Mihimihi – Introductions/Speeches
At the beginning of any hui, following the pōwhiri (formal welcome) or the mihi whakatau (a welcome, as practised off marae across the Ngāi Tahu tribal region), a round of introductions and speeches – or mihimihi – usually occurs. During this time, people ordinarily stand to share a little bit about where they come from and who they are in relation to this (i.e. share their pepeha, or tribal aphorism); many share significant parts of their whakapapa (genealogy).
While whakapapa is about the recitation of genealogy – lineage or ancestry – it also literally means to ‘place in layers’ or ‘create a base’. It places our people in a wider context, linking us to a common ancestor, our ancestral land, our waterways and our tribal (and sub-tribal) groupings. Hence, the literal translation fits with the broader meaning of ancestry and the expansive nature of its ‘layers’.
As alluded to previously, whakapapa is about relationships, with both the land and with people. The name tangata whenua or ‘people (tangata) of the land (whenua)’, our nation’s first people, makes reference to this relationship, as does the term mana whenua, the mana (prestige) held by the people of that place. Another significant term which highlights this relationship is tūrangawaewae, literally, a place (tūranga) to stand (waewae). Tūrangawaewae tends to be where we were either born or brought up, or alternatively, our ancestral land. It is a place where we feel we have a strong sense of belonging and a deep spiritual connection. The importance of our foundational relationship with the whenua and its enduring ability to sustain us is described aptly in the following whakatauki (proverb):
Whatu ngarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua.
People will perish, but the land is permanent.
Everything we do as a people is derived from our whakapapa, the way we:
- Greet the dawn and farewell the day
- Gather kai (food) and ensure our food collection methods are sustainable for future generations
- Farewell our loved ones who have passed on
- Communicate with our Atua (gods) and call for their protection and guidance
- Cut, prepare and utilise natural fibres for our clothing
- Go about our day
Our tikanga (traditions, practices, beliefs) are derived from whakapapa and dictate the way our society functions, in terms of the ‘lore’ we adhere to as well as the ‘law’ we abide by.
Whakapapa is also about our connections to people and our relationship with them. So often when we meet others, we listen out for tell-tale signs of where they come from; it could be a common land feature (e.g.: Ko Aoraki te mauka/Aoraki is my mountain – linking that person to the South Island, and most likely, the iwi of Ngāi Tahu) or a well-known name (e.g. Ko Brooking te ingoa whānau/Brooking is my last name – linking that person to the East Coast of the North Island, and probably, the tribe of Ngāti Porou). People, and therefore relationships, are the cornerstone to the essence of being Māori.
Hutia te rito o te harakeke, kei hea rā te kōmako e kō?
Kī mai ki ahau, he aha te mea nui o te Ao?
Māku e kī atu, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.
If you were to pluck out the centre of the flax bush, where would the bellbird sing?
If you were to ask me, "What is the most important thing in the world?"
I would reply, "It is people, people, people."
Example of a Pepeha
What follows is a template to begin building your pepeha (an introductory ‘speech’ – based on whakapapa – recited during mihimihi). It is important to remember that a pepeha is not simply a ‘cut and paste’ affair. Please seek advice about the structure and content of your pepeha from someone with expertise in this area before simply inserting the relevant information and reciting it in a formal situation. This will not only ensure it is structured accurately, but it might also save you from an embarrassing situation when you deliver it publicly!
Also remember that there are a number of different ways to structure your pepeha; some people use tōku (indicating that something belongs to them, or that they belong to it), whereas others use te (a singular ‘the’) following the proper noun. A pepeha therefore might look like either of the two examples below:
Ko Kapukataumahaka tōku māunga
Mt Cargill is my mountain
Ko Kapukataumahaka te māunga
Mt Cargill is the mountain (to which I affiliate)
We need to consider, however, that there is no one way of doing things and that this is an area still up for discussion. People need to do what feels right for them, so long as they develop their pepeha with good intent and ensure that, after checking it with a reo Māori expert (Māori language expert), it is delivered with both humility and respect.
What follows is one example of a pepeha:
Ko ____________ te māunga
Ko ____________ te awa/roto/moana
Ko ____________ te waka *
Ko ____________ tōku tīpuna *
Ko ____________ tōku iwi
Ko ____________ tōku hapū
Ko ____________ tōku marae *
Nō ____________ ahau
Ko ____________ rāua ko __________ ōku mātua *
Ko ____________ tōku ingoa
The mountain that I affiliate to is _________________________
The river/lake/sea that I affiliate to is ____________________
The waka that I affiliate to is ____________________________ *
My (founding) ancestor is _______________ *
My tribe is _____________________________
My sub-tribe is _________________________
My marae is ___________________________ *
I am from _____________________________
My parents are __________ and ___________ *
My name is ____________________________
* NOTE: these components of the pepeha are optional. Generally speaking, people who whakapapa back to one or numerous iwi recite these (and more) parts of their whakapapa (and there will be variation among different iwi), however in western terms, this may not be feasible, or desirable.
Kia maumahara koe! : remember that a pepeha is also usually shared within a context of mihimihi, or introductory speeches. It is important to begin and end with an appropriate greeting. At a very basic level, you may begin with: Tēnā koutou katoa (Greetings to you all) and end with: Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa (Therefore, greetings, thrice over). More proficient speakers may begin with a tauparapara (tribal chant) from their own or the local iwi. There are literally hundreds of tauparapara in existence, but here is one commonly used example:
Ka tangi te tītī
Ka tangi te kākā
Ka tangi hoki ahau
As the sooty sheerwater voices its presence
As the parrot voices its presence
So too do I
Considerations for Preparation and Delivery of a Pepeha
When thinking about preparing to speak during mihimihi, it is vital that you consider the kaupapa (purpose) of the hui (meeting) you are attending so as to ensure that: a) it is appropriate for you to stand and speak; and b) that your mihi (speech) or pepeha is suited to the occasion.
For example, at tangihanga (a ceremony to farewell the dead) it would not be appropriate for an undesignated speaker to stand and deliver a pepeha in the wharenui (meeting house); an event such as this is steeped in tradition and ritual and best left to those who have experience and/or have been afforded the status to do so (although it would still be fitting for you to attend to acknowledge the deceased and show your support for the bereaved family, the whānau pani).
Alternatively, if your department or school has organised a noho marae (marae visit) and a round of mihimihi occurs following the pōwhiri, then it would be appropriate to stand and recite your pepeha along with the rest of your colleagues. This may not be the case, however, if you are meeting with colleagues (in a non-Māori forum, for example) to develop the department’s Māori Strategic Plan, which is held in your departmental board room!
Finally, if you are representing your department/institution at a hui to do with – for example – resource management, it is best to follow the lead of others (observation reigns in this situation). If appropriate, the discussions might start with mihimihi, however it may just be that the kaupapa of the hui is launched into straight after the cup of tea. Remember the following; ‘when in Rome, do as Romans do’!