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April 13, 2014 | by  | in Ngāi Tauira Opinion |
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Ai and Ati

Throughout our history, sexuality among Māori is something that has been celebrated, exploited and re-evaluated. Interestingly enough, Māori culture is accepting of a diverse range of sexual practices, as can be seen depicted in whakairo or wood carvings, and traditional songs as well as preserved relics. Indeed the haka, more commonly known by mainstream New Zealand as an aggressive war dance, was also used by some iwi as a way of showing physical or sexual prowess. There’s the Ngāti Porou haka Ruaumoko still being performed today; let’s just say that it isn’t just about earthquakes. Must say something about that iwi.

The Māori words that mean ‘to have sex’ or ‘to copulate’ are ‘ai’ and ‘ati’. However, ‘ai’ and ‘ati’ can also mean ‘progeny’ and ‘procreate’. This is where we get the words ‘Ngāi’, ‘Ngāti’, ‘Te Ati’ and ‘Aitanga’ that are applied to a tipuna or ancestor’s name to identify which iwi or hapū we belong to. For example:

Ngāti Tūwharetoa = Ngā ati a Tūwharetoa
The progeny of Tūwharetoa
Te Ati Haunui-ā-Pāpārangi = The descendants of Haunui-ā-Pāpārangi
Ngāi Tahu = Ngā ai a Tahu
The descendants of Tahu
Te Aitanga a Mahaki = The progeny of Mahaki

There is also considerable evidence of a diversity of relationship structures within traditional Māori culture; rangatira (of either sex) in particular often had many spouses. Similarly, a man or woman was able to favour a number of lovers without any detriment to his or her character. With the exception of puhi (high-born women set aside for a political marriage), sex before marriage carried no stigma. Carvings, written documents and oral storytelling suggest that erotic love occurred between people of the same gender, and that women and men had several sexual partners during their lives. However, this is not to say that Māori people were commitment-phobes either. From a Māori perspective, if you slept together, lived together and had children together, you were married – with or without a ceremony. It didn’t mean that you couldn’t split up, but sharing a bed with someone was a serious commitment.

This changed as Europeans introduced Victorian morals to New Zealand, and traditional songs and stories were censored. Guttered.

Ngāi Tauira
Ngāi Tauira – the Māori students’ association, which represents the interests of tauira Māori studying at Victoria University. Ngāi Tauira provides a legitimate voice for tauira Māori whereby they can feel comfortable and culturally safe within a Western academic environment.

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