Appreciating Struggle

Mera Penehira – Ta Moko

A few days ago I spoke alongside others on a panel at the Health Research Council’s Hui Whakapiripiri, about my journey as a Maori academic … from student to postdoctoral fellow, and how you do that. One of the common themes that emerged from that panel was that of ‘struggle’. One of the things we get really proficient at as students and emergent researchers, is ‘angsting about struggle’. This is an excerpt from my thesis that I wrote as a way of voicing what is really my appreciation of struggle, and a recognition that the struggle we have as academics is just a drop in the ocean, another piece in a much bigger jigsaw of struggle that has gone before us. And really it speaks of the privilege we hold in being a part of a bigger movement, and the (albeit minor at times) contribution that we can make to that. Tomorrow we will march again and declare our sovereignty, our kaitiakitanga over the lands, rivers and oceans that we are fortunate to be born to. So these reflections again feel timely …. 


I feel as though I am one of the most fortunate people in our world, to be born Māori and to be born wahine is to be born to live, to struggle, to fight and to celebrate.  Indeed, that is likely so for many others also, but I speak for myself at this time.


We live the lives that are mapped out for us from those who know, yet it is fully in our power to remap and renegotiate the paths we choose to walk on in that map.  Indeed it could be considered to be our responsibility to remap and renegotiate.  Sometimes it’s called the geography of life. So that’s what I have done and the way I choose to live my life. Living and remapping in my world is about facing life in a proactive way creating the reality of my dreams and assisting others to do the same when our lives bring about such connections. Living and remapping is also about facing the challenges of the day … hei whakamātau atu hei whakamātau mai … and responding in ways that see progress forward at a personal level as well as affecting transitional changes at a broader level. Always having an analysis of how our personal or individual journeys affect and intersect with the journeys of others, of whānau, of hapū, of iwi ki te kāinga, ki tāwāhi hoki. Committing to actions that support those journeys, is to live well as a wahine Māori. In life I seek opportunities to learn to grow and to teach … Akoranga, to teach is to learn. Oranga, to live is to be well. And sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s easy. I say clearly to myself as I read back over this beginning writing, that it isn’t about expectations to be a goddess who never gets it wrong. A true goddess knows how to treat herself, and others when things stray from where you want them to be, when I stray from where I want to be and how I want to live. The goddess is innately within.


Life is not devoid of struggle and it is through that that we have an analysis of our power and strength and our history. Struggle is easily perceived as a negative yet if I think about some of the activities people choose to engage in for leisure and pleasure, they often include purposeful struggle. In which case struggle might better be sited in the positive realm. I am thinking of things such as struggling to complete a marathon physical event, struggling to achieve top marks in an academic realm, struggling to eat the last piece of cake, struggling to find the words to tell someone special that you love them, and the list goes on. Maybe it’s just a play on words, and if it is I say perceptions in life are all about playing with words. Through playing with words we play with thoughts and perceptions and can find a place of optimism and peace with how things are. When I create my space of optimism and peace I am a stronger mother, I am a more learned friend, I am a caring daughter, I am a more effective student and I am happy and free to explore and roam.


In my circles we are pretty much all aware of the history of fighting of our peoples and the oft warrior nature of the lives many of our tūpuna. Te Rangi Topeora is one of those tūpuna, known as a warrior princess to some, hē wahine toa, hē wahine tū tika hei tiaki i a ia anō, i te whenua, i ngā tupuranga whai muri ake. She is whom I draw my strength from. Ka whawhai tonu mātou is a catch cry shared by many of us born of the days of hīkoi and struggle just a matter of decades ago and still within our lifetime. And so we continue to fight for our land, our sea, our rivers, and our birds our children our mothers and fathers. It is a fight to retain them in our kaitiakitanga, to maintain them and glorify them as they so deserve and as has been done for many generations before me. 


I was recently asked if I would be prepared to put my baby on the line in battle for the land and forced to consider fully my real life politics, my preparedness for battle of a different nature than I am familiar with in everyday speak. My baby is 2 years old, Tū Te Kiha is her name … to stand strong and breathe and speak with strength. She is stunning, her first language is Māori and she comes of land and people who have fought to still be here. The battles have cost lives; the battles have maintained and retained the life and kaitiakitanga of our mother Papatūānuku. 


My response back to the woman who asked the question of life or death of my baby for the land, was to rephrase the question …‘Would I be prepared to put my mother on the line in battle for my baby, or would I see the death of my mother for the life of my baby?’ 


The land is my mother, she is I, she is my baby and to lose Papuatanuku is to ultimately lose all.  To lose what is present, past and future. And so my answer is yes, I would fight. I would fight for my baby and I would fight for my mother.  You see to save Papatūānuku is to save pēpi.  Would I lose my baby for my mother by choice? Never! “Ko tou uri ka whai mai i ou koutou tapuwae” (your offspring follow in your footsteps). What point is the land if there is no one to walk on her? What point is a mother without children? What point is the battle when those for whom we fight no longer exist? In the 80’s I belonged to pacifist and feminist groups who at all costs rejected violence in any form. Things have changed and as I write this piece I am reminded of the words of someone else’s rhyme … ‘not to fight is to commit suicide’. We pick up our arms and we fight these battles because we are on a battlefield, whether we like it or not we have been born here in this time that often requires us to be warriors. It is our responsibility to our land, it is our life and we are grateful for her in every respect.


See you on the streets AND in the reference lists!


Mera Penehira

Raukawa ki te Tonga; Rangitaane; Ngai Te Rangi

Hohua Tutengaehe Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Te Kotahi Research Institute

University of Waikato

Author: Te Wharepora Hou

Te Wharepora Hou is a collective of wāhine who are mainly Tāmaki Makaurau based, but we have strong participation from wāhine based elsewhere in Aotearoa and the world. We have come together to ensure a stronger voice for wāhine and are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of whānau, hapū, iwi and all that pertains to Papatūānuku and the sustenance of our people.

2 thoughts on “Appreciating Struggle”

  1. Kia ora Mera, everyday I wake up mihi to the atua, place my feet on the whenua and know that I am prepared to face the day knowing there will be ‘struggle” it keeps me connected and earthed to papatuanuku her spirit, her whakapapa of struggle whilst, gently reminding me of all those past, present and tfuture who also share the commitment of struggle and gives me the spirit to stand up and fight for our taonga, our whenua, our whakapapa. Enjoyed reading your korero.

    1. Kia ora Hazel, yes those grounding routines you speak of a really important part of keeping Maori women healthy and happy. Glad you enjoyed the writing 🙂

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