More Maori Marriage

Marriage has been accused of being outdated, non-Maori, even irrelevant. RevHirini argues that marriage is one of the biggest issues facing Maori today, and is needed now more than ever.

Some of my whanau don’t like to see me. Some take this to the point where they might either try and hide or cross the road if they see me before I see them. This is not just because of my sometimes acerbic wit, or a residual sense of guilt over “I’m coming to Church this Sunday cuz” statements. It’s because they know I’m going to ask them when they are getting married. I have now assumed this role from Dad who used to do it to some of my cousins, and it’s part of the territory of being a Rev. Everyone loves a good wedding, and I’m always honoured to celebrate a wedding, but some of my cousins just don’t like the question.

Personally I can’t understand the hesitation to get married. I proposed to Paea three weeks after we [euphemism alert] ‘began our relationship’. Well we kind of proposed to each other, but it’s good form for me to say that I did it first. We were fortunate enough to be blessed with the certainty that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together from day one. Of course we were engaged for about a year so that “Operation Ignorant Groom” could be fully planned and executed. It was also the bringing together of whakapapa, and our two families met for a tomo ceremony where our two whakapapa were evoked, challenged and then unified. The marriage was the blessing of that union, and the wedding was a cool excuse for good times.

In the decade since I have observed that although we have never been blessed with children our relationship has been a source of strength for those around us, both our own whanau and wider group of friends and connections. Because of the strength of our relationship we have been able to help and support our whanau when they are in need, and to provide a stability that is sometimes missing around us.

But such stability in couples is all too rare in Maori communities. I have many whanau, friends and acquaintances who would rather leave the door open, like they are always assessing their options. I had one friend with three children who asked in all seriousness how long he had to stay with his partner. Yes they would struggle in their relationship; but so do we all. Relationships are hard work and require commitment and perseverance, like all important things in life.

That’s not to say of course that only couples provide that strength. I have seen some of my single friends and whanau provide the same sort of platform on which whanau can grow and flourish. Of course some who resist marriage do so out of conviction, but it is rare to find a couple who can argue coherently why they will not get married. More often it’s a sense of procrastination and obfuscation that holds couples back from marriage. And of course sometimes, even with the hardest of work, marriages just don’t work out.

Lately people have been saying that this issue of marriage is a secondary issue, that we as Maori have more important issues of poverty and politics to be dealing with. To me the nature of our whanau relationships are the single most important issue for us to deal with as a people. While media-hyped kaupapa may play out in court or in the ballot box the end result is in the home where our whanau live. And if our whanau are not strong in our homes, if they are not resilient, then we have no chance of dealing with the bigger picture that impacts on us.

At the brutal end of this instability we have our tamariki being beaten to death. It has been noted that in too many of the cases where our babies are killed it is by the boyfriend of the mother. This is often an unstable relationship where the father is on the fringes and the boyfriend has many issues that end in the death of the child.

While never criticising sole parents whose care and struggle is a source of amazement to me, it is ridiculous that around 40% of Maori babies are born into sole parent whanau, largely in the care of the mothers. That means that 4 out of 10 Maori men are not present for their children. While there may be good reasons from time to time, too many are just plain unwilling to commit to the challenge of a relationship. The absence of marriage stems partly from a culture of the uncommitted.

Marriage is a tikanga that my tipuna adapted to meet their evolving context. The relationship that centred on child bearing and raising, while different to that of European Christianity, was certainly taken seriously and sacredly. It was the bringing together of whakapapa and not to be taken, or abandoned, lightly. Marriage is a sacred relationship. It is covenant, not contract. As RevChris noted Marriage is a gift from God, a blessing that too often goes unrecognised. And if it was good enough for our tipuna, who knew far more than we ever will about tikanga, then it’s certainly good enough for me.

In writing this I know some people will find this conservative, even reactionary. And perhaps it is. Or perhaps it is time to say that the crap we are having to live with in our communities and in our homes is unacceptable, and the solutions are not always in the form of more state funding. We have been building these problems over the course of decades while at the same time we are relatively wealthier than the generations before us. Maybe we have to say that committed, stable and loving relationships are crucial to our communities and society. And we don’t have to reinvent it – it’s called marriage.

So when the issue of same-sex marriage arises, I’m more than in favour. In fact, my takataapui cousins better hide from me. Because I’m going to demand the same from them.


Further Reading

A quick history of Maori marriage customs

Where all the cool weddings take place

The New Zealand Prayer Book/He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa marriage liturgies

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