Anne Salmond: Violent Maori fathers only a recent phenomenon


I agree with Alan Duff when he says, “Real men don’t beat up kids, or wives, or anyone else. Real men love.” I know that, as a child, he experienced domestic violence. I respect him as a writer and for his fantastic work with Books for Homes. I admire the passion with which he tackles the burning issue of child abuse among Maori and violence against women.

At the same time, when he suggests this hateful violence is a legacy of a “simple” pre-European Maori culture, with its “screaming, eye-popping haka”, he is wrong. In saying that, I realise I run the risk of being flagellated as a bleeding-heart liberal, or worse, by some of the Herald’s readers.

** cough **

Rather than appealing to scholarly authority, then, let’s turn to the accounts written by European men who visited New Zealand in the very early days and saw with their own eyes how Maori family life was conducted.

We can begin with the traveller John Savage, who wrote in 1807, “The children here appear to be treated with a great degree of parental affection. They are robust, lively, and possess, in general, pleasing countenances.”

Samuel Marsden, the leading missionary who visited New Zealand for the first time in 1814 (and could never be accused of possessing a bleeding heart), noted: “I saw no quarrelling while I was there. They are kind to their women and children. I never observed either with a mark of violence upon them, nor did I ever see a child struck.”

In 1824, Richard Cruise remarked: “In the manner of rearing children, and in the remarkable tenderness and solicitous care bestowed upon them by the parents, no partiality on account of sex was in any instance observed. The infant is no sooner weaned than a considerable part of its care devolves upon the father: it is taught to twine its arms round his neck, and in this posture it remains the whole day, asleep or awake.”

As the artist Augustus Earle wrote in 1832: “They are kind and hospitable to strangers, and are excessively fond of their children. On a journey, it is more usual to see the father carrying his infant than the mother; and all the little offices of a nurse are performed by him with the tenderest care and good humour.”

This was observed by men coming from an extremely patriarchal and class-based society.  Where children were seen and not heard.  Did they have the same point of view of tribal life the way we do now?  Would the fact they saw Maori men interacting with children negate the possibility of their violence towards children?

At the same time in Britain, it must be noted, the violent chastisement of women and children was commonplace, in the law and in everyday life. Under the doctrine of “coverture”, women and children were legally the property of their husbands and fathers, who were entitled to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline.

This accounts for the air of amazement, and sometimes disapproval, with which European men in the early 19th century described the lenient way in which Maori domestic life was conducted.

In order to tackle domestic violence in 21st century New Zealand, it’s vital to identify accurately the most likely causes for our shameful record of abusing women and children. Unfortunately, the Once Were Warriors storyline which indicates that Maori domestic violence is an ancestral legacy is part of the problem, not the solution.

It is wrong in fact, and it props up stereotypes that do a great deal of damage to Maori people and to our society.

Just because the British were amazed at a much more integrated and classless tribal society does not lead us to conclude these fathers were any less violent or ruthless to their children.

Children like Moko (and maybe Alan Duff, as well) are the victims in all of this. Rather than condemning tikanga, it might be wiser to draw upon ancestral Maori ways of conducting family life for inspiration and healing. As Samuel Marsden wrote in 1820, “There can be no finer children than those of the New Zealanders in any part of the world. Their parents are very indulgent, and they appear always happy and playful and very active.”

This is as true today as it was then in many Maori families. Instead of blaming Maori ethnicity or culture for New Zealand’s terrible record of domestic abuse, we need to look to poverty, alcohol, drugs, gang culture, prisons and other role models for brutal behaviour – in sport for instance – for the root causes of domestic violence in New Zealand, and tackle these at the source.

Or, we could just tell Maori parents not to torture, beat the shit out of, or murder their kids.

Or is that too subtle?


– Dame Anne Salmond is Distinguished Professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology at the University of Auckland, NZ Herald


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  • XCIA

    There are also accounts of Maori mothers encouraging their daughters to “marry” or go with European men as the perception was they would be better providers. However, when you look at who was here at that time which allegedly included escapees from across the ditch, assorted criminals, whalers, deserters, the mentally challenged from society liaisons et al, you could say that the DNA was not an ideal start in life for what could be described as a new branch of the human race.

  • taxpayer

    Dame Anne Salmond is Distinguished Professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology at the University of Auckland.
    And full of absolute BS.
    Look I am not stupid, it’s a fact that the nobody can stop what is happening, not the Govt, not me, not WO, nobody.
    But, I for one am sick and tired of these child MURDERERS being let off with manslaughter because they only meant to ALMOST beat the kid to death.
    Just look through the case histories, manslaughter, manslaughter, manslaughter over and over.
    I am not alone.
    As many here have observed the Maori leaders are silent.
    Ok they can’t really do much to stop it, but when there is constant bleating about things such as not enough Maori news on Red Radio ( as whinged by Willie Jackson on this very site) and silence about Moko, it really grinds my gears.

  • STAG

    There’s a taste in my mouth after reading this similar to smell of an effluent pond. What utter rot!

    Blame Whitey, it so much easier then truing to fix or even recognise the problem.

    I’ll clear it up for her.

    Statistically Maori children are killed by Maori (men or woman) at a higher and disproportionate rate then non Maori.

    Deal with it!

  • Caprice

    Our home encyclopedia, when I was a lad, had a picture of Maori child sitting in water, with a caption declaring Maori as having the cleanest children in the world because they bathed in hot pools all day.
    Some of the earlier landscape paintings were also designed to attract new settlers to a rather pastoral landscape, rather than the dense bush and steep hills of reality.
    Anne Salmond may well be correct, but I wouldn’t put too much credence in everything that got written, drawn, or passed down through oral tradition.

  • Mrs_R

    If those early writings are indeed an accurate account of how Maori treated their women and children, then modern Maori must hang their heads in utter shame when they consider how disappointed and shamed their ancestors would be if they could see what is going on today. Dame Anne Salmond says don’t blame the individual or their ethnicity – blame poverty, alcohol, drugs, gang culture, prisons and other role models for brutal behaviour. Why is it Dame Anne, that other ethnic groups of people can experience and be subjected to these very same evils, yet while the rest of us for the most part try to escape them, Maori statistically are in the majority for embracing them? Why do you think that is? Something is broken in the culture of modern Maori and rather than simply blaming the evil temptations in the world, she needs to be wonder why modern Maori succumb so easily to those temptations, particularly when it would seem their ancestors did not.

  • John

    Perhaps it would be best to acknowledge that there are bad parents of every race and not try to lump them all together based on their skin colour.

  • wanarunna

    I am sure that if you asked the right people today, you could come up with 5 or 6 quotes painting the parenting skills of some maori in equally glowing terms. That doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist now, and Dame Anne’s “quotes” don’t mean the problem didn’t exist then.

    • jimknowsall

      Indeed. Just as domestic violence today is a hidden problem shrouded in shame and secrecy, it probably was back then too.

  • Plantagenet

    I’m sure that many Maori were kind to their children, and spouses, in the alleged ‘good old days’ prior to the Treaty ( just as many of those awful Englishmen from their awful society were good to their children and wives as well). I’m also sure that slavery was part and parcel of pre-European Maori life, that’s where most of those shrunken heads that we’re so worried about nowadays came from. Those people were taken as slaves. It was also common practice to take women as secondary wives by the victorious chief, and the children were taken as spoils too. All this was done long before the dreaded white man ever set foot on these shores. History is a complicated and brutal business and very rarely does any group come out of it unscathed and that includes Maori. Dame Anne ought to understand that.

  • sonovaMin

    There are several things wrong with her analysis.
    It is obvious that the majority of maori men are just as good fathers as anyone else.
    It is too harsh to lump all maori men in the same boat because of colonialism.
    And It is a feral rump that are the problem – they are increasing because of the welfare state. Most killings are not by the fathers but by step fathers, or boy friends.
    Secondly if she is to believe with out question the accounts written by White males at the time then she can’t pick and choose what to believe.
    Just as an example early whalers were scathing of maori seamanship abilities calling them fair weather sailors who wouldn’t venture out if a wind was blowing. Far different to what she has written.
    There are too many examples to mention which contradict the revisionist writings of today’s ‘experts’.

  • JLS

    Just looks like another red herring to divert attention from the present and simply hold people accountable for their actions.

  • Joe Banana

    They are NOT MAORI
    There blood is diluted by GREED, LION RED , and DRUGS and unfortunately the European Race to even contemplate what a human should do with their children.
    Get rid of the HAKA for MEN. And the abilityfor the women to have multiple kids by multiple fathers and let NZ pay

  • dumbshit

    Not sure what Dame Ann, would consider recent phenomena. I have a 77 year old sister who would rather not dwell on the memories of her childhood. Tail end Charlie 12 years behind, and you knew to keep your head low, when his left eye, which was a barometer of how much Whisky he had consumed in a very short time, was all but closed. Still a pretty tough task master when sober, but pure evil when drenched with whisky.

  • raumatirover

    I wonder how this parenting/child rearing co-existed with tribal warfare, slavery and cannibalism? I’m also wondering if this affectionate approach to children has any bearing on current levels of sexual abuse within Maori families?

  • Michelle

    l read the book about the first missionaries to the Bay of Islands and the women talked about the Maori girls/women killiing their babies

    If you are in town on bene day you will see any number of loving Maori with their kids
    Well that is how they behave in public but behind closed doors is another matter for some poor children
    Some still take their first grandchild to raise and some of those poor little ones end up being the grandparents slave

  • Lindsay

    Salmond wrote,

    “I agree with Alan Duff when he says, “Real men don’t beat up kids, or wives, or anyone else. Real men love.” I know that, as a child, he experienced domestic violence. I respect him as a writer and for his fantastic work with Books for Homes. I admire the passion with which he tackles the burning issue of child abuse among Maori and VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN.” (my emphasis)

    But she doesn’t know that much about Duff.

    It was his Maori mother who beat his Pakeha father, a mild-mannered scientist. You can read a grueling account of living with her in Duff’s memoir, Out of the Mist and the Steam.

  • Union Jack

    Dame Anne Salmond is just another typical socialist apologist leeching off the taxpayer while churning out her crap against anyone who does not see things through rose tinted glasses.

  • Oarsum

    In “The Corruption of New Zealand Democracy – A Treaty Overview” by John Robinson he covers demographics. Part of the reason Maori were a dying population was their practice of infanticide, especially of girls. This led to a shortage of breeding “stock”, further cause for dwindling numbers.
    The musket wars between 1800 and 1840 reduced estimated numbers from 120,000 to 70,000. Despite the killing of many warriors in the wars, there were fewer women than men (again due to continuance of female infanticide.)
    In a comments section it is difficult to put in all the details necessary, c/w references, but the idyll that Anne Salmond believed existed is simply not supported by facts. Dreadful treatment of children is certainly not modern

  • JEL51

    We have been waiting for someone of your caibre to speak Anne, so we should appreciate your attention but that is so hard to do when (I guess, predictably) you have just undermined what Allan Duff had to say.
    It is people of your standing that should be heard but you come out again with the defensive/attacking mind set, which will do damned all for little kids being beaten to death..
    Stop, accept that there is much wrong with ‘some’ Moari.
    Then tell them that it is not good to have babies at 14,15 &16.
    Tell the young immature lads NOT to jump into becoming fathers before they have become men.
    Do as Allan suggested, teach those who don’t know how, to parent
    That is a damned site more important than who said what way back two centuries ago.
    No way are we ever going to allow 13 more babies to die at the hands of those who should be loving them.

    Step-up Anne.

  • Shadows

    Ok. My pick? Those guys saw the fathers with their YOUNG kids. Those fathers knew they needed to get their kids to love them. Because if they didn’t, their kids wouldn’t buy into the REAL lessons that their fathers would teach them when they were a bit older. I’m probably wrong though…

  • JeffDaRef

    I watch a lot of sport.

    I’m yet to see the one that involves beating children, occasionally to the point of death.

    Could she elaborate about what “brutal behaviour – in sport for instance” she thinks is a precursor to domestic violence?

  • Keanne Lawrence

    It will take awhile for this very heavy coat of whitewash to dry but the fishy smell is permanent. What an absolute load of bollocks from a supposed academic who studies the natives. She seems to have missed a lot perhaps that is not written books but the reality it as country mile from her perception.

  • Tinia

    Maori may well have been non-violent with their own kids. But what if you were a kid from another tribe?

    Babies could expect to be swung by the ankles to have their skulls crushed against a tree, older kids were taken as slaves, killed and eaten on the spot, or hamstrung to prevent escape and kept in pens.

    Anyone who came across the path of a war party could expect to be killed regardless of age, it was considered unlucky not to do so.

    Te Kooti’s band killed children including babies during his raid on Matawhero during which they killed 60 Maori and Europeans.

    I’ve also heard it said that women were “taonga”, again maybe in your own tribe, but if captured by another you could expect to be tied to other captive women by your hair using flax ropes, raped, murdered and eaten.

    In Russell in the early days the missionaries were appalled because the Chiefs would prostitute their own wives and children including little kids to visiting sailors. Some might describe that as child trafficking.

    While Europeans may well have beaten their own kids, it certainly wasn’t part of their culture to murder and eat other people’s kids. To try and say Maories were somehow nicer to kids than white people were is just absurd

    This is all just a lot of revisionist nonsense and a way to blame white people for the way that some (part) Maories behave today. And let’s not forget that this story simply means they think that their Brown ancestors were corrupted by their white ones.

  • Rebecca

    It’s frustrating when academics don’t match their discourse to the stats. In this case, Maori child abuse was approximately the same as non-Maori up to the 1980s. The huge problems began after that, with Maori rates of child abuse exploding through the 1990s and later. So why go back to colonial days when the problem is within living memory for many of us?

    Anne, why have Maoris uniquely started bashing so many more kids at the same time as Polynesians, who had a significant child bashing problem in the 1970s, have cleaned up their act?