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Mikaere, Ani --- "Cultural invasion continued: the ongoing colonisation of Tikanga Maori" [2005] NZYbkNZJur 18; (2005) 8.2 Yearbook of New Zealand Jurisprudence 134

Last Updated: 19 April 2015


Ani Mikaere*


[C]ultural invasion . . . serves the ends of conquest. . . the invaders penetrate the cultural context of another group, in disrespect of the latter's potentialities; they impose their own view of the world upon those they invade and inhibit the creativity of the invaded by curbing their expression.

Cultural conquest leads to the cultural inauthenticity of those who are invaded; they begin to respond to the values, the standards, and the goals of the invaders. . . In cultural invasion, it is essential that those who are invaded come to see their reality with the outlook of the invaders rather than their own; for the more they mimic the invaders, the more stable the position of the latter becomes.'

I begin today with this quote from Paulo Freire because of what I regard to be an inescapable truth about colonisation: in Aotearoa, as elsewhere, colonisation has always been about much more than simply the theft of land, the decimation of an indigenous population by introduced disease and the seizure of political power. It has always been about recreating the colonised in the image of the coloniser. Our colonizers regarded our collectivism as beastly communism, our language as inferior, and our spiritual beliefs as heathen. All had to be destroyed and replaced, with individualism, with English and with Christianity, as a matter of urgency. The destruction of the gender balance that had characterised tikanga Maori and its replacement with patriarchy was just one more aspect of the assimilation process that sought to transform us into brown versions of our colonisers.

Ani Mikaere LLB (Hons) Well; MJur (Hons) Waikato. Ngati Raukawa ki to Tonga, is currently director of the Maori Laws and Philosophy programme at Te Wananga-o-Raukawa. She lectured at the School of Law, University of Waikato from 1991 to 2001. Her research centres on the status of Maori and indigenous women, the Treaty of Waitangi, self-determination, Treaty settlements, racism and tikanga Maori.

Paper presented at the 11th NZ P.P.T.A. Maori Teachers' Conference, 11th July 2005.
1 Freire, P Pedagogy of the Oppressed (30th Anniversary Edition) (2000) 152-3.

As Maori educators, you will already be keenly aware of the major role that the education system has played in the process of assimilation. You will all know about the "civilising mission" of the Native Schools2 and will have seen the heart-wrenching photographs of Maori children of generations past working in the gardens and model cottages, being equipped for the roles deemed appropriate for them by the educational authorities.3

I do not propose to dwell on matters with which you are doubtless already familiar. What I want to do is to talk about tikanga Maori, the first law of Aotearoa. I begin by examining tikanga as the practical expression of a philosophical view of the world that was unique to our tupuna. I will be concentrating my discussion on Maori cosmogony, for that is where the philosophical foundation of our world view is to be found. From there I will move on to consider the impact that foreign influences, particularly Christianity, have had on that world view and, consequently, on tikanga Maori. Finally, I pose a series of questions to each of you as Maori teachers: to what extent is the project of cultural invasion being continued in our schools, at a time when many would have us believe that the worst excesses of colonization are behind us? Is our cultural authenticity under threat or, worse still, lost? How do we see our reality — from our own outlook or from that of our invaders? These are not easy questions with which to grapple, but given the crucial role that Maori teachers play in securing Maori cultural survival, I believe they need to be confronted.

As I address these matters, my principal focus will be on issues of gender: I have argued elsewhere that the imposition of patriarchy has been the single most damaging impact of colonization, representing the ultimate divide and rule tactic by turning one half of the Maori population against the other.4 As the teachers of our young women and our young men, you are well-placed to either sustain or debunk some of the harmful myths surrounding the roles and responsibilities of women and men according to tikanga Maori. It is my hope that you will use the influence that you have to do the latter and that in so doing you will contribute to the dismantling, rather than the perpetuation, of the ongoing project of colonization.

  1. Simon, J & Smith, LTA Civilising Mission? Perceptions and Representations of the New Zealand Native Schools System (2001).

3 Simon, J NO Kura Maori: the Native Schools System 1867-1969 (1998).

  1. Mikaere, A "Patriarchy as the Ultimate Divide and Rule Tactic: The Assault on Tikanga Maori by Pakeha Law", paper presented at "Mai i to Ata Hapara", a


Tikanga Maori was the first law of Aotearoa, a law that served the needs of tangata whenua for a thousand years before the arrival of tauiwi. The roles of men and women according to tikanga Maori can be understood only in the context of a Maori world view, which acknowledged the natural order of the universe, the interrelationship or whanaungatanga of all living things to one another, and the over-arching principle of balance. Both men and women were essential parts in the collective whole because both formed part of the whakapapa that linked Maori people back to the beginning of the world. Women played a key role in linking the past with the present and the future. The very survival of the whole was absolutely dependent upon everyone who made it up, and therefore each and every person within the group had his or her own intrinsic value. They were all a part of the collective; it was therefore a collective responsibility to see that their respective roles were valued and protected.

Female strength formed part of the core of Maori existence, and was sourced in the power of female sexual and reproductive functions. This emerged clearly in the cosmogonic accounts, the potency of female sexuality being implicit in the womb symbolism of Te Kore and Te PO and in the birth of Papatuanuku and Ranginui's children into the world of light, Te Ao Marama. The creation of humankind upon the advice of Papatiranuku further reflected this theme, with Tane Mahuta being sent by his mother to Kurawaka, her pubic region, to gather the red earth containing the necessary uha or female element from which Hine-ahu-one, the first woman could be shaped. Tane Mahuta and Hine-ahu-one created Hinetitama who, along with Tane produced many children. When she discovered that her husband, Tane, was also her father she recited a karakia to render him strengthless to pursue her and she left him. She commanded him to remain behind and care for their children in their earthly life while she descended to one of the underworlds, Rarohenga, to prepare a place for them and to care for them in death. She has remained there ever since, known as Hine-nui-te-po, guardian of the spirits of all her human descendants.

The tales of one of her descendants, Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga, are particularly instructive as to the influential roles that women held. Maui acquired fire from his kuia, Mahuika. It was with the jawbone of his kuia, Muriranga-whenua, that he fished up Te Ika A Maui (the North

Island) and made the patu with which to subdue the sun. And it was to his ancestress, Hine-nui-to-po, that he eventually succumbed when he failed in his quest to attain immortality. These stories tell us a great deal about the role of kuia as repositories of knowledge, and the conditions under which they are prepared to share that knowledge. These kuia possessed vast amounts of knowledge and supernatural powers. They identified Maui as a special person, one with whom they were prepared to share their expertise to ensure that certain benefits would be passed on to their human descendants. But it was also their role to set the limits of what could be achieved. So when Maui sought immortality by attempting to reverse the birth process, that is, by crawling up into Hine-nui-to-po's vagina, it fell to her to provide Maui with his final teaching:5

Come Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga. . . In this your last journey, you will give your final gift to those of earth, the gift not of immortality, but of homecoming, following death ... I do not cause death, and did not ordain it. Human death was ordained when human life was ordained ... I will wait at this side of death for those who follow, because I am the mother who welcomes and cares for those children whose earthly life has ended.

It is here, in the story of Maui's death that the potency of the female sexual organs becomes most explicit of all. The passage through which each of us passes to enter Te Ao Marama is the same passage through which each of us must pass on our inevitable journey back to Te PO. 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.

There are numerous ways in which the principle of gender-balance and the significance of female sexuality were reflected in daily life. By way of example, let us consider the concepts of tapu and noa. There has been so much harmful distortion concerning tapu and noa, particularly in the context of gender roles, that this area merits special attention.

Tapu has two major aspects. The first is what some have called intrinsic tapu.6 This is the recognition of the inherent value of each individual,

5 Kahukiwa, R & Grace, P Wahine Toa (1984) 58

  1. Henare, M "Nga Tikanga me nga Ritenga o Te Ao Maori" in Report of the Commission on Social Policy (1988) Vol III, 19.

the sacredness of each life. No individual stands alone: through the tapu of whakapapa, she or he is linked to other members of the whanau, hap and iwi, and to other Maori as well. Every person is linked to the generations to come and to those that have been before. Every person has a sacred connection to Rangi and Papa and to the natural world around them. Jackson aptly refers to tapu in this sense as "the major cohesive force in Maori life".7

The second major facet of tapu involves spiritual prohibition or protection and may be applied in a multitude of contexts. Pere has noted that the main functions of tapu are the maintenance of social control and discipline, and the protection of people and property.8 Tapu in this sense impacted on every conceivable facet of daily life. To defy the laws of tapu, or even to break them in ignorance, was to court disaster. Retribution was considered inevitable, regardless of whether or not the breach had been detected by others in the community, for what had been breached was much more than a compact with the whanau, hapa and iwi. It was a covenant with the atua, reinforced through centuries of ancestral precedent.

Absolutely pivotal to the effectiveness of tapu as a means of social control, was the complementary institution of noa. Just as vital as the ability to impose restrictions through the use of tapu was the ability to remove such restrictions. For the majority of people, the roles and tasks of daily life led them backwards and forwards across the boundaries of tapu and noa. It was imperative that this be so, that spiritual balance be preserved. The whare mate could not remain so indefinitely: they had to be repatriated back into the fold of the living. A new whare tupuna could not stand completed and empty: the tapu had to be lifted so that it could be used. This was the power of noa: the undoing of the restrictions imposed by tapu.

It should be noted, however, that tapu and noa were not mutually exclusive categories. The process of whakanoa merely entailed the removal of some particular restrictions imposed by tapu, it did not completely remove every trace of tapu. For example, the lifting of the

  1. Jackson, M The Maori and the Criminal Justice System, A New Perspective: He Whaipaanga Hou, Part 11 (1988) 41.

8 Pere, R Ako: Concepts and Learning in the Maori Tradition (1994) 39.

particular tapu imposed on a whare whilst it was being built did not then make the whare completely unrestricted. It simply meant that the particular restriction against anyone but those who were working on it entering the building was lifted. The iwi were now free to enter and to use the whare. However, the whare itself remained a tapu place in the sense that it represented a revered tupuna, and there remained many restrictions on conduct within it.

Rose Pere has noted that the concept of noa is usually associated with "warm, benevolent, life-giving, constructive influences".9 She also writes of the special association with women of the ability to whakanoa (to make noa, or to lift the restrictions of tapu). It is a high ranking woman10 who is the first to enter a completed whare tupuna, thereby lifting the tapu. Pere gives an example of a woman who was specially chosen to be trained for the role of protecting her whanau from negative spiritual influences through the process of whakanoa.11 And in former times, when warriors returned from the field of battle, it was customary for the tapu of blood to be lifted from them by their crawling between the legs of a ruahine, an woman elder of high rank.12

While it was possible for certain men to conduct whakanoa rituals,13 the special role that women played with respect to such rituals, principally by virtue of their being women, is an indication of what Kuni Jenkins has described as the supremacy of their spiritual power. Jenkins supports this claim with the argument that by having the power to whakanoa, Maori women controlled the organisation of their tribal rituals.14 Henare summarises the significance of the female role in

whakanoa rituals as follows:

This is the mana and the tapu of women, in that they have the ability to free areas, things and people from restrictions imposed by tapu. Women . . . are agents to whakanoa . . . This is their tapu, and they are tohunga because of their own specific areas of activity.I5

9 Pere, R Ako: Concepts and Learning in the Maori Tradition (1994) 38.

  1. Females chosen for this role seem to have been either young girls or women who had been through menopause, in other words, they were not of child-bearing age.

11 Pere, R Ako: Concepts and Learning in the Maori Tradition (1994) 38-39.

12 Salmond, A Hui: A Study of Maori Ceremonial Gatherings (1975) 46.

13 Pere points out that "men who are specialists in certain skills or gifts also perform whakanoa rites", Pere, R Ako: Concepts and Learning in the Maori Tradition (1994) 38.

  1. Jenkins, K "Reflections on the Status of Maori Women" (unpublished, University of Auckland, 1986) 11.

15 Henare, M "Nga Tikanga me nga Ritenga o Te Ao Ma

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 their communities. However, it does limit the recognition of women's roles to a one-way process: the transformation of people and things from a tapu state to a noa state. It is my contention 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.

Support for this view can be found in the ritual employed when a warrior preparing for battle had inexplicably become weak or fearful: a ruahine would step over him, thus rendering him tapu and restoring his courage.I6 Another ritual which suggests that women had the power to whakatapu concerns the preparation of students for learning in the whare wananga. In order to achieve the necessary tapu state for them to learn, they ate a piece of cooked fernroot after it had been passed under the thigh of a ruahine.17

I have often wondered whether the circumstances giving rise to the composition of "Ka mate, ka mate" by Te Rauparaha do not further illustate the possibility that women indeed possessed the power not only of whakanoa, but also of whakatapu. When Te Rauparaha's pursuers arrived at Rotoaira and asked Wharerangi whether their enemy had been seen, Wharerangi replied that he had been and gone. The Waikato ope nevertheless conducted a thorough search of the area, led by their tohunga who chanted karakia to assist the search. When they approached the kamara pit where Te Rauparaha was hiding, the karakia were rendered ineffective by the presence of Te Rangikoaea, whom Wharerangi had asked to sit over the pit. Te Rauparaha therefore remained undetected, hence the composition of the haka, a celebration of his surviving an extremely close brush with certain death.1 8

There are at least two possible interpretations that can be placed on Te Rangikoaea's role in sitting over the kumara pit. One is that her

16 F. Allan Hanson, "Female Pollution in Polynesia?" 1982 JPS 335, 349.
17 F. Allan Hanson, "Female Pollution in Polynesia?" 1982 JPS 335, 349.

  1. This account is drawn from Te Rei, P "Kikiki Kakaka: He Pokeka na Te Rauparaha" in Royal, TA Kaati Au i Konei: lie Kohikohinga i nga Waiata a Ng-Ott Toarangatira, a Ngetti Raukawa (1994) 83-84.

presence rendered the tohunga's karakia noa, and therefore ineffective. But another is that her presence over the pit made Te Rauparaha tapu, and therefore placed him beyond the reach of the tohunga's karakia and the keen eyes of the rest of his pursuers. Whatever interpretation is placed on the role of Te Rangikoaea in this story, however, it is indisputable that her female presence makes the difference between life and death. It is also clear that the female sexual organs have an extraordinary spiritual force, a force that is capable of turning a certain-death scenario into one of survival. He who passes beneath a woman's genitals is granted the gift of life.

This is entirely consistent with Maori cosmogony. Not only do the female organs form an integral part of the creation of the world, but they constitute the pathway into this world for all human life and, through Hine-nui-to-po, the pathway out again. With respect to both the creation of the world and human life itself, the birth canal runs between the realms of Te PO" and Te Ao Mamma. The female role in negotiating the boundaries between tapu and noa reflects and reinforces the cosmogonic blueprint for Maori life.

The pattern of acknowledging the worth of women was reflected in whanau life. Whanau dynamics operated to ensure that women were well-treated by their husbands and in-laws (serious repercussions would follow in the even that this was not the case) and the presence of many to assume responsibility for child rearing enabled women to perform a wide range of roles, including leadership roles.

To summarise, the cosmogonic blueprint established by the creation stories laid the philosophical foundation for Maori life. Tikanga Maori therefore upheld the concept of gender balance and acknowledged the sexual potency of women. As valued members of their whanau, hap and iwi women were affirmed and supported throughout their lives.I9

While it is not my intention here to discuss either the Declaration of Independence or the Treaty of Waitingi, it is clear that the declaration of Maori rangatiratanga in 183520 and its reaffirmation in 184021

  1. For more detail on the way in which whanau operated to enable women to fulfil their potential, see Mikaere, A The Balance Destroyed: The Consequences for Maori Women of the Colonisation of Tikanga Maori (Auckland: The Indigenous Research Institute for Maori and Indigenous Education, 2003).

20 Declaration of Independence 1835.
21 Treaty of Waitangi 1840.

indicated that the highly developed and successful system of tikanga that had prevailed within iwi and hapu for a thousand years would retain its status as first law in Aotearoa: the development of Pakeha law, as contemplated by the granting of kawanatanga to the Crown, was to remain firmly subject to tikanga Maori.22


Far from acknowledging tikanga as the first law of Aotearoa, the colonists proceeded upon the racist assumption that Maori had no "real" law before the British arrived here to provide it. As Governor Gore-Browne wrote in a letter addressed to Maori in 1858:

Before, this land was occupied by evil, darkness and wrongdoing: there were no upholders of good, no preventers of evil.23

As this language suggests, early attitudes towards the validity of tikanga as a system of law were heavily influenced by missionary views. Conversion to Christianity was, after all, regarded as a corequisite to colonization. With the arrival of the missionaries there began a concerted campaign of attack on Maori belief systems, a process which Moana Jackson has described as an "attack on the indigenous soul", a soul that had to be destroyed in order for colonization to succeed.24 The colonisers refused to acknowledge the validity of Maori spiritual beliefs, branding them as "puerile"25 and insisting on the superiority of their

own faith:

  1. For further discussion of this point see Mikaere, A "The Treaty of Waitangi and Recognition of Tikanga Maori" in Belgrave, M, Kawharu, M & Williams, D (eds) Waitangi Revisited: Perspectives on the Treaty of Waitangi (2005) 330.
  2. In Fenton, F the Laws of England: Compiled and Translated into the Maori Language (1858) i.
  3. Jackson, M "The Treaty and the Word: The Colonization of Maori Philosophy" in Oddie, G & Perrett, RW (eds) Justice, Ethics and new Zealand Society (1992) 4.

25 Grey, G Polynesian Mythology (1956) vii.

[T]he native races who believed in these traditions or superstitions are in no way deficient in intellect, and in no respect incapable of receiving the truths of Christianity; on the contrary, they readily embrace its doctrines and admit to its rules . . . and, when instructed in Christian truths, blush at their own former ignorance and superstitions, and look back with shame and loathing upon their previous state of wickedness and credulity .26

For the missionaries, therefore, the challenge was to stamp out any trace of Maori belief systems and to replace them with their own. Indeed, they measured their success in terms of the extent to which this had been achieved. In 1878, for instance, Reverend James Buller denied vehemently the suggestion that the missionaries had failed in their task, arguing that "[i]n forming our judgment of this matter, we should consider what the Gospel has destroyed as well as what it has bestowed. It had much to pull down before it could begin to build up a `holy temple in the Lord'".27

One of the many aspects of tikanga Maori that the missionaries disapproved of was the significance of women and the upholding of gender balance:

Western civilisation when it arrived on Aotearoa's shore, did not allow

its womenfolk any power at all - they were merely chattels in some cases less worthy than the men's horses. What the colonizer found was a land of noble savages narrating .. . stories of the wonder of women. Their myths and beliefs had to be reshaped and retold. The missionaries were hell-bent (heaven-bent) on destroying their pagan ways. Hence, in the re-telling of our myths, by Maori male informants to Pakeha male writers who lacked the understanding and significance of Maori cultural beliefs, Maori women find their mana wahine destroyed.'

This re-telling of Maori cosmogony by Maori males to Pakeha ethnographers29 led to a shift in emphasis, away from the powerful female influence in the stories and towards the male characters. Instead of creation beginning with the womb symbolism of Te Kore and Te PO,

26 Grey, G Polynesian Mythology (1956) viii.
27 Buller, Jforty Years In New Zealand (1878) 324-325.

  1. Jenkins, K "Working paper on Maori women and social policy" written for the Royal Commission of Social Policy and quoted in the Report of the Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988) Vol III, 161.

29 Ethnographers such as Elsdon Best and Percy Smith.

and the female-male partnership of Papatuanuku and Ranginui, the balance was turned on its head by the introduction of a supreme male god, Io. In relegating the cosmogonic genealogies to a phase occurring after the initial creation, the balance between the male and female elements was destroyed. There was no female element in the creation of the universe. Io, the supreme male, had created and he had done so without the female taint of any form of birthing process:

...Io, the Supreme Being, had no progeny... he begat no form of being

he caused the earth and heavenly bodies, and supernatural beings, to come into being by means of his willpower.'

Both women and the human system of reproduction, which necessarily includes both male and female elements, became secondary to the all-powerful, all-male creativity of lo. The balance between the male and female elements was destroyed, male power was inflated and female energy neutralised.

Nor did the negative consequences of the Io version stop with the mere assertion of a supreme male god. The female figures in the creation stories were relegated to passive roles, their power neutralised. Let us take the relationship between Papatuanuku and Ranginui as an example. Rose Pere has described their relationship as follows:

The union of the primeval parents as one deity was one of both a spiritual and physical nature. The primeval parents embraced and clung together as one deity for aeons of time producing many children. Papa and Rangi found great fulfilment in their union as one, for them it was a natural beautiful relationship.31

In contrast, Elsdon Best's version of the union between Papatuanuku and Ranginui recounts how Rangi looked down on Papa as she lay facing him far below and, desiring her, descended to mate with her.32 Percy Smith's description of the event paints a similar picture:

30 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology Part 1(1995) 67.
31 Pere, R Ako: Concepts and Learning in the Maori Tradition (1994) 8.
32 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 75.

The Rangi-nui [great sky], which stands above, felt a desire towards

Papa-tua-nuku [the earth], whose belly was turned up [towards him]; he desired her as a wife. So Rangi came down to Papa.33

This account, in which the male acts upon his sexual desire while the female lies below, available and unresisting, makes an interesting counterpoint to Pere's description of their union as one which is both spiritual and physical, and definitely two-sided.

Best also describes Papataanuku's role in the creation of Hineahuone as:

That of sheltering, nurturing, cherishing; she represents the receptive

and passive element, while Tane represents the active, fertilising, creative male element. 34

Now that we had a supreme male creator, how naturally it followed that the creative element rested with the male, Tane, rather than with his own mother who created him! Predictably, these characterisations of the male and female roles reach new heights of male self-importance with the explanation of Tane's union with Hineahuone:

The seed of life is with the male, with the female is the passive, nurturing haven bed. The seed (or fruit) of the god is with the male, because he is the off-spring of gods. The female sprang from the earth, and with her are the nurturing waters. The blood and the vital essence emanated from the god. The female is the shelterer, the one who nurtures, and by whom all things are caused to acquire form and growth. Woman was fashioned after the image of the male, and the seed of life came from Io-matangaro.35

Before depicting Hineahuone as the embodiment of female submissiveness, Best would have done well to reflect on the Maori version of the story upon which both he and Smith based their accounts of the first act of sexual intercourse between Hineahuone and Tane.

  1. Smith, SP The Lore of the Whare Wananga or Teachings of the Maori College (1913) 117.

34 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 122.
35 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 124-5.

In the Lore of the Whare Wananga Smith sets out the Maori-language version provided by his informants, which he goes on to translate into English. Interestingly, omitted from Smith's translation is a paragraph which describes the event as an encounter between the two sexual organs, Karihi (the female) and Tiki (the male). The general tenor of the description is, in the words of F. Allen Hanson, that "Tiki attacks bravely, but Karihi draws him further and further into herself until, spent, he succumbs".36 Ironically, Best himself refers to this first act of sexual intercourse as the "slaying or overcoming of Tiki".37 Despite Hineahuone's irrefutably powerful female sexual presence, Best still manages to characterise her as passive, while the male energy that she has so comprehensively neutralized is depicted as powerful.

This pattern of minimizing the significance of the female presence continued through to the Maui stories: they became focused almost solely on the exploits of this male demi-god, his kuia Mahuika and Muriranga-whenua being made nearly invisible in the process. Smith has referred to the Maori women within these stories having been turned into "distant and passive old crones whose presence in the 'story' was to add interest to an otherwise male adventure."38

The redefinition of female roles also spilt over into understandings of tapu and noa. In their efforts to understand and explain these fundamentally important concepts, Pakeha ethnographers altered their meaning beyond recognition. In so doing, they made several crucial errors. The first was their confusion of the concept of tapu as it applied to all human beings, the inherent tapu of life, with tapu as it was used in conjunction with noa as a system of social control. The second sprang from their inability to grasp the highly complicated relationship between tapu, in that second sense, and noa. They perceived the two concepts as a dichotomy of opposites, mutually exclusive of one another.

36 Hanson, FA "Female Pollution in Polynesia?" (1982) 91 JPS 335.
37 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 124.

  1. "Maori Women: Discourse, Projects and Mana Wahine" in Middleton, S & Jones, A (eds)Women and Education in Aotearoa 2 (1992) 34. Berys Heuer provides a classic example of the damaging effects of these male-centred reinterpretations of Maori creation stories in Maori Women (1972) 55: "Culturally, the role of women was made clear in the account of their creation. The first woman was formed out of a mound of earth and impregnated by her male creator with a life spirit. From this, woman was regarded as being a passive receptacle for the dominant life spirit".

Moreover, they viewed the dichotomy as a hierarchical one, tapu being privileged over noa. They translated the concepts into ones with which they were familiar, equating tapu with sacredness and noa with profanity. All that remained was to ascertain where the sexes fitted into this analysis of tapu and noa. Inevitably, men were regarded as tapu (sacred) over the top of women who were characterised as noa (profane).

And inevitable this characterisation was, if one accepted the colonised version of Maori cosmogony. As Elsdon Best observed, "is not man descended directly from the gods, while woman had to be created from earth!"39 Best's description of women and the female sexual organs could not have been more negative:

In Maori myth and belief the female sex is assigned an inferior position generally, and is spoken of as being connected with evil, misfortune, and death. 40

Bruce Biggs has continued with this theme, noting that the female element represents destruction, that the female sex organs are fear inspiring and that female sexual functions are regarded with distaste.41 Berys Heuer also refers to the destructive female element, and draws on Best to establish that women were also considered unclean and defiling by virtue of the spiritual powers of menstrual blood.42 Both Best and Jean Smith subscribe to the view that the power of women to whakanoa lay in the ability of their sexual organs to pollute or contaminate tapu by repelling the atua.43 What has happened to the characterisation of Maori women at the hands of these Pakeha experts? Rather than being intrinsically tapu and performing crucial roles in assisting movement between the realms of tapu and noa, women instead have become intrinsically noa (defined as profane) and are therefore associated only with whakanoa (defined as polluting or contaminating) rites.

39 Best, The Maori as He Was (1924) 93.
40 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 222.
41 Biggs, B Maori Marriage (1960) 20.
42 Heuer B Maori Women (1972) 10-11.

  1. Best, B The Maori Canoe (1925) 96; Smith, J Tapu Removal in Maori Religion (1974) 29.

Yet, as some writers have pointed out, the classification of women as inherently noa and the claim that their very presence nullifies tapu through the negative, polluting force of their sexual organs simply does not offer a full explanation for the many roles that women play in ritual and custom.44 In fact, such a classification leads to some curious contradictions.

For instance, it is clear that women are considered highly tapu during childbirth and menstruation. If menstruation and the sexual organs are considered so profane, one would consider these to be the least likely times for women to be considered tapu. Best attempts to explain this apparent contradiction by compounding it with the assertion that "[i]ti this connection tapu may be said to be equivalent to the condition termed "unclean" in the Scriptures".45 Yet such a meaning is surely the very antithesis of tapu, as Best himself has defined it; indeed, it is virtually indistinguishable from his definition of noa!

Women of high rank, puhi for example, were acknowledged to be tapu. This phenomenon was said to be explicable due to the fact that their rank overrode their noa status. However, the rather grudging recognition of tapu suggested by this explanation seems highly inconsistent with the extreme reverence accorded such women.

What is more, women who performed whakanoa rites were generally high-ranking, either puhi (in the case of a ceremony to lift the tapu from a new whare) or ruahine (in the case of removing the tapu from warriors who had returned from the battlefield). Ifthe inherent pollutant qualities of women were what enabled them to perform whakanoa rites, it seems curious that such rituals were left for women whose rank had outweighed their noa status and rendered them tapu.

As suggested earlier, at the core of these contradictions is a complete misinterpretation of the relationship between tapu and noa. Tapu and noa operated side by side, often overlapping and always interconnected, to provide a spiritually sanctioned and comprehensive system of law. Early ethnographers perceived them instead as mutually exclusive, as hierarchical opposites, and translated them into the biblical notions of sacredness and profanity. But their automatic association of women

44 Hanson, FA "Female Pollution in Polynesia?" in 1982 JPS 335, 336.
45 Best, The Maori as he Was (1924) 99.

with the lower of the opposites, the profane, could not be reconciled with much of what they observed in the operation of tapu and noa. Hence the need for tortuous reasoning, such as that the meaning of tapu miraculously changed from sacredness to uncleanness in the context of menstruation and childbirth - for no other reason, apparently, than the inherent femaleness of those particular activities!46

Why were those who sought to define and explain tapu and noa unable to see beyond an explanation which had as its base a hierarchy of genders and a revulsion of female sexuality? It is suggested that coming from a culture where power, particularly sexual power, was considered a male characteristic, the early ethnographers would have been completely at a loss to explain or make sense of the raw female sexual energy they found in the Maori cosmogonic stories and saw reinforced in the every day operation of tapu and noa. They sought to reduce the significance of the womb symbolism of Te Kore and Te PO, and to cancel out the principle of gender balance inherent in the union of Papa and Rangi by inventing a supreme male god as the creator; they characterised Hineahuone as a passive receptacle for the male seed, rendering her sexual energy invisible and ignoring the pivotal role played by Papa in the creation of humankind; they retold the Maui stories in ways that marginalised his kuia.

But it was extraordinarily difficult to ignore or minimise the supreme strength of Hine-nui-to-po. Faced with this irrefutable expression of female sexual power, they characterised it as evil and destructive. This fitted in nicely with biblical notions of woman being responsible for sin. The negative connotations that then attached to the female sexual organs were also entirely consistent with Old Testament notions of women being unclean because of menstruation.47

As a result, Maori women have not merely had their spiritual role minimised, nor have they simply been rendered invisible. Their once revered role as facilitators of the movement between tapu and noa

  1. It should be noted that tapu was associated with blood flow of any sort, including the blood spilt on the battlefield and the flow of blood during tattooing. This was probably a part of the respect for the intrinsic tapu of each person, and the tapu of bodily secretions and wastes..

47 Commission for Social Policy, "Maori women and social Policy" Vol II, 155, 160.

states has been characterised in purely negative terms. They are now perceived, principally, as polluters of tapu. Perhaps the most denigrating aspect of the colonisation of the concepts of tapu and noa, however, lies in the denial of the intrinsic tapu of women. This represents a frightening devaluation of women, one which has been reinforced by the introduction into Aotearoa of the English concept of family.

Along with Christianity and the common law came a culturally specific view of social organization, a view which was fundamentally at odds with Maori notions of whanau. The building block of English society was the individual, while the smallest social grouping was the family. The term family originated in Roman slave society, where it was used to describe the social unit which consisted of a man's wife, children and slaves. As head of the family, the man had rights of life and death over its members.48 This, essentially, was the concept of family that was embraced by the English common law: "the husband/father was head of household and thus in control; women and children were chattels to be used and abused by the paterfamilias as he chose".49

The unfavourable status of women under this system of law compared with Maori law has not been lost on Maori commentators. As Rose Pere observed:

My Maori female forbears, before the introduction of Christianity, and the "original sin of Eve", were extremely liberated as compared to my English tupuna ... the women were never regarded as chattels or possessions; they retained their own names on marriage. Retaining their own identity and whakapapa was of the utmost importance and children could identify with the kinship group of either or both parents.5°

The notion of limiting women to the domestic roles assigned to them under the common law understanding of family has also drawn adverse comment from Maori, who have pointed out that traditionally Maori women were "child bearers, lovers, means of procreation and ensuring tribal continuity, but never the individual 'mother of children' as defined

48 Scutt, J Even In The Best of Homes (1983) 9.
49 Scutt, J Even In The Best of Homes (1983) 11.

  1. Pere, R "To Us the Dreamers Are Important" In Cox, S (ed) Public and Private Worlds (1987) 56.

today".5I Rose Pere describes how, as a child, she observed both men and women performing a range of tasks, concluding that "there were no distinct or formal boundaries for men's and women's work habits or patterns".52

The missionaries and early settlers, however, were convinced that the institutions of marriage and family formed the foundation of civilised society. They sought to remove Maori marriage from within the whanau context and to remould it into a nuclear family arrangement:

Maori marriage was the despair of the missionaries. They made it a high priority for elimination and they preached hell-fire and brimstone to the sinful pagans who continued to practise it. They refused to accommodate or tolerate Maori marriage as being an alternative to their idea of the nuclear family and its demands on the colonial wife to be subservient, lacking in initiative and obedient to her husband. She had to prize highly her role of

housewife and mother and believe it to be God's the Maori female had to be domiciled very quickly to the values of the new regime that had arrived to civilise her.53

With the advent of Christianity, many Maori adopted the Christian marriage ritual with some enthusiasm, modifying it to fulfil Maori expectations. Eventually, Maori marriage came to be regulated by legislation, the Native Land Act 1909 declaring Maori customary marriages to be valid for some purposes only and requiring Maori to undergo legal marriage ceremonies. Over time, the State's determination to redefine and intrude into the whanau resulted in Maori increasingly being forced to conform with the marriage requirements applicable to non-Maori.54

In truth, the whanau was under attack no sooner than the first missionaries had stepped ashore. It was clear right from the outset that Maori collectivism was philosophically at odds with the settler ethic

  1. Jenkins, K "Working paper on M'S' ori women and social policy" written for and quoted In the Report of the Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988) Vol II, 162163.
  2. Pere, R "To Us the Dreamers Are Important" In Cox, S (ed) Public and Private Worlds (1987) 60.
  3. Jenkins, K "Reflections on the Status of MSori Women" (unpublished paper, 1986) 12.
  4. Coney, S Standing in the Sunshine: A History ofNew Zealand Women Since They Won the Vote (1993) 186.

of individualism. As Maori had their cultural and economic base wrested from them55 and as they were ravaged by introduced diseases56 their social structures were inevitably undermined. The disruption of Maori social organisation was no mere by-product of colonisation, but an integral part of the process. Destroying the principle of collectivism which ran through Maori society was stated to be one of the twin aims of the Native Land Act which had set up the Native Land Court in 1865, the other aim being to access Maori land for settlement.57 Not only was the very concept of individual title to land destructive of collectivism,58 but the massive land loss brought about by the workings ofthe Native Land Court59 meant that, as the Maori population stabilised at a low point towards the end of the century and began to grow,6° Maori found that they had insufficient land left to support themselves. Whanau were eventually forced to break into nuclear families and move to towns and cities in search of work.61 Maori migration to the urban centres was hastened by the need for labour in the factories during the second world war and, following the war, by the Maori Affairs Department policy of restricting housing loans to those people prepared to buy properties in town.62

  1. First the land was taken through confiscations carried out pursuant to the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 and later via the operations of the Native Land Court, established by the Native Land Act 1865. Later, control over the sea and waterways was taken through successive pieces of legislation, beginning with the Oyster Fisheries Act 1866.
  2. Pool, I Te Iwi MSori: A New Zealand Population Past, Present and Projected (1991) chapter 5.

57 These twin aims were spoken of by the Hon. H. Sewell, NZPD Vol 9, 1870: 361.

  1. For an account of how the principle of collectivism was undermined by the law, see the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Native Land Laws (1891) AJHR, G-1, xi.

59 Simpson, T Te Riri PSkehS: White Man's Anger (1986) 168-173.

  1. Pool, I Te Iwi MSori: A New Zealand Population Past, Present and Projected (1991) 101.
  2. Pool, I Te Iwi MSori: A New Zealand Population Past, Present and Projected (1991) 153-154. Pool refers to the migration of MSori workers from rural areas to smaller centres such as Pukekohe, as having taken place throughout the first half of the twentieth century. However, the most significant urban migration took place in the decades immediately following the Second World War, being described as "perhaps the most rapid urbanward movement of a national population anywhere, at least until the end of the sixties" (at 154).
  3. Jenkins, K "Working paper on MSori women and social policy" written for and quoted In the Report ofthe Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988) Vol II, 163.

The deliberate destruction of whanau and hapu structures and the forcing of Maori women away from their whanau and into the Pakeha model of the nuclear family left them vulnerable in a host of ways. They became dependent on their husbands as breadwinners, while they became increasingly isolated as caregivers at home. Duties that would have been shared by many in the whanau context now fell heavily on individual, isolated women. Some women were expected to work both outside and in the home, as economic hardship required them to contribute financially while Christian values about what constituted a good wife and mother compelled them to maintain that role as well. Such values also meant that husbands were increasingly perceived as the head of the family, wives feeling obliged to remain with them no matter what.
As teachers, you will be well aware that the Church schools played their part in this process of social engineering, training Maori girls to become good wives in the context of a nuclear family situation. Hukarere Protestant Girls' School was established in 1875 by the Bishop ofWaiapu, William Williams, "with the thought of providing good Christian wives for the boys of Te Aute".63 The denominational schools were actively discouraged from becoming too academically orientated, the Director of Education arguing in 1931 that the aim of Maori education should be to turn out boys to be good farmers and girls to be good farmers' wives.64 In 1906 the Principal of Hukarere described the daily routine of the girls as covering all aspects of domestic work, including cooking, washing, ironing and mending clothes.65 Judith Simon notes:

Maori girls were thus being fitted, not only for manual labour but also to fulfil the subordinate domestic roles deemed, within European culture, as appropriate for females.66

63 Barrington, JM Mori Schools in a Changing Society (1974) 164.

  1. Strong, TB "The Problem of Educating the MSori" in Jackson, PM Mori and Education: Or the Education of Natives in New Zealand and its Dependencies (1931) 192. For a general discussion of how the schools were discouraged from focusing too much on academic subjects, see Barrington, JM MSori Schools in a Changing Society (1974) chapter 7 and Simon, J "The Place of Schooling in MSori-PSkehS Relations" (Ph. D Thesis, University of Auckland, 1990) chapter 4.

65 Barrington, JM MSori Schools in a Changing Society (1974) 176-177.

  1. Simon, J "The Place of Schooling In Mori-P'S' keh Relations" (Ph.D Thesis, University of Auckland, 1990) 100.

Linda Smith has also noted the influence of the churches in domesticating Maori women:

Christian teachings stressed the importance of such notions as "marriage", "home", "motherhood" and "work". Sexuality was, of course, confined to marriage.°

The concept of women as leaders and spokespersons for their whanau, hapu and iwi would have been beyond the comprehension of the settlers or the Crown representatives who were sent to negotiate the Treaty of Waitangi. They could only conceive of dealing with men: "Maori men were the ones with whom the colonisers negotiated, traded and treatied".68 The fact that the Treaty was signed predominantly by men, sometimes pointed to as a reflection of pre-colonised Maori society's attitudes towards women, is more an indication of the influence of Christianity and the fact that those seeking signatories largely ignored the possibility of women signing. This approach has been recorded as having angered Maori women, thus leading the missionaries to allow some women to sign.69 There were also occasions where Crown representatives refused to give in to pressure for women to be allowed to sign, behaviour which probably cost them some potential male signatories.70 Thirteen women have so far been identified as having signed the Treaty71 whereas it was once said that only three or four had done so. There may be many more but because Maori names, like the language, are generally gender-neutral it is difficult to tell how many more women were involved. Over time, people have come to assume that they were all men. This is one area which requires a great deal more research.

67 Smith, LT "M§ori Women: Discourses, Projects and Mana Wahine" In Middleton, S & Jones, A (eds) Women and Education In Aotearoa 2 (1992) 44.

  1. Smith, LT "Mori Women: Discourses, Projects and Mana Wahine" In Middleton, S & Jones, A (eds) Women and Education In Aotearoa 2 (1992) 49.

69 Orange, C The Treaty of Waitangi (1987) 90.

  1. Orange, C The Treaty of Waitangi (1987) 90, where it is noted that Major Bunbury refused to allow a Ngati Toa wahine rangatira to sign at Cloudy Bay. Her husband also refused to sign.

71 Rei, T Maori Women and the Vote (1993) 8-9.

To summarise, the colonisation of Maori cosmogony rendered the sexual power of women secondary to the supreme creative power of a male being, Io. It marginalised the female figures within the cosmogonic accounts, characterising them as passive and subservient to the male figures. Where such strength was found to be irrefutable, it was recast in a negative light. The role of women in facilitating movement between tapu and noa states was altered beyond all recognition. These developments were reinforced by the destruction of the whanau network, a result of massive land loss and social upheaval caused by the effects of introduced diseases and the urban migration which occurred during the middle of the twentieth century. The Maori woman was increasingly pressured into fulfilling the role of housewife and mother within the context of the nuclear family model, a model under which she was regarded as her husband's property and which compelled her to narrow her focus to the domestic sphere.


Io has now become very much a part of Maori religious expression, and generations of Maori have accepted as normal the biblical characterisation of the females in the Maori creation stories. To cast doubt on the authenticity of a version of Maori cosmogony that is now widely accepted by claiming that it has been colonised is, therefore, to enter into perilous territory. But enter it we must, if we are to be sure that the concepts we embrace so wholeheartedly as embodying Maori spirituality are in fact our own and not some distorted version of what was once ours, remolded in the image of the coloniser's beliefs.

Where, then, did what Te Rangihiroa refers to as the "Io cult" come from?72 During the early twentieth century, Smith and Best claimed to have unlocked a new dimension to Maori cosmogony through their discovery of information that was contained in the manuscript of H.T. Whatahoro. The manuscript had been based principally upon the teachings of Te Matorohanga, a Ngati Kahungunu tohunga, at a hui held in the Wairarapa during the late 1850s. His words at the hui were taken down by Te Whatahoro and Aporo Te Kumeroa, both young men who had been educated at a Mission school. Te Whatahoro had

72 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (1958) 526.

then spent some years getting additional information both from Te Matorohanga and another kaumatua, Nepia Pohuhu. Te Whatahoro kept the manuscript for fifty years, before lodging a copy of it with the Dominion Museum. This was the document that formed the basis for Smith's and Best's unleashing of the Io concept into the public domain.

What made the release of the Io version particularly interesting was the fact that until its publication, the very notion of a supreme Maori god was unheard of. Te Rangihiroa commented that Io's discovery was "a surprise to Maori and pakeha alike".73 Apparently, Best was himself initially somewhat skeptical as to Whatahoro's reliability, but he was eventually swayed by Smith to accept the information provided. Smith is said to have been "carried away . . . by the romance surrounding the discovery of 'the last Whare-wananga in New Zealand'".74 And it is highly probable that Best's acceptance of Whatahoro's accounts was tied up with what his biographer would later call his "theistic ideals".75 Best had, for many years, sought out information about a Maori supreme being, but had obtained only the barest of clues from some of his Tuhoe sources:

The tohungas he had spoken to previously had shown the greatest reluctance to discuss the deity or had confessed their total ignorance. But when Best posed questions to Whatahoro, he had not only found the Maori keen to co-operate but even expansive with his answers. The information on Io certainly flowed freely, but how much of it stemmed from the original teaching of Te Matorohanga, and how much from Whatahoro's fertile imagination, it is impossible to say.76

Best's theory was that religion was evolutionary and that a study of Maori religion presented the opportunity to "examine an inferior cult in a very peculiar stage of development".77 His theories were based upon an arrogant assumption that monotheism represented the pinnacle of civilized religious thought. He regarded what he termed the common versions of cosmogony (that is, the polytheistic versions) as being "of less interest . . . on account of their representing a much lower plane of

73 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (1958) 526.
74 Craig, WG Man of the Mist (1964) 148-149.
75 Craig, WG Man of the Mist (1964) 171.
76 Craig, WG Man of the Mist (1964) 167-168.
77 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 15.

thought".78 He found the notion of a supreme being who created the universe simply by means of his willpower to be "of deep interest, . . . illustrat[ing] a high order of mentality attained by the ancestors of the Maori".79

Nevertheless, the absence of Maori awareness of their own supreme god up until the time that Whatahoro's material was published by Smith and Best presented a potential obstacle to achieving widespread acceptance of the Io version as authentic. This difficulty was explained away by Smith with the assertion that the majority of the material that was taught in the whare-wananga, particularly that to do with Io, was simply too sacred to be made available to the common people. Io's very name was too sacred to be repeated or heard by ordinary people, the argument went, therefore, most people did not even know of his existence.8° This explanation was echoed by Best:

[T]wo aspects of all the superior class of myths were taught. One of these was that taught in the tapu school of learning, a version never disclosed to the bulk of the people, but retained by the higher grade of tohunga (experts or priests) and by a few others. The other version was that imparted to the people at large, and this, as a rule, was of an inferior nature, more puerile and grotesque than the esoteric version. The former of these versions was that the universe was created by the Supreme Being, nothing being said about evolution. This, apparently, was known to but few. The other version is marked by what may be termed cosmogonic genealogies, in which everything is the result of a kind of evolutionary process.81

Not all are convinced. Hirini Moko Mead has recently observed:

I have great difficulty with the concept of lo and with the very notion that lo was so exalted that the people did not know about him and were not supposed to hear his name. There was no evidence that so important a matter was kept secret or could have been kept secret. There is little or no evidence in the Bay of Plenty area that there was a supreme being organizing Ranginui and Papa-tu-a-nuku. Nor does lo appear in genealogical tables linking to Rangi and Papa.

78 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 38.
79 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 38.

  1. Smith, SP The Lore of the Whare Wananga or Teachings of the Maori College (1913) vi.

81 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 31-32.

... I cannot really envisage a supreme God above the primeval parents. Rather there was Te Kore, The Void, The Nothingness.'

There have been others who expressed doubts as to the authenticity

of Whatahoro's information, particularly when faced with the striking similarities between the Io version of the beginning of the world and the first chapter of Genesis.83 According to Buck, the doubt increased "when it was considered that both Te Matorohanga and his scribe Whatahoro had been converted to Christianity before the detailed story of Io was committed to manuscript".84 Certainly, the missionaries were a well-established part of the Aotearoa scene by the late 1 850s, and neither Te Matorohanga nor Nepia Pohuhu were very old at that time, both having been born around the turn of the century. The missionaries had therefore been present in Aotearoa throughout most of their lives. And Whatahoro himself could barely have been out of his teens when he began committing the material to manuscript.85 Having been baptised a Christian and educated at a mission school, he was clearly no stranger to biblical teachings.
Best's biographer, Elsdon Craig, identifies his relationship with Whatahoro as beginning a new phase in Best's work, a phase which was marked by his acceptance of material that was clearly less reliable than that which he had formerly utilised. Craig notes that these later works were based largely on the information gleaned from Whatahoro, and that this "detracted substantially from the value of these later publications".86

Another question is the extent to which Smith and Best overlaid Whatahoro's interpretations of material with their own. Craig has noted that they both "almost certainly embellished their renderings of the original accounts".87 And Smith's methodologically dubious practice

82 Mead, HM Tikanga Maori: Living by Maori Values (2003) 309.
83 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (1958) 526.
84 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (1958) 526.

  1. These age estimates are taken from Smith, SP The Lore of the Whare Wananga or Teachings of the Maori College (1913) i.

86 Craig, WG Man of the Mist (1964) 157.
87 Craig, WG Man of the Mist (1964) 156.

of submitting vast lists of questions to his informant, two hundred and eighty eight of them on one occasion, doubtless "gave Whatahoro's fancy unlimited freedom".88

Buck refers to the fact that the discovery of Io in Aotearoa sparked off a search throughout the rest of Polynesia for similar supreme beings. He goes on to observe, with more than a hint of sarcasm:

it is amazing what a mass of secret information was alleged to have

been locked away in the minds of cautious Christians who but awaited the inquiry of sympathetic seekers to unloose the floodgates of memory.89

Following a study of the evidence discovered throughout the various Polynesian cultures, he concludes that there is no authentic proof of the existence of a supreme being in central Polynesia before dispersal to the various island groups.

Buck also observes that the Whatahoro manuscript contains the only complete account of Io, and then examines various other sources to see whether they can be said to offer support for the theory. He concludes that most of these other sources are "pseudo-evidence".90 The only evidence he seems prepared to accept as authentic is a Ngati Kahungunu poem, the author of which was clearly familiar with the Io version. Even this, Buck suggests, may not in fact have been an ancient Kahungunu composition, but one from a much later period with its authorship projected back to an earlier ancestor, Tuhotoariki.91

Buck concludes that the Io concept was a local development in Aotearoa, one which originated in the Ngati Kahungunu whare wananga "from which rumours of the cult spread to a few other tribes".92 He also identifies various elements ofthe Io version, such as the original creation of the world, as post-contact additions which were made after Maori , knew of the biblical story of the creation.93

88 Craig, WG Man of the Mist (1964) 149.

  1. Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (Wellington: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1958) 527.

90 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (1958) 532.
91 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (1958) 534.
92 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (1958) 535.
93 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (2nd ed) (1958) 536.

Johansen approaches the problem from a slightly different angle, suggesting that Io had been but one of the many gods, no higher in status that any other, until the impact of Christianity caused him to be elevated, in the Ngati Kahungunu houses of learning, to the status of a supreme god.94

So what we have with the so-called esoteric version of Maori cosmogony, as propounded by Best and Smith, is an account developed in the whare wananga of one iwi, Ngati Kahungunu. How much of this account stems from Te Matorohanga's teachings, how much from Whatahoro's embellishments and how much from Best's and Smith's interpretations of Whatahoro's embellished version, is impossible to tell. Some elements of this version have clearly been developed as a result of exposure to Christian teachings, while other elements may have been developed before contact with Pakeha. Why, then, do Maori from all over Aotearoa continue to pray to Io? How has this localised version been elevated into a nation-wide phenomenon?

The explanation probably lies, in part, in the fact that so many Maori have desperately wanted to believe in the existence of Io. By 1913, when Smith's The Lore of the Whare Wananga95 was published, Maori beliefs had been denigrated for over a century, the "spiritual denial of the indigenous word"96 had been entrenched, and many Maori had incorporated Christian teachings into their spiritual life. Pakeha experts such as Best asserted the inherent superiority of a monotheistic religion that recognised a supreme creator. The discovery of Io must have seemed like a gift. Maori could hold their heads high in the knowledge that their religion had not been so primitive after all. For as Best challenged his Pakeha readers:

94 Johansen, J. Priytz Studies In Mori Rites and Myths (1958) 190-193.

  1. Smith, SP The Lore of the Whare Wananga or Teachings of the Maori College (1913).
  2. Jackson, M "The Treaty and the Word: The Colonization of Mori Philosophy" In Oddie, G & Perrett, RW (eds) Justice, Ethics and New Zealand Society (1992) 5.

The Maori believed in a Supreme Being, a creator and primal origin called Io. We believe in one we call God. We say that Io is a false god. Why? There cannot be two Supreme Beings. Do we quarrel over a mere name?'

The need to reconcile their Maoriness with their Christianity continues, it would seem, to plague Maori Christians in contemporary times. In 1994 Lloyd Martin remarked that "[m]any Maori Christians have struggled with what has been presented as two sets of incompatible facts: their Christian faith and their Maori identity", going on to note that it is a subject that "has had many sincere Maori and Pakeha Christians confused and in disagreement".98 He later went on to observe:

There is a convincing argument among some Maori Christians that 'Io' was the name of the supreme God and Lord. If we have a common inheritance from the dawn of time then it is not surprising that we find these traces of an earlier understanding of a supreme God when we look beneath the surface.99

The need to reconcile the irreconcilable consitutes a powerful incentive not to subject the Io cult to too searching a degree of scrutiny.

Another factor in the durability and universality of the Io version must surely be the authority accorded the written word. Sir Paul Reeves has noted this phenomenon. He has also spoken about the ability of the written word to give factual error the appearance of truth and, worse still, to render the correction of such material extraordinarily difficult.lm

A further reason is the authority that attached to the writings of such people as Best and Smith, purely by virtue of their widely-perceived status as experts. In 1922, for instance, Best was referred to as "the greatest living authority on the Maori".1°1 As anthropologists and

97 Best, E Maori Religion and Mythology (1995) 100.

  1. Martin, L One Faith Two Peoples: Communicating Across Cultures within the Church (1994) 54.
  2. Martin, L One Faith Two Peoples: Communicating Across Cultures within the Church (1994) 58-59.

100 Sir Paul Reeves, "His Excellency's Address", St Andrew's on the Terrace, Winter Lecture Series (1989) 4.

101 McDonald, J, Acting Director of the Dominion Museum, in his Preface to the 1922 Monograph, Best, E Some Aspects of Maori Myth and Religion.

ethnographers, the endorsement and interpretation of the Whatahoro manuscript by such "authorities" gave it weight and scope far beyond that which it would otherwise have enjoyed if it had simply remained in the Dominion Museum as a written record of the teachings of the NgAti Kahungunu whare wananga.

This leads us to crucial questions about the power of such experts to define for the outside world the cultures of those they research. In 1954, the Director of the Dominion Museum described Best as "in a sense an interpreter of ethnology from the Maori point of view".102 This is an extravagant and insupportable claim. Yet it is an important statement, for it shows that to his readers' minds, Best spoke for Maori. From a Pakeha perspective, Best had become the authentic Maori source, indeed it almost seemed that Maori culture somehow belonged to him.

Les Back refers to the impulse that many anthropologists, particularly male anthropologists, feel "to turn fieldwork into personal folklore". "Through this vicarious form of self-projection", Back continues, "we possess the other . . . an escalation of self results from the reception of knowledge about the other".1°3 The identification of Best with "the" Maori viewpoint referred to above is strongly suggestive of this type of relationship. The question is, if this almost parasitic relationship exists between researcher and researched, how can the research itself be regarded as valid?

And even if the researcher guards vigilantly against abusing the power that conducting research inevitably gives them, can an outsider ever have anything of value to say about a culture that is not their own? Is it not inevitable that their interpretations of the subject culture will be distorted through the lens of their own cultural understandings and beliefs? What of the anthropologists and ethnographers who seized upon the Whatahoro manuscript, translated and interpreted it to produce what were to become the definitive works on Maori belief systems? Did their own world view, rooted firmly in patriarchal laws and religious

102 Falla, RA Foreword to the 1954 Edition of Best, E Spiritual and Mental concepts

of the Maori (1954) 3.

103 Back, L "Gendered Participation: Masculinity and Fieldwork in a South London Adolescent Community" in Bell, D & Ors (eds) Gendered Fields: Women, Men and Ethnography (1993) 215.

beliefs, simply blind them to or render them incapable of dealing with the raw female energy and sexual power that they encountered in the Maori stories of creation?

Despite the fact that Te Rangihiroa was questioning the authenticity of the Io cult nearly fifty years ago, 104 it nevertheless appears to have tightened its hold on the Maori spirit in the intervening years. It is encouraging, then, to see authors such as Mead1°5 and Ross Calmanl°6 challenging its veracity in contemporary times. Of The Lore of the Whare-wananga, Calman notes:

It was heavily edited by Smith to support his views on Maori origins, and doubts have been expressed about its integrity. It tends towards a more monotheistic belief— that there was one supreme God, lo — which is generally accepted today to be evidence of the influence of Christianity.107

As Vine Deloria has commented, the fact that monotheism is logically pleasing does not mean that it is an accurate description of reality.108 In light of the enormous damage that this colonised mutation of our cosmogony has done to the principle of gender balance that once featured so clearly as a foundational principle of our tikanga, I would argue that it is crucial for Maori to reject the monotheistic approach altogether. While it is the female element that has been marginalised in the redefinition of Maori cosmogony at the hands of ethnocentric "experts", all Maori have suffered as a result. The principle of balance between male and female has been severely damaged and the lack of balance has been to the detriment of all of us. It is therefore in all of our interests to cast aside that which is inauthentic and to reclaim our spiritual base.

104 Buck, P The Coming of the Maori (1958).

105 Mead, HM Tikanga Milori (2003) 309.

106 Calman, R Reed Book of Maori Mythology (2004) xiv-xv.

107 Calman, R Reed Book of Maori Mythology (2004) 13.

108 Deloria, Vine God is Red: A Native View of Religion (1994) 286.


I return now to the words of Paulo Freire. Has the process of cultural invasion ended in Aotearoa? Or, after nearly two centuries of contact with Christianity, have we come to simply mimic our invaders, thereby cementing our own cultural inauthenticity?

It must first be said that, in my view, colonization is not a finite process. There has not yet been an end to it in this country. We cannot dismiss it as part of our recent past, as something which might, at most, inform our present. Whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, the fact is that colonisation endures as a major force in our present reality.

So the question is how might you, as teachers working in an environment hemmed in on all sides by the demands of the coloniser, deal with issues surrounding Maori spirituality in a way that does not compromise the cultural authenticity of your students and instill into them harmful and false messages about the inherent inferiority of women? The first point is that, regardless of your personal view about the value of Christian principles in your own life, as a teacher you should never forget the complicity of Christianity in the violent process of colonization. As Vine Deloria observes:

The status of native peoples around the globe was firmly cemented by the intervention of Christianity into the political affairs of exploration and colonization. They were regarded as not having ownership of their lands, but as merely existing on them at the pleasure of the Christian God who had now given them to the nations of Europe. . . .

Where the cross goes, there is never life more abundantly — only death, destruction and ultimately betrayal.

The fact is that some of the young people you teach will bring with them a knowledge of this history. Do not expect them, therefore, to embrace Christian karakia with any degree of respect or enthusiasm.

109 Deloria, Vine God is Red: A Native View of Religion (1994) 256, 261.

In fact, expect some of them to find the inclusion of such karakia objectionable — and if they do, it has to be said that historical fact supports them in taking such a stance. Some of them will regard the Io cult as culturally offensive, as representing a manipulation of Maori cosmogony, designed to further the project of cultural invasion. They may not express their views using the language of Freire, but do not doubt the sincerity with which their instinct tells them to reject Io as a colonized mutation of the real thing. Mead has observed that many groups participating in education today dedicate their karakia to Io, and makes the point that "there is doubt about the authenticity of the traditions dealing with Io and . . . in the case of the Bay of Plenty tribes there is no comfortable fit in the whakapapa of the divine family for

by') to

Most importantly, regardless of whether you are personally able to reconcile being Christian with being Maori, it is vital that you resist the urge to foist any such reconciliation process on your pupils. This is a dangerous path. By way of example, let us consider Michael Shirres' discussion of the children of Rangi and Papa:

On another level of understanding these are distinct spiritual powers. Each one is identified with a particular area of creation and has responsibility for that area. In the English language the spiritual powers are often referred to as gods, but they are not gods. . . It would be just as wrong to refer to them as gods as it would be to refer to the angels and saints of our European Christian traditions as gods. I speak of them, therefore, as created spiritual powers. In some ways they resemble the angels of the Jewish and Christian traditions. I I

With the Concise Oxford Dictionary defining "angel" as "an attendant or messenger of God" and "saint" as "a holy or a canonized person regarded as having a place in heaven", it should be immediately apparent that this kind of explanation merges Maori and Christian versions of creation in a way that is, at best, dishonest, at worst, manipulative.112

110 Mead, HM Tikanga Md5ri (2003) 310.

111 Shirres, M Te Tangata: the human person (1997) 26.

112 One might add that the recent spectre of thousands of young Maori men being encouraged to utilise the haka in order to foist the oppressive Western model of the nuclear family upon the rest of us represents the same kind of profoundly unethical manipulation of tikanga Maori.

It would be grossly inappropriate for a person in a position of influence over young minds to misuse their power in such a manner.

Perhaps most worrying of all is the following response, given by a Maori educator to the question of how he felt about schools teaching about "the old Maori gods":

I think it's valid if it is taught from the point of view of creating understanding of how another group of people brought meaning to their world. When handled properly it can be used to introduce and support a Christian worldview. So I don't have a problem with teaching about the old gods, but it must be put in a correct perspective, i.e. that this was an understanding of some people before a greater revelation came.113

For a teacher to convey such an opinion to her or his pupils is simply unacceptable. As I have been at pains to point out, it is up to the individual to choose how to deal with the tensions inherent in being a Maori Christian. However, the prospect that a view so loaded with messages about the inherent inferiority of Maori cosmogony might be expressed by a Maori teacher in the presence of Maori students is alarming. As the following observation by Freire highlights, notions of inferiority and superiority are essential ingredients in the process of cultural invasion:

For cultural invasion to succeed, it is essential that those invaded become convinced of their intrinsic inferiority. Since everything has its opposite, if those who are invaded consider themselves inferior, they must necessarily recognize the superiority of the invaders. The more invasion is accentuated and those invaded are alienated from the spirit of their own culture and from themselves, the more the latter want to be like the invaders.


In light of this statement, it should be abundantly clear that for teachers to buy into the inferiority/superiority dichotomy in this manner is potentially damaging to the psyche of the Maori student. As such, it is

113 Martin, L One Faith Two Peoples: Communicating Across Cultures Within the Church (1994) 60.

114 Freire, P Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000) 153.

both irresponsible and unprofessional. It threatens the spiritual safety of the students in one's care and as such it constitutes a serious breach of tikanga Maori.

I would like to finish by acknowledging that some of you may well have found my comments challenging. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not engaged in some kind of personal mission to "convert" the Christians or the Io adherents amongst you to my way of thinking. Nor am I unsympathetic to your situation as Maori teachers working in a system that is deeply hostile to Maori philosophies. As someone who trained and worked for nearly twenty years in the field of Pakeha law, I am only too well aware of how difficult it can be to maintain cultural integrity as a Maori person in an academic environment that is the antithesis of being Maori. What I hope for is that you will, as indeed we all must, be prepared to question, on a daily basis, your own assumptions about what it means to be Maori and to reflect on the most important question of all: from whose traditions, do those assumptions stem? It is only when you confront these questions that you will be able to determine whether, as you continue the important work of guiding our young women and men to intellectual maturity, you are appropriately equipped to fulfill that role.


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