Maori businesswoman Precious Clark is on a mission

by Clare de Lore / 16 April, 2017

Precious Clark. Photo/Ken Downie

Her mission is to reclaim the power and status of menstruation for future generations.

There will be no embarrassment or awkward, hushed conversations when Precious Clark’s daughter gets her first period. Taiaaria is only three, but Clark is already planning to openly celebrate the day she reaches puberty.

Precious Clark, Ngati Whatua/Tainui, is a child of Bastion Point. She was conceived during the historic 506-day occupation of land overlooking Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, and is part of the Hawke family who led the protest.

A lawyer who’s worked here and in the UK, the 39-year-old is also a professional company director who sits on four boards. Recently, she started her own consultancy business, and she’s also a dancer, singer, songwriter, wife and mother.

Her mother, Patti Hawke, protest leader Joe Hawke’s sister, sang in Auckland clubs in her heyday, and her Pakeha father, Nobby Clark, was in the navy for 21 years.

Her parents recently went on a cruise while some of their eight children refurbished the family home. It was during the pre-renovation clean-out of her father’s library that Precious came across important books. One was Michael King’s 1975 book of essays by Maori and Pakeha leaders, Te Ao Hurihuri, The World Moves On: Aspects of Maoritanga.

Why is that book important to you?

The essays are by respected people who lived in a time with their old people, who grew up entirely Maori. Apirana Mahuika, a well-respected Ngati Porou leader, talks about leadership and questions the way the female element was ignored. He wrote that female leadership was a major part of his tribal history. He went through songs that spoke of different tribal leaders and talked about the naming of tribes after women to shift the conversation about the role of women in Maori society. This is stuff we still have to talk about today.

 

Joe Hawke protesting over foreshore and seabed legislation in 2004. Photo/Getty Images

Joe Hawke protesting over foreshore and seabed legislation in 2004. Photo/Getty Images

Ngahuia Murphy’s Te Awa Atua: Menstruation in the Pre-Colonial Maori World also made you think.

Menstruation today is usually considered something to hide, to be discreet about; it’s dirty and shameful. This book provides a different cultural framework for thinking about it. According to this book and our traditions, menstruation was recognised as a source of power for women. Once you started menstruating, you were in a position to be able to hold life, and that holding of life means you are the creator of future generations and linked to the legacy of your ancestors. It leads you back to atua, to the Maori gods.

What does that mean for you and Taiaaria?

My relationship with menstruation has changed completely as a result of this book. I don’t want Taiaaria to believe it is something filthy or dirty, so we discuss it openly, I show her what it is, and I will recreate ceremonies for her. When it is her time to menstruate, she will realise it is something powerful, and not a burden or a sin of a daughter of Eve.

How will you mark the milestone?

I have asked a friend to make her a korowai, a cloak, so when she has her first menstruation, she is adorned with a cloak. A korowai is a strong taonga – lots of hours and crafting go into making such a beautiful gift – so she will know it is a special occasion as opposed to “the curse”, or, “Here you go, you’ve got to cope with this for decades to come.”

Newlyweds Numa and Precious with daughter Taiaaria.

Was menstruation spoken of openly when you were growing up?

I remember as a youngster saying to Dad, “I need some money to buy some pads.” He gave me about $4, and when I said it wasn’t enough, he asked how many writing pads I needed. So I said, “Not

those types of pads, Dad.” He threw $20 at me and wanted me to get out of his sight. That is the reality of girls and their relationship with menstruation – hushed conversations. You might talk about it with a girlfriend and maybe your mother, but even that is a strained conversation. I am trying to have a different reality with my daughter.

How should other families open up the conversation?

There is the community version of Ngahuia Murphy’s book. She produced the academic version and then Waiwhero: The Red Waters – A Celebration of Womanhood, which offers ideas about how you might have a conversation with your daughter and how your family might respond to menstruation.

Your father put you into a Maori immersion class at Auckland Girls’ Grammar. Are you fluent?

I can hold a conversation. My confidence with te reo came when I had my daughter. I spoke only Maori with her. Through just keeping on and talking in te reo, I overcame a barrier, so I am now confident to speak it whenever and wherever.

Precious Clark with her grandfather Eddie Hawke.

Is your daughter fluent?

Her first words were in te reo. She is three and a half and involved in the world, so she dips and dives between both languages. A part of me feels sad because I prefer her to speak in Maori, so I will say, “I don’t understand you.” Then she will dip back into Maori. I am okay with her speaking English, as she is a citizen of New Zealand and the world, but what I have to foster in her is that her brain, heart and mouth need to be in alignment so her language can give expression to her emotions.

And your husband, Numa?

My husband is Cook Islands Maori and Pakeha, and he was raised in Canada. He is learning Maori and his grasp of it is awesome. I sometimes observe him speak a whole paragraph in te reo and he doesn’t even realise. The grammar is not the best, but you get the gist, and I am so proud of what he has picked up. To be fair, he has picked up more Maori than a lot of Maori.

You performed at the Rugby World Cup opening and you’re called on to help with the Maori cultural side of business, cultural and sporting events. How are you developing that into a business?

I created a Maori cultural competency programme called Te Kaa and I have been piloting it. I hold six sessions, deep dives into Maori culture in an exploratory way. Everything is done through exploration, no talking-heads stuff, and rich dialogue. Through Te Kaa, my mission is to help 10,000 people positively identify with Maori culture. I have a long road ahead.

With her mum and dad on graduation day.

Do you still have time for your other life as a singer/songwriter/performer?

I love it. That stuff is fun. At the moment, I’m not doing a lot of performing or songwriting, because I’m focusing on my business. My goal this year is to prove the concept. Next year, I will grow it. After that, I figure I will have time to go back to singing, dancing and performing. I still get to do some of that, because people ask me to open and close things, and I drop in that stuff to add a bit more value than if I just stood up and said words.

What’s the backstory to your name?

I was conceived during the Bastion Point occupation and while I was in the womb, my grandfather called me Precious. Seventeen days after I was born, my cousin Joannee died in a fire on Bastion Point. She was five, and so I was called Precious Joanni in her memory. My mum’s name is Patricia Precious Promise, so there is a connection there. My daughter has Promise in her name.

What are your hopes for the future for Taiaaria and the coming Maori generation?

When I was growing up, people would tease me at school that because I was Maori, I would be a glue sniffer or a gang member, because that is what they saw on TV. I am keen to balance that perception because I see a beautiful and strong culture that has a lot to offer the world in terms of how we think about things, how we construct things. I am in love with my culture.

This article was first published in the April 1, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

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