the balance of opposites, part one: te mana o te wahine, te mana o te tāne


If balance looks like 50/50, or like everyone doing exactly the same thing, that’s not what I’m offering here. Think, equity > equality; the google definition when used in this context is, ”equity” is giving everyone what they need to be successful. ”equality” is treating everyone the same. By now we should know that by whakapapa (genealogy, origins, nature) by environment (upbringing, experiences, nurture) and everything in between - we’re all different and should celebrate that, as well as all the similarities and connections that bind us together. I mean, if we were all the same pieces to the puzzle, we’d just have a lot of one piece + a very incomplete puzzle… Right?

Cool, now we’ve got that out of the way…

let’s apply that same whakaaro (thought) to how we understand and prescribe mana (authority, prestige, spiritual power), specifically, te mana o te wahine (the mana wahine possess) & te mana o te tāne (the mana tāne possess). With the unfortunate tendency of trying to fit and thereby reduce our ancestral knowledge and philosophies to mainstream/Western models, I’ve observed what I believe is

a misuse of the term ‘mana wahine’ to equate to feminism, or feminist.

What about the mana tāne have? How do tāne contribute to this space if their mana isn’t acknowledged? Stay with me, as this is nothing against feminism, ‘advocacy for the equality of the sexes' - I’m all about that. Hey, you know who else was all about that before it was colonised out of them (amongst other things)? Our tupuna (ancestors).

The patriarchy game is strooooooong in Western society, but not so much in pre-European Aotearoa. For instance, pāpā (fathers) were heavily involved with their child’s upbringing and there were observations of how after pēpi had been weaned off waiū (breastmilk), most of the duties were taken over by the men.° Speaking of duties, the different roles within the hapū (sub-tribe) and iwi (tribe) considered multiple variables, including how they affected/protected/enhanced/maintained one’s mauri (divine energy/life force) and mana. As women were blessed with the responsibility of bringing life into the world - if they chose to - you could say the operations and dynamics around the pā (village) pretty much revolved around wahine.

To an outsider, with no/limited understanding of mauri-protection or mana,

seeing women not do what men were doing, or even behind men during a particular phase of a ceremony definitely would look like an act of anti-feminism. When in reality, our tupuna were refining the balance of opposites down to an art form. They understood how masculine and feminine energies complemented each other, could be expressed and also be affected in various ways and so set up rituals to accommodate this, which as you may have guessed, wasn’t a 50/50 split down the middle. It was more like equity, providing opportunities for both wahine and tāne to express their mana.

The balance of opposites doesn’t just apply to men and women; Tūmatauenga (atua of war) and Rongo (atua of cultivation, peace), te ao me te pō (day and night/light and darkness), Ranginui rāua ko Papatuanuku (Sky Father and Mother Earth), whaikōrero me te waiata tautoko (speech on the marae and supporting song), give and take (not just take…) and so on. Even Newton knew that every action has an equal and opposite reaction…

Any force, element or being must have its opposite.

It’s in our whakapapa (genealogy, processes), it’s in our stories, it’s in each of us. And in the case of a Māori equivalent to feminism - it requires both te mana o te wāhine & te mana o te tāne to reestablish the balance and equity between us, in our world today.

Tēnā tātou,


*We see the world not as it is, but as we are” so when anthropologists and other observers arrived to study our tupuna - they saw from their own lens and worldview, which as we know differs greatly to an indigenous outlook. They didn’t understand the deeper meaning behind why or how our tupuna lived the way they did - including the mana wahine had, within the community. Much of our kōrero has been lost throughout the years and we must rely on these observations and the fragments we’ve been able to retain, here are some of the books I’ve referenced in this post, not included are the pūrākau (stories) I’ve grown up with.

° Māori Symbolism, by Ettie Rout & Hohepa Te Rake

° Māori Religion & Mythology, by Elsdon Best