Wellington Recollect’s Trail of Light publication

Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia was an eloquent speaker with excellent organisational flair. In 1893 she helped establish Ngā Kōmiti Wāhine, committees connected to kotahitanga that discussed issues such as family violence, smoking and retaining traditional Māori skills.[4]  She co-authored the significant Māori newspaper column Te Reiri Karamu (‘The Ladies’ Column’) in the Te Tiupiri (The Jubilee.)[5]  

Mangakāhia advocated for Māori women gaining the vote in Kotahintanga, which they eventually did in 1897. Mangakāhia’s connections to the WCTU are unclear, but the organisation’s initials were engraved into her beautiful wooden chest or “parliamentary cabinet”.[6]

Here’s a transcript of her 1893 address to kotahitanga.

 “I move this motion before the principle member and all honourable members so that a law may emerge from this parliament allowing women to vote and women to be accepted as members of the parliament.

Following are my reasons for presenting this motion that women may receive the vote and that there be women members:

  1. There are many women who have been widowed and own much land.
  2. There are many women whose fathers have died and do not have brothers.
  3. There are many women who are knowledgeable of the management of land where their husbands are not.
  4. There are many women whose fathers are elderly, who are also knowledgeable of the management of land and own land.
  5. There have been many male leaders who have petitioned the Queen concerning the many issues that affect us all, however, we have not yet been adequately compensated according to those petitions. Therefore I pray to this gathering that women members be appointed. Perhaps by this course of action we may be satisfied concerning the many issues affecting us and our land. Perhaps the Queen may listen to the petitions if they are presented by her Māori sisters, since she is a woman as well.”[7]

Sadly, considering how influential she was, little information is known about Mangakāhia. As her great-grandniece Emma Frost recently noted in an interview, “Māori women who shaped our nation were very invisible. There wasn’t a lot written about them.”[8]

This year, with Radio NZ coverage, promotion from Members of Parliament and a feature at the Auckland War Memorial Museum’s Are We There Yet? exhibit,  it seems we are moving towards Mangakāhia finally getting the recognition she deserves. 

 

References

  1. Tania Rei, Māori Women and the Vote (1993, ) p.13 .
  2. Rei, p.27.
  3. Rei, pp.39-40, 47.
  4. Rei, p.19.
  5. ‘Meri Mangakāhia addresses the Kotahitanga Māori parliament’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/page/meri-mangak%C4%81hia-addresses-kotahitanga-m%C4%81ori-parliament, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 24-Jul-2018
  6. Mana : the Maori news magazine for all New Zealanders, Dec 2007/Jan 2008; n.79: p.76.
  7. Adapted from a translation by Charles Royal in Charlotte Macdonald, Merimeri Penfold and Bridget Williams (eds), The book of New Zealand women Ko kui ma te kaupapa, Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1991, p. 413.
  8. RNZ, Emma Frost and Jesse Mulligan,  ‘Unsung Heroes of New Zealand’s Suffrage Movement’ (2018) https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/2018652496/unsung-heroes-of-new-zealand-s-suffrage-movement

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