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Te Kāhui Kura Māori, Volume 0, Issue 2

Honoa Te Pito Ora ki Te Pito Mate: Takatāpui Past and Present

Honoa Te Pito Ora ki Te Pito Mate: Takatāpui Past and Present


The Woman kneaded her temples. So much to read and time was running out. Reaching for her peppermint tea, liberally dosed with honey, she took a deep breath and read aloud, ‘anything that is watched changes.’ It was something her lecturer had said about Measurement Theory (Mercier 2009) and for the life of her she couldn’t remember what that had to do with her research. On reflection, the Woman thought it related to her role as ‘participant-observer’ (Spradly 1980 cited in Kawagley 2006:137, Smith 1999:137-140) of her takatāpui community. The traditional Yupiaq method of research resonated with her understanding of Kaupapa Māori research; ‘patient observation through participation over a long period of time, reflection on what was seen and heard, and confirming tentative conclusions with the participants’ (Kawagley 2006:144). The related idea that ‘a body of knowledge differs when it is viewed from different perspectives’ (Battiste and Henderson 2000:134) convinced her of how important it was for her to reinterpret historical Māori material from a takatāpui perspective, regardless of who produced it.

After assessing her methodology yet again, the Woman finally identified the stumbling block – she disagreed with the eight-step model she was working with (Kumar 1999:15-21). The high level of clarity required in the early stages was at odds with her tendency to be more flexible and allow the process to unfold as feedback was incorporated. Although the model was designed for beginners, a cultural viewpoint was not fundamental to its premise and would have to be added or the model discarded. The Woman was proud to follow in the footsteps of Māori who had successfully attained their PhD using a Kaupapa Māori foundation to ‘mediate between and speak to two worlds’ (Irwin 1994:25-27), the often skeptical Māori world (Harris and Henwood 2007) and the demanding academic world (Deloria Jr 2004:28). The Woman still harboured suspicions about the extent to which her strong views and activist perspective would fit into the academic world (Chomsky 2002 and Deloria Jr 2004) but she trusted her supervisors and kaumātua to guide her through.

Tired from juggling theories about privileging indigenous voices in indigenist research (Rigney 1999:115-118), the finer points of whether non-Māori could undertake Kaupapa Māori research (Smith 1999:184) or was the ‘knowledge system’ too ‘contaminated by colonialism and racism’ (Battiste and Henderson 2000:132-144), the Woman decided something mindless might help. Flicking through the channels she found an old favourite, Battlestar Galactica. Before long she was dismayed to recognise evidence of the post-colonial theories she had just been avoiding. The Cylons were created to help the humans, who kept them in a colonised role; subordinate, inhuman, child-like and indebted (Rennes 2008:64-76, Nakata 2007:196 and Foucault cited in Rabinow 1991:10-11). Unsurprisingly, the colonised were keen to change this situation. It made the Woman wonder about the incentives offered by the coloniser to accept that role by learning and adopting their ways and the penalties they leveled at the colonised when they did not.

In the colonial vocabulary (Fanon 1963 cited in Bhabha 2004:xx, Foucault cited in Rabinow 1991:17), Māori were routinely cast as ‘heathen savages’ and ‘sexually wanton’. They were required to embrace monogamous heterosexuality, eliminate pre-marital sex (Pere 1991:37) and erase any credence of traditional expressions of sexuality. From her previous research, the Woman was well aware that the colonial settlers, and even the missionaries, failed to adhere to those standards themselves. Perhaps these were examples of the instability (Memmi 1967 cited in Bhabha 2004:xx) of the colonial system as well as its share of ambivalence - that ‘complex, unstable mixture of attraction and repulsion between the coloniser and the colonised’ (Bhabha 1994 cited in Rennes 2008:67).

When such forbidden unions led to ‘mixed race offspring’ or ‘hybrids’ (McKinley 2008:960-964, Pettman 2001:84), the colonisers resorted to increasingly complex means such as intricate blood quantum measurements to identify difference. The Woman considered her personal experience of being ‘half-caste’. She hated the assurances that Pākehā blood softened her Māori features and she was more attractive because she was fair. The Woman picked up some old postcards from her collection which reinforced her thinking. Here race collided with sexual desire; the images of ‘hybrid’ Māori women projected ‘fantasy and desire, promiscuity and eroticism, exotic and alluring’ (McKinley 2008:963). Yet another creative form of subjugation of Māori women. That led the Woman to consider the privilege inherent in being the coloniser and the privilege sought by leaders who colluded in the ‘displacement, dispossession and exploitation’ (Teaiwa, Nicole and Durutalo 1996:270-271) of their own people, particularly Māori men regarding Māori women.

The Woman sighed. It was surely an uphill battle with no sign of respite. Integral to the daily grind of decolonisation in Aotearoa, she knew that takatāpui faced a globalised genealogy of colonisation (Fanon 1963 cited in Bhabha 2004:xvi,xxvi) which had systematised homophobia and transphobia throughout much of the world. The Woman resisted the temptation to revise her early draft, recognising her sudden interest in main characters, nominalisations and the passive voice (Booth et. al 1995:218-228) for the distraction that it was.

Suddenly the Woman’s Kuia sprang into mind and she recalled their long conversations over the years. Her Nana embodied that elusive ideal of a Kuia from whom knowledge, love and acceptance was offered freely. Deeply spiritual and fluent in te reo Māori me ōna tikanga, she often spoke about the connection between the ‘people…, the gods, and the land, forged not by information but by blood and roots’ (Holmes 2000:42, Deloria Jr 2004:30). The Woman fondly remembered those childhood stories of taniwha, beautiful ancestors and fearless warriors. As an adult, the Woman could appreciate them for the tribal history and whakapapa they imparted. She resolved to talk to her Nana (Irwin 1994:30, O’Regan 2001, Durie 1998:64) about her research as soon as possible and to enlist her support in approaching the home people to take part.

The Woman’s eyes were just starting to droop when the phone rang. Minutes later she was throwing clothes into a bag and loading her papers into the car. Her Nana was in hospital, she would just have to finish her work up home.

The Kuia watched her moko pore over her mahi with interest. She chuckled and the head jerked up.

‘Oh, you’re awake Nana.’

‘Ae, come and talk to me about your work. No wonder you need glasses with all that reading.’

‘Oh nemmind that. You feeling better?’

‘Nothing that some pork bones and puha wouldn’t fix. Here, this one. What’s it about?’

The Woman chuckled at the paper her Nan had selected,

‘The cultural interface…mmm. It’s about the Torres Strait Islanders trying to get on with their lives even though the Australians have created a new colonial world that paints the Islanders out of the picture in their own land (Nakata 2007). Sound familiar?’

‘It sure is the same all over. Okay… and is that the kind of research you’re doing?’

‘Mmm, kind of. You know there’re lots of different ways of looking at research Nan. There’s the tension between the ‘theorists’ and the ‘real worlders’ as if the thinking and the doing are not related (Zalewski 1996). One writer talks about four ‘variations’ (Brew 2001:24-25) of research. You know how some want to solve a problem or unravel a puzzle, looking for the secrets hidden beneath.’

‘We know all about that! Researchers have been poking and prodding at us Mystery Māoris since I was a little girl.’

They laughed together and the Woman launched back into her kōrero.

‘Others want the social connectedness of academic and research networks. Some crave the recognition and awards – to write their next book, go to their next conference. Still others see it as a personal journey, learning as much about themselves as what they’re researching (Brew 2001:24-25).’

‘And you?’

‘Maybe a little of each… the kaupapa is so important to me but I want my research to mean something, to be for the good of Māori people (Irwin 1994:32). I’m still working out the details so I’m still not sure who should be involved since I’ll have the final say in the end.’

‘Even if that was true, why would you want it?’

At the Woman’s raised eyebrow, her Kuia elaborated,

‘If you want to add some letters to your name and look flash for your Pākehā mates, pai rawa. You want to do something for the people; you do it with the people - from the beginning. So what are you researching?’

‘It’s about Takatāpui [1] which means…’

E hika! I know what it means. You get your Te Arawa side from me remember! We know all about Tūtanekai and Tiki. And anyway, I’ve seen you on that Māori Television programme [2].  How come you’re doing this research?’

The Woman squirmed in her seat.

‘Well, partly because I’m takatāpui, partly because our rōpū Tīwhanawhana [3] have asked me to do it on their behalf and mostly because you know I’ve got the drive and commitment to get it done.’

‘Not to mention those brains you got from my side of the family!’

Ka tika Nana! I just want to record the real stories about takatāpui, the ones the Pākehā has kept hidden all these years.’

‘Who cares what the Pākehā says? They always think there’s only one side of the story – theirs!’

‘Nan, that’s the point. Only one story, that’s what they call the grand narrative (Walker 1994 cited in Keenan 1999:26) [4]. It’s the history that gets published and the history that gets taught in school. There’s a big gap between that and our oral traditions (Teaiwa, Nicole and Durutalo 1996:264), let alone our real life (Nakata 2007:201-204, Zalewski 1996). So our stories are the counter narratives that challenge that grand narrative.’

The Kuia laughed again.

‘So, the Pākehās win again! Our stories don’t always have to be about them or because of them (Keenan 1999:27). The only ‘grand’ narrative you need to know is that we came from Te Kore and Te Pō into Te Ao Marama. You can’t get much grander than the separation of Rangi and Papa, now can you?!’

Getting serious, the Kuia pinned her moko with a steely glare.

‘We belong to this land. Regardless of what the Pākehā does, we will survive. When is someone going to do the research on how Māori affects Pākehā eh? Ask them how their life has improved because they came to our whenua. Learning our stories and talking to your relations is being Māori – that’s part of our whakapapa. That’s what binds us to the whenua. Writing down Māori stories so the Pākehā can rewrite it until they agree with it…well, that’s what happens at the Waitangi Tribunal (Belgrave 1994 cited in Keenan 1999:28). That’s why Maori don’t like research! Like all our claim stuff, one set we have for us. The other set we have to put it in a certain way for the Pākehā – all to get back a tiny part of what was ours in the first place (O’Regan 2001:19-23, Sorrenson 1989:170-177) [5]. Meanwhile, all the lawyers making the money and we can’t afford to fix the roof. Where will it end?’

That said, the Kuia determinedly closed her eyes and turned away. Just as abruptly, she spoke again,

‘You remember we had our own whare wānanga.’

The Woman managed to nod without rolling her eyes. Her father pointed it out every time they drove to the Pā.

‘The mana of Māhaki depends on us remembering Māhaki stories and telling them to our children…in Māhaki language. Because if we don’t, who will (Deloria Jr 2004:17)? It’s up to other tribes to collect their own stories. Any real history of Māori has to be a collection of all of those histories out together (Pere, O’Regan and Royal cited in Keenan 1999:30-31). Even our relations in the Pacific, their stories are not the same as ours. The Pākehā did different things to different people and we all reacted differently. The Māori, we fought back, hard and fast. We still have to.’

As her Nana took a ragged breath, the Woman spoke quietly,

‘You’re right Nana, but you’re Christian and you support the Church. What about what the Church has done, what the missionaries did to our stories, our culture (Pere 1991:36-37)?’

‘I know what you mean but Christian beliefs added to the beliefs we already had – it didn’t replace them (Durie 1998:66). The Church was always something that helped keep the whānau together and our stories can sit beside the stories of the Bible.’

‘What about what Vercoe [6] said that time? What about the Destiny march against the proposed Civil Union Act? [7] That was a Māori Church attack on lesbians and gays and no one stood up against them.’

‘Those are those strange Pākehās I’ve heard about - the boys look like girls and the girls look like boys.’

‘But Nana, what about cousin Nicky - who we all call Tiffany now - and Uncle Kiki? All the ones like them who never married and never had children. What about me?’

‘Don’t be silly, you’re not like them.’

‘But I am Nan, we all are. We’re part of a takatāpui whānau - you hurt one of us, you hurt us all. Isn’t that what you taught me?’

‘He’s not even from here, why would we say anything to that Tāmaki boy? That’s up to his old people or even Te Ātiawa since he went to their rohe. If he came here, well, he better look out! Now, how about a nice cup of tea?’

When the Woman left, the Kuia thought over their kōrero. Once they were both settled again, she spoke,

‘I’ve been meaning to tell you a story from when I was young, long before I met your grandfather. I used to stay with my mate Moetu from the Coast. She was a card, used to wear this soft brown, big belted overcoat and the navy blue neck-scarf I got her for her birthday [8]. She wore a shirt and tie and I made sure her creases were always sharp. And perform! She was the best - could make up a waiata at the drop of a hat.’

The Woman listened with increasing interest.

‘Oh, we were so in love.’

The Woman spluttered her tea across the floor and the Kuia laughed so hard she choked.

‘I still miss her but you remind me a lot of her, your passion. The thing is I already had an arranged marriage. We couldn’t be together for long but she met someone else and they were together until she passed away - just before you were born. It would be nice to talk about her, to remember her. I’ll talk to the Trust for you about your project.’

The Woman hugged her tight but when she offered to show her Nan the research proposal she was pushed away,

‘I don’t need to see any papers. I know you. You are me. But just because you’re from home doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want (Irwin 1994:37, Durie 1998:66). You follow tikanga (Smith 1999:10, Mead 1997 cited in Cram 2001:40-49, Irwin 1994:36-39, Durie 1998:62-69) from the beginning and you’ll be fine. Leave the paperwork to the Research Team.’

‘Leave what to the Research Team?’

‘Here they are, you can talk to them now,’

said the Kuia happily as more whānau poured into the room.

‘Are you doing research? What’s it on?’

‘You know my cousin runs the claims research over in Taranaki. They’ve been doing it for years – got that nice boy Peter (Adds 2009) working for them.’

‘Did you hear heard about Te Rarawa’s research programme (Harris and Henwood 2007)? They’ve combined all their whānau and hapū research into one just like ours. I think they stole our idea! Ha!’

‘Ae, so everything’s in place for settlement.’

‘We’re bypassing the Tribunal eh? Takes too long and they still can’t make any decisions’ (Sorrenson 1989:171).

‘And it helps train up our young ones.’

‘And it makes sure we work to Iwi rules, not just jump for the Pākehā money.’

‘Research is alright as long as we got one of our own running it’ (Smith 1999, Rigney 1999:118).

As if suddenly remembering she was there, the Koro turned to her. ‘Is that what you’re doing? Coming home to help us with the claim?’

It was not the first time he’d asked. The Woman briefly outlined what she was planning and how it could fit into the successful hauora programme the Trust was already running.

The kaumātua glanced at each other and nodded.

Ka pai kōtiro. Haere tonu. You talk to your Uncle and when the Trust meets next month you come and talk eh? If they agree we can add it to our research schedule. It means you have to come home though to report every month.’

With profuse thanks, the Woman readily agreed, knowing that the University Ethics Committee would hardly accept it as ‘informed consent’ but it gave her the foot in the door she needed.

As the Trust meeting was called to order, the aunties, uncles and cousins then assumed a more authoritative air at the Board table. By the time it came to her item of the agenda, it was late and people were tired and fidgety. With quick decision, the Woman jumped to her feet and launched into a ribald waiata her Kuia had written. The whānau joined in with enthusiasm, laughing and stomping feet. Setting her papers aside, the Woman remained standing. Into the expectant silence, she began to whakapapa the tūpuna takatāpui who had been part of their whānau. The memories she recalled brought forth laughter. They brought forth tears. Others chimed in with their own memories.

The Woman concluded,

‘I am so thankful to come from a whānau which accepts those of us who don’t always fit the norms of what a ‘proper’ boy and girl should be. Many of our takatāpui are not so fortunate and they don’t go home anymore. The mahi I could do here and around the motu will honour the memories of all our tūpuna takatāpui so that future generations will remember those who would otherwise be consigned to the whakapapa page as ‘died no issue’. With your support, we can record those memories and by doing so, we can help the takatāpui who struggle without support and without hope. It won’t take up much of your time but I can’t do it without you. Honoa te pito ora ki te pito mate.’

And with a flourish she sat down.

Her Koro beamed at her and waited for the applause to subside. With great comic timing, he said, ‘Well, we haven’t had such a passionate speech at one of these meetings since Bison started eating those runaway pigs and cows!’ [9] He waited again and then spoke directly to his moko,

‘We’ve always had high expectations of you and you’ve never asked for our help before. As you know, we already have a big research programme and the Whānau Research Team coordinates it all. I move that the girl’s Takatāpui project be added.’

The Woman beamed back at him as the motion was seconded and unanimously agreed.


Adds, P. (2009) MAOR408 Lecture, Competing Narratives in Context: the Waitangi Tribunal. Wellington : Te Kawa a Māui, Victoria University of Wellington.

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1 Takatāpui is a traditional word used for all Māori who identify as LGBTFIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, fa’afafine, intersex, asexual, queer or questioning). Queer is a reclaimed word which is increasingly used by young people as an English equivalent of Takatāpui.

2 Takatāpui programme produced by Front of the Box Productions for the Maori Television Service (MTS) (2004-2008).

3 Tīwhanawhana Trust was founded in 2000 to provide a safe space for takatāpui to ‘build our community, tell our stories and leave a legacy.’ In addition to kapa haka,  Tīwhanawhana provides advice to community organisations and government agencies with a particular focus on supporting rangatahi.

4 See also Pettman (2001:93) on singular and plural ‘truths’, Zalewski (1996:350) on the rules for producing ‘truth’ and Foucault cited in Rabinow (1991:7) on searching for and ‘telling the truth’.

5   See also Foucault cited in Rabinow (1991:6) on how ‘power actually operates in society’.

6   Arguably the most high profile case of Māori homophobia hit the front page of the New Zealand Herald, 5 June 2004 under the banner of “A World Without Gays”. In opposition to the stated decision of the Anglican General Synod, Archbishop of Aotearoa and Polynesia, Te Wharehuihui Vercoe, announced that “homosexuality was not a part of traditional Māori society and that many people within the Māori community looked forward to the day when this would be the case again.”

7   Destiny Church March to Parliament led by Brian Tamaki, August 2006, under the slogan ‘Enough is Enough’.

8   Character based on Tuīni (Moetu Haangu) Ngāwai in Ngahuia Te Awekōtuku (1989:77-80).

9   True story. My father, Karauria Tarao (Bison) Kerekere, was the resident master carver/caretaker at Pākohai Marae. He threatened to butcher any more pigs or cows that wandered onto the Pā grounds until the Pākehā farmer fixed the fences. The freezer stayed full of steak and pork for some time.