International Kaumātua Day
Reasons why our Kaumatua are the greatest and deserve our respect.
Storehouses of knowledge - Traditionally kaumātua have been the storehouses of tribal knowledge, genealogy and traditions. Those who are experts sit on the paepae of marae (front row on a marae) as kaikōrero (speakers). This knowledge is required in the performance of ceremony and ritual. Younger members look to their kaumātua to interpret, protect and preserve the cultural practices and protocols of their tribe.
Waiata oriori - To continue this transmission of knowledge, a ‘waiata oriori’ or lullaby would be composed or recited by an elder for his or her new mokopuna (grandchild). These waiata would recall tribal history and genealogy, and remind the infant of his or her responsibilities and the tribe’s expectations. Hine-ki-tawhiti of Te Auiti composed a waiata oriori for her granddaughter Ahua-huki-te-rangi, who lived at Te Ariuru in Tokomaru. In this oriori the grandmother encourages her granddaughter, bids her to call on her relatives from Tokomaru to Raukōkore, and imparts her knowledge of senior tribal figures and historic places on the way.
Kaumātua as nurturers - Traditionally, the grandparents nurtured the children while the parents attended to the day-to-day physical work, or went away to fight during times of warfare. It was also traditional for grandparents to raise the first grandchild, whose first-born status meant it was important for the child to be steeped in tribal traditions and genealogies. Many other children were adopted by grand-uncles and grand-aunties and brought up in their homes.
My mum’s dad lived out in Waiomatatini - no power so wood range - outside wharepaku. Smelled like baked bread and wood smoke.
Kaumātua and leadership - Kaumātua, both male and female elders, were the leaders of the whānau. Leadership was focused on the oldest members of the whānau, often as patriarch or matriarch possessing the wisdom and experience to guide the younger generations. Kaumātua made the decisions concerning the working of family land, the control and use of family property, and the rearing and education of children. They were the spokespersons for the whānau in rūnanga (tribal councils)
Guardians of tikanga - The role of kaumātua as guardians of tikanga (Māori customs) is described by Hirini Mead: ’Older individuals generally have a greater familiarity with and knowledge about tikanga because they have participated in tikanga, have observed interpretations of the tikanga at home and other tribal areas. The kaumātua and kuia, the elders, are often the guardians of tikanga.’1
Selecting youth - Kaumātua not only passed on knowledge to the younger generation through storytelling, poetry and waiata, but also through their participation in everyday activities. In special cases a promising young man or woman would be taken aside for private tuition. Pei Te Hurinui Jones recalled how much of his childhood time was spent with his koroua or grand-uncle Te Hurinui Te Wano, up until his death in 1911. With him, he attended many tribal gatherings, conferences of tribal elders and various other tribal functions in many parts of the country. Much of Pei Te Hurinui’s knowledge of esoteric Māori traditions and history can be attributed to the teachings he received from his koroua.
Relationship between elders and mokopuna - Kaumātua were probably the most influential people in the upbringing of children. The relationship between elders and children was generally characterised by care and affection with appropriate discipline. Te Rangi Hīroa (Peter Buck) recalled: ‘When I was told that an aged visitor whom I had never seen before was a tipuna to me, my heart warmed towards him. I placed him in the same category as my other tipuna who resided in the same village and had lavished affection upon me. He was a member of the family.’3
Dispute resolution - Kaumātua also played a prominent role in social control and dispute resolution. Parties in disputes drew on the wisdom and guidance of kaumātua, and in most cases deferred to their judgment. Merimeri Penfold commented on her elders dealing with misdemeanours during her childhood in the 1930s: ‘Every Sunday they would have this gathering of elders and bring up elements that need to be addressed by them – like these guys who had been tampering with Māori tapu or raiding the hen run … this is the talk around the family, everybody knows about [the family member involved] and he was brought to meet the elders after church and that was sort of punishment, too.’2