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September 10, 2018 | by  | in Opinion Te Ao Mārama |
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The Values that Maketh the Man

This article aims to discuss the role of Māori male masculinity in contemporary New Zealand. I am writing this in hopes that this will recognise the influence colonisation has had on Māori male identity. Māori made up 50.7 per cent of New Zealand’s prison population, despite accounting for just 14.9 per cent of the population at the last census. Sixty-five per cent of male prisoners and 63 per cent of female prisoners under 20 are Māori. Ninety per cent of prisoners under 20 have had contact with Oranga Tamariki. These high rates of punishment for Maori seems to be a popular characterisation of contemporary Māori masculinity that needs to be challenged and the place of colonisation in New Zealand needs to be discussed with depth if we have any chance of healing our people from this hurt.

The two questions I want to answer here is

Firstly; did this culture of masculinity always exist among maori men?

The easy answer is of course not. since the arrival of Maori in 1350 AD there has been several key ideals that have been solidified as part of the culture. These are: whanaungatanga for establishing meaningful and reciprocal relationships; manaakitanga for sharing and supporting each other; aroha for having respect for each other. Academics such as John Rangihau of Tuhoe has extended on these values, encasing Māoritanga (Maori culture) inside the concept of aroha (profound love) from this concept he depicts how all Maori cultural concepts are underpinned by aroha.

Secondly; where did this culture of masculinity come from?

It is important to point out that Māori masculinity cannot be analysed merely from a contemporary snapshot, as masculinity is a historical construction. So in order for us to pull apart the role of masculinity in New Zealand we have to understand the effects colonial attitudes have had on Māori men. Research out of the University of Sydney identifies the vital role institutions such as governments and schools have on the construction of gender. Gender orders are constructions subject to change throughout history. Therefore, it makes sense that gender is connected with the process of colonization arguably the most important historical change in modern world history which has been critical for the making of masculinities, for both the colonizing powers and those who have been colonized. The mentality that a white person is the exemplary human, and others are defined against their unmarked norm was inherent in the fabric of 19th century European society, Reverend Butterfield, the headmaster of a Gisborne Māori boys boarding school, told young Maori men that “999 out of 1000” Māori boys could not bear the strain of higher education. In commerce, Maori could not hope to compete with the Pakeha. This idea of white supremacy has influenced contemporary New Zealand via colonial expansion, ultimately discounting Māori people and tikanga Māori. Pākehā would use this idea to highlight the ways in which white men had been “burdened” with civilizing indigenous men as they were thought to be incapable.

These early colonial representations of Māori men as unintelligent were later modified to Māori men being more “practical-minded” as the colonial government realized the benefits of having a manual workforce resulting in Māori boys receiving a limited form of education that funnelled them into non-academic industries and vocations. In the 1860s through the 1940s, New Zealand’s educational policies reflected “a narrow and limited view of Maori potential and the role of Maoris [sic] in New Zealand society”.

However, the achievements of Māori students in math, science, and literature at Te Aute College were equal to any in New Zealand, with the school producing national leaders such as Sir Apirana Ngata and Te Rangi Hiroa. In 1866 the Inspector of Native Schools James Pope complained about this, suggesting Te Aute should instead be an institute where “Maori boys could be taught agriculture, market gardening, stock farming, poultry keeping and bacon curing.” As a result, school authorities dropped many of the academic subjects from the Te Aute curriculum having significant implications for Māori boys attending the school. In 1906, the inspector of Native Schools William Bird declared that Māori were unsuited to academic subjects and unable to compete with Europeans in trades and commerce — the natural genius of the Māori was limited to manual labour. This mixture of circumstances where Indigenous males create their identities from the intergenerational effects of residential school experiences that foster feelings of cultural loss; loss of identity; and discrimination based on lack of opportunities. The effects of the restriction of Māori boys in New Zealand’s education system has led many New Zealanders to view Māori as lazy, irresponsible, dole-bludging, dirty, socially and morally lax, ignorant, superstitious, and opportunist, living in over-crowded accommodation and failing to cultivate or care for their land. At least this is how they were portrayed in media. This then led disillusioned, indigenous youth to turn to gangs for a sense of identity and purpose. This can be seen through the rise of the Black Power, who in 1977 banned any of the chapters from wearing Nazi regalia in an attempt to better connect with their predominantly Māori roots. These efforts, were supported and influenced by people such as Denis O’Reilly, who saw the gang as a form of Māori resistance and tried to angle it toward positive endeavors, this proved to have lasting effects. Denis moved to Wellington in his early 20s becoming an activist and a member of Black Power. O’Reilly sympathised with the plight of urban Māori and was often shocked by police attitudes toward them. He saw Black Power as a modern urban tribe that could be a vehicle for positive social change in the lives of its members. Research done in Ontario with Indigenous Canadians who were involved in gangs show corresponding experiences where all of the participants identified assimilation and colonization as a detrimental influence on indigenous men’s identities. One of the participants described colonization as when “our whole culture took a nosedive.” Other men described that they felt inadequate as the fathers because they cannot protect their children. They feel completely powerless and referenced this powerlessness as losing their warrior spirit. Three of the eleven men disclosed that either they or their immediate family members had been sexually abused and they attributed their abuse to the cultural disruption that came from the violence of colonization and the subsequent transmission of intergenerational trauma. Some of the men also disclosed facing racist stereotypes throughout their lives and talked about how this had negatively impacted their identities as Indigenous men. One man stated how his feelings of self-esteem were negative “because I was told I was stupid, worthless, that I’d never amount to anything. A lot of things that our people are told, you know?” Another man shared how common stereotypes about Indigenous men that negatively influenced his identity also led to criminalization.

Despite indigenous men being spread globally, their collective experiences are eerily similar. Where even pioneering Māori leaders such as Ngata and Hiroa from Te Aute were only further undermined by the New Zealand education system. This summarizes the similar experiences of colonization, where indigenous men have been subjected to aversion of themselves and their intellect.

Nā Te Nia Matthews

Ngai Tuhoe

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