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.

Showing posts with label patriarchy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label patriarchy. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Our tūpuna dreamed the future for all of us

This is the second draft of “reclaiming gender and sexuality”. You can see that it’s taken a different direction from that first draft. After writing the previous draft, the point I wanted to make started to become clear. I was able to take out lots of the stuff I really wanted to include, the quotes and work that inspired me, but that wasn’t contributing to my point. I’ll post the final version in a few weeks.

Draft 2

A few years ago I gave a talk on sexuality and whanau at a conference on tikanga (McBreen 2012). I argued that whenever Māori excluded people because of their sexuality, they were enacting the same cultural imperialism as colonisation—that their homophobia could not only be seen as analogous to our colonisers’ cultural imperialism, but that it was a result of it. I argued that the violence of homophobia, whether through anti-gay jokes, or insults or physical attacks, was traumatising whanaunga, including all children. I am increasingly uncomfortable with my argument. Not because I think it is incorrect, but because it was insufficient. I reduced my demands to appeal to people who I didn’t trust to respond to what I think is really important. I should have trusted them, and this is the argument I should have made. Decolonisation does not mean asking that Māori communities accept those of us whose sexualities or genders don’t conform, it requires eradicating heteropatriarchy from those communities. I don’t want people to put aside their homophobia, I want them to rethink all they know about what it means to be a man or woman living on this land. I don’t want them to do it to protect their kids, I want us to do it because it will protect us all, because our survival as Māori depends on it, because it is the path to tino rangatiratanga.

He tōtara wāhi rua he kai nā te toki

Many indigenous writers have commented that enforcing patriarchy and heteronormativity is a key tactic of colonisation, that it is not simply a by-product. As Cherokee activist Andrea Smith has written, introducing the hierarchy of patriarchy and binary gender prepares us for being ruled over by colonisers (and works to the goal of destroying us as people) (Smith 2005). Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an activist of Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg ancestry, explains that the colonisers’ attacks on gender and sexuality destroy our relationships with each other, weakening our resistance to colonisation. If whakapapa is a foundational Māori philosophy, then the many ways that heteropatriarchy attacks our understanding of whakapapa means that it has the potential to destroy what it means to be Māori (Mikaere 2000).

I want to start with some definitions. ‘Gender’, ‘sexuality’ and heteropatriarchy are colonial ideas, and cannot easily be translated into te Reo—they do not have comparable Māori terms (eg, Pihama). ‘Gender’ and ‘sexuality’ are political terms, whose meanings are an ongoing source of argument. To oversimplify, gender is often used to mean the socially understood categories of men and women (contrasted against sex, the biologically defined categories of male and female). Sexuality in its most restricted understanding means sexual preference, and may include desire. But as Leonie Pihama has said, it also has a much broader meaning, encompassing how we live, relate to each other, and understand ourselves. These ideas are central to heteropatriarchy.

Heteropatriarchy is a useful concept (which I am treating as synonymous with heteronormative). It describes a culture with a specific type of male dominance, a culture that privileges masculinity and heterosexuality within an understanding of gender as a male/female dichotomy. In short, it looks like Western culture.

Heteropatriarchy is all the things we’ve been told are normal. It is all the implications from believing that men are better than and opposite to women—the expectation that you can know who someone is and what they are capable of based on the shape of their genitals. It is contempt for women, and therefore for anyone who behaves like a woman. It requires strict policing of behaviour to keep these boundaries distinct. I want to unpack this further, by giving everyday examples of the ways we teach and enforce heteropatriarchy.

Heteropatriarchy is expecting girls to wear pink and play quietly, while expecting boys to wear blue and love rough-and-tumble play. It is shaming children who can’t conform to masculine and feminine stereotypes. It is encouraging boys to be sexually aggressive, while punishing girls for being sexual at all. It’s allowing boys to learn about sex from pornography that humiliates women, and then blaming them for treating girls as sexual objects rather than equals. It’s shaming culturally feminine qualities and honouring very specific masculine-identified qualities, so competition, singlemindedness and rationality are valued, while co-operation, emotions and care are not. It is judging women who choose not to have children, while financially punishing women who do have children. It is expecting men not to care for their children. It is expecting women to look after men, to do all the emotional work in relationships, and blaming them if their partner is violent or controlling. It is expecting men to be emotionally pathetic, unable to cope with jealousy, anger or loss in healthy ways, unable to behave with integrity with sexual partners. It’s blaming women when they are attacked by their partners or by strangers. It’s making excuses for violent men and accepting that women should be afraid. It’s paying more for ‘men’s work’, and not valuing ‘domestic’ or caring work. It’s women filling the kitchens and committees at marae, while men are recognised as our leaders. It’s the high-powered hui where men are the only invited speakers, and the other hui where people complain if there are ‘too many’ women speakers. It’s setting men and women against each other. It’s treating people who can’t work within this structure as the problem.

Heteropatriarchy is a colonial weapon that we are inviting into our own homes.

Hoki atu ki tōu maunga kia purea ai i ngā hau o Tāwhirimātea

Despite efforts to erase it, researchers of Māori sexuality have provided historical evidence for a range of sexualities and gender expressions (eg, Aspin & Hutchings 2006, Te Awekotuku 2005). Of course, there are a range of sexual and gender expressions in colonial culture also, in spite of heteropatriarchy. What is more interesting to me is that when we look at our creation traditions, there is also evidence of the way our tūpuna thought about gender and sexuality, and it is very different to heteropatriarchy.

A people’s creation traditions are important. They hold the imaginings of tūpuna, the explanations that made sense to them for the ongoing process of creation, and their dreams for how their uri might live into the future. They are an enduring haven to which we can return.

We still need to be cautious and critical. Much of our oral history has been infiltrated by colonial thinking. There is a common narrative of creation that is widely known. I heard versions of it on children’s radio shows when I was a child, I read versions of it in children’s books, I was taught a version of it in Te Ātaarangi, and I hear or read people referring to it more often than to the many iwi narratives. It is a Pākehā narrative, cobbled together from bits and pieces of many stories with inconsistent details removed and laid out into a linear story, intelligible to the writers. You know it: it starts with Te Kore, Te Pō and Rangi and Papa. Rangi saw Papa’s naked body below him, he desired her and took her; they had lots of male children who became cramped and bored; Tāne separated the parents; the brothers fought; the brothers search for the female element, Tāne makes her out of earth, breathes life into her, then has sex with her and she gives birth to the first woman; Tāne takes her as his wife, they have children, she discovers Tāne is her father and flees in shame to the underworld. Etc.

This narrative says a lot about gender and sexuality. It tells us that there are males and females, and that they are different. Males make the decisions that create our world, they interact with each other, they compete for dominance, they shape their environment—they are always doing something. Females (passively) bear the consequences of those actions—they are taken, they are impregnated, they are shamed, they are always disappearing (after giving birth to all her sons, Papatūānuku becomes the passive earth from which Tāne makes Hineahuone; after giving birth, Hineahuone is never heard of again; Hinetitama leaves the world of light). This is heteropatriarchy. It is not the way my people talk about creation.

In Kāi Tahu traditions (eg, Tau 2003), Rakinui has several partners, and Papatūānuku is with Takaroa before Papa and Rakinui get together. Takaroa goes away, Raki and Papa get together, Takaroa comes back, fights with Raki, injures him, and goes away again.

I like this tradition, because it so reflects the world of our tūpuna—the going away and coming back of Takaroa, the red of Rakinui’s blood at sunrise or sunset. You can see why they recognised Papatūānuku as having a relationship with both Rakinui and Takaroa, because that’s how the whenua sits, surrounded by sea and sky. When we look to the horizon, we can see that Raki and Takaroa are also intimately entwined. What is their relationship? Are they forever embracing in their fight? It looks more like spooning. What is going on?

Tainui have another explanation of creation. Pei Te Hurinui Jones (2010) talks about how Ranginui and Papatūānuku are both bi-sexual or a-sexual (p241), and each gives birth to several children before getting together. Tāne-mahuta has sex with a male atua, Kahukura, who gives birth (referred to as a bi-sexual conception, p244). I am not from Tainui, so I will not speculate on the meaning of their traditions, but it is easy to see that this says something very different from the narrative constructed by Pākehā men.

An intriguing tradition that was recorded by a Pākehā man tells of Māui and Rohe (Tregear 1891; unfortunately, I can’t find a record of whose tradition this is). Māui is ugly and Rohe is so beautiful that Māui is jealous of her. He asks to swap faces with her, but she refuses. One night when she is asleep, he swaps faces. When she wakes she leaves to live in the underworld.

Helen Harte directed me to this tradition because it raises such interesting questions. Māui wanted to look like a woman, Rohe did not want to look like a man. Rohe had the mana to refuse Māui, and now has an important role in looking after us after death. Māui continued to live with a woman’s face. What was this story about before it was recorded by Pākehā?

What do these three examples say about gender and sexuality? They show that monogamy is not privileged. They show that males and masculinity are not especially privileged. They show that heterosexuality isn’t necessarily privileged. The more attention we give them and question what they mean, the more they reveal that neither gender nor sexuality are fixed, and that our tūpuna had a complex understanding of gender and sexuality. This isn’t surprising, because our tūpuna were great observers of their environment, and nature contains endless gender and sexual variety.

There is evidence of flexibility, an absence of hierarchy, and combined with lack of categories in te Reo that align with Western categories, that gives a strong message that gender and sexuality were not as important to our tūpuna. Heteropatriarchy is completely foreign. This presents a challenge to all of us—how do we eradicate heteropatriarchy? How do we make these categories less important again? How much needs to change so that we no longer need labels like gay, bisexual, or even takatāpui to organise ourselves under? What must change so that we can say with honesty that, where there are specific roles for tāne and wāhine, they are equally important and respected? How do we create the conditions for our liberation? We must undo all the ways that domination is controlling us.

After 200 years of colonisation, the dreams of our tūpuna are waiting to be recovered. We just need to be bold enough to see all that isn’t being said, and ask the hard questions.

Mā pango mā whero ka oti ai te mahi

If whakapapa is the foundation of tikanga, heteropatriarchy makes no sense. Ani Mikaere (2011) has explored what it means to understand the world through whakapapa, her conclusions include lack of hierarchy, the importance of relationships, and inclusiveness. Heteropatriarchy is a corruption of our tikanga so that mana wahine becomes less than mana tāne, and mana tāne is itself defined as a limited heterosexual masculinity. It reshapes all our relationships with our living whanaunga, as well as with our tūpuna and atua. It is for these reasons that Leonie Pihama (1998, p184) suggests The imposition of the western nuclear family is perhaps one of the key acts that undermined Māori societal structures.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson challenges us to take on gender violence as a core resurgence project, a core decolonization project, a core of any Indigenous mobilization. By focusing on the violence of heteropatriarchy, we can see all that must change for us to realise tino rangatiratanga. There is no quick fix that will end gender violence, because it is at the core of colonisation. It is a virus bred in the colonisers that invades our tikanga, replicating itself wherever we are not actively resisting, until hierarchy seems a natural part of all that we do. By focusing on heteropatriarchy, we can see that Christianity, the nuclear family and projects focused only on building mana tāne will not lead to tino rangatiratanga.

By making hierarchy seem natural, heteropatriarchy reframes our understanding of the world as hierarchy—not only does tāne become more than wahine, but tuakana becomes more than teina, tūpuna becomes more than uri, rangatira becomes more than people. The point is to break our relationships to each other and land, so we can be dominated. The pathway is to teach us to dominate each other, the land, and all our environment, to cultivate relationships of domination. Hierarchy is incompatible with whakapapa—it focuses on difference in order to separate and dominate, whereas whakapapa focuses on relationships and linking together. Domination is violence, but when hierarchy has become natural to us, the violence is harder to see. Rejecting hierarchy is not only essential to decolonisation, it is a foundation on which decolonisation will be built, and will be a measure of our progress. As Andrea Smith (2006, p72) has said, Any liberation struggle that does not challenge heteronormativity cannot substantially challenge colonialism or white supremacy. Rather, as Cathy Cohen contends, such struggles will maintain colonialism based on a politics of secondary marginalization where the most elite class of these groups will further their aspirations on the backs of those most marginalized within the community.

Too often, decolonisation projects mirror or incorporate colonial systems of oppression. If the pathway to tino rangatiratanga looks the same as that of colonisation, then it will probably lead to the same place. Let’s not choose that path. Capitalism and the nation-state both rely on domination. It is only because we have become naturalised to hierarchy that we can imagine a decolonised future within the structures of capitalism or the nation-state. A decolonisation project with whakapapa at its foundation will challenge all systems of domination. The editors of Queer Indigenous Studies argue that those most marginalised by heteropatriarchy have a special role in this work by disrupting colonially imposed and internalized systems of gender and sexuality, Indigenous queer and Two-spirit critiques can move decolonizing movements outside dominant logics and narratives of 'nation' (Driskill, Finley, Gilley & Morgensen 2011, p17). Tino rangatiratanga will involve remembering, re-imagining and re-inventing structures that reflect the values we want for our future.

It is always tempting in arguing for decolonisation to start by exposing the violence of colonisation. Listing the effects of colonisation, on women, on men, on our children, on our relationships with each other, on those not considered normal, shows one reason why decolonisation is important and urgent—our colonial reality is literally killing us. There is another reason, which is also important—this colonial reality is killing the dreams our tūpuna made for us and the lands to which we belong. It is killing our culture. Our tūpuna had generations to learn how to live in these lands, they developed ethics for relationships with each other and their environment that sustained them. They wove these ethics and all they learnt into stories of creation. This was their method of passing on all that they knew to be true, all that they dreamed and aspired to. These were always stories about whakapapa, always stories that could only be understood by focusing on the relationships. For our survival as Māori, we must return to these stories. We must face their dreams, however challenging they now seem. For it to be meaningful, we must define decolonisation on their terms, and with whakapapa as our guide.

Aspin, Clive and Jessica Hutchings 2006 ‘Māori sexuality’ State of the Māori Nation: Twenty-first-century Issues in Aotearoa Edited by Malcolm Mulholland (Reed, Auckland)
Driskill, Qwo-Li, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley, Scott Lauria Morgensen 2011 ‘Introduction’ Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature Edited by Qwo-Li Driskill, Chris Finley, Brian Joseph Gilley & Scott Lauria Morgensen (University of Arizona Press, Tuscon, AZ, US)
Harte, Helen Interview with the author 21 February, 2014
Jones, Pei Te Hurinui 2010 King Pōtatau: An Account of the Life of Pōtatau Te Wherowhero the First Māori King (Huia Publishers and the Polynesian Society, Wellington and Auckland)
McBreen, Kim ‘It’s about whānau—oppression, sexuality and mana’ Kei Tua o Te Pae Hui Proceedings. Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki, 4-5 September 2012: 55-64
Mikaere, Ani 2011 Colonising Myths—Māori Realities: He Rukuruku Whakaaro (Huia Publishers, Wellington and Te Tākupu, Ōtaki)
Mikaere, Ani 2011 ‘Patriarchy as the ultimate divide and rule tactic: The assault on tikanga Māori by Pākehā law’ Mai i Te Ata Hāpara conference, Te Wānanga o Raukawa, Ōtaki, 11-13 August 2000
Pihama, Leonie, accessed 17 April, 2014
Pihama, Leonie 'Reconstructing meanings of family: lesbian/gay whānau and families in Aotearoa' The Family in Aotearoa New Zealand Edited by Vivienne Adair (Longman, Auckland 1998)
Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake, accessed 6 March, 2014
Smith, Andrea 2005 Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (South End Press, Cambridge, MA, US)
Smith, A 2006 ‘Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy: rethinking women of color organizing’ Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology Edited by Incite! Women of Color Against Violence (South End Press, Cambridge MA, US)
Tau, Rawiri Te Maire 2003 Ngā Pikitūroa o Ngai Tahu: The Oral Traditions of Ngāi Tahu (University of Otago Press, Dunedin)
Te Awekotuku, Ngāhuia 2005 ‘He reka anō – same-sex lust and loving in the ancient Māori world’ Outlines: Lesbian & Gay Histories of Aotearoa Edited by Alison J Laurie & Linda Evans (LAGANZ, Wellington)
Tregear, Edward 1891 Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair, Wellington)

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Not my destiny

About ten years ago, the leader of a church I hadn’t heard of was spouting something along the lines of it was the work of the devil that New Zealand had a female Prime Minister and a female Leader of the Opposition. Don't get me wrong, said Tamaki. I have nothing against women. It is just that this is a reflection of what is happening in society - a lack of men in leadership and sky-high divorce rates. (Tamaki, 2000) This is a situation that had never happened before and hasn’t happened since, women leading the two most popular political parties. Neither of these parties at the time, before or since, have come close to a majority of women MPs (see here for historical parliamentary stats and here for 2008 party stats).

However, according to Tamaki, God is very specific about the role and function of men (2006, More than meets the eye: Bishop Brian Tamaki), so maybe any women in parliament is too many. God must be stoked then that of the four political parties invited to speak at the Destiny Church political forum last night, not one sent a woman. Hone Harawira spoke for the Mana Party, Pita Sharples for the Maori Party, Shane Jones for the Labour Party, and Tau Henare for National ( RNZ) (Georgina Te Heuheu was scheduled to speak for National. I don’t know why she was replaced by Henare).

There are two possible reasons for the lack of women: either each political party chose their best Māori representative, and coincidentally they are all male; or, each party chose to send their best male, Māori representative, because it would play better. Either way, it says something really sad about party politics. In the first case, it suggests that Māori women are not getting the same opportunities as Māori men. In the second case, it says that parties are willing to support misogyny if it will buy them votes.

The Destiny vision of a uniformly heterosexual, masculine leadership was previewed for them at their forum last night. I haven’t heard if anyone spoke for those of us who are excluded from that vision (but please, if someone did, I want to hear about it). I know not to expect anything better from the other parties, but it disappointed me to see Mana playing to Destiny.

Seven years ago, parliament removed some legal discrimination against same-sex relationships. Thousands of Destinites marched to parliament in protest. I will not forget the righteous arrogance of those Destinites who threatened, pushed, hit, spat at, and generally abused those few who dared to stand for queer solidarity that day. Naively, I had hoped Mana would take the opportunity to stand with us last night. It would have shown more mana than a self-congratulatory, macho sound-bite about being no-one’s lapdog (RNZ: No lap dog status for Harawira).

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Mana wahine

This essay looks at mana wahine, the place and mana of women in tikanga Māori. It discusses the effect of colonisation, cultural imperialism and patriarchy on our tikanga. Tino rangatiratanga is not just about regaining control of our resources, it also means the freedom and power to make decisions that are right for us, and it includes the responsibility to behave as rangatira. Rangatiratanga is part of Māori law, tikanga Māori; to my mind, tino rangatiratanga can only be achieved with a return to tikanga Māori. An understanding of mana is fundamental, and this includes an open-minded consideration of mana wahine.

Some see a justification in tikanga Māori for exclusively male power and leadership. Too often, I have heard some of our men talk about women as if we are objects that can be collected and used to enhance their mana. I have seen men arriving at hui barely acknowledge the women present, while stopping to hongi every man. I have heard some men talk about children as if they exist only to enhance the father’s mana, as if mothers are just convenient caregivers, raising the children so the men can move on and have more. Is this what is meant by women being the source of mana? That our only mana is because of the children our whare tangata provide our men? Is this what our young people are learning? If this is true, what would tino rangatiratanga mean for women?

I will argue that this view of mana wahine is a recent distortion of tikanga Māori as a result of colonisation. European newcomers privileged one half of Māori society over the other; they brought their religion as justification for exclusive male leadership. For 200+ years, Pākehā leaders have behaved as if only men should have power, from the signing of Te Tiriti, to recent examples, such as Crown selection of all-male negotiators for the fisheries deal. Few Māori men are challenging this bias. It is as devastating to us as land thefts, because it has corrupted who we are and our relationships with each other, our tūpuna, and our whenua.

There is a common belief among Māori and non-Māori that women are secondary to men in tikanga Māori (Mikaere (b), p 7). This has been internalised by many Māori women, as expressed by Heni Brown: being a woman, I wasn't respected... I used to think, you're the eldest, you're the rangatira. No. Not in the Māori world. (Brown, p 48) It is difficult to assess the place of wāhine in tikanga Māori. Tikanga is based on the values handed down by our tūpuna, these values appear to have been distorted since the arrival of Europeans. Our creation stories which illustrate these values have also been distorted. However, who am I to determine what is authentic in tikanga Māori? I was brought up in a Pākehā family, I have spent more time in feminist and anarchist cultures than in Māori. When I look at tikanga Māori, I am personally invested in finding that women were not considered secondary to men, and that women's skills, knowledge and leadership were valued as much as men's. Instead of giving my uninformed and heavily biased analysis of the place of wāhine in tikanga Māori, I lay out the problems as I see them.

Tikanga Māori

Tikanga (Māori law) is based on whakapapa: Law was...'born' of whakapapa or 'arose' out of it (Jackson, p 61). Tikanga provide guidelines to manage our relationships so that we can protect our tapu and mana, and avoid diminishing others'; its purpose is to maintain the balance of tapu within relationships. Tikanga cannot be seen as a set of rules, but rather as the set of values (kaupapa) that underlie those practices (Ministry of Justice, p 10). These kaupapa, including manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, mana, tapu, noa, and ea, are the foundations of Māori society (Mead, pp 25-32).

Tikanga were established and developed by our ancestors. The values that were important are illustrated in the oral traditions that have survived across generations—the creation stories, waiata, haka and whakataukī show us which attributes and behaviours were adaptive and praised, and which were not (Mikaere (a), p 4; Mahuika, p 46). Understanding any aspect of tikanga Māori should then be as easy as finding the appropriate examples. Understanding the place of wāhine in tikanga Māori should be easy. The creation traditions are full of females: Papatūānuku, Hine-ahu-one, Hine-tītama/ Hine-nui-te-pō, Taranga, Mahuika, Muriranga-whenua; Te Pō is seen by many to be female. It should be as simple as examining their roles in those stories.

There are two problems in examining Māori creation stories to understand the importance of wāhine in tikanga Māori. The first should be minor: creation stories, like specifics of tikanga, vary among and within iwi. The reason this is not a minor problem in relation to the place of wāhine, is because the variation starts from the very beginning. Some authorities have Io-matua-kore existing in the void of Te Kore as the male creator of the foundations of the universe, including Te Pō, and Ranginui and Papatūānuku (Marsden, p 16; many authorities are skeptical of the authenticity of the Io tradition, but others are confident of it; it is therefore impossible to dismiss it outright). In the traditions of Kāi Tahu (the iwi to which I belong), Te Pō is the female element from which life emerges (Tau, p 73). While other traditions explicitly have the female Papatūānuku and male Ranginui as the first beings, created equal: Kotahi ano te tupuna o te tangata Maori ko Rangi-nui e tu nei, ko Papa-tua-nuku e takoto nei (Grey, 1953 cited in Mead, p 309). So, either males have primacy in creation, females have primacy in creation, or there is balance between males and females from the beginning. This is not a trivial detail. If these stories serve to show us the ultimate reality and our place in the world (Marsden, p 56), it is surprising there is not more agreement on such an important issue.

This introduces the second problem. When Pākehā came to these islands, they brought with them two things that have affected the Maori world-view and tikanga: 1) pens and 2) a missionary belief in their own superiority. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, all that was worth knowing was embedded in the oral tradition. Tohunga ahurewa, those chosen to ensure the spiritual and physical well-being of an iwi or hapū, maintained the accuracy of the 'sacred lore', traditions and whakapapa (Marsden, p 15). However, Europeans colonising this land trusted the written word for storing information; they very quickly began recording details about the people here. Decades before Elsdon Best and Percy Smith began researching Māori culture at the end of the 19th century, words were already being written and read, and repeated (e.g. George Angas in 1847, Shortland in 1856). It is unlikely that these writers, or the many that came later (and continue to come), understood what they were seeing and hearing. However, once written down, even doubtful material has a tendency to out-compete and corrupt oral literature.

If something as neutral and passive-seeming as a person with a pen trying to truthfully record information can have such an effect on our culture, what then of the missionaries and 'civilisation'. The purpose of the missionaries was to convert Māori people to christianity, convincing them to leave behind their old ways and beliefs (Mikaere (b), p 68). Although many were converted, they also held onto Māori traditions, some of which seem to have changed to become more in line with christianity. There are incredible similarities between some Māori creation stories and biblical stories. Buck diplomatically describes the discovery of Io, a supreme christian-like god in Māori creation, as a surprise to Maori and Pakeha alike (Buck, p 526). Likewise, Mikaere comments that the account of the creation of the first woman, Hine-ahu-one...[is] uncannily similar to the biblical myth of Adam creating Eve (Mikaere (a), p 7).

The relevance to mana wahine of this foreign influence on Māori creation traditions is obvious when we consider the overwhelmingly patriarchal bias of early European colonisers. If their ideas infiltrated our stories, we can expect a distortion of the gender roles: a diminishing and pacifying of the female roles, and an inflation of the male roles. Mikaere gives a detailed account of exactly this, particularly in relation to Best and Smith (Mikaere (b), pp 68-78). Contrast this with the creation traditions explained by Rose Pere, a woman who grew up in Ngāi Tūhoe culture in the mid-twentieth century: her accounts have male figures as less dominant, and females playing a more active role, even while acknowledging Io as the supreme influence (Pere (Ako), pp 7-15).
…[T]he first human was a woman. She was not formed by Tane, or any male god. She was from Papatuanuku... My old people said the reason why the first human was a woman is because it is women who give birth to children... All of us have sprung from the very beginning from the womb of a woman. (Pere (The Mother Energy), p 167)

There are many possible reasons why Pere’s stories are different from those that Best and Smith report, but it is interesting that they are different in such a predictable way. Men from a patriarchal world-view interpreted Io stories as showing a male supreme god, with other male figures as dominant. A woman raised in the culture from which these stories originated describes a genderless supreme god, a balance of power between the genders, and stresses the importance of females.

If the accounts written by Best and Smith do represent a distortion, then there are huge implications. The majority of accessible, english-language material on Māori cosmogony is either written by them or draws heavily from their work. Even tohunga writing on their own experiences and understanding of tikanga Māori have been influenced. For example, Teone Taare Tikao has clearly added Io to Ngāi Tahu traditions in order to fit with Te Whatahoro’s telling (Prendergast-Tarena, pp 28, 61). If our creation stories have been corrupted, then where can we look for guidance?

Other sources of information

Tikanga Māori is based on the values that have survived our tūpuna, handed down through oral literature. Our creation traditions are not the only literature that contain information about these values. Mahuika offers waiata, haka, whakataukī, as well as the names of hapū and whare tupuna as alternative sources of information (Mahuika, p 46). Interpretation of waiata, haka and whakataukī requires a competency beyond mine in te reo, and understanding of the cultural context and symbolism used. I am therefore unable to use these primary sources of information for this essay. The naming of hapū and whare tupuna is less problematic for me.

Buck claims Māori society privileges men over women to the extent that Leadership...was exercised by males, and primogeniture in the male line was the deciding factor in succession to chiefly rank. (Buck, cited in Mahuika, p 42). If so, then we can expect to see the names of these men, from whom hapū have inherited their mana, celebrated to the exclusion of women who offer them no such mana. Buck and Best admit there is the odd exception to naming after men (cited in Mahuika p 46), but Mahuika says the majority of Ngāti Porou (the iwi to which he belongs) senior hapū are named after women (Mahuika, p 47). Would Buck and Best see that whole iwi as an exception? Of the three iwi to which I whakapapa, one is named after a man (Kāi Tahu from Tahu-pōtiki) and one a woman (Kāti Māmoe from Whatu-māmoe) (I am ignorant of the gender of the eponymous Waitaha tupuna, Waitahanui). Is the naming of Kāti Māmoe another exception? The problem is, there are so many exceptions that immediately come to mind. When do we discard the rule? The fact that this idea persists for so long, in spite of obvious evidence to contradict it, shows that there is a desire to maintain it. Why?

My family knows of no Kāi Tahu rangatira wahine (despite Kāti Māmoe being named after a woman), while the books I’ve read give only the vaguest hints that Kāi Tahu women had any power at all. My rūnaka (Awarua) must have a male upoko-rūnaka (Morgan, 2009). Only one publication I have read claims Kāi Tahu women had power, Beattie’s Lifeways of the Southern Maori. Beattie was a Pākehā man who began recording Kāi Tahu stories as a boy. He conducted extensive ethnographic interviews with Kāi Tahu kaumātua in the first half of the twentieth century and his manuscripts were edited and published in 1994 by Anderson, a Kāi Tahu historian. Beattie states that the upoko-ariki of a tribe could be either male or female according to birth (Beattie, p 95). If this is true, why does Awarua allow only men to be upoko-rūnaka? Compare this with the text written by Carrington, another Pākehā ethnographer, published in 2008 (that Anderson co-edited), which contains several statements that only men had political power in Kāi Tahu (eg, Carrington, in Tau & Anderson, pp 32, 59). The editors give no indication that there is evidence disputing this, whereas they point out other areas where they believe Carrington is wrong. Anderson at least must be aware of Beattie’s statement. Why have Kāi Tahu historians not investigated this question more? Did they miss the importance of Beattie’s statement for an iwi that seems to have lost all memory of female political power?

I feel confused that, even while historians acknowledge this is an area where so much knowledge has been lost, there is not more interest in gender roles in tikanga Māori. Why isn’t there more questioning of the idea that women had no political power, more curiosity about why evidence of female leadership is often ignored by men writing about our traditions? I understand how European writers get it wrong, but what about Māori writers? Why have so many men writing about their own iwi or pan-Māori traditions ignored the contradictions and perpetuated these ideas? Are there other examples that show a similar effort by our own people to ignore or downgrade the importance of women?

Case study: the place of women in pōwhiri

The pōwhiri has in many ways come to represent the traditional in tikanga Māori, where compromises will not be permitted. The ritualistic observance of marae protocol ensures avoiding the wrath and retribution of the gods (Marsden, p 30). Rangihau says that Ngāi Tūhoe will make no concessions whatsoever in things that happen on their marae...if we keep this place absolutely sacrosanct then it will never lose its aura...its ethos (Rangihau, p 186). Perhaps here we should expect the place of wāhine to be most obvious.

Women clearly influence marae proceedings, both in the back and in the front. Women are as likely as men to fill most roles in the back (Mikaere (b), p 59). In front, women are responsible for karanga, they usually determine and lead the waiata, and have influence over the rest of the proceedings. Men are usually responsible for whaikōrero, and also have influence over the rest of the proceedings. But Mikaere states that the roles of men and women on marae seem to have become more sharply delineated and entrenched (Mikaere (b), p 113).

The pōwhiri begins with a karanga of a woman; the hui cannot proceed without this spiritual support and protection (Pere (Ako), p 26). Whereas karanga has been called the kōrero of women, and was often long and detailed (Jackson, 10/5/2008), this appears to have become the exception. Now, karanga are usually extremely short, covering the necessities and no more; it is not unusual for the karanga to be omitted altogether because no-one is willing or able. The karanga, the most potent sign of female power at pōwhiri, seems to have become desirable but unnecessary.

Waiata were usually chosen by women to suit the occasion and the speech, and they could also be used to cut a speaker off (Mikaere (b), p 63). Women skilled in waiata could compose pao on the spot to respond to a speaker. However, like the karanga, they no longer seem to be considered essential, with speakers sometimes finishing and sitting down without one (Mikaere (b), p 114), or leading their own waiata.

Whaikōrero is usually restricted to men.* The importance of speakers has been inflated with paepae; Sutherland talks about being upset when this special seat for the men appeared on her marae (Sutherland, p 126-7); some marae only provide chairs for the kaikōrero. The whaikōrero was traditionally restricted to skilled kaumātua, but there are now fewer men of this ability. When no-one appropriate can speak, whaikōrero rights are being accorded to men who would never have been able to speak in earlier times – young men, Pākehā men, men who are not fluent in the language – while Māori women continue to be excluded (Mikaere (b), p135). Contrast this with the karanga, which is simply left out if there is no-one appropriate to call. The message is that whaikōrero is an essential component of a pōwhiri, whereas karanga is not.

Of course power is not held by the speech-maker alone, he is only a representative (Mikaere (b), p 115). There are several obvious ways that women can and are heard at pōwhiri: kuia are sometimes clearly directing the speaker, and waiata and whakapohane can be used (Stirling, p 70). However, as well as the skill and knowledge needed (much of which has been lost), all of these require recognition of mana wahine (Smith, p 40). Many kuia still command this, but when these women pass, how many women will have the confidence to take their place, and how many men will be willing to acknowledge their mana?

It appears from this that even in pōwhiri, male roles have become inflated at the expense of female roles (Mikaere (b), p 114; Pere (Te Wheke), p 47). If there is no-one appropriate to karanga, the pōwhiri continues without one; skill, whakapapa and gender are all important in deciding who is appropriate. In contrast, I have never seen whaikōrero omitted from a pōwhiri (in my limited experience). When there has been no-one with appropriate skill or whakapapa to speak, the whaikōrero has still been given, in English, in German, by rangatahi or by Pākehā, as long as a man spoke. Clearly gender is considered the most important factor, more important than skill, mana or whakapapa. Is this because the whaikōrero is indispensable, so compromises are made, whereas the karanga is an optional add-on? Or is the whaikōrero seen as a formality with little spiritual significance, so ability and appropriateness of speaker is less important, whereas it would be dangerous to trust karanga to the unskilled? If so, why is the gender of the speaker so important in whaikōrero? If we can compromise on age, experience, language and whakapapa, why not on gender? I think our choices are simultaneously inflating and degrading the male role of whaikōrero. (Whereas the now common refusal of many Māori men to hongi women at pōwhiri is unambiguously degrading women; it can only be interpreted as a lack of respect for the mana of women (Ramsden, cited in Mikaere (b), p 135).)


It is clear that mana wahine has changed since European arrival. I am not qualified to unpack all that has happened and say what the rightful place of women is in tikanga Māori. The questioning and criticism of tikanga must come from an informed position and from within our own culture.
Maori leadership has got to work this through and deprogramme all that does not rightfully belong in our Iwi histories. Maori women... are the backbone of Maori society and that isn't only because of our ability to bear children. (Mead, cited in Mikaere (b), p 134-5)
I am hopeful that this will happen. But it is hard to ignore that, the effects of colonisation notwithstanding, the downplaying of mana wahine discussed in this essay has continued because some of us have allowed it to continue. Māori men cannot justify their oppression of Māori women on the basis that such oppression is traditional. They must...confront...that colonisation has made them collaborators with the colonisers against their own women (Mikaere (b), p 139). Whoever is unwilling to look honestly at what has happened to the mana and rangatiratanga of women in the last 200 years, has no right to talk about tino rangatiratanga.

Jackson, Moana, “The Laws of Ranginui and Papatūanuku”, Lecture given to Diploma of Māori Laws and Philosophy students. Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Ōtaki, 10 May 2008

Beattie, James Herries, Traditional Lifeways of the Southern Maori. University of Otago Press in association with Otago Museum, Dunedin, 1994

Brown, Heni, “Heni Brown”, Ngā Mōrehu: The Survivors, edited by Judith Binney and Gillian Chaplin. Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1986

Buck, Peter, The Coming of the Māori. Whitcombe and Tombs, Wellington, 1958

Mahuika, Api, “Leadership: Inherited and Achieved”, Te Ao Hurihuri: Aspects of Maoritanga, edited by Michael King. Reed, Auckland, 1992

Manihera, Te Uira, “Foreward: Learning and Tapu”, Te Ao Hurihuri: Aspects of Maoritanga, edited by Michael King. Reed, Auckland, 1992

Marsden, Māori, The Woven Universe: Selected Writings of Rev. Māori Marsden. The Estate of Rev. Māori Marsden, 2003

Mead, Hirini Moko, Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori Values. Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2003

Mikaere (a), Annie, “Maori Women: Caught in the Contradictions of a Colonised Reality”. Waikato Law Review 125, 1994

Mikaere (b), Ani, The Balance Destroyed: The Consequences for Māori Women of the Colonisation of Tikanga Māori. The International Research Institute for Māori and Indigenous Education, jointly with Ani Mikaere, Auckland, 2003

New Zealand. Ministry of Justice, He Hīnātore ki te Ao Māori: A Glimpse into the Māori World. Ministry of Justice, Wellington, 2001

Pere, Rangimarie Rose, Ako: Concepts and Learning in the Maori Tradition. University of Waikato, Hamilton, 1982

Pere, Rangimarie Rose, “The Mother Energy”, Kaupapa New Zealand: Vision Aotearoa, edited by Witi Ihimaera. Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1994

Pere, Rangimarie Rose, Te Wheke: A Celebration of Infinite Wisdom. Akoako Global Learning, Gisborne, 1991

Rangihau, John, “Being Maori”, Te Ao Hurihuri: Aspects of Maoritanga, edited by Michael King. Reed, Auckland, 1992

Smith, Linda, “Maori women: Discourses, Projects and Mana Wahine”, Women and Education in Aotearoa 2, edited by Sue Middleton and Alison Jones. Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 1992

Stirling, Amiria, and Anne Salmond, Amiria: The Life Story of a Maori Woman. Heinemann Reed, Auckland, 1976

Sutherland, Heni, “Heni Sutherland”, Ngā Mōrehu: The Survivors, edited by Judith Binney and Gillian Chaplin. Oxford University Press, Auckland, 1986

Tau, Rawiri Te Maire, Ngā Pikitūroa o Ngai Tahu: The Oral Traditions of Ngāi Tahu. University of Otago Press, Dunedin, 2003

Tau, Te Maire and Atholl Anderson (Editors), Ngāi Tahu: A Migration History: The Carrington Text. Bridget Williams Books in Association with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, Wellington, 2008

Tremewan, Christine (Translator and Editor), Traditional Stories from Southern New Zealand. Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 2002

Jackson, Moana, “Whakapapa and the Beginning of Law”, Compiled in Law 1.6: Whakapapa and the Beginning of Law: Compilation of Readings and Resources. Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Diploma in Māori Laws and Philosophy, Ōtaki, 2008

Morgan, Hana, Email interview with the author, November 2009

*There are accounts of women with enough mana speaking (Pere, Ako, p 27, Stirling, p 70), however this really does seem to be an exception. In the absence of men, one solution is for women to mihi to local groups (Sutherland, 128); in some areas during the World Wars women would whaikōrero, and some of those women retain the right to do so for life, but it is not extended to other women. (return to essay)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The tapu of taonga and wāhine in a colonised land

In late 2010, the media beat up reaction to a pānui from Te Papa about visiting the taonga Māori collection that they host. Among other things, the pānui invited hapū or menstruating women to arrange another time to visit. This essay was my response to the predictably ignorant reactions that were reported by the media.

"Māori women’s restriction from certain spaces (during menstruation and pregnancy) can be read not as exclusion, sub-ordination, inability and/or disability but as marking their sacredness and importance." (August, p 118)

In early October 2010, I was part of a group of Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa students who visited the taonga Māori collection at Te Papa Tongarewa. As always, several weeks before class, the Wānanga sent us readings and information, including a list of instructions from Te Papa for viewing the taonga. Many of the instructions are about the tapu of the taonga—no kai can be taken into collection rooms, women who are hapū or menstruating are invited to visit at another time, tamariki are not normally allowed, karakia will be said, and there is a wash basin outside. A few days after our visit, the radio news reported that feminists were angry that a pānui like this had been sent to staff from museums planning to visit the collection.

This essay provides an introduction to the issues raised by responses to the Te Papa pānui. I do not address whether I think the pānui from Te Papa solely represents a Māori worldview, that would be a much bigger project. This is a small essay that touches on several very large topics—tapu, the special place of women in te ao Māori, the role of taonga in te ao Māori, and sexism. Clearly, I cannot comprehensively cover any of these topics in such a short essay. Hopefully though, this essay will provide an overview of the issues as I understand them, and direction to better resources.

Some of the reaction to the Te Papa pānui has come from a misunderstanding by Pākehā, and probably by many Māori too, of the importance of women in te ao Māori. August’s 2005 paper (from which I took the opening quote of this essay) Māori women: bodies, spaces, sacredness and mana is particularly relevant. Likewise, the importance of taonga may be misunderstood. Tapsell’s paper The flight of Pareraututu: an investigation of taonga from a tribal perspective gives a thorough explanation of the relevance and use of taonga. The process of colonisation has profoundly affected our thinking about gender and especially the role of women. Many have worked hard to avoid introduced patriarchy becoming ingrained in Māori thinking. Anyone interested in the topic should for a start read Mikaere’s The balance destroyed: The consequences for Māori women of the colonisation of tikanga Māori.

I think most of the uproar around the Te Papa pānui is because it comes from a Māori worldview, and most New Zealanders are unused to being asked to consider cultural norms other than their own. Despite being indigenous to these islands, a Māori worldview and the tikanga that develop from it are foreign to most people now living here. Anyone who does not understand that worldview may find the pānui strange or even challenging. One way to understand a people’s culture is to look at their creation traditions (or religions). Religions aren’t simply handed to people—our tūpuna invented them. We are constantly re-inventing them in ways that keep them relevant, reflecting our values and our environment, so they both shape our culture and worldview and are shaped by them.

"Religions provide basic interpretive stories of who we are, what nature is, where we have come from and where we are going. This comprises a worldview of a society. Religions also suggest how we should treat other humans and how we should relate to nature. These values make up the ethical orientation of a society. Religions thus generate worldviews and ethics which underlie fundamental attitudes and values of different cultures and societies." (Tucker and Grim, p xvi)
(This does not mean that the Te Papa pānui is religious. There is a difference between religion and the worldviews, cultures or cultural practices that develop from those religions.)

To understand the Te Papa advisory we need to understand the concept of tapu, and the way it applies to both women and taonga.


There are two aspects to tapu: the sacredness of each life, and restrictions for protection. Mikaere describes the first aspect,
"No individual stands alone: through the tapu of whakapapa, she or he is linked to other members of the whānau, hapū and iwi... Every person has a sacred connection to Rangi and Papa and to the natural world around them." (Mikaere (a), p 4)
Henare calls this 'intrinsic tapu' (Henare, pp 29-30) because everything is always tapu in this sense—we are born tapu and it cannot be removed. Jackson describes this as the major cohesive force in Māori life (Jackson, p 41).

The second aspect of tapu involves tapu used for political purposes. Henare calls this 'extensions of tapu', because it adds another layer to the intrinsic tapu.
Jackson describes the second aspect,
"In this sense, tapu was a specific restriction which could be placed on a person, an object or a piece of land, and so render it especially sacred as a type of protection or prohibition… The ritual of this process established a sacred protection or rite of prohibition which was secured by the sanction of the gods… the ritual linked the people and the event with an ancestral precedent. Any failure of the protection or breach of the prohibition would be due to human error and would be punished by ancestrally-defined sanctions." (Jackson, pp 41-42)

If it is sometimes necessary to impose restrictions using tapu, then a method must also be necessary to remove those restrictions. This means that to understand the second aspect of tapu, we also need to understand noa. While this meaning of tapu is something set apart as sacred, noa means a safe and unrestricted state—but still with the ‘intrinsic tapu’ intact. Whakanoa is the process of returning something to its normal state by removing the ‘extensions of tapu’.

Women have a significant role in these processes. Understanding that role is necessary to a discussion of Te Papa’s offer to hapū or menstruating women visiting the taonga Māori collection.

Te tapu o te wāhine

The importance of women in Māori creation traditions is immediately obvious to anyone who hasn’t already been blinded by misogyny (as the first ethnographers clearly were). As Mikaere explains:
"A central feature of Māori cosmogony is whakapapa, which binds humanity to the spiritual forces from which the world was created. Vital to the continuation of whakapapa are both the male and female elements. The female reproductive organs and the birthing process assume major significance throughout the creation stories." (Mikaere (b), pp 13-14)
From the perspective of whakapapa, there can be nothing more sacred than the birth process. Women therefore have a special importance. Pere points out,
"The first human was a woman. She was not formed by Tane, or any male god. She was from Papatuanuku... My old people said the reason why the first human was a woman is because it is women who give birth to children... All of us have sprung from the very beginning from the womb of a woman." (Pere, p 167)

This does not mean that women are only important for their ability to give birth—but it does mean that our importance is elevated. The power to give life, to give birth to future generations, comes from Papatūānuku, the first mother. Nothing in te ao Māori is more important than ensuring the continuation of whakapapa.

Mikaere again:
"The story of Hine-nui-te-pō and Māui also encapsulates a theme which features throughout the Māori creation stories: the awesome power of female sexuality. It is implicit in the womb symbolism of Te Kore, Te Pō and in the birth of Papatūānuku and Ranginui's children to Te Ao Mārama. It becomes explicit with the first act of sexual intercourse between Tāne and Hineahuone. And in Māui's encounter with Hine-nui-te-pō, the potency of the female sexual organs is unassailable. The passage through which each of us passes to enter Te Ao Mārama is the same passage through which each of us must pass on our inevitable journey back to Te Pō. The process which brings each of us into being brought the world into being. Our very existence is centred around the sexual power of women." (Mikaere (b), p 23 )

This power allows women to whakanoa, to remove the tapu from people, places or things and make them safe again. As Binney describes: They drew the dangerous life-destroying elements of tapu into themselves and then sent them back to their point of origin, that is, to the world of gods and the spirit forces (Binney, p 26). Because the tapu is drawn into the whare tangata, only women who are not yet sexually active, or who are past the age of giving birth perform these rituals.

According to Henare, This is the mana and the tapu of women (Henare, p 20). Jenkins describes it as an indication of the supremacy of women’s spiritual power, because whakanoa allows control over the organisation of rituals (Jenkins, cited in Mikaere (a), p 6). Mikaere explains:
"The power of women to whakanoa is clearly of vital importance, for it establishes their ability to traverse the spiritual boundaries of tapu and noa, thereby nurturing and protecting communities… It is argued that this may be only half of the full picture. It may be that women’s powers in fact allowed movement both to and from the state of tapu – in other words, that women possessed not only the ability to whakanoa, but also the power to whakatapu. (Mikaere (a), p 6)

As Mikaere points out, the language of menstruation, childbirth and mothering demonstrates their significance and centrality—atua means both the ancestor gods and menstrual blood; hapū is both pregnancy and a large political group; whenua is both the placenta and land; whānau is both birth and the extended family; ūkaipō refers to nurturing both in terms of breastfeeding a baby, and in belonging to land (Mikaere (b), p 32; Ministry of Justice, p 183). Protecting this power, and the health of future generations, is at the heart of tikanga around menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth: manaakitia te hunga e whakawairua mai ana i nga koopu o nga whaea – protect the spiritual essence and life force taking place within the wombs of their mothers (cited in August, p 120). These tikanga include women avoiding urupā and food gathering areas at times when they are menstruating or pregnant.

Te tapu o te taonga

The significance of taonga in tikanga Māori has often been misunderstood and underestimated. Many non-Māori assume that taonga are the same as heirlooms—hardly surprising when my Reed dictionary translates taonga as simply property, treasure, apparatus, accessory (equipment), thing (Ryan, p 275). Taonga are much more than this and have an important role in tikanga Māori. This cannot be understood from a few words of explanation.

According to Tapsell,
"taonga is a powerful and all-embracing Maori concept that defies explanation by simply providing a list of written examples. For Maori, if an item, object or thing is described as he taonga it immediately elicits a strong emotional response based on ancestral experiences, settings, and circumstances." (Tapsell, p 326)

This can only be understood through what Mikaere has called the ‘whakapapa imperative’ (Mikaere (c), p 3):
"Part and parcel of looking at the world through the prism of whakapapa is the imperative to treasure those physical manifestations and expressions of ancestors that connect us to our origins and enable us to project ourselves with confidence into the future." (Mikaere (c), p 7)

Tapsell talks of three essential elements of taonga—mana, tapu and kōrero (Tapsell, pp 327-329). Taonga possess mana through their associations with tūpuna; this grows over time as the taonga pass through generations, accumulating history. Tapu places restrictions on taonga to protect their mana, and the greater the mana the greater the tapu; this is managed by kaitiaki who both care for the taonga, and ‘perform’ it at appropriate events. The kōrero is the iwi traditions, stories and histories that become attached to the taonga (Royal, p 66). Tapsell considers this the most important element, because the kōrero explains the meaning of the taonga and ensures that the mana and tapu are understood. He compares the kōrero to a cloak that envelops the taonga, and allows it to be treated and performed appropriately. Tapsell argues that the importance of taonga is their ability to collapse time, allowing descendants to re-live the events of past generations… [which] allows ancestors and descendants to be fused back into a powerful, single genealogical entity (Tapsell, p 330). This is a way that knowledge from tūpuna can be understood by present generations.

All taonga are directly associated with both ancestors and land (Tapsell, p 331). The statement by Mikaere that taonga are physical manifestations of ancestors can be understood in at least two ways—that they are physical objects made with the hands and ideas of our tūpuna, and so represent the mana and tapu of those tūpuna; or, that taonga actually possess the wairua of tūpuna, they are tūpuna. Each of these understandings is true for different taonga. Tapsell explains that wairua is one of the ways taonga may communicate knowledge from tūpuna—experienced as ihi, wehi and wana—even if the kōrero is no longer known (Tapsell, pp 330-331).

Many taonga held in museums have little or no kōrero with them. They may have been given to the museum by people who found them, for example when exploring caves, the coast, or on building sites. Or the kōrero may simply not have been passed on with the taonga.

Colonisation and taonga

Colonisation is relevant to this discussion in two main ways. The first is that colonisation attempted to destroy the structures of Māori society including mātauranga Māori, and the tikanga based on it. The second is that the coloniser has built a relationship with Māori that is dominating and abusive. The Crown (and many Pākehā New Zealanders) appears blind to the generosity and goodwill that Māori continue to display to them—they are succeeding only in feeding mistrust and resentment among Māori.

Whenever two cultures meet there will be cultural exchange and effects. When one people colonise another, there is a lack of balance in this process. The colonising group expects the people they meet to change, to adopt their culture, and is not prepared to do the same themselves. According to Linda Smith,
"By the nineteenth century colonialism not only meant the imposition of Western authority over indigenous lands, indigenous modes of production and indigenous law and government, but the imposition of Western authority over all aspects of indigenous knowledges, languages and cultures." (Linda Smith, p 64)

This imposition will occur through force, but it will also occur through undermining indigenous authority, and corrupting indigenous knowledge—by selective education and relentless cultural imperialism. As Said explains,
"The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them." (Said, p xiii)

Imperialism seeks to destroy other cultures, to assimilate those people into the colonising culture. In New Zealand, this involved missionaries and Crown working together. Missionaries were teaching a new religion, and attempting to shame Māori into giving up their beliefs and culture. The Crown supported this work, attempting to suppress any expressions of Māori culture using laws such as the Tohunga Suppression Act, and policies such as stopping Māori children from speaking te reo Māori in school. These attempts were ultimately unsuccessful, but they have had a huge effect—most Māori are more familiar with Pakehā culture than mātauranga Māori. The connections and knowledge of present generations with our tūpuna are weaker than they would have been in the past; and likewise, our connections with and knowledge of our taonga are weaker.

Europeans brought more than imperialism, they also brought death. Within 100 years of European arrival, the Māori population fell from upwards of 200 000 to 42 000 (Durie, pp 29-31; the 200 000 figure is a conservative estimate, other estimates range from 100 000 to 500 000). Pākehā have suggested the Māori population was in decline prior to European arrival. As Mikaere argues though, this pattern of massive mortality in indigenous populations as a consequence of European colonisation was well known by the 1700s: The Crown understood only too well the consequences of European contact for a previously isolated population such as Māori (Mikaere (d), p 3). High and indiscriminate mortality meant that knowledge, including both mātauranga and tikanga Māori, was not reliably passed from one generation to the next as it had been in the past. Those whānau were then more vulnerable to colonial cultural imperialism, which included individualism and patriarchy.

The Crown was intent on breaking down Māori collectivism in order to get at Māori land. Individualism and individual ownership were enforced in many ways, not least of all through the Native Land Court, which proved to be an irrepressible agent in the imposition of non-Maori notions of ownership onto ‘Maori land’ (Williams, p 56). The crisis created by massive mortality made this task easier. Taonga are closely connected to whenua (Tapsell, p 333), just as land is a tūpuna and cannot be owned neither can taonga (Tapsell, p 362). As Māori relationships with the land were upset, so too were relationships with taonga. Many taonga were transferred with land, while others were sold out of desperation for money when land, the economic base, was gone.

It is important to understand that colonisation is ongoing, and that it has ongoing effects on the relationship between Māori and Pākehā. A Māori worldview has been (literally) demonised, re-interpreted, and this interpretation battered at will. After centuries of abuse, many Māori resent and distrust any actions by the Crown that affect them. And like the violent partner in many abusive relationships, the Crown (and many Pākehā) cannot understand why they are constantly met with this negative attitude. When confronted with Māori cultural expectations, many Pākehā respond with indignation, revealing that cultural imperialism is still operating. The Crown was not successful in cultural genocide, but they did succeed in turning an opportunity for cultural exchange and synergy into a festering cultural division, with one side defensive and willfully ignorant of history, and the other understandably mistrustful and antagonistic.

Colonisation and women

"The process of en-gendering descriptions of the Other has had very real consequences for indigenous women in that the ways in which indigenous women were described, objectified and represented by Europeans in the nineteenth century has left a legacy of marginalisation within indigenous societies as much as within the colonizing society." (Linda Smith, p 46)

Mikaere comprehensively covers this topic (Mikaere (b); also Mikaere (a), (e); Linda Smith; Andrea Smith writing about colonisation in North America), and I have written on it previously and don’t want to re-cover that ground. To summarise this work, tikanga Māori stresses gender balance (as discussed above), and female sexuality is consistently honoured (Mikaere (a), p 9); whereas the colonising culture is fundamentally misogynist (this is indisputable: the colonists came from an explicitly Christian culture where the creation stories are overwhelmingly patriarchal, and the laws that the colonists brought were undeniably misogynist). The introduction of patriarchy has been not just a consequence of colonisation, but also a tool of colonisation (Mikaere (a), Andrea Smith, pp 7-33).

One of the many tragedies of colonisation is that tikanga which have developed to acknowledge the sacredness and importance of women have been interpreted by others as doing the opposite. I regularly hear statements from Pākehā men that Māori culture is inherently sexist (which at the same time implies that Pākehā culture is not). The gendered roles and responsibilities within te ao Māori have been seen by Europeans through a lens of patriarchy.

That Europeans were incapable of recognising female power in Māori society is clear in their interpretation of women as inferior and even evil (eg Best, cited in Mikaere (a), p 12), and female sexuality as distasteful and destructive (eg Biggs and Heuer, both cited in Mikaere (a), p 12). Mikaere discusses the perverse conclusions that ethnographers reached in order to explain the power that Māori associated with women’s sexuality. Best and Jean Smith wrote that the power of women to whakanoa lay in the ability of their sexual organs to pollute or contaminate tapu by repelling atua (Mikaere (a), p 12), and Best defines tapu to mean unclean when associated with women (Best, cited in Mikaere (a), p 13). None of this is consistent with the beautiful language of menstruation, childbirth and breastfeeding discussed above. But the concepts held in te reo Māori are not accessible to a population that is ignorant of that language, whereas the writings of Pākehā ethnographers are. It is not surprising that many New Zealanders are more familiar with the more accessible, but clearly warped, conclusions of people like Elsdon Best.

Te Papa Taonga Māori Collection

And so we return to a discussion of the furore over Te Papa suggesting that menstruating or hapū women arrange another time to visit the taonga Māori collection. In early November, I spoke to Moana Parata, one of the kaitiaki of the collection, and asked for some background to this suggestion (Parata, 2/11/2010).

Moana has been with the taonga Māori collection since she started work at the National Museum in Buckle Street; when the collection moved to Te Papa, she went with them. The collection is maintained according to tikanga Māori. When Moana started at Buckle Street, Bessie Walters and Betty Rewi were kaitiaki of the collection, and were responsible for maintaining the tikanga. Because of the history and tapu of taonga (as described above), the collection is treated as an urupā. Karakia are said in the morning and when leaving, there is no food or drink in the collection rooms, women do not work with the taonga when menstruating or pregnant, and children can only visit with elders. These tikanga have not changed in the time she started working with the collection. There are thousands of taonga in the collection, many of which will never go into the general exhibition area. There are tikanga when taonga go into the public area, which includes asking permission of their people and karakia.

Moana sees the tikanga as a health and safety issue; to her—reflecting a Māori worldview—the tikanga are natural, respectful and keep herself and others safe. Tikanga of the collection are explained to groups before they arrive at Te Papa. Until recently, the explanation has been verbal, giving group organisers the opportunity to ask questions, lessening the chance of misunderstandings and offense. Moana spoke about the difficulty of communicating the tikanga in writing, the problem of explaining the meaning and reasons to people who may know little or nothing of mātauranga Māori. Even with the opportunity to ask questions, people are occasionally angry about the tikanga. This is usually resolved either with more discussion, or when people enter the collection rooms and experience the taonga. Recently, written guidelines have been sent to groups. Moana believes the complaint to the media is as a result of the decision to send the guidelines in writing rather than to discuss them verbally with visitors.

A newspaper successfully stirred up interest by asking a feminist blogger for comment on the guidelines, then printing the story with an outrageous headline (Anger at Te Papa ban on pregnant women), and an outrageous quote (It’s fair enough for people to engage in their own cultural practices… but the state shouldn’t be imposing those practices on other people). Responses were predictable (each time I read the above quote, I am again shocked by it, and struggle not to write an essay about those few words).

At the heart of the issue is most New Zealanders’ ignorance of both cultural imperialism and Māori culture. I agree with Moana that if the tikanga had been communicated more effectively, there may have been no complaint—but equally if more New Zealanders understood anything of the indigenous culture of these islands, there would have been no need for better communication. If more New Zealanders understood that the reason they know so little of Māori culture is because the Crown has spent a couple of centuries trying to destroy it, they may be more sympathetic to a Māori worldview that they don’t understand. If more New Zealanders understood that representations of Māori culture have been distorted beyond recognition, they may not jump to uncharitable judgments based on what they think they know. And if more New Zealanders understood that respecting a culture means respecting the parts that don’t make sense to them, not just the parts that do, they may come to recognise their own part in cultural imperialism.


This essay glosses over a lot of complicated issues, and I admit it was too ambitious to try to cover all this ground. I have attempted to give some understanding of tapu especially as it relates to women and taonga—but of course none of this can really be understood without already understanding a Māori worldview. And this is the real issue, while Māori must understand a European worldview and law to survive in this land, colonisation has meant that very few people have any understanding of mātauranga Māori, or, in fact, of colonisation. Whenever an issue requires some understanding, whether it be the significance of te reo Māori, or kaitiakitanga, or whatever, the ignorance of most New Zealanders makes dialogue impossible. And thanks again to colonisation, this creates a problem not for those who are ignorant, but for Māori. Māori must repeatedly start from the beginning and attempt to explain their whole culture—this occurs in conversations, the media, court hearings, tribunal hearings. At some point, tauiwi need to take some responsibility for understanding the indigenous culture, and for understanding how their ignorance contributes to cultural imperialism, to Māori perspectives being marginalised and foreign in their own land.

That aside, this essay reminded me of the beauty of the concepts in te reo Māori around women’s reproductive cycles. This reminds me of the necessity to become more fluent in te reo rangatira. As Moana Parata commented, this is about our reo, because there’s just no such thing as crossing over (Parata, 2/11/2010). The reo holds the mātauranga, and without the mātauranga, the tikanga are only arbitrary rules.

Update: For more (and better) reading on tikanga and menstruation, I recommend Murphy, Ngāhuia (2011) Te Awa Atua, Te Awa Tapu, Te Awa Wahine: An examination of stories, ceremonies and practices regarding menstruation in the pre-colonial Māori world. Master of Arts thesis, University of Waikato

Parata, Moana (2/11/2010) Interview with the author, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

August, Wikitoria (2005) “Māori women: Bodies, spaces, sacredness and mana”. New Zealand Geographer 61

Binney, Judith (1986) Ngā Mōrehu: The Survivors. Edited by Judith Binney and Gillian Chaplin. Oxford University Press, Auckland

Durie, Mason (2005) Ngā Tai Matatū: Tides of Māori Endurance. Oxford University Press, Melbourne

Henare, Manuka (1988) Nga Tikanga me nga ritenga o te ao Maori: Standards and foundations of Maori society. Royal Commission on Social Policy 3 (1): Future Directions

Jackson, Moana (1988) The Māori and the Criminal Justice System, A New Perspective: He Whaipaanga Hou, Part II. New Zealand. Department of Justice, Wellington

Mikaere (b), Ani (2003) The Balance Destroyed: The Consequences for Māori Women of the Colonisation of Tikanga Māori. The International Research Institute for Māori and Indigenous Education, (jointly with) Ani Mikaere, Auckland

Mikaere (e), A. (1994) “Maori Women: Caught in the Contradictions of a Colonised Reality” Waikato Law Review 125

New Zealand. Ministry of Justice (2001) He Hīnātore ki te Ao Māori: A Glimpse into the Māori World. Ministry of Justice, Wellington

New Zealand Herald (12/10/2010) “Anger at Te Papa ban on pregnant women”

Pere, Rangimarie Rose (1994) “The Mother Energy” Kaupapa New Zealand: Vision Aotearoa. Edited by Witi Ihimaera. Bridget Williams Books, Wellington

Royal, Charles (2007) Matauranga Māori and Museum Practice: A Discussion Version 4. Te Papa National Services – Te Paerangi.

Ryan, PM (1997) The Reed Dictionary of Modern Māori. Reed Books

Said, Edward W. (1994) Culture & Imperialism. Vintage, London

Smith, Andrea (2005) Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. South End Press, Cambridge MA

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai (1999) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books and University of Otago Press, London and Dunedin

Tapsell, Paul (1997) “The flight of Pareraututu: An investigation of taonga from a tribal perspective” Journal of Polynesian Society 106(4)

Tucker, Mary Evelyn and John A.Grim (2001) "Series Foreword" Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The Interbeing of Cosmology and Community. Edited by John A. Grim. Center for the Study of World religions, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge MA

Williams, David V (1999) Te Kooti Tango Whenua: The Native Land Court 1864-1909. Huia Publishers, Wellington

Mikaere (a), Ani (2000) "Patriarchy as the ultimate divide and rule tactic: The assault on tikanga Māori by Pākehā Law" Paper presented at Mai i te Ata Hāpara conference, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Ōtaki

Mikaere (d), Ani (2008) “Three million strikes and still not out: the crown as the consummate recidivist” Paper presented at the Māori Criminal Justice Colloquium, Te Ao Tara Aitū ki te Ara Maha: From the World of Calamity to the Path of Clarity, Napier

Mikaere (c), Ani (2006) “Whakapapa and Taonga: Connecting the Memory” Paper presented at Te Puna Maumahara: Rōpū Tuku Iho Repositories conference, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Ōtaki

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Defining Māori

This is another rough draft which still needs a lot of work. The connections are clear in my head, but they haven't made it onto the page yet. It has come out of discussions with several friends about our identity as Māori. I have learnt a lot about myself from listening to Rouge, Zac, Sarsha, Kat, Hana and Pip. I also need to thank Leah Whiu and Moana Jackson for helping me to understand what it was I was trying to say. And Kirsty for listening to me explore these ideas, and for comments on an earlier draft.


I feel conflicted about my identity as Māori, and I know many other people feel similarly about their Māori identity. Why is this? I’m certain it isn’t for the reasons of previous generations, when some Māori had been made to feel so much shame in their heritage that they invented other ancestries, claiming southern European or other origins. So why is it then? Why are so many of us uncertain of our standing as Māori? In this essay, I explain it as an effect of colonisation, and show how it can affect the futures we are able to imagine.

Colonisation invented a story of who Māori are: it made Māori a race, and made up a limited set of characteristics for that race. These stereotypes are not controlled by us (Māori), they limit us, and they serve the purposes of ongoing cultural imperialism. They make us uncomfortable in our own skins and on our own land. They are used to blame us for the problems created by colonisation. It is essential that we develop our own answers to the question of what it means to be Māori.

I should first explain that I have very good reasons to be uncertain about my ethnic identity. I was adopted by my Pākehā family at birth, I am often read as Pākehā, and I didn’t even know for sure that I have Māori whakapapa until I was 33 and managed to track down my birth father. Until recently, my experience of being Māori was never knowing how to answer questions about my ethnicity, and trying not to care what the answer was so I wouldn’t feel disappointed or fake if I was wrong. In a society that is so monoculturally Pākehā, this meant being Pākehā—which means I didn’t have to experience much racist crap, and I will always benefit from white privilege. I feel guilt because this means I’ve had an easy ride. At the same time, it hasn’t been a joy ride. I was asked if I am Māori regularly enough that I knew I wasn’t completely passing as Pākehā. It didn’t matter how many times my parents said they had been guaranteed I was Pākehā, other people seemed unconvinced. It was unsettling to know that I didn’t completely fit the box I was supposed to be in, and yet I couldn’t choose another one.

But my insecurity is far from unique, and my personal history doesn't explain why I still feel conflicted. What are the sources of conflict in my and others’ identity as Māori? Why do I feel almost apologetic when I say I am Māori? It isn’t because I am ashamed of what it means to be Māori; it’s the opposite. I am not Māori enough. Being culturally Pākehā, I feel like an imposter—or as Te Arawa said to Tipene O’Regan, a Pākehā with a whakapapa (cited in O’Regan, p 54). I am too pale, too urban, too schooled in Pākehātanga, too middle-class, too vegan, too kuare, too geeky, and as smart as I think I am, I cannot speak te reo. I can’t sing, I don’t play sport, I don’t eat meat or seafood, I don’t listen to music, I’ve never lived at a pā, or even within my iwi’s rohe, and until three years ago, I hadn’t set foot on the land of my tūpuna Māori.

This list of ways I don't feel authentically Māori shows what I have learnt to believe about what it means to be Māori. It is based on stereotypes, even if the experience of not fitting in is real. For example, the majority of Māori are urban and have little reo (Research New Zealand, p 5), so why do I feel too urban and ignorant of te reo? This is one of the many tragedies of colonisation—the coloniser didn’t just make up stories about Māori, it forces us to live them as our reality, and judges us as inauthentic if we don’t. We don't even get to choose these stereotypes that we are being judged against, but eventually, we end up judging ourselves against them too. We begin to ignore or forget that it is our whakapapa that makes us Māori. If anyone is to define what it means to be Māori, it should be ourselves.

The insult Te Arawa used to try to discredit O’Regan shows that many do not consider whakapapa to be the only criterion for Māori identity. Calling O'Regan a Pākehā with whakapapa, does not just dismiss his whakapapa, it insults all our whakapapa. They were saying that whakapapa is insufficient—you may have whakapapa, but you may not be Māori. They were saying that being Māori depends on something more, it depends on behaviour or culture. I want to look more at this idea that we should behave in some way if we are to be judged truly Māori.

The way that we see ourselves is constructed on more than whakapapa. There is external feedback from people reacting to us, and reading our ethnicities. This depends on their expectations of Māori, which might include behaviour, knowledge of te reo and tikanga Māori, skin colour, dress, education, profession, diet, and countless other racial or cultural signifiers. Many of us who feel as if we fail on a crucial signifier, such as skin colour, try to compensate by excelling at another. For example, Hana O’Regan has spoken about how her fluency in te reo Māori has given her security in her identity as Māori (O’Regan, 10/10/2010), which had been challenged by both Māori and Pākehā (O’Regan, pp 20-21). This has been fantastic for Kāi Tahu, but not everyone will respond in such a positive way to discomfort around their identity, and not everyone will get to the place that she has, confident in their identity.

For those of us who have lived mostly in te ao Pākehā, most of the people we interact with will be Pākehā. It makes sense that our idea of what it means to be Māori will be influenced by Pākehā expectations. But after 200 plus years of European contact, even those who live in Māori communities, who have less interaction with Pākehā people, will still likely be influenced by European ideas of who Māori are. European ideas of racial identity, or othering, will also play a huge part.

There is a tradition of Europeans racialising the peoples they encountered as they traveled, traded, and attempted to control the world. The experience of Māori fits into this tradition of Othering and Orientalism. The characteristics Europeans associated with Māori are based on imperialism. We (Māori) have little ability to define how Māori are represented, or even defined.

This has implications for imagining constitutional frameworks for our future. There is a temptation to react against ‘their’ racist depictions of Māori by constructing our own racial identity; countering their negative messages with our positive ones. But, as I hope to show in this essay, race is a crap basis for identity—it is inherently limiting and dehumanising. Whakapapa is a genuine and useful foundation for identity, but we need to explore what that means. After a couple of centuries of colonisation, it may not be immediately obvious how whakapapa differs from race. But it is different, it has very different implications, and it needs to be the starting point for thinking about our future.

Colonisation hasn’t just racialised a Māori identity, it has messed with our ideas about gender. I don’t just mean the way we relate to each other—our understanding of colonisation itself, has been gendered. This has worked its way into our language and metaphors, and potentially our visions for decolonisation. We need to ensure that our visions are in all ways free from patriarchy.


Othering has been used to explain and deconstruct representations and treatment of cultures, genders and sexualities. Johnson and Pihama review the literature about Othering and much of the following is based on their work. Othering is a term that has been given to the situation where a privileged group defines itself as normal, and compares all other groups (the Other) against this normality. Others are described as opposite to the norm. Othering highlights differences between groups, while at the same time ignoring differences within the Othered groups. “Using its own values, experiences and culture as standards, the dominant group measures the Others and finds them lacking” (Johnson and Pihama, p 77). Biases that favour the dominant group are ignored, and any differences in outcomes (such as prison statistics, success at school or economic differences) are explained as coming from the shortcomings of the Other.

Johnson and Pihama summarise the effect of Othering on Māori in New Zealand. First, “difference is applied in ways which are not complimentary or positive for Māori or their interests and aspirations” (Johnson and Pihama, p 80). This includes using stereotypes as explanations to blame Māori for situations that are actually caused by structural racism (for example, Māori do poorly at school because we are lazy, Māori end up in prison because we are violent, etc.). Second, Pākehā cultural norms are legitimised and reinforced in all institutions and aspects of New Zealand. This means that anywhere in New Zealand, Pākehā culture and English language are considered normal—so much so that many Pākehā are unaware that they even have a culture. Whereas in most situations it would be both unexpected, and even unacceptable, to behave according to tikanga Māori, or to use te reo Māori. Third, once the dominant culture has set this up, there is “a double-edged sword of either ignoring or focusing on differences” (Johnson and Pihama, p 81). Ignoring differences leads to assimilation of Māori into Pākehā culture—essentially cultural extinction. Acknowledging the differences highlights that they are associated with deprivation (for example, Māori are over-represented among the poor, imprisoned, etc.), leading to stigma. Either of these end up reinforcing the dominance of Pākehā.

Said has written about Othering in the context of the European invention of Orientalism. The Oriental is a specific type of Other, and the European understanding of Māori in New Zealand is essentially as an Oriental. It may seem odd to consider Māori as Oriental, but Europeans imagined the world divided into two hemispheres, the west (Occident) included only Europe and America; everywhere else from east of the Mediterranean was the east or Orient, from India to Japan to Mongolia to Turkey to Egypt. As Said documents, when Europeans met peoples who were different from themselves, they slotted them into the category of Oriental, and treated them almost as if they were interchangeable. This ‘interchangeableness’ is important in thinking about Māori cultural identity, because it means that stereotypes that had been forced onto the Oriental, have also been applied to Māori.

Said argues that the major component of European culture is its belief in its own superiority compared with non-European cultures (Said, p 7). Centuries and the resources of empires have gone into creating the idea of the Oriental—opposite and subordinate to Europeans:
“One ought never to assume that the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies and myths which, were the truth about them to be told, would simply blow away… Orientalism … is not an airy European fantasy about the Orient, but a created body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been considerable material investment” (Said, p 5)

There are two reasons for this. The first is that Europeans believed that if they studied the Oriental, European management of the Orient would be easier and more profitable. The second is that the circularity of Orientalism reinforced European ideas of who Europeans are. By casting the Oriental as exotic and inferior, Orientalism confirms Europeans as normal and superior. The Oriental is always defined in opposition to Europeans, representing the opposite of how Europeans see themselves: “Orientalism… has less to do with the Orient than it does with ‘our’ [European] world” (Said, p 12). According to this logic:
“The Oriental is irrational, depraved, childlike, ‘different’; thus the European is rational, virtuous, mature, ‘normal’… the Oriental is contained and represented by the dominating frameworks.” (Said, p 40)

As Balfour pointed out, Europeans governed over the Orientals not just out of self-interest, but for the sake of the Orientals (Balfour, cited in Said, p 33). This is the white man’s burden. There is no reflection or examination of the assumptions that require European rule over the Orient—European culture is superior therefore dominant, Other culture is inferior therefore dependent. The reason Orientalists could gather and provide such knowledge about Orientals, Māori or otherwise, is because Orientals are completely knowable—Orientals have an unchanging essence that once known is always known. This is important; this changes a stereotype into a fixed racial characteristic.

Orientalism seems archaic, but Said demonstrates how it continued to affect US policy under Kissinger (Said, pp 46-48), and, in his afterword to the 1995 edition, how it continues to play out (Said, pp 329-354). Closer to home, I want to show how Orientalist thinking continues to affect the representation of Māori in New Zealand, and how this entrenches cultural identities that are not helpful to us.

Māori as an Oriental

Reading Said’s Orientalism, it is impossible not to notice the similarity in both strategies and stereotypes in the treatment of Māori by Europeans. From the very first encounters between Europeans and Māori, Europeans were examining this new people, working out where Māori fit in with races that had already been identified. Where are Māori on the hierarchy of races? Europeans provided not only the gold standard of humanity against which all races could be ranked, but were also the subjective, disinterested judges of the ranking. Whatever the motives of ethnographers like Elsdon Best or S. Percy Smith, their gathering of information about Māori is entirely within the European tradition of the Orientalist. They collected data, became the recognised authorities, so that finally their subject can be understood by those who wish to control Māori without having to meet us. There is no need to ask Māori questions about ourselves when there are Europeans who know us better, and who certainly know what is best for us. Grey, on the other hand, made explicit his reasons for studying Māori:
“I soon perceived that I could neither successfully govern, nor hope to conciliate, a numerous and turbulent people, with whose language, manners, customs, religion, and modes of thought I was quite unacquainted… Clearly, however, I could not, as Governor of the country, permit so close a veil to remain drawn between myself and the aged and influential chiefs, whom it was my duty to attach to British interests and to the British race, whose regard and confidence, as also that of their tribes, it was my desire to secure, and with whom it was necessary that I should hold the most unrestricted intercourse.” (Grey, pp v, viii)
Like his contemporaries in the Orient, Grey was gathering information so that he could better manipulate and control his native subjects.

But this is not the most striking similarity with Orientalism. The strangest similarity is not in the ways Europeans behaved towards Māori and other peoples considered Oriental, but rather the results of their attempts to know the Oriental. There are remarkable similarities between the unchanging essences that are described for Orientals, and those described for Māori. As examples, I compare the descriptions of Oriental women and men with representations of Māori women and men.

Oriental women are literally the stuff of Orientalists’ wet dreams: “[They] express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing” (Said, p 207). Oriental women are described in ways that limit their roles to sexual objects, mothers and domestic servants. Like European women, they are always seen as powerless and inferior to men, but unlike European women, they are always sexually compliant. Isn’t this exactly how Māori women were described by Europeans? The dusky, unblushing, Polynesian maiden is surely an Orientalist invention.

Whereas Oriental men are always uncivilised, irrational, physical, emotional, childlike, violent, incapable of self-government, communal, closely associated with nature, in a word, feminised. Again, this sounds very much like the early representations of Māori men. It may seem strange to talk of Māori men as being represented as feminised, given the dominant current stereotype is often described as hyper-masculine. Hokowhitu touches on this:
“Early representations of Maori men portrayed them as lacking the qualities of the civilised European male. They had woman-like characteristics—they talked a lot, were animated and did women's work, while they lacked a stoic disposition because they were over emotional and whimsical.” (Hokowhitu, p 184)

European men considered all Others (whether Other genders or Other ‘races’) to be non-rational, and therefore associated with the non-human world (Forbes, p 104). Women and Orientals were understood as more primal and closer to nature (i.e., primitive, native, savage) than European men, who were instead cultured.

I want to come back to two points that may seem incompatible. As I have mentioned, Orientalism claims that the Oriental can never change—“The very possibility of development, transformation, human movement—in the deepest sense of the word—is denied the Orient and the Oriental” (Said, p 208). How does this fit with Hokowhitu’s observation that Māori men were originally represented as feminine, whereas now they are represented as hyper-masculine? In fact there is very little difference between the two representations—both rely on the idea that Māori men are physical and emotional rather than intellectual and rational. What has changed much more are the attributes associated with the European ideal man.

At the time that Europeans first started describing Māori, the ideals they brought with them were those of the English gentleman—rationality, authoritarian leadership, dispassionate, cultured, misogynous, and single-minded or stoic. Māori men were described as the opposite of these traits. However, the colonial gentleman is no longer considered the ideal man (Hokowhitu, pp 187-197). Feminism has shifted our understanding of the most useful or adaptive skills to include characters previously associated with femininity, for example, communication, emotion, and nurturing. The masculine ideal has been updated to the ‘new man’, who embraces these qualities; he is liberal and cosmopolitan, and retains masculine privilege. At the same time, the dominant stereotype of Māori men shifts from the joker (personified by Billy T James), to the hyper-masculine (personified by Jake in the film version of Once were warriors).

As Wall describes, the joker is an old stereotype that is replicated across the Orient, and fits with many early European representations of Māori (Wall, p 42). The joker is lazy, talkative, clever but not intelligent, and emasculated. He is clearly the opposite of the ideal colonial gentleman. The violent, hyper-masculine stereotype is also as old as colonisation, driven by fear of the indigenous peoples rising up against colonial rule. He is rural, works in primary industry, talks only with his fists, and beats his wife. I believe he could not become the dominant Māori stereotype while New Zealand still held to myths of its rural roots, and the good kiwi blokes who built this country. While Crumpy and Pinetree Meads were the quintessential New Zealand men, there wasn’t room for a negative Māori version—it was too close to home. The rise of the new man made room for the hyper-masculine stereotype of Māori to rise as his opposite.

Seen this way, the dominant Māori stereotype will always be opposite to the dominant (and therefore European) masculine ideal. If Pākehā ideas of themselves shift, then their representations of Māori, their ‘common sense’ stereotypes of Māori, will shift to be the opposite: “The effect is that native men become a backdrop for the staging of and representation of all that is ‘good’ in white masculinity” (Matahaere-Atariki, p 111). And there will be no acknowledgment that the stereotype has changed—Māori men have always been hyper-masculine. They must have been, because like any Oriental, they cannot change—they have a biologically determined, essential core. Only Europeans can change.

Of course there are several other stereotypes of Māori, but as Hokowhitu states, the roles that are available to Māori are limited (Hokowhitu, p 190). Racist government policies were largely successful in restricting Māori to manual education and employment, and therefore the working-class. This reality reinforces the stereotype of Māori as physical rather than intellectual.

Constitutional Issues

What has any of this got to do with constitutional issues? While I recognise the urgency in imagining how we want relationships between tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti partners to develop, an equally urgent task is acknowledging and dismantling the effects of 200 plus years of misrepresentation and Othering. I am not arguing that this should happen before we sort out our relationships with the newcomers—decolonisation is a long and on-going process—but it is a crucial component of developing our place in the future. We need an understanding of who we are as a foundation for shaping our future.

With all the time, force and experience of imperialism behind it, I think it is impossible to resist internalising at least some of the messages of the coloniser. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it is only the pale skinned, Pākehā schooled, urban Māori like me who are affected. The messages are relentless, and they are backed up with policies that make them seem real. For example, the coloniser didn’t just say that Māori aren’t as smart as Europeans and are only suited to manual labour—the Crown made it so. It demanded that schools train Māori to be farmhands and domestic servants, rather than teaching academic subjects. And when, as a result of this, Māori turn out to be under-represented in professions and over-represented in manual jobs, we all have the evidence to prove that the racist stereotype is true. There are two aspects of this relentless Othering that I consider especially relevant, and that we are in danger of continuing. The first is that Othering has racialised a Māori identity, the second is that it has gendered colonisation.

Racialising Māori

Prior to colonisation, Māori were simply groups of people living on these islands who were related by whakapapa, who shared a worldview founded on whakapapa, and who shared a common language. There was no national or racial identity—people grouped and regrouped as was appropriate or necessary, usually based on whakapapa. Following the arrival of Europeans, the word Māori began to be applied to all tangata whenua, and very quickly a whole range of Oriental stereotypes were piled onto that group. Wall explains how and why Māori were turned into a race by Europeans: “Universalised racial discourse was the key mechanism for dehumanising the Other, to negate the notion of Maori as the victim” (Wall, pp 40-41). Universalised and dehumanised, we were made all the same.

As a race, we were knowable, contained, unchanging; and as a race, we are defined by blood. From this thinking, whakapapa becomes a way, not of relating with each other and our world, but of measuring Māoriness—half-caste, quarter-caste, five-sixteenths. How much is enough to be really Māori? This question has been asked and answered by Europeans as a way of excluding people, both from being European and from being Māori. Any issue involving a Māori group is characterised as a racial issue. Colonisation and decolonisation are cast as racial issues, not justice issues. Statements such as ‘there are no full-blooded Māori left’ are used to argue against redressing the crimes of colonisation.

This has been so relentless that we are doing it to ourselves. Wall describes how Māori have developed our own stereotype of the ‘quintessential Māori’, based on an idea of a romanticised ‘traditional’ past (Wall, p 43). According to this stereotype, we are rural, spiritual and focused on family. She argues that this racialised Māori identity is based on colonial stereotypes, and holds no promise for us. Like those stereotypes, it traps Māori in a fixed identity where we are all the same (or we aren’t really Māori). Because Māori are contributing to its construction, this image has a special power. We cannot so easily blame it on our coloniser, but it is an inevitable consequence of colonisation—it is the search for the real us. But a real understanding of what it is to be Māori is not going to be found in stereotypes, or reconstructions, whether by us or our colonisers.

Pākehā may have invented the doctrine of race, but that doesn’t mean we are immune from it. When we have been racially defined for so long, we may fall into the trap of confusing race with whakapapa. It is helpful to regularly remind ourselves that it is whakapapa and not race that makes us Māori. As Moana Jackson took pains to ensure I understood, whakapapa is not race (Jackson, 13/11/2010). It does not carry racial stereotypes; it does not imply an oppositional relationship with other races.

This has implications for constitutional models. Whereas a racial identity is fixed, a whakapapa identity is not. Since Europeans started taking censuses, requiring Māori to name their hapū and iwi affiliations, they too have become fixed and unchanging. Being based on whakapapa, Māori identities are relational—sometimes we are tangata whenua, sometimes we are manuhiri, sometimes we are even tangata Tiriti. Usually I speak of the iwi that connect me with the South Island, but occasionally it may be more useful for me to stress my relationship with our northern whanaunga, like Ngāti Kahungunu. This makes constitutional models based on fixed identities challenging, and I think deserving of more attention.

Gendering colonisation

As a woman looking at the Othering or Orientalising of Māori through racial stereotypes, one of the most unsettling aspects is how invisible they make Māori women. The coloniser has focused so much on Māori men, that Māori women appear to be irrelevant as anything other than sexual playthings. Mikaere and others have done a great job of highlighting the effects of this on how we (both Māori and Pākehā) understand Māori society, and I’m not going to revisit that work. Instead I want to focus on the effect it has on our understanding of colonisation, and therefore decolonisation.

As I mentioned earlier, the Oriental male was seen as feminine; he was Othered in ways similar to European women—irrational, emotional, close to nature, etc. As Matahaere-Atariki warns, it is dangerous and misleading to see Māori within colonisation as analogous to women within patriarchy (Matahere-Atariki, p 108). It reflects the misogynous idea that colonisation is harder on Māori men. This is misogynous because overlooks the realities of women, but more dangerously, it genders colonisation—colonisation becomes emasculation.

bell hooks explores the language and imagery of racial domination and of emancipation, particularly for black liberation struggle in the US. She argues that black liberation has been sexualised “in ways that support and perpetuate sexism, phallocentrism, and male domination” (hooks, p 60). Racist domination has been equated with the loss of black manhood, so freedom means regaining that manhood:
“The discourse of black resistance has almost always equated freedom with manhood, the economic and material domination of black men with castration, emasculation. Accepting these sexual metaphors forged a bond between oppressed black men and their white male oppressors. They shared the patriarchal belief that revolutionary struggle was really about the erect phallus, the ability of men to establish political dominance that could correspond to sexual dominance.” (hooks, p 58)

It is important to continually examine our language to ensure our understanding of colonisation isn’t influenced by misogyny. Once there, it can easily creep into our futures. The use of gendered metaphors in describing the effects of colonisation is dangerous. For example, rape may seem an appropriate image for the effect of colonisation on this land, but it is unhelpful. It reinforces the idea of the coloniser as male, and by extension, of Māori as female or emasculated. It juxtaposes the active, male coloniser, against the passive, female whenua (to which Māori are linked). This is a coloniser’s fantasy.

We need to ensure that we are not confusing Māori men’s liberation with decolonisation. We have been fortunate in the number and calibre of women protesting for and theorising about decolonisation. Kuia like Eva Rickards and Whina Cooper have become iconic, and there have been and are countless more who have had less media attention. But men quickly become the focus of media when they are near the front—the images of Springbok protest, the Seabed and Foreshore Hīkoi, or the occupation of Pākaitore, for example, focus on the men. Tame Iti’s facial moko has become an emblem of Māori resistance, turning up on t-shirts and stencilled graffiti. It sometimes feels as if masculine images are the symbols of real protest.

The Crown has been quick to recognise male leadership by co-opting Māori men. I am not going to single any out, but there are countless examples of men, and groups of men, who have been rewarded in this way. We need to be careful that we do not fall into the trap of believing men are our only leaders, and succumb to the coloniser’s patriarchy. Women and men must both shape our future. The recent formation of Te Whaainga Wāhine shows that this is an ongoing problem, but more importantly, it shows that mana wahine is still powerful after more than 200 years of attempts to crush it.


Does any of this help me to understand where I fit in? Stereotypes have power, and that power doesn’t disappear just because we know they aren’t real. They lurk in the backs of our minds, and subtly (or not so subtly) influence how we feel in the world and how we understand our world. We cannot ignore them, because they are relentless and omnipresent. We cannot disprove them, because we don’t control them—they serve a purpose, just not ours. And we can’t simply construct a nicer racial stereotype of our own, because it will be just as limiting and essentialising. If I can be honest with myself, about who I am and where I fit into a discussion about the future, then I won’t dispel any of the stereotypes or feelings of insecurity around my identity, but I will take a lot of the power out of those thoughts and feelings.

Whakapapa provides a way forward, not just for me, but for these islands. Whakapapa provides a way of understanding who each of us are, by focusing on the relationships that we are in, and by being honest about where we came from and how those relationships came to be. As we think about our future, as individuals and as peoples in this land, Māori and tauiwi, that’s what we need. Whatever develops, it needs to be based on honesty—honestly looking at power, who has it and how they came to have it, honestly looking at the effects of colonisation, at our privileges and our oppressions. Our whakapapa.

That sounds optimistic, I don’t believe for a moment that we will get there in my lifetime. We are a long way from being able to have honest conversations about our histories. Most New Zealanders know very little about the history of these islands. Most probably prefer not to know. There is so much fear and ignorance of the reality of colonisation that needs to be driven out before most Pākehā New Zealanders can approach honesty. Truthful education about our past is the key to the future.

Jackson, Moana (13/11/2010) Discussion with author, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa, Ōtaki

O’Regan, Hana (10/10/2010) Discussion on te reo Kāi Tahu, Tū Roa Kohanga Reo, Ōtaki

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Grey, George (1995) Nga Mahi a nga Tupuna. Reprint Published by University of Waikato Library, Hamilton

Hokowhitu, Brendan (2003) “Maori masculinity, Post-structuralism, and the Emerging Self” New Zealand Sociology 18 (2)

hooks, bell (1990) Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics. South End Press, Boston, MA, USA

Johnson, Patricia and Leonie Pihama (1995) "What counts as difference and what differences count: gender, race and the politics of difference". Toi Wāhine: the worlds of Māori women Edited by Kathie Irwin & Irihapeti Ramsden, Illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa. Penguin Books, Auckland

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Research New Zealand (2007) 2006 Survey of the health of the Maori language: Final report. Te Puni Kokiri/Ministry of Maori Development, Wellington