"Our Tupuna are listening; As we uncover our stories, we uncover theirs." Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman and Irihipeti Waretini on establishing Awa Wahine, the Wahine oriented online magazine dedicated to providing a safe space for woman writers.
By Tayi Tibble
Awa Wahine is an online magazine established and run by creatives, Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman and Irihipeti Waretini. The website is incredible featuring think pieces, personal essays, and creative writing. The site is organised around six categories; Wahine Toa, Taha Tinana, Taha Hinengaro, Taha Wairua, Taha Whanau and Taha Auaha. The kaupapa behind Awa Wahine is to provide a safe space for a community of women to share their stories. We spoke to Ataria and Irihipeti about their mahi, their kaupapa, how Awa Wahine was born and where Awa Wahine is going.
"I grew up in Whanganui-a-Tara, but my marae are in Matauri (Ngāpuhi) and Te Puke (Tapuika)," Ataria says. "From a very young age, I have always loved reading and writing. However, for around 20-years all writing was put on hold because I grew up believing the ones who told me ‘not to be a writer because you can’t make any money,’ as if money was all that matters in life."
Ataria is also completing a Master of Arts in Māori Studies with a focus on Māori women’s experiences of the atua wāhine. "I've found that this can show up in creative processes like waiata, weaving and writing."
Ataria is also writing a young adult fiction novel which was selected for the 2018 Te Papa Tupu mentorship programme. "The novel also draws on the atua, pūrākau. and our native animals for inspiration. I am really hoping it will be published at the end of the mentorship, fingers crossed."
Ko Ruapehu te maunga
Ko Wanganui, Mangawhero, Whangaehu nga awa
Ko Morimotu te maunga tapu
Ko Paerangi te tupuna
Ko Rangituhi, Rangiteauria me Uenukumanawawiri nga tupuna
Ko Ngati Rangi te Iwi
Ko Irihipeti Waretini taku ingoa
"There has always been a hesitation to say I am an artist first and foremost out loud," Irihipeti confesses "because I’ve related it to how artistic I am outwardly, what, when and how much I am sharing with others and I’ve always came to the answer, that it’s never enough to warrant me as an “actual artist”. I am a singer and songwriter and have been since a very young age. This has developed into poetry, short stories and non-fiction writing. My creative ventures encompass visual communications such as photography too."
Irihipeti says that her creative practices taught her that "eyes are a language of their own, body language is a voice of its own and the stories we are telling or trying to tell ourselves and the people around us without speaking words, is alarmingly loud. So I’ve made it my life's work to uncover these stories, to verbalise my own, to create platforms and safe spaces to empower others to tell their stories."
Ataria says that she created Awa Wahine because she recognised a need for somewhere where women could share writing that would be unlikely to be published in other spaces.
"For example, writing about our monthly bleeding, childbirth, colonisation, writing that in many ways challenges patriarchy and the status quo," she explains. "The reasons why we can publish these types of writing when others can't are because; we don’t have corporate sponsorship, we don’t care about the number of hits or views a post might get and the site is self-funded. This gives us a considerable amount of flexibility and tino rangatiratanga over the content we share which I don’t think you will find with other online media/blog sites."
"I also wanted Awa Wahine to be a welcoming space for women who don’t yet identify as ‘writers.’ Women who don't feel like their writing is ‘good enough,’ that their voice is unimportant and they don’t have anything of value to share with others. At Awa Wahine by the very act of publishing their work, I believe we are saying that their writing is important. The name was inspired by Ngahuia Murphy's thesis on pre-colonial Māori women's menstruation, where Te Awa Wahine is another name for menstruation - alongside Te Awa Ātua and Te Awa Tapu."
"The name was inspired by Ngahuia Murphy's thesis on pre-colonial Māori women's menstruation, where Te Awa Wahine is another name for menstruation - alongside Te Awa Ātua and Te Awa Tapu."
Irihipeti says she got involved with Awa Wahine when she discovered Hana Tapiata, her korero and her "willingness to share her stories and the platforms she resonates with, I discovered Awa Wahine and when I reached out to Ataria to support her cause. I told her, “I’m helping and this is how I can help but if there’s something else you need help with, I’ll figure out how to do that too.” Six months in I’ve since echoed this korero and added, “I’ll go anywhere your sailing this waka, e hoa!”
"That’s the power of story," Irihipeti says, "it’s a magnet for empowerment, unity and reflection. We tell stories to remember, stories to heal, stories to return home. Thus Awa Wahine, for me was certainly me returning home and my home as I remember it, how my DNA and my blood remembers it, every inch of my being remembers it. And it's been healing as fuck. Like generational trauma healing."
"I don’t know Hana nor did I know Ataria before this but I truly believe our tūpuna conspired to create this moment and many of the moments Ataria and I are witnessing through our platform.
It’s motivating for me as someone who doesn’t consider themselves a writer, to keep showing up, even at times when I wonder if anyone’s listening because I know my tupuna are listening. As we uncover our stories, we uncover theirs."
"Thus Awa Wahine, for me was certainly me returning home and my home as I remember it, how my DNA and my blood remembers it, every inch of my being remembers it. And it's been healing as fuck. Like generational trauma healing."
Ataria says she always feels as if she is in the process of reclaiming the female energy in te ao Māori.
"As a child I grew up without my Māori nanny, and I read the stories of Māui and didn't even hear about his counterpart - Hineteiwaiwa. I think this is why right now I am hungry for women’s matauranga. I see Awa Wahine as a place where Hineteiwaiwa - the moon ātua, the ātua of lunar cycles and the whare tangata - is manifest, where we can write in her name on our diverse experiences as Māori women and as women."
I ask about where the waka is heading; their future ambitions both personally, and for Awa Wahine.
"I’m learning to read the tides, the maramataka and how to navigate my waka, when to rest and when to set forth. I am a mother to a very fierce kotiro, whom needs communities like Awa Wahine to reflect her wisdom, her mana and her visions. With myself being in Australia and Ataria being in Aotearoa, we look forward to both diving into our local communities for sources of inspiration and collaboration and bringing it to each others awareness and to Awa Wahine," Irihipeti says.
Ataria says her goal is to get herself to the point where she can work on all the projects she is passionate about full-time without "feeling the need to get a ‘proper’ job so I can then spend my time doing this mahi."
"I’ve got a plan though," she says, "I’m currently building a tiny house. I would also love to facilitate workshops on women’s matauranga, particularly the whare tangata. Not teach it, because I don’t hold that knowledge but getting the wāhine together who do, who do hold that knowledge."
“I’ll go anywhere your sailing this waka, e hoa!”
In terms of Awa Wahine, Ataria says their immediate goal is to make Awa Wahine self-sustainable.
"We envision it as being a social enterprise with all donations and profits going back towards the kaupapa as well as fair wages for the wāhine who are working with us. We have a long-term goal (I am so excited about this) to create a printed magazine sharing interviews with creative wāhine in Australia and New Zealand, the artwork of some of our most talented artists and illustrators as well as the work submitted by writers to our online platform. There are so many ways we could do this, maybe in collab with Indigenous wāhine from other countries as well. It’s exciting, and we look forward to seeing what Awa Wahine grows into."
Irihipeti says, "I hope we flood the media landscape with more and more women who look like us, who speak and think like us and then probably world domination after that ey sis hahaha."
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Toi Māori Aotearoa's blog is purposed to keep you up to date with the latest happenings going on both here at Toi, and across the Māori arts scene in Aotearoa, and abroad.