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.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sexuality and Tikanga Māori

This is an essay I wrote for school last year. It needs more work, and I have an interview that has to be included, but I wanted to share it. I welcome any comments you have. I need to acknowledge the support of my classmates and tutors at Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa in developing my understanding of te ao Māori. Ani Mikaere, Leah Whiu and Kiritapu Allan gave helpful comments on an earlier draft.


"There are some citizens who go so far as to say that tikanga Māori should remain in the pre-Treaty era and stay there. To them tikanga Māori has no relevance in the lives of contemporary Māori. That body of knowledge belongs to the not so noble past of the Māori. Individuals who think this way really have no understanding of what tikanga are and the role tikanga have in our ceremonials and in our daily lives. It is true, however, that tikanga are linked to the past and that is one of the reasons why they are valued so highly by the people. They do link us to the ancestors, to their knowledge base and to their wisdom. What we have today is a rich heritage that requires nurturing, awakening sometimes, adapting to our world and developing further for the next generations." (Mead, p 21)

Our environment, like that of our tūpuna, is constantly changing. By stressing constant values rather than rules, tikanga Māori has developed to be relevant to whatever circumstance we live in. Colonisation has changed our environment, and it has also changed both our understanding of tikanga Māori, and tikanga Māori itself. We need to develop a culture of reflection, that continually examines the effects of colonisation on tikanga by reference to the values of a Māori worldview. The actions or attitudes of our tūpuna may be impossible to know, or, just as our actions often do not reflect our values, they may not be a reflection of their values. After a couple of hundred years of contact with European values and western imperialism, even when we know the actions of our tūpuna, we may misinterpret the reasons behind them. Instead of focusing on their actions, we need to look to the values our tūpuna preserved in art and oral literature. Tikanga are open to change. Irrespective of the attitudes of our tūpuna, if tikanga are to be relevant to us, they need to serve our situation today.

This essay examines tikanga relating to sexuality. There are two main arguments for how inclusive or exclusive Māori culture should be to diverse sexualities. Each is based on arguments of pre-European tikanga. We do not need to limit ourselves to an idea of pre-European authentic tikanga. We know the current reality: the existence of queer-identified Māori, a hetero-normative culture that marginalises queers, and a Western culture that marginalises Māori; we know the effect of negative constructions of identity. Using this knowledge, and an understanding of the values that underpin tikanga, we can ask how inclusive a kaupapa Māori framework would be of diverse forms of sexuality. From this we can start to imagine how this can be expressed.


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

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

This focus on values rather than rules allows flexibility. In common with many traditional justice systems, the aim of tikanga Māori is social stability and enduring solutions to problems, rather than consistency of process or outcomes (Elechi, p 18). It is this flexibility that keeps tikanga constantly relevant. As Mead's quote suggests, tikanga provide a link to our ancestors, but they can be changed or developed to suit our needs (Mead, p 140). By reference to the kaupapa that underpin tikanga, the system is adaptable: it is possible to determine tikanga-based solutions to any issues or problems that arise, as well as to redevelop tikanga for issues where they have been lost or distorted as a result of colonisation (or any other process).

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


Sexuality is a broad term that encompasses many aspects of our lives. It includes gender constructions and identities, relationship structures (i.e. polygamy, monogamy, polyandry, and social structures like marriage) and their role in constructions of whānau, as well as sexual preference. Any aspect of sexuality would make an interesting case for studying how tikanga Māori are linked to the past but provide a way forward. There is evidence, for example, that tikanga Māori has always had a level of flexibility in gender expectations, that men could take on 'feminine occupations' and that women could take on 'masculine occupations' (e.g. Mead, p 256). It would be interesting to look deeper into how tikanga restrictions of male and female roles have been applied to transgender people under different circumstances, and how they are applied today. There is also considerable evidence of a diversity of relationship structures, rangatira (of either sex) in particular often had many spouses (e.g. Te Awekotuku, 1996, p 32), and relationships were not necessarily permanent: "Dissatisfaction was enough to dissolve a liaison; the parties simply moved apart unless there were issues of mana, property and alliance at risk." (Te Awekotuku, 1996, p 32) Values relating to sexual expression, even within heterosexuality, have certainly changed as a result of colonisation and the introduction of Christianity. Missionaries brought with them the ideal of a life-long, monogamous, heterosexual relationship, and only celebrated sexual expression within that context. A discussion of changes to tikanga relating to relationships and sexual expression would be a worthwhile study. However, I am choosing to use the word sexuality to refer only to sexual preference, orientation or behaviour (most usually defined by the adjectives bisexual, homosexual or heterosexual), and this essay focuses only on tikanga in relation to sexual preference.

While different groups within New Zealand have different positions on sexuality, the currently dominant culture can be described as hetero-normative, meaning that heterosexuality is considered normal, while other forms of sexuality are considered as deviants from this norm. This is typical of any Western culture, and the pattern of positions, discussions and experiences is largely indistinguishable from that of, for instance, England or the US, suggesting that the attitudes of mainstream New Zealand to sexuality result from colonisation. For the purpose of this essay, I will refer to behaviour outside the hetero-normative definition of normal as 'queer'. Because this group is defined in opposition to heterosexuality, it usually includes a diversity of identities, encompassing sexuality (bisexual, homosexual), the absence of sexuality (asexual), gender identity (transgender and intersex), and more culturally defined groupings (gay, lesbian, fa'fafine, takatāpui).

By definition, a hetero-normative culture marginalises queer-identified people, just as an imperialist culture marginalises indigenous peoples. For Māori with queer identities, they are not just marginalised as Māori and as queer within mainstream culture, they may also be marginalised within the Māori community because of their sexuality, and within the queer community because of their ethnicity. According to Aspin, men who identify as takatāpui tend to maintain strong relationships with their whānau, and this means they are more immune to ostracism than those who are less connected (Aspin, 2007, p 161).

There has been a reclamation of the word 'takatāpui' since it was rediscovered by Lee Smith and Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Hutchings & Aspin, p 15; Te Awekotuku, 1991, p 38). Williams Dictionary of the Māori Language, compiled in 1832, defined takatāpui as 'intimate companion of the same sex'. Modern use of the word is probably closer to the English word 'queer', which is usually defined in opposition to heterosexual—it encompasses bisexual and homosexual, as well as transgender and intersex. The difference between the terms queer and takatāpui is that takatāpui includes Māori cultural identity. However, as I have touched on and will discuss further, many Māori with same-sex attractions have been excluded from Māori communities, and tikanga has been cited as the reason. If the purpose of tikanga is to maintian relationships, excluding whanaunga based on sexuality cannot be tika.

Current expressions of sexuality among Māori

Despite the hetero-normativity of the dominant culture in New Zealand, there is still a diversity of sexual identities, and this is also true among Māori. Hutchings and Aspin's collection Sexuality and the Stories of Indigenous People provides an incredible resource for understanding some of this diversity. Aspin and Hutchings state that hetero-normativity is foreign to Māori society:
“Categorisation of different forms of sexual expression is… a Western construct which serves to classify Māori society according to sexual behaviour. Such a system of categorisation… fails to recognise that sexuality is fluid and flexible and that it is not necessarily constant for everybody throughout their lifespan. Nor does such a system describe adequately the cultural nuances of Māori sexuality as it was expressed in the past and as it is expressed today.” (Aspin & Hutchings, p 228)

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

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

Several writers spoke of responses to sexuality within tikanga Māori. For example, Carl Mika talks of the need for toning down sexuality:
“Many takatāpui are allowed back on their marae… as long as it is with an asexual visage. The thought of takatāpui taking a partner along to a function on the marae often causes visceral reactions... Some takatāpui are prevented from speaking on the marae ātea, even though tikanga dictates they can, due to some perceived equivocality over their gender.” (Mika, p 139)
Rua'ine speaks of tikanga which are clearly not accepting of diverse sexual identities:
“Often when somebody's body was sent home for burial, there was a lot of shame and guilt from the whānau and hapū. There were instances where the tangihanga was rushed, the coffin sealed tight throughout the mourning and the tūpāpaku buried well away from everyone else in the urupā. Often long-time partners were never acknowledged as such. It's a good thing the loving embrace of Papatūānuku is everywhere.” (Rua'ine, p 153)

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

There is no, and probably never will be, a definitive, unequivocal answer on pre-European Māori attitudes and tikanga relating to sexuality. But we can identify current opinions on sexuality and tikanga.

Current opinions abut sexuality and tikanga Māori

Most advocates of tikanga Māori start by looking to the past for direction, and this is true in the argument over whether or not tikanga Māori should be inclusive of a range of sexualities. However, the past is being used in different ways by different sides of this issue, as I will show.

There are two main camps that are outspoken, and each of them attempts to justify their opinion on the right- or wrongness of homosexual behaviour by citing the past. The position dominated by church representatives asserts that pre-European Māori were exclusively heterosexual (Aspin, 2007, p 162 cites an article in New Zealand Herald 5/6/2004), and deviation was punished by death (Tamaki is reported to have said this in an interview with John Banks on Radio Pacific, e.g. in Aspin, 2007, p 162); I will call this the exclusive heterosexual position. The other side is dominated by takatāpui-identified academics and argues that there is considerable evidence "that pre-European Māori society celebrated sexual diversity in all its manifestations" (Aspin & Hutchings, p 227); I will call this the sexual diversity position. A third intermediate stance is expressed by Mead, that heterosexuality was the norm, marriage was the primary expression of sexuality, but homosexuality was tolerated (Mead, pp 246-7); I will call this the hetero-normative position.

Each position is informed by the specific cultural position of its proponents, and not necessarily by tikanga or kaupapa Māori. This is especially true of the exclusively heterosexual position, whose proponents do not provide reason or evidence for their statements. Their assertions rely on ignorance of the past and are easy to rebut, especially thanks to recent research on pre-European Māori sexuality. It is easy to prove that homosexuality did exist in pre-European Māori culture, because there is evidence in oral literature and whakairo (e.g. Aspin & Hutchings, pp 228-232; Te Awekotuku, 2005, pp 6-9); likewise, it is easy to prove that a tikanga of exterminating homosexuals is unlikely, because some record of it would exist. When Vercoe says that homosexuality is "unnatural", or "not morally right", and that "One day society would find homosexuality unacceptable" (Vercoe, in Masters), he is clearly stating his opinion on sexuality. Rather than the usual strategy of claiming the bible as the righteous basis for exclusion, he uses tikanga Māori. He implies that such an extreme position is not just based in Christianity, but is in fact culturally universal, based on "human accepted norms" (Vercoe, in Masters). Of course it is not just church leaders who are outspoken advocates of this position, other political figures, for example John Tamihere, have also expressed such opinions. Likewise, Herewini remembers 25 years ago, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan urging Rātana Church to take a political stand against Homosexual Law Reform (Herewini, p 174). The reason we have heard the opinions of these people on sexuality and tikanga Māori isn't because they are experts on either sexuality or tikanga, but rather because they have political power which is recognised by mainstream New Zealand. Their opinions, well-informed or otherwise, carry weight because they have access to mainstream media. As more Māori are looking to tikanga as an expression of an authentic Māori identity, people like Vercoe, Tamaki and Tamihere have likewise tried to claim tikanga Māori as the source of their bigotry.

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

Most Māori probably fall between these diametrically opposing views on sexual diversity, into something like the hetero-normative position. For example, Mead's description of pre-European tikanga is that: "same-sex pairing[s]… were not recognised as marriages. Rather, people in such relationships were regarded as close friends… Such friendships were tolerated by the community as they are today." (Mead, p 247) Whatever this means, it sounds very much like a description of dominant attitudes to sexuality in contemporary New Zealand, including among Māori. Mead appears unsurprised that there has been no change whatsoever in Māori attitudes towards homosexuality, even though he is aware of the impact of the Crown and Christianity on Māori social structures and understanding of tikanga. He gives no examples of 'same-sex pairings' being treated as friendships or otherwise. I think it is possible that his description reflects his personal opinion about homosexuality, as much as it does tikanga Māori.

Rather than any of these positions being informed by tikanga Māori, I believe that proponents of each are using tikanga Māori to justify their personally-held opinion, each also attempting to reconstruct a past that supports them. Any statement about the historical precedent, rightness, acceptability, or otherwise of a group has political and personal implications. This is especially true where one group has more power, as is the case when discussing sexual behaviour in a hetero-normative culture. Many groups who are outspoken against homosexuality claim that to do otherwise is to undermine the values of a healthy society, that demonising homosexual behaviour is important in maintaining, for example, family values. Family values are, of course, hetero-normative, good for society and all of us, irrespective of our gender or sexuality. In a hetero-normative culture, even such extreme ideas have currency. The intermediate opinion, that deviations from heterosexuality can be tolerated, represents the hetero-normative argument—tolerance marginalises anyone who does not fit the heterosexual norm. It is assumed of every child that they will grow up to be heterosexual, and they therefore do not need to be protected from messages that homosexuals are not real men/women, that we are disgusting, or that homosexuality is sick and evil, and is just like paedophilia. Tolerance provides no counter-argument. Even in this seemingly more inclusive position, there is very strong pressure to conform, and implications for those who don't.

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

What are the implications for identity?

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

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

Just as the coloniser culture treats us as if we are all white and all male, it also treats us as if we are all heterosexual. There is pressure to conform, either to actually suppress queer sexuality, or to behave according to socially acceptable ideas of queer, 'playing straight', butch or camp. Homosexuality has literally been pathologised by Western culture—until the late 20th Century homosexuality was defined and treated as a mental illness under Western medicine, and homosexual acts between men were illegal in New Zealand until 1985. While New Zealand culture is more tolerant of homosexuality now than 25 years ago, sexuality is still subject to judgement. Heterosexuality is privileged, it is treated as normal, neutral, value-free, whereas deviations are 'othered', or defined in opposition to normal, and are only allowed to be the things that heterosexuality is not (Johnson & Pihama, p 77)—only heterosexuals can be real men or women. Anti-queer messages are common. While there are usually obvious clues to ethnic identity, sexuality is less obvious. This increases the problems of developing a positive identity, because it enables us to hide or deny our sexuality under pressure to be invisible, and it increases exposure to anti-queer behaviour. The effect of negative constructions of identity on queer people is equally damaging as on Māori, including high rates of self-harm and dangerous behaviours, unplanned teenage pregnancies, alcoholism and other drug use, etc. The building of queer organisations, such as Rainbow Youth, Manawatu Lesbian and Gay Rights Association, and Gay Association of Professionals, or of informal 'sub-cultures' are responses to this. Such communities define their own needs and norms, support each other and provide a positive source of identity and belonging.

Māori and queer have both been marginalised and problematised by mainstream culture; survival means organising to build pride in our identities, and from there, fighting for recognition. Unfortunately, this does not necessarily meet the needs of queer Māori, whose identity intersect with both these areas of marginalisation. As mentioned already, it is not uncommon for queer Māori to feel excluded from Māori community because of our sexuality, and from queer community because of our ethnicity. There are whānau that are so afraid of homosexuality, they will exclude queer (or queer seeming) whanaunga from fully belonging. When leaders in groups such as the Waipareira Urban Authority or the Anglican Māori Tikanga are some of the most outspoken advocates of exclusive heterosexuality, and other Māori leaders refuse to argue against them, it is understandable that some queer Māori are unsure of their place in Māori culture. Likewise, queer culture is often as ignorant of colonisation as mainstream culture, and just as inclined to racism (Aspin, 2007, p 162 and references therein).

If Māori culture continues to condone assertions of exclusive heterosexuality or even hetero-normativity in tikanga Māori, we leave queer Māori out. In this intersection between Māori and queer, survival is even more present. For queer Māori, survival might mean choosing between queer identity or Māori identity and leaving one behind; or creating two separate identities that each suppress part of who we are, behaving 'straight' with Māori and 'white' with queers. Some of us will survive by asserting our whole identity wherever we are, or by finding other queer Māori and creating a culture around us. Others of us will simply not survive. Is this consistent with tikanga? Is any exclusion of queer whanaunga consistent with tikanga?


As discussed previously, tikanga are flexible, and whether we like it or not, will change over time. We can allow this to happen unconsciously, or to someone else's agenda that we do not control; this is happening now, as our tikanga become colonised to reflect the values of the dominant Western culture. Or we can use a kaupapa Māori analysis, based on the principles that should determine tikanga, to make conscious choices about what is adaptive for us.

As a result of colonisation, most of us have grown up in a world dominated by Western values, so our behaviours and value systems may not reflect a Māori world-view. Even te reo Māori has been colonised; the meanings of common and important words, such as whānau, kaupapa, rangatira and aroha, are being influenced as much by Pākehā usage as by Māori. This has profound effects on our culture. For example, when whānau is translated as family, Pākehā use it to mean family; it takes on all the meanings, and is restricted to only the meanings, that are understood by family. The primary meaning of whānau becomes nuclear family, a concept that did not even exist in te ao Māori. The rights and responsibilities or obligations of whānau start to align with those of a Western understanding of relationships within a nuclear family: parents become primary caregivers, aunts and uncles lose responsibility for nieces and nephews, grandparents lose rights to parenting, etc.

Words that are especially vulnerable to colonisation are those whose meanings are intangible and relate to concepts rather than things, such as those that describe fundamental values. For example aroha, whose most common meaning is now love (especially romantic or parental), but which was once more aligned with concepts of compassion and responsibility (Henare, p 213; Metge, p 80). Likewise for rangatira as chief. All the implications of the word chief have become part of the meaning of rangatira, which now includes Western concepts of royalty, hierarchy, and ruling and working classes. Colonisation of kupu Māori means that when we list the values that tikanga Māori rest on, or that should influence our decisions and practice, our understandings of those words may not reflect the values of our tūpuna. This is particularly true for those of us whose worldviews are dominated by experience in te ao Pākehā. It is not enough to know which values should be included in a kaupapa Māori analysis, understanding a Māori worldview is critical.

A kaupapa Māori approach to sexuality

Māori cosmogonies, as well as other forms of oral literature and artworks, are an important resource for recognising and understanding the worldview of our tūpuna. The first step of a kaupapa Māori analysis of sexuality is to make explicit the values that are shown in these resources, the values that underpin the worldview of our tūpuna. These values can then be applied to sexuality. I now discuss the values that I think are most relevant to developing tikanga around sexuality.

Whakapapa is the basis of all tikanga and mātauranga Māori, defining every relationship. It is closely linked to whanaungatanga, relating to whānau and identity. It is also linked to mana and to what I am calling atuatanga. Individuals are seen as part of their ongoing whakapapa: 'ko tātou ngā kanohi me ngā waha kōrero o rātou mā kua ngaro ki te pō' (whakataukī cited in Ministry of Justice, p 27). It is through whakapapa that an individual always has a place in the world; their position within whānau, hapū and iwi cannot be taken away. This includes a literal place, tūrangawaewae (Mead, pp 42-43, 60), as well as identity and the right to participate.

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

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

Whanaungatanga stresses the importance of maintaining relationships, and working collectively. Working collectively includes: respecting the role of kaumātua for maintaining cohesion, educating and guiding; sharing responsibility for the problems or actions of all group members to maintain or enhance the mana of the group; and educating children (or those returning to te ao Māori) about appropriate behaviour and values (Ministry of Justice, pp 51-58; Mead, p 345). Practices that connect people, such as whāngai, are very important.

Whanaungatanga stresses inclusiveness—maintaining relationships, and making use of people's skills for the collective good. Greater diversity means a greater skillbase.

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

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

Mana is essentially a measure of social standing based on whakapapa and birth order, and on parents' and personal achievements and contributions (Mead, pp 29-30, 51). Any actions should acknowledge or enhance the mana of ourselves and others, and members of groups are expected to uphold the mana of their group (Ministry of Justice, p 55). There are consequences for failing to respect mana (Mead, p 30). Important skills and attributes are inherited from tūpuna and ultimately from atua through whakapapa; these include teaching, organising, resolving disputes and looking after people. People gain mana by showing such skills and using them for the collective good (Ministry of Justice, pp 51-52). Looking after people and acknowledging and respecting their mana is a very important way to enhance one's own mana (Mead, p 30), whereas mistreating, belittling or abusing people diminishes one's own mana (Mead, p 52).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hetero-normative position also seems inconsistent with kaupapa Māori. It assumes heterosexuality as normal, and supports institutions that privilege exclusive heterosexuality. The construction of normalcy exerts a strong pressure to conform, and a position of tolerance implies disapproval of non-conforming behaviour. Sexuality is only an issue for those who do not conform, not for others. This is not consistent with kaupapa Māori, which stress whakapapa, contributions to the collective, and maintaining relationships. Sexuality is irrelevant. Any messages or acts that marginalise people, that minimise or limit their contributions, or question their position within te ao Māori because of their sexuality are not based in tikanga Māori, and should be seen as breaches of tikanga.

Sexual diversity is consistent with kaupapa Māori. This means that people should be able to explore and express their sexuality, within the limits of consent and respect, without implication or judgement.

However, we live in a hetero-normative culture, and this has influenced our tikanga and understanding of kaupapa. Of course Māori attitudes to sexuality have been affected by the pathologising of homosexuality within Western medicine, demonising within Western religion, and criminalising under colonial law. This means that in order to enable freedom of sexual identity and expression, we need to educate ourselves and develop tikanga that expose and undo the messages of heterosexism and homophobia. We need to challenge our own behaviours against the kaupapa that are important to us, and focus on expressing the values that we care about.

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

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


As Mead's quote suggests, tikanga need to serve us. They need to be flexible and relevant. Looking to the attitudes of our tūpuna may be one way of informing decisions around tikanga, and may prove useful for people who are seeking identity in history. However, it is only one approach. The question of the attitudes of our tūpuna may never be fully resolved, or the answer may not suit our needs. Irrespective of the results of such research, it is important that we use kaupapa to develop tikanga that serve us. It seems reasonable to expect that tikanga would at least include all of us.

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

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

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

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  1. well written. helped me with understanding of tikanga for my law paper =)

  2. Anonymous10:29 pm

    hello, nice. ia want to know more about maori attitudes to homosexual, and their believe towards that, and their punishment for that. because iam doing project on that,plz help me immediately

  3. Can I quote this essay in full as an attachment to a Supplementary Submission in support of Marriage Equality?

  4. Anonymous6:41 pm

    Kia ora,
    Well written and formative essay. I liked how you explained the norms in the Maori worldviews prior to when the European enforced their worldviews on the Maori people. Also how Tikanga maori is now revolving due to diversity and society's views. All i can say is excellent, really enjoyed it. Kia ora