A new book celebrating indigenous women captivates Mel O’Loughlin.
Visits to publishers usually involve motorway exits at Sunnynook, but when I met with Qiane Matata-Sipu, I was directed to her home by a traffic warden who informed me a tangi was on and parking would soon be pretty tight. That one of NUKU’S co-founders is a resident of Ihumātao and stalwart of Soul Ihumātao is only one of a string of interesting things about this book.
It began as a multimedia series profiling 10 indigenous wāhine: a portrait photo shoot, a podcast and behind-the-scenes video for each one; a way to show Qiane’s young daughter the kick-ass indigenous wāhine that she could aspire to be. Opening night for the first 10 stories hit a nerve and from there blossomed into this taonga of a book.
Kaupapa is at the heart of this endeavour and this is what makes it so special. Each of these 100 wāhine are definitely not who they have been told to be, instead the focus is on who they have found themselves to be.
The subjects range in age from 14 to mid-70s and come from all walks of life. Some, like Erica Newman, researcher of Māori adoptees, found their culture late in life; others, like Ramari Stewart, tohunga tohoraā, were born into the reo.
But all are doing things to make the world a better place. Dr Ngahuia Murphy, a kaupapa Māori researcher, is recovering ancestral knowledge; Puawai Cairns, museum curator, is keeping that knowledge to the forefront of our minds.
Kura Paul-Burke, marine ecologist, is helping preserve our oceans; Julia Arnott-Neenee, digital equity champion and Te Ao Kapa, Te Kaha o te Rangatahi Indigenous Youth Hub CEO, are in the trenches fighting for justice and representation.
Much more than a coffee table book of photogenic indigenous women, this is a wildly successful reframing of these women in all their complex glory. The collective impact is one of resounding joy.
The book’s makers have begged, borrowed and hustled for well over two years to get this project off the ground. The rewards are in the reading, now all we have to do is dive inside the glossy pages of NUKU and pass it on to everyone we know and love.