Musing on Matakite


A Case for the Indigenous Witch



Delilah Te Aōrere Pārore-Southon
(Te Kuihi, Ngāti Tūwharetoa me Ngāti Kurauia, Ngāti Hinemehi, Whakatōhea, Ngāti Pukenga, Ngāti Kuri)


In an evening interlude that fairy tales were fantasised to fill, upon a grey, drizzly, misty Tūwharetoa haze – Hinetitama passed the rākau to Hinenuitepō, as day turned to night, at Tokaanu marae. In the alchemic dusk, one of the witchiest, most beautifully aged Kuia I know spoke in an ancient karakia from an Atua. Her native tongue weaving two worlds, and spiralling a whakaaro of the old with the perceived notions of the present. We sat at the foot of the marae, the wharenui that held the whakapapa of our tūpuna. The decadence of the taaniko pattern began to turn rumours into facts. 

My taringa grew with the silence of white noise as her words weaved into my reality. The glamorous, and Erykah Badu-like feeling of witchy wairua took over my tinana. Feeling my ngākau, and feeling into her kupu, her whakaaro painted landscapes of ancient whenua, and untouched lands, laden with rongoā, and mana-wāhine collecting rakau from the ngahere, as they stuffed their kete with Kawakawa and Titokī to make potions for healing and knowledge. Her long grey hair melted into the white tinge held in her Pūkana eyes, as she presented a soul that knew 420 lifetimes. She spoke of whakaaro passed down from tūpuna, and echoed the whispers of Papatūānuku. Her words danced between images of Hinenuitepō and Hinetitama, as she pulled a mōteatea from the thick air, and posed the truth of what it meant to be Māori. She was a witch. Her shadow brazen in broad reality. The light and dark, the duality of aroha, formed before me, as I began to understand the modern intimacies of what it meant to be a witch. 

The Kuia looked to Rona-whakamautai, the goddess of the moon, her stargazed eyes gave way to an ancient karakia that came through her like an electric shock. Her face looked like Ngāpuhi whaea tūpuna lying in wait at Hawaiiki. Her frail eyes laden with a vision of the sacred rohe of Tapu-tapuatea. Her aged hands, perfectly wrinkled, embedded with stories and years of kai mahi, embraced mine. Strong and withered. As I watched our hands come together, the whakapapa of Te Aō became vivid. The weaving of intergenerational kōrero in two hands, lined with their own stories and whakapapa. Our pāua shell aura of strong wāhine igniting, to form the bright colours of the future of Tino-rangatiratanga, and in essence, an ancient karakia from the sky coming down upon Papatūānuku. Weaving timelines and giving iteration to whakapapa, a new whakataukī of what being an indigenous witch meant, embedded into the flow of everyday existence. 

As we gazed into the wharenui, the Kuia spoke of the house we sat beside, the marae, and its origins. She gave whakaaro on the tūpuna-matakite-witch who shaped the whare. She gave meaning to hapu, whānau, aroha,  and the people the whare serves, the four walls that hold the magic of whakapapa, and the majestic notions of what it means to be Māori. The withering branches of the Tōtara in the distance caressed the crown of the Kawakawa bushes next to it, and the breeze of Tawhirimatea wafted another reminder of the Atua from the cache of the Kuia’s memories: 

“Matakite is potent, and takes a lifetime to understand. When your great, great, great Kuia Paekitiwhiti Irihau pushed to build the whare, she said that she’d only be tough about having three things. Tahi: Walls and foundations that must stand time’s wiliest tests,  Rua: A room for light to flow in. Toru: Toi Māori that speaks to the rich and dense whakapapa, so that it is never lost. For everything else, she was willing to be open. As long as the whare was a place of ritual and communion, a place that brought together the whakapapa of the old, the importance of the whenua, and stories for future generations. Mokopuna Apōpō. That’s what it’s all about.”

The witch can be described as the most bewildering and rarest of figures, a seminal invisible, an intimate taste of a wāhine toa laden with magic powers. The modern witch is an artist, modern hood prophet, and beacon for counterculture. The witch leans into places and spaces, and configures an alchemic being, as her essence is materialised everywhere. Otherwise known for her particular talent for inner-knowing, or inducing hysteria, the witch still remains relevant through colonial optics. The idea of the witch is not a remote fable for the entertainment of others, but more, a real archive of one glimmer of the human race. Witches have lay subject to sensationalism for centuries, the mythology has moved from just that, to a real accepted reality. The resourceful witch parlays her storytelling gifts upon the souls that need it. 

The mythology of the witch has taught me a plethora of lessons thus far in my haerenga. They will continue to hold their strong divine archetype in the crevices of my mind. They call me to the sound of celestial spheres, and remain an important informant to the shaping of whakatauki that enables me to grow and expand into the understanding of Matakite, the supernatural gift of foresight and seeing. Knowing how a witch navigates reality has made the Atua feel human, and humans feel like Atua. 

In a modern sense, I believe the witch doesn’t wear a large black hat, and doesn’t always glimmer in the rays of Te Rā. She isn’t casting spells on the carpeted floor of her bedroom every night, or reading tarot cards for others, for she is holding the wairua of the old and using it for good and being a catalyst for the personal development of the souls she encounters. She is the embodiment of self-tikanga, mana motuhake, and she knows the duality of light and dark. She is wāhine Māori. Her comfortability with kōrero, and holding the depths of emotion isn’t a tapu place, and she’ll dive deep into the experiences of where they take her. She’ll melt her tinana into the dark, and then into the light, and she will play in the pleasures of joy and the abundance of dark desire. The archetype of the witch has formed new horizons, nowadays, the witch is somewhat a modern ambassador for the ancient lore of wise wāhine, and it’s clear her powers submerge in colonised worlds. 

Witch hunts used to be fashionable, on trend and full of thrill, such thrills were not known to indigenous ways of thinking. But, as witch trials died across Europe, by the middle of the eighteenth century, the witch’s spectral powers lay legitimate in Aotearoa — fantasies and deliriums of the figure of the witch were pushed aside, as mythologies of the wild wāhine lay true, but were placed as prized possession behind a white, colonial gaze. Knowledge on all accounts, especially that spoken and held by witches, is perceived through the wairua of a person and internal visioning. The wairua of a person is said to travel during sleep, and has the ability to gather knowledge during this activity. Witches have the power to understand matakite, and how to hold wairua and its many facets – witches have the power to pull the changing tides of emotion and catalyse them into reality. 

Culturally, we have replicated the figure of the witch by building new whakapapa around their origin. The indigenous witch hasn’t changed, as she was never considered a ‘witch’ she was just a wāhine, a child of Papatūānuku. I think of my favourite witch heroes, the witches that sit in my dream blunt rotation, and build an oracle of wisdom: Stevie Nicks, Nina Simone, Toni Morrison, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell, Clarice Lispector, Leanora Carrington, Puhiwāhine of Tūwharetoa, my Māma,  my Te Kuihi tūpuna Te Pouritanga, my Nana Lynda-Lorraine of Taumaranui, Pehirangi the daughter of Whakaari, and my tupuna, Paekitiwhiti of Tokaanu. Witches who, in all their rage, pushed past the cultural grain, and used their external perceived ‘lunacy’ to create art that built new mythologies for the archetype of the warrior wāhine, the strong woman. Witches inspire the best version of human existence, while leaning into the powers of the moon to uphold their role on the edge of society. 

Witches are a church. Witches are an oracle of intuition, and illuminated existence. Witches lay at the altar of the awa, and call you to self acceptance. They hold mythologies, while they build new ones. They weave wairua and worlds together, while encompassing the secrets whispered to them by Papatūānuku. They weave these secrets into a karanga and embody them into an oracle to share with eager minds. The witch is not a hallucination per se, more a concept of uttering perspective. 

Witches weave between three concepts, they diverge, explore and then converge. And, when you zoom in so deeply on the concept of the witch, you become acutely aware of intersecting modalities of what it means, or is perceived to be human. A hallucinogenic spell of occultism, folklore, weaved into greater reality. An alchemic essence of four elements taking place in the tinana, body, of a person with foreseeing power to use their intuition for healing into the hearts of others. The crossing of the seen, and unseen is held between the knowledge that is echoed to you from the Karanga of Papatūānuku. The witch is not a hallucination, and the powers of the witch should not be feared, but more, accepted into the greater concepts of worldly existence. Witches should be endearingly appreciated for the way said powers have the potential to collectively shape the wairua in the hands they hold, and hearts that glee after a small dose of intimacy and earthly wonder. 

At times, I lie at the feet of a wondrous witch energy. It’s an unseen space, that holds deep wairua, and connects two realms. I bathe, and sink in the waters of a melancholy that ushers in new modes of being; I think of witch hunts, and the prosecution of feminine energy. I think of my tūpuna, hiding their strength as wāhine toa, and I think of my Kuia at the marae who were often deemed crazy, for speaking truth amongst shadows of lies. They knew that witch secrets were held in the four walls of the whare, and those who dared to go deeply into the four walls, could maximise their potential as wāhine. 

Building new mythologies of who the witch is: with a revitalised whare, and pou at the centre will ensure that wāhine grow and become the witch they are destined to be. This happens through storytelling, and ensuring stories are held as the taonga they are. I see everyday spent in the mysticism of being indigenous as a daily practice. To play in this mysticism is to embody the witch, and use the powerful essence of Matakite  to heal and help others. 

There is an extraordinary case for the witch — in particular; the indigenous witch, full of indigenous glory. Full of bright landscape, decadent rage, and perspicacious whakaaro, the indigenous witch wanders along shorelines, collecting rongoā, among majestically imprinted shorelines, to heal the hearts lost in-between ageing generations and the future of Tino-rangatiratanga. 

For the Kauri are cathedrals, and the caves are temples for the witch to rest her wairua and ignite the portals of this realm, and the one unseen. The witch of sorts, holds a taonga at all times. Her sage advice becomes a whakatauki for the future, and binds whakapapa for mokopona apōpō. Witches build the oracle of what it means to be human. As much as the witch can be considered eccentric, she is also human in the purest form. She chooses to weave dreams through to the physical realm, she holds the kete of goodness that exudes in the discipline of what it takes to be human. The modern hood prophet is a real OG witch, and she spits the ancient tongue of the elders that went before her, she succumbs their spells to the realities of life and its modern nuances. 


Mate atu he tētēkura, ka whakaeke mai he tētēkura – As one frond perishes another grows in its place.

This essay response was commissioned by Gus Fisher Gallery on the occasion of the exhibition She could lie on her back and sink, 2023.

Gus Fisher Gallery
74 Shortland Street
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland Central 1010

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