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July 23, 2018 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Sexuality in Pre-Colonial Aotearoa More Liberal Than You Thought

Evidence uncovered by Māori scholars and activists is shedding new light on early Māori views of sexuality.
The dominant narrative throughout history has been that diverse genders and sexualities did not exist in pre-colonial Māori society, and were introduced by European settlers. However, a closer look at Māori art, waiata, and language suggests a different story. In a recent episode of the podcast Bang!, Emeritus Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku found that Māori have a history of diverse sexualities and gender identities.
The fact that the term takatāpui (currently in use as an umbrella term for diverse genders and sexualities among Māori) predates European contact is key evidence of this. “I believe there was a really robust and vigorous and intense exploration of sexualities, and an acceptance of them,” said Te Awekotuku.
Evidence can also be found in waiata describing same-sex intimacy and desire, and carved papahou (treasure boxes) depicting same-sex sexual acts. Dr Elizabeth Kerekere’s extensive studies of takatāpui further support ideas of sexual exploration and freedom before colonisation. “There is no doubt that fluid sexual intimacy and gender expression was common among Māori in pre-colonial and post-contact times and has continued ever since. It was accepted without punishment and in spite of repressive English measures,” wrote Kerikeri in her 2017 thesis on the subject. Conservative colonial views of sexuality forced many takatāpui to hide their identities, and this forced invisibility likely fuelled the idea that sexual fluidity did not exist in the pre-colonial Māori world. Thus, it would be more apt to say that Europeans introduced homophobia, than homosexuality. Te Awekotuku and Kerekere’s studies highlight the historical and continuing existence of takatāpui, as well as the diversity and acceptance that flourished in Te Ao Māori prior to colonisation — a history that has been white-washed for far too long.


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