Qiane Matata-Sipu: It’s been a ride.
I had been talking for years with my nana about what I was going to do next. I come from a background in magazines and I was thinking about lots of ideas. Then in 2016 my nana died unexpectedly, and all those ideas went out the window because it was something I’d always shared with her.
At the time she died, my husband and I had been together 14 years and we’d been on an infertility journey. I was searching for things to support me during that time of really heavy grief – my nan was always the woman you’d go to for wisdom and kōrero.
I left the idea of magazines behind, and a year after she died I fell pregnant naturally. I was having a little girl and I started to think about what it means to raise a Tongan-Māori woman. What do I want her to know, what role models do I want her to have? I started to think about what mātauranga she should she be learning so she can have indigenous tools to turn to. And I started thinking about our generation and tools for them to turn to.
My daughter was born in 2017 and I had this idea of interviewing 100 women across podcast, photography, video and print – I wasn’t sure what that would be but I wanted wāhine telling their stories uncensored and uncut. I put it out in the world at a meet-up that year. I did a mock-up in Photoshop and people came up to me and said, “What is the website?” People were really hungry for it. And I thought: maybe I should actually do that.
The first 10 interviews took place at the end of 2018 and I launched it in January of 2019. It took three years to pull it all together because I had the Ihumātao occupation and then Covid. I’ve done it on the side of running a business and raising a child, it’s become such a significant part of my life but also of my team – Melissa, my best friend of 36 years, and Taylor, who cut her teeth on Nuku making video.
It’s about amplifying these wāhine – I had a personal fascination with every single one. This whole process has been such an incredible healing journey – not just from losing my nana and the trauma of Ihumātao and my infertility but also just as an indigenous woman in this world. They all have a similar experience. They’re all striving for different things – how do we connect to our taiao, our environment.
What I always see and know of indigenous women is they’re carrying the heavy load. They’re working and looking after families and contributing to their community. There’s always 50 other things on the go and they do it so capably and always for aroha. Being in the presence of these women has been humbling and I feel incredibly privileged to speak to them.
I interviewed them 10 at a time because I wanted to leave space. I had a loose criteria: they had to be kick-arse and they had to be indigenous, but not necessarily Māori. I was really conscious that indigenous also means people of the moana, women of the Pacific based here in Aotearoa, indigenous Indian, Hawaiian – and in one case Wiradjuri people of New South Wales. And they identified as wāhine – there’s a wāhine in the pukapuka who is fa’afafine. That was important, to showcase what it is to be a wāhine now, and to highlight our definitions of success and doing things differently.
They may have a similar lived experience but they’ve done something differently. They deserve to have their stories heard, and the platforms they were given didn’t honour their story... Or there were women where I was like, “Yes, this is my in!”
I got to meet the most amazing wāhine around the country. We got to the Far North – I interviewed two women in the boot of my car in the grounds of Te Tī Marae – and as far south as Ōtepoti Dunedin and over to Rēkohu Chatham Islands.
I think its success comes down to one of the reasons I started it – indigenous wāhine wanting to connect with other indigenous wāhine, to learn and be motivated by people similar to them. I guess there’s a hunger for mātauranga because it’s been lost for so long. One of our most popular podcasts is Ngahuia Murphy, who talks about traditional menstruation practices and how that changed with colonisation. Or Maata Wharehoka, who talked about death and burial, and about a traditional tikanga – not being buried with clothes or being embalmed.
Indigenous knowledge is the blueprint for living well. At the beginning of last year we miscarried a baby. Had that happened three years ago I don’t think I would have handled it as well as I did. It was a difficult time, but we buried our baby and planted a tree and named our child – all of these things that you do that acknowledge the wairua of that baby. We went to the moana and got our kawakawa – we used it to put on our bodies and went into the moana. You release your hara – your grief. You let that moana wash it off you and take it away. I laugh because you look at modern-day health gurus and they talk about being grounded. All these things have their life force. And we’ve always done that!
Nuku was made with no money. I ran a full-time business to pay for what we needed. We got a couple of grants and had a Boosted campaign where our audience raised $50,000 so we could interview people outside Tāmaki Makaurau. It is a testament to the passion we have for the kaupapa, right through to self-publishing. We had publishers interested in the book, but I said, “Nah, we’re going to do it ourselves.”
This year I’m enrolled in a te reo immersion course and we’re making a series about that. It’ll be Nuku ki te reo – it’ll focus on our reo journey. I don’t know where the journey will take me, but I don’t see this being the end of Nuku.
Nuku: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women by Qiane Matata-Sipu