Writing as a grindstone. Finished writing, unfinished writing, writing ideas, things that I'll never get round to writing, other things. Grinding it out, grinding away. Writing some more.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ahunga Tikanga: Tikanga and sexual diversity

(Note: This is a significant rewrite of a previous post on sexuality, and will be published shortly in the journal Ahunga Tikanga. Many thanks to Leah Whiu, Kiritapu Allan, Kirsty Robertson and Ani Mikaere for their advice.)


Discussion of tikanga and Māori sexual diversity in the last decade has mostly focused on trying to reconstruct the behaviour and attitudes of our pre-European tūpuna. This reconstruction has involved both imagining and searching for historical evidence. However, we do not need to limit ourselves to trying to recreate pre-European authentic tikanga. We know the current reality: the existence of queer-identified Māori and a dominant Western culture that marginalises Māori and any sign of homosexuality. We also know the effect of negative constructions of identity. This paper argues that focusing on the principles that underpin tikanga Māori is a more accessible and appropriate method to determine a tikanga Māori approach to sexual diversity. This approach is more accessible because colonisation has left us without full knowledge of the actions of our tūpuna. It is more appropriate because, even when we know how our tūpuna behaved, their motivations are more difficult to interpret. Moreover, their actions may not have reflected their values, just as ours often do not. This method is also appropriate because it allows for the massive change in culture that has occurred since colonisation—what was tika pre-colonisation may be inadequate in a society dominated by hetero-normativity (I explain this term later). It allows us to ask what is the best way for us to behave now, that holds to what it means to be Māori, and that keeps us safe. How inclusive should we be of sexual diversity?

As Hirini Mead says, tikanga link us to the ancestors, to their knowledge base and to their wisdom. What we have today is a rich heritage that requires nurturing, awakening sometimes, adapting to our world and developing further for the next generations (Mead, 2003, p 21). Ani Mikaere describes tikanga as law, the practical expression of the philosophical framework that has enabled us to endure and to thrive (Mikaere, 1994), with whakapapa as central. Ani’s article in this journal describes Ahunga Tikanga as understanding tikanga as the first law of these lands, based on Māori conceptions of reality. These conceptions of reality are reflected in our creation traditions, and in the values that emerge from them—ngā kaupapa i ahu mai i ō tātou tūpuna.

We can use these kaupapa as guides to recover our understanding of what is tika. This is necessary because we now live in an environment dominated by values and a legal system that are very different from tikanga Māori, an environment that continues to threaten our survival as Māori. From the start, the colonisers have tried to stop Māori from practising our law—they have attempted to supplant our morality with theirs through religion, education, and Crown law. After a couple of hundred years of western imperialism, our values are inevitably conflicted. Many of us want to return to tikanga as a source of strength, but in many cases, tikanga has come to mean nothing more than cultural habits—we pōwhiri, we take our shoes off indoors, we don’t put hats on the table. Observing these customs has become more important than understanding why we do them. In other cases, we are still developing tikanga for new situations (such as biotechnology—genetic modification of organisms and organ transplants). In still other cases, colonisation has been so effective that the tikanga have been forgotten; or even when we know what our tūpuna would do in a situation, we may misinterpret the reasons behind their actions.

Our environment, like that of our tūpuna, is constantly changing. By stressing kaupapa, constant values rather than fixed rules or actions, tikanga Māori develops to be relevant to whatever circumstance we live in. To do this, we need to develop a culture of reflection, a culture that continually checks itself against kaupapa Māori, and that counters the effects of colonisation by re-examining the values of our tūpuna, rather than concentrating exclusively on their actions.

I want to reiterate that tikanga has always been, and continues to be, about survival (Durie, unpub, p 9). It is about our cultural survival: surviving as Māori means living according to inherited kaupapa (Winiata, Luke & Cook, 2008, p 852). And it is about our physical survival—our health, mortality and social harm statistics. This is especially true when we are talking about sexuality in a western culture that traditionally hates sexual diversity, where queer Māori are abused for not being white and for not being heterosexual.

Tikanga Māori

The purpose of tikanga or Māori law is to maintain relationships among ourselves, and between us and our environment. These relationships are defined by whakapapa, and it is for this reason that Moana Jackson describes tikanga as being born from whakapapa (Jackson, unpub, p 61). Maintaining relationships includes keeping us safe, as well as protecting or enhancing our standing through our actions.

Tikanga should not be seen as a set of rules, but rather as the set of values established and developed by our ancestors that underlie those “rules” or practices (Ministry of Justice, 2001, p 1). The values that were important to our tūpuna are illustrated in the oral traditions that have survived across generations—the creation stories, waiata, haka and whakataukī, which show us the attributes and behaviours that were adaptive and praised, and those that were not (Mikaere, 1994, p 4; Mahuika, 1993, p 46).

This focus on values rather than rules allows flexibility. In common with many traditional justice systems, the aim of tikanga Māori is social stability and enduring solutions to problems, rather than consistency of process or outcomes (Elechi, 2006, p 18). It is this flexibility that keeps tikanga constantly relevant—they can be changed or developed to suit our needs (Durie, unpub, p 8). By reference to the kaupapa that underpin tikanga, the system is adaptable: it is possible to determine tikanga-based solutions to any issues or problems that arise, as well as to redevelop tikanga where they have been lost or distorted as a result of colonisation (or any other process).

One such issue is sexuality. The introduction of Christianity has had a profound effect on Māori culture. With the well-documented, strongly-held convictions of the church on appropriate expression of sexuality, it is inconceivable that Māori attitudes and tikanga would have been unaffected (Aspin, 2005, p 4). There is growing evidence that pre-European Māori society included as much sexual diversity as contemporary Māori society. After 200 years of colonisation, the actual experiences, attitudes and tikanga of our ancestors relating to sexuality are impossible to reconstruct (for example, Hutchings & Aspin (2007, pp 15-21) provide an excellent summary on the repression of information about sexual diversity as a result of Western colonisation). What we can know for sure is the current situation: the current diversity of sexual expression and identity among Māori, current opinions towards sexuality, and the effect of these on Māori communities. With this knowledge, we can then begin a discussion on sexuality and tikanga Māori.

Sexual Diversity

For the purpose of this article, I am using the term sexuality to mean sexual behaviour (most usually defined by the adjectives bisexual, homosexual or heterosexual) between consenting adults. I am using the term sexual diversity to mean the range of expressions of sexuality. I contrast this against hetero-normative, meaning only heterosexuality is considered normal, while other sexualities are considered deviant. New Zealand’s currently dominant culture can be described as hetero-normative. This is typical of Western culture, and suggests that the attitude results from colonisation (because the way New Zealanders discusses sexuality is almost identical to the way British or Americans discuss sexuality).

By definition, a hetero-normative culture marginalises anyone who is not heterosexual, just as an imperialist culture marginalises indigenous peoples. Māori who are not heterosexual will be marginalised both as Māori and as sexually deviant within dominant culture. Unlike other Māori, they may not be able to rely on their Māori community for support, they may be marginalised there because of their sexuality. Likewise, they may not be able to rely on the queer community for support, they may be marginalised (or exoticised) because they are Māori. For many Māori who are not heterosexual, there will be nowhere that they are able to be accepted as themselves, in their entirety.

There has been a reclamation of the word 'takatāpui' since it was rediscovered by Lee Smith and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Hutchings & Aspin, 2007, p 15; Te Awekotuku, 1991, p 38). Williams Dictionary of the Māori Language, compiled in 1832, defined takatāpui as 'intimate companion of the same sex', which may be a true definition, or it may reflect Williams’ Christian prudishness towards sexuality. Modern use of the word is close to the English word 'queer', which is usually defined in opposition to heterosexual—takatāpui can encompass bisexual and homosexual, as well as transgender and intersex, but it also references Māori cultural identity. According to Aspin (2007, p 161), men who identify as takatāpui tend to maintain strong relationships with their whānau, and this means they are more immune to ostracism than those who are less connected. However, as I have touched on and will discuss further, many Māori with same-sex attractions have been excluded from Māori communities, and tikanga has been cited as the reason.

Opinions about Sexuality Diversity

Aspin and Hutchings state that hetero-normativity is foreign to Māori society:
“Categorisation of different forms of sexual expression is . . . a Western construct which serves to classify Māori society according to sexual behaviour. Such a system of categorisation . . . fails to recognise that sexuality is fluid and flexible and that it is not necessarily constant for everybody throughout their lifespan. Nor does such a system describe adequately the cultural nuances of Māori sexuality as it was expressed in the past and as it is expressed today.” (Aspin & Hutchings, 2006, p 228)

This is consistent with Paula Moyle’s experience of going home to her Ngāti Porou whānau:
“I had become so Pākehāfied in my growing up years, my fear of being out . . . that I had transferred that fear onto my own family, my own people . . . and what they saw was just Paula. A family member who has come from the city home, home with her kid, and she belongs to Meria, and Meria is connected to so and so . . . And the more that I looked the more that I saw that I had a tonne of cousins who were gay, gay men, gay women, and it was very prevalent and that was completely different than being out in the city . . . It didn’t seem to be an issue.” (Moyle, 3/3/2010)

Despite this, many Māori men and women use terms such as gay or lesbian to describe their sexuality (Aspin & Hutchings, 2006, p 231). Increasing numbers are using the word takatāpui, instead of or as well as the Western terms, to identify both their sexuality and their Māori identity (Aspin & Hutchings, 2006, p 231). A 1997 study of men who have sex with men found 31 % of Māori respondents chose takatāpui as a preferred term for their sexual identity (Aspin, Reid, Hughes & Worth, 1997). These men tended to be more urban-based and to feel more connected to the gay community than the other 69 % of Māori respondents.

Researchers on the Māori Sexuality Project report they are finding evidence that takatāpui do play a key role in their whanau, hapu and iwi (Aspin, 2005, p 5). Recent research on men found that those who identified as takatāpui indicated a strong attachment to their Māori cultural networks (Aspin, 2005, p 8). Some writers in Sexuality and the Stories of Indigenous People speak to this acceptance in te ao Māori, for example, Aaron Signal (2007, p 103): I am glad about the upbringing I had, based on kaupapa Māori. It is a kaupapa founded on strong respect for whānau values. It is a kaupapa that comes from my parents and ancestors. Others had less positive experiences. Paul Reynolds (2007, p 111) had many experiences of homophobia: It has taken me over thirty years to accept who I am, takatāpui tāne, Māori, gay and proud . . . it was extremely important to be able to pass as straight at an all-Māori boys' boarding school. Geoff Rua'ine (2007, p 151) is also clear that although he grew up in a loving whānau, with the protection of his kuia: In those tender teenage years I knew I was gay, but I also knew I had to keep quiet about it for my own safety and well-being.

Several writers spoke of responses to sexuality within tikanga Māori. For example, Carl Mika talks of the need for toning down sexuality:
“Many takatāpui are allowed back on their marae . . . as long as it is with an asexual visage. The thought of takatāpui taking a partner along to a function on the marae often causes visceral reactions . . . Some takatāpui are prevented from speaking on the marae ātea, even though tikanga dictates they can, due to some perceived equivocality over their gender.” (Mika, 2007, p 139)

Rua'ine speaks of tikanga which are clearly not accepting of sexual diversity:
“Often when somebody's body was sent home for burial, there was a lot of shame and guilt from the whānau and hapū. There were instances where the tangihanga was rushed, the coffin sealed tight throughout the mourning and the tūpāpaku buried well away from everyone else in the urupā. Often long-time partners were never acknowledged as such. It's a good thing the loving embrace of Papatūānuku is everywhere.” (Rua’ine, 2007, p 153)

Despite Aspin's (2007, p 161) assertion that Māori society is generally inclusive, tolerant and accepting, there are some very strong messages that this is often not the case. Just as in New Zealand's dominant european hetero-normative culture, many of us who are not heterosexual have experienced silencing—we are expected to be discreet about our sexuality, while our heterosexual whanaunga are not. Many of us have been excluded at some time because of our sexuality, and some have been physically attacked. Too many have not survived. Tikanga Māori is often used as an excuse for this violence, hatred and fear.

Opinions about Tikanga and Sexual Diversity

Most advocates of tikanga Māori start by looking to the past for direction. Several commentators have been outspoken on Māori sexual diversity, and each attempts to justify their opinion by citing the past. However, the past is being used in different ways by different sides of this issue, as I will show.

There are a range of opinions on sexual diversity, which I have summarised into four camps:

Intolerance: The position dominated by church representatives asserts that pre-European Māori were exclusively heterosexual (Aspin, 2007, p 162 cites an article in New Zealand Herald 5/6/2004), and even that deviation was punished by death (Brian Tamaki is reported to have said this in an interview with John Banks on Radio Pacific, eg, in Aspin, 2007, p 162).

Celebration: The position dominated by takatāpui-identified academics argues that there is considerable evidence that pre-European Māori society celebrated sexual diversity in all its manifestations (Aspin & Hutchings, 2007, p 227).

Tolerance: A third stance is expressed by Mead (2003, pp 246-247): heterosexuality was the norm, marriage was the primary expression of sexuality, but homosexuality was tolerated. This could also be called the hetero-normative position.

Acceptance: The fourth position is that described by Paula Moyle, sexuality is not an issue. People are accepted irrespective of who they love.

I will look briefly at the evidence given for each of these positions.

Intolerance: Proponents do not provide reason or evidence for their statements. Their assertions rely on ignorance of the past and are easy to rebut, especially thanks to recent research on pre-European Māori sexuality. It is easy to prove that homosexuality did exist in pre-European Māori culture, because there is evidence in oral literature and whakairo (eg, Aspin & Hutchings, 2006, pp 228-232; Te Awekotuku, 2005, pp 6-9); likewise, it is easy to prove that a tikanga of exterminating homosexuals is unlikely, because some record of it would exist. When Vercoe says that homosexuality is unnatural, or not morally right, and that One day society would find homosexuality unacceptable (Vercoe, cited in Masters, 2004), he is clearly stating his opinion on sexuality. Rather than the western strategy of claiming the bible as a righteous basis for hatred, he uses tikanga Māori. He implies that such an extreme position is not just based in Christianity, but is culturally universal, based on human accepted norms (Vercoe, cited in Masters, 2004).

It is not just church leaders who are outspoken advocates of this position, other political figures, for example John Tamihere, have also expressed such opinions. Herewini remembers 25 years ago Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan urging Rātana Church to take a political stand against Homosexual Law Reform (Herewini, 2007, p 174). The Māori Party has not spoken against homosexuality, but in 2005 (when Tariana Turia was their only MP), they voted against the Civil Union Act, which removed some discrimination and allows same sex civil unions. In 2011, Mana, Māori, Labour and National parties all sent Māori MPs to speak at Destiny Church, an organisation vocally opposed to sexual diversity; none of these representatives spoke against such intolerance. The importance of these people’s opinions on sexual diversity and tikanga Māori isn't because they are experts on either sexuality or tikanga, but is rather because they have political power in New Zealand. Their opinions, well-informed or otherwise, carry weight because they have access to mainstream media. As more Māori are looking to tikanga as an expression of an authentic Māori identity, people like Vercoe, Tamaki and Tamihere have likewise tried to claim tikanga Māori as the source of their bigotry.

Celebration: The argument that Māori celebrated sexual diversity also reflects the opinions of those putting it, rather than historical evidence. Proponents attempt to justify this position by providing records of sexual diversity in Māori oral literature, the early European record, and whakairo. This research is hugely useful in providing a historical context and link to the past for diverse sexuality. It refutes the argument that homosexuality was non-existent or was generally punished by death. But does it actually prove that sexual diversity was celebrated by Māori society, or that it was consistent with tikanga? Of all the references to sexuality in these historical sources, how many are to homosexuality? Even accounting for the sanitising of some of these sources, how many references would constitute celebration, or tolerance, or aversion? (If we were ignorant of historical European culture and looked for evidence of their attitudes towards sexuality in the same way, perhaps we would find something similar. The early European record provides evidence of widespread homosexuality among priests (Parkinson, 2005), which in no way reflects church or European tikanga or attitudes to homosexuality.) This position looks like an attempt to justify our existence in a currently hostile society by looking to a pre-colonial, authentically Māori past.

Tolerance: Historical support for a tolerant position comes from Mead, but again, I believe it reflects his personal opinion about homosexuality, more than tikanga Māori. His description of pre-European tikanga is that: same-sex pairing[s] . . . were not recognised as marriages. Rather, people in such relationships were regarded as close friends . . . Such friendships were tolerated by the community as they are today (Mead, 2003, p 247). Whatever this means, it sounds very much like a description of dominant attitudes to sexuality in contemporary New Zealand, including among Māori. Mead appears unsurprised that there has been no change whatsoever in Māori attitudes towards homosexuality, even though he is aware of the impact of the Crown and Christianity on Māori social structures and understanding of tikanga. He gives no examples of 'same-sex pairings' being treated as friendships or otherwise.

Acceptance: Whakapapa is the justification given for accepting people and their partners (Moyle, 3/3/2010).

Acceptance is the only argument I have seen that seems truly based in tikanga Māori. Rather than the other positions being guided by historical knowledge of tikanga Māori (as they claim they are), I believe that proponents of each are using tikanga to justify their personally-held opinion, and reconstructing a past that supports them.

The tolerant position represents the hetero-normative argument—tolerance marginalises anyone who does not fit the heterosexual norm. It assumes that every child will grow up to be heterosexual, and they therefore do not need to be protected from messages that homosexuals are not real men or women, that we are disgusting, that homosexuality is sick and evil, or that it is practically paedophilia. Tolerance provides no defence or counter-argument. Even in this seemingly more inclusive position, there is very strong pressure to conform, and implications for those who don't.

Many groups who speak against homosexuality claim that demonising homosexual behaviour is important in maintaining family values and a healthy society. Family values are, of course, hetero-normative and good for all of us, regardless of our gender or sexuality. In a (tolerant) hetero-normative culture, even such intolerant ideas have currency.

Given that Māori have a diversity of sexualities, what are the implications of growing up and living in a hetero-normative environment?

What are the Implications for Identity?

Identity means understanding our place in the world: where we each belong and where we each stand; it is fundamental to health and well-being (Aspin, 2007, p 165). Many Māori have whakapapa as their first source of identity; however, as a consequence of colonisation, many do not know or care to know their whakapapa. Māori have intimate experience of structural and institutionalised racism, and the effect on identity. I will briefly summarise this experience, and its parallels and intersections with institutional hetero-normativity.

Colonisers actively dismantle indigenous society by suppressing traditional systems of education, religion, justice, and organisation (Smith, 1999, p 28), by confiscating land and by suppressing language. At the same time, the colonisers institutionalise their values, and build their wealth from confiscated lands and the labour of dispossessed indigenous people. The effect of replacing a positive cultural identity with powerlessness and the negative messages of dominant narratives is well-documented. In common with other indigenous cultures living under colonisation, Māori are statistically over-represented in indicators of poverty, mental, physical and social dis-ease. The framing of high rates of domestic violence among Māori as a problem of Māori culture rather than of colonisation is a typical response to these statistics. Māori are problematised and pathologised (Smith, 1999, p 92), reflecting colonial constructions of the indigenous 'other', and feeding back into a negative spiral of identity. Rebuilding cultural identity individually and collectively is critical for breaking this relationship of power and oppression. In the last few decades many kaupapa groups and programmes have been set up to do this; Māori are able to reconnect with te reo and tikanga, to participate in marae and iwi organisations even away from their rohe, and to participate in non-whakapapa based groups.

Just as the coloniser culture treats us as if we are all white, it also is hetero-normative: it treats us as if we are all heterosexual. There is pressure to conform, either to actually suppress our non-conforming sexuality, or to behave according to socially acceptable ideas of homosexuality, 'playing straight', butch or camp. Homosexuality has literally been pathologised by the West—until 1974 homosexuality was considered a mental illness by Western medicine, and homosexual acts between men were illegal in New Zealand until 1985. While New Zealand culture is more tolerant of sexual diversity now than 25 years ago, there is still judgement and violence. Heterosexuality is privileged, it is treated as normal, neutral, value-free, whereas deviations are 'othered', or defined in opposition to normal, and are only allowed to be the things that heterosexuality is not (Johnson & Pihama, 1995, p 77)—only heterosexuals can be real men or women. Anti-gay messages are common.

While there are usually obvious clues to ethnic identity, sexuality is less obvious. This increases the problems of developing a positive identity, because we can hide or deny our sexuality under pressure to be invisible, and because it increases our exposure to hateful messages. Rejecting and stigmatising people who are not heterosexual is as equally damaging as stigmatising Māori; effects include high rates of suicide and other self-harm, dangerous behaviours, unplanned teenage pregnancies, alcoholism and other drug use (eg, Ryan, Huebner, Diaz & Sanchez, 2009, p 346 and references therein). Organisations that support sexual diversity, such as Rainbow Youth, Manawatu Lesbian and Gay Rights Association, and Gay Auckland Business Association, or informal 'sub-cultures', are responses to this. Such communities define their own needs and norms, support each other and provide a positive source of identity and belonging.

Both Māori and people who are not heterosexual have been marginalised and problematised by New Zealand’s dominant culture. Survival means organising to build pride in our identities, and from there, fighting for recognition. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily meet the needs of non-heterosexual Māori, whose identities intersect with both these areas of marginalisation. As mentioned already, it is not uncommon for Māori who are not heterosexual to feel excluded from Māori communities because of our sexuality, and from queer communities because of our ethnicity. To fit in anywhere, we must stifle an important part of who we are. There are whānau who are so afraid of homosexuality, they will exclude non-conforming whanaunga from fully belonging. When leaders in groups such as the Waipareira Urban Authority or the Anglican Māori Tikanga are some of the most outspoken advocates of intolerance, and other Māori leaders refuse to argue against them, it is understandable that some of us are unsure of our place in Māori culture. Likewise, queer culture is often as ignorant of colonisation as mainstream culture, and just as inclined to racism and exoticisation of non-white ethnicities (Aspin, 2007, p 162 and references therein). Many do not find this a safe community in which to be Māori.

If Māori culture continues to condone intolerant heterosexuality or hetero-normativity in tikanga Māori, we leave a group of Māori out. In this intersection between being Māori and not being heterosexual, survival is even harder. For Māori who are not heterosexual, survival might mean choosing between their sexual identity or Māori identity and leaving one behind; or creating two separate identities that each suppress part of who we are, behaving 'straight' with Māori and 'white' with queer friends. Some of us will survive by asserting our whole identity wherever we are, or by finding others like us, and creating our own culture. Others of us will simply not survive. Is this consistent with tikanga? Is any exclusion of whanaunga consistent with tikanga? I think the best way to answer this question is to look to kaupapa Māori.

Kaupapa, Tikanga and Sexuality

As discussed previously, tikanga are flexible, and whether we like it or not, will change over time. We can allow this to happen unconsciously, or to someone else's agenda that we do not control; this is happening now, as our tikanga become colonised to reflect the values of the dominant Western culture (for example, many Māori believe that physical discipline of children is both tika and traditional, despite evidence that it developed in response to imposed European values (eg, Jenkins, Harte & Te Kahui Mana Ririki, Traditional Maori Parenting: An Historical Review of Literature of Traditional Maori Child Rearing Practices in Pre-European Times); Taihakurei Durie (Custom Law, p 25) and Annette Sykes (Bruce Jesson lecture 2010, Politics of the Brown Table) both discuss how modern understanding of rangatiratanga is influenced by European ideas of leadership; and Ani Mikaere (The Balance Destroyed: The consequences for Māori women of the colonisation of tikanga Māori) discusses how European patriarchy has distorted our understanding of the roles of men and women). Or we can use a kaupapa analysis, based on the principles that should determine tikanga, to make conscious choices about what is adaptive for us.

A Kaupapa Approach to Sexuality

The first step of a kaupapa analysis of sexuality is to make explicit the values of a Māori understanding of reality. These values can then be applied to sexual diversity.


Whakapapa is the basis of all tikanga and mātauranga Māori, defining every relationship. It is closely linked to whanaungatanga, relating to whānau and identity. It is also linked to mana and to what I am calling atuatanga. Individuals are seen as part of their ongoing whakapapa: 'ko tātou ngā kanohi me ngā waha kōrero o rātou mā kua ngaro ki te pō'. It is through whakapapa that an individual always has a place in the world; their position within whānau, hapū and iwi cannot be taken away. This includes a literal place, tūrangawaewae (Mead, 2003, pp 42-43, 60), as well as identity and the right to participate.

Stressing whakapapa as fundamental to tikanga Māori implies a responsibility to continue the whakapapa, and this can be used as an argument for compulsory heterosexuality. However, sexual identity does not determine whether or not a person will have children—many people who are not heterosexual will have children, and many people who are heterosexual will not have children. There are also very important ways to contribute to the survival of whānau and hapū without literally giving birth to another generation—for most of us, it is not a lack of people that is threatening our whānau or hapū, but rather a lack of knowledge, whanaungatanga, and whānau identity. There is no evidence that sexuality determines contributions to these, and the participation of everyone should be valued, regardless of sexuality. Pushing people away does not strengthen whānau. Intolerance does nothing to ensure the continuation of whakapapa.

By the same argument, because all Māori have whakapapa, we are all connected to each other, to our tūpuna, to our whenua, to atua. My whakapapa is the basis of my belonging to my whānau, not my sexuality. It cannot be taken away. Any arguments for tikanga of exclusion are an insult to our whakapapa. We may not know who our queer whanaunga and tūpuna are, but we certainly all have them. Arguing against acceptance of those of us whose sexuality does not conform to hetero-normativity is clearly an insult to those whanaunga and tūpuna. Based on whakapapa, it is tika to accept all of our whanaunga, and welcome our diversity.


Whanaungatanga stresses the importance of maintaining relationships, and working collectively. Working collectively includes: respecting the role of kaumātua for maintaining cohesion, educating and guiding; sharing responsibility for the problems or actions of all group members to maintain or enhance the mana of the group; and educating children (or those returning to te ao Māori) about appropriate behaviour and values (Ministry of Justice, 2001, pp 51-58; Mead, 2003, p 345). Practices that connect people, such as whāngai, are very important. Whanaungatanga stresses inclusiveness—maintaining relationships, and making use of people's skills for the collective good. Greater diversity means a greater skillbase.

Rua'ine and Reynolds each mention that their kuia were more supportive of their sexuality than were other family members (Rua'ine, 2007, p 149; Reynolds, 2007, p 121). Anecdotally this seems common, but far from universal. Many of our whānau have conservative christian values. In some whānau, kaumātua strongly police sexual norms, reflecting the huge impact of the colonising culture. Whanaungatanga requires us to find ways to honour those kaumātua, just as it requires us to undo the harm of the colonisers’ message of hatred of difference.

Whanaungatanga is inconsistent with intolerance or mere tolerance, and consistent with acceptance and celebration.


Mana is essentially a measure of social standing based both on whakapapa and on personal achievements and contributions (Durie, unpub, p 6). Any actions should acknowledge or enhance the mana of ourselves and others, and members of groups are expected to uphold the mana of their group (Ministry of Justice, 2001, p 55). There are consequences for failing to respect mana (Mead, 2003, p 30). Important skills and attributes are inherited from tūpuna and ultimately from atua through whakapapa; these include teaching, organising, resolving disputes and looking after people. People gain mana by showing such skills and using them for the collective good (Ministry of Justice, 2001, pp 51-52). Durie lists “honesty, integrity, reliability, keeping one’s word, generosity, bravery, fearlessness, humility, respect, caring for others, community commitment and oratory” as traits that enhance mana (Durie, unpub, p 6), whereas mistreating, belittling or abusing people diminishes one's own mana (Mead, 2003, p 52).

Colonisation has contributed to a limited definition of mana, which has come to be associated with 'masculine' traits—the description of Māori as a 'warrior race' has become a source of pride in the face of otherwise overwhelmingly negative messages about Māori people and culture (eg, Blank, 2007, p 107). The emphasis on staunchness as a main source of mana is inconsistent with the stereotype of gay men, but equally it is inconsistent with a healthy culture (hooks, 1990, p 77). We need a diversity of skills, including communication, nurturing, teaching, negotiating, and community building. The hypermasculine, heterosexual, patriarchal stereotype that Māori are currently being sold (eg, Hokowhitu, 2003, pp 179-201) is holding us back and literally killing us. We need to fight against it, actively promoting different sources of mana, and breaking down associations that the colonising culture has built between mana and hypermasculinity.

For many of us, our understanding of mana has been distorted by the colonising culture—especially its fear of women and homosexuality. We need to reclaim our definitions of mana so that it continues to promote healthy, functioning communities. My understanding of mana is as a force to achieve our potential. Clearly, this is consistent with accepting and celebrating diversity, and inconsistent with limiting expression of who we each are.


Rangatiratanga is the qualities of good leadership (Mead, 2003, p 366), which include recognising and using the resources of a group to enhance the mana of that group, as well as maintaining social cohesion. Every member of a group is a resource with skills that can be used. Rangatiratanga means maximising those skills and acknowledging everyone's contributions, so that everyone feels valued and continues to participate.

Alienating people or allowing them to be alienated because of their sexuality is inconsistent with rangatiratanga. It means losing group members and their skills from the pool of resources, so the whole group suffers. Rangatiratanga includes encouraging a culture which supports all group members. This means not only accepting and supporting all group members, but also encouraging others to be accepting, and confronting those who aren't. This requires actively fighting messages from the dominant hetero-normative culture. Rangatiratanga is inconsistent with intolerance or mere tolerance of sexual diversity; it is most consistent with celebration of diversity.


Manaakitanga is the constant need to nurture relationships and care for people, to balance mana and aroha for the common good (Mead, 2003, pp 29, 346), to respect the mana of other people no matter what their standing in society might be (Mead, 2003, p 345). Generosity and respect are behaviours that do not only acknowledge the mana of others, they are associated with rangatira and add to the mana and reputation of the person concerned (Ministry of Justice, 2001, pp 122-123, 137; Mead, 2003, p 345).

This is a kaupapa which can only be interpreted as honouring diversity and respecting others. It is clearly inconsistent with intolerance or mere tolerance of sexual diversity, and is consistent with acceptance and celebration.


He atua! He tangata! (Pere, unpub). We all whakapapa to atua, and because we create and shape the world around us, we continue that atuatanga. The truest expression of ourselves is our atuatanga; when we believe in ourselves and love ourselves, we are celebrating atuatanga: This is the greatest tribute I can pay to the atua who begat me (Pere, unpub).

Atuatanga is consistent with accepting and celebrating who we each are. It is inconsistent with exclusion, or any message that silences part of us, including tolerance.

The kaupapa that inform tikanga Māori are all consistent with acceptance and celebration of diverse sexualities.

I want to return briefly to the four camps I identified earlier: intolerance, tolerance, acceptance and celebration.

The intolerant heterosexual camp is clearly inconsistent with my understanding of kaupapa—this position tries to limit sexual expression, and condemns and alienates those who refuse to conform. This is clearly not tika. I can find no justification in kaupapa for limiting consensual sexual expression; there is nothing to suggest that non-heterosexual behaviour should be considered evil, wrong or even embarrassing. Any messages or acts that alienate or vilify people because of their sexuality are not based in tikanga, and should be seen as breaches of tikanga.

The tolerant stance is also inconsistent with our kaupapa. It assumes heterosexuality as normal, as opposed to common, and supports institutions that privilege exclusive heterosexuality. The idea of heterosexuality as normal creates pressure to conform, and a position of tolerance implies disapproval of non-conforming behaviour. Accordingly, sexuality becomes an issue only for those who do not conform, not for others. This is about power and control. Tolerance of sexual diversity by a dominant heterosexual “mainstream” culture can be compared to tolerance of tikanga Māori by a dominant colonising “mainstream” culture. How far that tolerance goes, what behaviours are considered to be tolerable and at which times, is determined by the dominant culture. Tolerance is used to try to define and shape sexual diversity, to contain and control it, just as it is used to try to limit and control tikanga Māori. Those with power are determining the extent to which others should be allowed to exist. This is not consistent with kaupapa Māori, which stress whakapapa, contributions to the collective, and maintaining relationships. According to kaupapa, sexuality is irrelevant. Any messages or acts that marginalise people, that minimise or limit their contributions, or question their position within te ao Māori because of their sexuality are not based in tikanga, and should be seen as breaches of tikanga.

Acceptance of sexual diversity is consistent with kaupapa. This means that people should be able to explore and express their sexuality, within the limits of consent and respect, without implication or judgement. Recreating a culture that accepts all of us without reference to who we sleep with is a reasonable goal.

However, we currently live in a hetero-normative culture, and this has influenced our tikanga and understanding of kaupapa. Of course Māori attitudes to sexuality have been affected by the pathologising of homosexuality within Western medicine, demonising within Western religion, and criminalising under colonial law. The effect is obvious when tikanga is used to try to exclude non-conforming whanaunga, but it may also have subtle effects, in the language we use, and the behaviours we allow. This means that in order to enable freedom of sexual identity and expression, we need to educate ourselves and develop tikanga that expose and undo the messages of heterosexism and homophobia. We need to challenge our own behaviours, using the kaupapa that are important to us, and focus on expressing the values that we care about. For this reason, I consider celebration of sexual diversity to be the most tika of the four camps.

We need to look at our assumptions about sexuality. These assumptions are important, because they influence our behaviour, and give messages we might not intend. Some of the common assumptions are:
  • everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise
  • heterosexuality is normal
  • homosexuality is deviant or wrong
  • deviations from heterosexuality need an explanation
  • sexuality is static and can be labelled
  • experimenting when you're young is normal, but then you settle down
  • no-one would choose to be gay
  • homosexuality is a sign of weakness
  • if someone doesn't disclose their sexuality, they're ashamed of it
  • violence and discrimination is a thing of the past
  • homosexuality is distasteful
  • children need to be protected from homosexuality
  • homophobia is safe for children
  • tolerance is generous and loving
  • tolerance is a neutral position
  • common behaviour is better than less common behaviour.

For our culture to survive and remain relevant, our tikanga need to reflect our values and kaupapa. The above assumptions come from the colonising culture, which brought its shame and fear of sexuality to these islands. We need to be giving positive messages that all sexualities are normal and fluid, and that exploring and expressing sexuality is healthy and brave when you respect other people. We need to be actively creating a culture where it is safe and it feels safe for people to be open about who they are. That is the ideal of our kaupapa. It means being aware of all the influences that undermine our kaupapa, and responding to them.


Tikanga need to serve us, they need to be flexible and relevant. Looking to the actions of our tūpuna may be one way of informing decisions around tikanga, and may be useful for people who are seeking identity in history. However, it is only one approach. We may never really know some attitudes of our tūpuna, or the answer may not suit our needs. Whatever the results of such research, it is important that we use kaupapa to develop tikanga that serve us. It seems reasonable to expect that tikanga would at least include all of us.

A diversity of sexualities certainly existed prior to the arrival of Pākehā, and diversity continues to exist. In Pākehā culture, this diversity is tolerated, but not generally accepted. This is also true of many Māori communities. It may be that individuals with strong connections, mana and value to their whānau, who are obviously secure in their sexual identity, and whose whānau is secure in its mana, are accepted within their community. The problem is that inclusion and acceptance is usually passive and silent, whereas exclusion, fear and hate are usually loud, powerful and impossible to miss. Silent, loving acceptance is not enough to combat the messages of intolerance that we regularly see or hear. Children need to witness and hear positive messages. Within a hetero-normative culture, this means finding ways of moving sexual diversity from the margin to the centre, celebrating the diversity, unlearning the shame.

Sexuality is not visible, the future sexuality of a child cannot be known by his or her parents. Would we raise our children differently if we didn't assume they were heterosexual? If we knew a child would not grow up to be heterosexual, what messages would we want to give her or him? Would we consider silent, loving acceptance a sufficient response to that child after he or she saw 10 000 Destiny Church members march against same-sex civil unions? Or after hearing an uncle ridiculed for being effeminate? Or after reading that homosexuality was an affliction introduced by Pākehā, and that Māori look forward to returning to a world without gays?

It seems to me that we have a responsibility to those children, indeed to all children, to work towards whānau that genuinely value and celebrate all our members. The only way to do this is to loudly confront any language or behaviour that excludes, and to behave as if any child might grow up to be anyone they want.

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  1. Kia ora Kim, Just wanted to say...I wish there was a 'really really LIKE' button attached to this article. Well done and I am thinking I might write something along the same lines under my blog. Also I am very pleased to hear about you having had a wee girl. Well done again. Sending my love. Paora.

  2. Anonymous5:14 am

    you are so false