Befitting the occasion

The more important the occasion, the more kaikaranga are involved in the pōwhiri. At the Crown Apology to Ngāi Tahu at Ōnuku Marae in 1998, several kaikaranga were chosen on the basis of their representation of the different takiwā, their whakapapa to certain key individuals within the Ngāi Tahu Whānui, and their recognition as experienced kaikaranga.

A balance had to be found too between the mana of the host marae, which always takes precedence, and determining representation for the whole Ngāi Tahu whānau. It was the Ōnuku kaikaranga Naomi Bunker who determined who would be chosen as kaikaranga for such an important event.

She wanted to encourage the next generation of kaikaranga so they selected Hana O’Regan (Ngāi Tahu), the youngest on the day, then still in her twenties. Her selection for such an important event was a surprise to many at the time, as usually only senior kaikaranga are selected for an event of that stature. Her inclusion was symbolic of a new generation of Ngāi Tahu stepping forward and not just heeding the call of the iwi, but also adding their voice to the collective.

“You put up ‘your best front row’,” says Puamiria Parata-Goodall (Ngāi Tahu/ Ngāti Irakehu, Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki, Kāti Huarapa, Ngāi Tūāhuriri). It was not the first time Hana had acted as kaikaranga but it was possibly one of the first occasions when she took her place among tāua with their support.

“Hana was chosen because of her whakapapa – she was ‘her father’s voice’– and because of her skill set in te reo Māori. She handled the occasion wonderfully and she was a real inspiration for young kaikaranga. We could look at her and say here’s a strong, young Ngāi Tahu woman with all the skills to deliver karanga well. That was emotional and inspirational.”

Karanga has always been characterised by certain traditional protocols. A woman should not karanga when she is hapū, or if she has her mate wahine. Karanga is traditionally seen as sacred and it was felt pregnant or menstruating women were in “a changed state” and were considered tapu. Unless invited, younger women should not karanga when an older woman is present; and many young women will still not karanga while their mother, elder sister or grandmother are still living, unless they have been given whānau permission. It is generally accepted that kaikaranga will wear skirts and not trousers; and that karanga will not be carried out after dark (for fear of invoking the wrong spirits).

“We knew the rules and what our role was from a very early age,” says Aunty Kiwa.

“It was – and still is – an honour for a young woman to learn karanga. There should never be any smoking or drinking and they should dress appropriately in skirts. Many young people today have good intentions, but they don’t realise what the role of kaikaranga involves.

“You have to look at yourself as a person. You have to be a good listener, you have to be willing to sit and listen, and you always need to be calm and respectful of others. That’s not always easy and it requires a good deal of introspection.”

While Aunty Kiwa agrees it is important to bring on a new generation of kaikaranga, she feels some don’t understand the reasons why it is important for kaikaranga to have life experience.

“It’s a huge responsibility to take on the rules of the tribal people and if you’re young you need your own life; you shouldn’t be tied up in all that tikanga with all its no-go areas. Yes, we have fewer elders now and fewer mature fluent te reo speakers, but I don’t want to see young people put into such a place of pressure because if they muck up during a karanga and say the wrong thing, the whole tribe is embarrassed. It was always seen as a bad omen in the old days.”

Many of the old rules still have an important place.

“If we stop teaching our young women to call, if we stop teaching them the rules, that whole culture around manaakitanga disappears and our whole culture changes. Part of your responsibility as a kaikaranga is to organise the marae,
the kai, the sitting down of the whānau. That’s where relationships are built. Your role doesn’t end after the mihi and the introductions are done.”

Return to the main story:Karanga – A call from the heart