Newshub Nation presenter Oriini Kaipara made international headlines in December when she became the first woman to read the primetime news on mainstream media wearing a moko kauae. Aroha Awarau meets other women broadcasters who wear their moko kauae with pride.
Political reporter, Māori Television
It was a big week for Māori Television’s political reporter Rukuwai Tipene-Allen when she received her moko kauae five years ago.
She had just started her new job as a broadcast journalist at the indigenous channel and she was getting her moko kauae that very same week.
“I always knew that getting my moko kauae was a sure thing in my life, no matter what career path I was going to take,” says the 31-year-old. “There was some concern from my whānau about the possible backlash I might get and the fear of being treated differently in public.”
Rukuwai says she had support from her bosses at Māori Television. They even encouraged her to wait a week before she filed her first story, so her TV broadcast debut as a reporter could also be the first time she revealed her brand new moko kauae in public.
“At the time, there was no one in the television industry in news and current affairs that had a moko kauae.”
Rukuwai, whose iwi are Ngāpuhi, Ngai Te Rangi, Ngāti Hine and Te Rarawa, says she was inspired to get a moko kauae because as a child she saw pictures of her kuia on the walls of her wharenui, and felt sad that only a few wore the traditional markings.
“There was only one picture of a wahine with a moko kauae. I wanted it to be something normal that people see on our walls again. I wanted to make that search easier for the next person who wanted to wear a moko kauae and do my part in making it normal again.”
Some experts believe that women must earn wearing a moko kauae, but Rukuwai disagrees.
“One of the common things that I heard is that you had to achieve something before getting a moko kauae. I grew up speaking Māori and my whole career has been based around te ao Māori. So, I never felt I had to earn it.
“My sisters and my nieces, when they become older, I wanted it to be a natural part of their psyche without even having a glimmer of wonder as to whether or not they had to complete something to earn it.”
Rukuwai started out in iwi radio before her broadcasting career led her to her current role in the Press Gallery in Wellington. She says having strong women politicians like the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nanaia Mahuta, and co-leader of the Māori Party, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, who also proudly wear a moko kauae, makes her feel at home while walking the halls of Parliament.
“When you get it at a young age, you grow up with it and it becomes like the friend you will take to your grave. You are always yearning for this relationship because it’s a spiritual connection that binds you to your whānau and your tupuna. It’s one constant that will be in your life forever.”
Journalist, Te Karere, TVNZ
TVNZ journalist Muriwai Hei has always been told she’s an old soul, and at just 20 years old, she’s already passed some major milestones.
She’s secured a job as a journalist on the Māori news programme Te Karere, which is broadcast by TVNZ, presented a live cross with John Campbell at Waitangi for Breakfast, and has travelled the world performing kapa haka on cruise ships.
But one of the milestones she is most proud of is being among the youngest wahine in
the modern age to receive a moko kauae – at just 16 years old.
Journalist Muriwai Hei received her moko kauae four years ago, when she was just 16 years old.
The decision to get the traditional tattoo at such a young age has caused Muriwai to be targeted by others. She’s been spat at on the street, told she’s too young to wear a moko and accused of only getting one to be trendy.
But Muriwai, whose iwi are Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Te Whakatōhea and Ngāpuhi, says she received the blessing from her kuia and whānau and their opinions matter the most.
“I wear my moko kauae with pride. I don’t care what other people say. At the end of the day, no one has my back like the way my whānau does.
“I tell people if they want me to go into depth about why I have my moko kauae, then they are most welcome to have a hui with me and my parents.”
Muriwai was five years old when she witnessed her father, Hohepa Hei, receive a mataora – a full traditional facial moko.
“I walked up to the moko artist after he gave my father his moko and at five years old I said, ‘It’s my turn now, I want one’.
“My Uncle Mark, who did the moko, said I was too young and that I could receive mine when I turned 16.
“In our hapū, it’s always been said that back in the day, when women received their moko kauae, it was when they received their mate wahine [menstruation cycle].
“It’s a symbol of your womanhood, that you’ve come of age and you are able to provide tamariki and mokopuna for your iwi. It’s a symbol of being proud and being Māori.”
Muriwai grew up in Te Kaha on the East Coast and was surrounded by her kuia and aunties who wore moko kauae. She had a wealth of knowledge around her and would grill them to prepare for when she was ready to wear one of her own.
“It was normal for me to see moko kauae. I would see all of my aunties and cousins wearing their moko with pride. If I had any questions, I would ask my nannies and they would answer honestly.”
When Muriwai turned 16, she fulfilled her destiny by receiving her moko kauae at Owairaka Marae in Auckland. It was made even more special when her mother, Frances Hei, received her moko kauae at the same time.
“I knew once my mother was ready, then I would be ready. I would not have done this without my mother. She’s my rock, my support and sharing this experience with her was very special.”
Muriwai finished high school in 2019 and started her broadcasting career with Te Karere in May. By wearing her moko kauae on national TV, she hopes to inspire other wāhine Māori and encourage discussion about the traditional art form.
“Being part of the legacy at Te Karere is empowering. It motivates me to do what I do. I’m a young girl from Te Kaha, who has no degree and who is working at TVNZ in broadcasting.
“Every day I’m reminded of my purpose – to promote te reo Māori and to tell the stories of my people.”
Journalist, Te Ao with Moana, Māori Television
Broadcasting veteran Kirsty Babington has spent three decades interviewing Māori throughout the country but she’s never been interviewed herself – until now.
“I’ve always avoided that because I believe my strength is getting other people to tell their stories. I’ve had a 30-year journalism career and it’s great that I’ve been interviewed for the first time because I wear my moko kauae.”
Kirsty, who is currently a journalist on award-winning current affairs show Te Ao with Moana on Māori Television, didn’t shy away from this interview, because she’s proud to wear the traditional moko on her chin. She wants the art form to be normalised after many years of moko being suppressed in Aotearoa.
“I clearly remember the moment I knew I would wear a moko kauae. It was 17 years ago. I was in the office, with my workmates and my best friends, all Māori women. I could see us all wearing a moko kauae and it was at that instant I knew that one day I would wear moko kauae.”
Kirsty, whose iwi are Ngāti Awa, Ngāriki Kaipūtahi, Ngāti Porou, remembers the first woman from her hapū in Whakatāne to get a moko kauae and Kirsty thought she was brave for making that stand.
“As an urban child, it wasn’t on our radar when we were younger. Our nannies didn’t wear moko kauae. The only time we saw moko kauae was in books or on the telly. The thought of getting one – I didn’t know what that meant, and I didn’t know how that could be achieved.
“Right up until 10 years ago, only one woman from our hapū had a moko kauae. I remember seeing her and thinking she was incredible. Not only was she displaying the beauty of her kauae but the fact that she was also the woman to reignite the tradition and have the eyes and ears and potential judgement for her decision.”
Three years ago, before her 50th birthday, the mother-of-three was ready to receive her moko at her home in Hawke’s Bay, surrounded by her children, her grandchildren and whānau members.
“In order to receive a moko kauae, I believe you need to come to a place of self-belief and confidence. It’s part of the process of self-liberation.
“It’s awesome that my grandchildren can look at me
and love me for who I am and see that moko kauae is a natural thing. They can grow up knowing that it’s part of who we are. My moko doesn’t define me. It’s just another expression of who I am.”
Kirsty has noticed other changes since receiving her moko. “I had to stop my road rage,” she laughs. “I now exercise patience and being more mindful with my words.” Kirsty says the acceptance of moko on TV demonstrates the hard work fought by others.
“When I first started in 1989, Māori journalists realised that in order for public perceptions around our people to change, we needed a voice in the media. The only time we were in the headlines was to be
portrayed as criminals, radicals or singing and entertaining. There were a handful of us in newsrooms across the country fighting the fight to stop labelling us.
“To get to that point, and then to have someone as intelligent and gorgeous as Oriini Kaipara fronting mainstream news wearing a moko kauae shows how far we have come.”
IMAGES: TABITHA ARTHUR, NICOLA EDMONDS, AROHA AWARAU, AND COURTESY OF MĀORI TV.
This is Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ On Air.