Pacific Celebration of the 125th Anniversary of Suffrage in New Zealand

  • Hon Aupito William Sio
Pacific Peoples

Ava Ceremony Speech, Grand Hall, Parliament

Ua paia le Taeao. Ua mamalu le aso, aua e paia ma mamalu le Atua e ona le aso ma le taeao.

In preparation for today, I was asked the question - how do we acknowledge and recognise appropriately Pacific women in the celebration of the 125th year of Women’s Suffrage in New Zealand?

How do we acknowledge the vital contribution that Pacific women have made and continue to make for our families and our communities in our home of Aotearoa-New Zealand?

How do we highlight the point of difference in our Pacific women’s contribution to the social, economic, cultural and environmental fabric of Aotearoa-New Zealand?

How do we recognize the Pacific ancestry of Pacific women who represent our community and are a powerful symbol of beauty, grace, intelligence, courage, bravery and resilience?

The modern Pacific woman of Aotearoa-New Zealand stands on the shoulders of a long line of women leaders from throughout the Pacific.

In Hawaii, Queen Ku-kani-loko was the first ruler of Oahu in 1350, and was succeeded by her daughter Queen Kala-i-manuia, and many other women rulers followed.

French Polynesia has had a strong history of women with political power and influence. The island of Huaine had the biggest influence with six out of ten of its monarchs were women. The most well-known monarch in French Polynesia was Queen Pomare of the Pomare family of Tahiti who ruled for about half a century from 1827-1877. These former kingdoms lost authority and power shortly after the French takeover during the latter part of 1880s.

The Cook Islands have also had and continue to have a strong presence of female leaders. Currently on the island of Rarotonga, four out of its six paramount Ariki are women. In recent times, the Pa Ariki title has been dominated by women with five out of the last six holders being women.

In Fiji, the Roko Tui Dreketi chiefly title, traditionally ranked in the top three of all of Fiji is currently held by a woman, Roko Tui Dreketi Teimumu Tuisawau-Kepa, a former politician. Fijian women today have succeeded to becoming district and village chiefs.

In Tonga the last woman to have held the title of Tu’i Kano-ku-polu, the highest traditionally ranked title in all of Tonga was Queen Salote, but she was not the first. The first was the 12th Tu’i Kano-ku-polu Tupou' Mohe-'ofo during the late eighteenth century.

In Samoa, there are many stories of powerful women who influenced Samoan history.  The story of Sina from Sava’ii who beat chief Leleisi’uao and the fraternity of men in a competition to thatch a fale with rocks is remembered in the saying, E au le inailau a tamaitai, ae le au le inailau a alii. The women were first and men could not. 

The woman warrior Nafanua is well known for winning the wars against the main chiefly families of Samoa and taking those paramount chiefly titles and bestowing it upon a young Queen Salamasina, Samoa’s first Tafa’ifa, or supreme ruler of Samoa. After ruling for 40 years, the paramount titles vested in Queen Salamasina were passed onto her successors Fofoaivaoese, Taufau and Sina – all women.

Samoa was the first to amend their Constitution in 2013 to allow for a 10% quota for women representatives in their Parliament. This amendment was triggered in their 2016 general election and 5 women make up their 50 member parliament.

In New Zealand’s case, the ambition for Pacific representation for Pacific people arose during the painful experiences of the Dawn Raid period in the 1970s and then was fuelled during the Rogernomics era. For the next 30 years the women leaders of Pacifica Inc., the Hotel Hospital Restaurant Workers Union (later the Service & Food Workers Union), and the Pacific Sector of the Labour Party combined their political efforts. This led to Eleitino Paddy Walker becoming the first Pacific Auckland City Councillor in 1973 and 1976 and Jasmine Underhill the first Pacific woman to become a councillor and deputy mayor for Porirua City Council from 1986 to 2004. This set the scene for other Pacific men and women to follow suit in local government, especially in Auckland, Manukau and Porirua, and then in 1993 the first Pacific person became an MP. It followed that in 1999 Luamanuvao Winnie Laban became the first Pacific woman to become a New Zealand Member of Parliament and in 2007 the first Pacific woman to become a Minister.

So, returning to the original question, how do we acknowledge the modern Pacific women of Aotearoa New Zealand who share in this proud heritage of strong Pacific leaders?

Today, on the occasion of Celebrating 125 years of Women’s Suffrage, we acknowledge Pacific women by conducting this Ava Ceremony prepared on behalf of the Prime Minister of the NZ Government, the Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Ministers Carmel Sepuloni and Jenny Salesa, Associate Speaker Poto Williams and Anahila Kanongataha-Suisuiki, and the biggest caucus of Pacific MPs in the history of New Zealand’s Parliament;

Ava, is considered a sacred drink and a gift from the Gods, because its roots grew from human flesh;

Ava, a drink coveted by the Gods and their descendants for when its roots are mixed with water from the heavens, becomes sweet with healing powers;

Ava, a plant that grew from where Suasamilea’ava was buried, and whose stems represent the bones of his body;

Ava, whose potency was discovered by the villagers of Vailele and whose people called their Malae - Niniva to remember the dizzying effects of the plant when chewed;

Ava, a drink that saved the ailing Chief from Fiji, by the Samoan sisters Sina’atalua ma Sina’afalua;

Ava, a drink reserved for royalty and plays a central role in Pacific gatherings;

Ava, prepared today on behalf of the Prime Minister of the New Zealand Government, and the Pacific Women MPs of the New Zealand Parliament;

Ava, to be served by a few of our Pacific children, representing the future of Aotearoa, NZ;

Ava, to be received by a few representing all Pacific women, past, present and future;

Ava, a religious ceremony providing us with an opportunity to thank the Gods above for the gift of women, the heart and back-bone of our Pacific communities, for which we give thanks and praises for.

Le agatonu lenei ole afio mai o lau afioga Luamanuvao ma le paia maualuga o Tamaitai Pasefika, lea foi e afio atu le Palemia o Niu Sila Jacinda Ardern ma Tamaitai Minisita ma Faipule Pasefika ole Palemene o Aotearoa.

Lea ua galulue ai nei le aumaga a Fonoti ma ligia iai vai ma ua usi ole a fa’asoasoa. O ua usi le agatonu ole a fa’asoa. Tula’i se soli tamalii.

Cup for Reverend Setaita Tokilupe Veikune, on behalf of all church ministers;

Cup for the Hon. Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, on behalf of all the women who were first;

Cup for the Hon. Carmel Sepuloni, Minister MSD, on behalf of all the Government Ministers who are present;

Cup for Mii Hinarere i Te Poerava Tupangaia, on behalf of all the elderly and our elders;

Cup for Poto Williams, Associate Speaker of the NZ Parliament, on behalf of all the different political parties

Cup for Dr Suitafa Deborah Ryan, on behalf of all the community leaders and public sector leaders present;

Cup for Caren Jane Rangi, on behalf of all the women from regional New Zealand;

Cup for Her Excellency, Mrs Joy Kere, on behalf of the diplomatic corp and all women who work in the international arena;

Ua moto le agatonu, ua mativa le fau, ole a ave le laulau e tautau, ave le ipu e auau, ave le fau e fa’asau, ae tali ia lau ipu Mafi to he Sopu ‘o Taufa’ahau. 

A cup for Anahila Kanongata’a-Suisuiki, MP on behalf of all budding and upcoming women leaders.