Mau rākau is traditionally seen as a male-dominated Māori martial art.
But a group of wāhine at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Kirikiriroa (Hamilton) have been challenging that stereotype.
The art involves combat with traditional Māori weapons, such as the taiaha, pouwhenua, tenoteno (tewhatewha) and mau patu.
Tauira (student) Danae Paul from Ngāti Rangiwewehi and Ngāruahine is one of those wāhine who has gone against the grain and taken up mau rākau.
“There is a stigma that women can’t do mau rākau and it’s only for men but our kaiako Tamiaho and the Wānanga break a lot of those mindsets,” says Danae who has recently completed the Diploma in mau rākau.
Kaiako (teacher) Tamiaho Herangi-Searancke has been teaching the traditional Māori martial art since the age of 14 and was initially taught by kuia Dame Whina Cooper when he was just 4 years old.
He has been teaching the current mau rākau programme within Waikato-Tainui at TWoA’s Mangakōtukutuku campus in Hamilton for the past three years.
In those three years wāhine from all ages, lifestyles and backgrounds have chosen to study the art form.
“What I get out of mau rākau is a feeling of belonging. In that space there is just a great respect for each other,” says Danae.
Tauira Lucy Ihe (Whakatōhea and Ngāi Tūhoe) has found that studying mau rākau has had a positive impact on all things physical, mental, spiritual and cultural.
“There’s so many benefits to doing it and it helps you find yourself, especially when it comes to Māori identity. It strengthens your mind and body, it’s created a huge whānau and a new world for me,” she says.
Marina Hape (Tainui and Ngāti Kahungunu) has been studying mau rākau with Tamiaho since 2019 and like many other tauira she says the journey has been deeper than just learning about the practical side of the art form.
“The best thing about it is the why. We learnt how but then Tamiaho shares the why,” she says.
Tamiaho is well-respected as a kaiako and brings with him a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the history and skills of mau rākau.
“Tamiaho is amazing and we’re lucky to learn under him. All the things he teaches us are mind-blowing and it brings you deeper into the culture,” says Lucy.
Tamiaho welcomes those from all walks of life and cultures to give mau rākau a go and learn about the rich history of the art, especially wāhine who question.
“The beauty about mau rākau is that there is only one criteria and that is that you want to do it,” he says.
“When you train wāhine they impact an entire iwi, entire marae, they go on to grow families. My vision would be for more wāhine to take up mau rākau for themselves, their whānau and their community.