Pre-colonial Maori openly accepted gender and sexual fluidity claims Takatāpui scholar

Takatāpui scholar Elizabeth Kerekere has just completed her PhD in the topic. Photo / Doug Sherring

According to lesbian Elizabeth Kerekere pre-colonial Maori were sexually liberal and accepting of “gender fluidity.” Before colonialisation she says Maori were “sex positive.”

Elizabeth Kerekere’s recently completed PhD argues that pre-colonial Maori were sexually experimental people who openly accepted gender and sexual fluidity. Anyone who didn’t fit into heterosexuality was considered “takatāpui”.

Morgan Butler who identifies as Takatāpui, queer, says “Aotearoa has huge Maori heritage, I wish there was more understanding of the culture and value so takatāpui wasn’t such a shock to people’s system. Validating our values and views in Maoridom would help bring back the word takatāpui.”

-NZ Human Rights Commission FB page

It certainly appears that Kerekere went looking for validation of takatāpui values and views in New Zealand historical documents. She found evidence of what she was looking for if you accept her interpretation of events.

[…] Kerekere, who identifies as lesbian, has spent five years writing her PhD and discovering new evidence takatāpui existed in pre-colonial society.[…]

Now she’s on a mission to normalise the term and create acceptance for LGBTQ Maori.

“Takatāpui were part of the whanau, we were not separate, we were not put down, we were not vilified for just being who we are,” Kerekere says.

Other Polynesian cultures have similar concepts for non-binary people like the fa’afafine of Samoa, the māhū of Hawaii, and the fakaleiti of Tonga.

Kerekere, 51, says the story of takatāpui can be seen in chief Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke’s telling of the famous Maori love story between Hinemoa and Tūtānekai. In Te Rangikāheke’s version when Tūtānekai falls in love and marries Hinemoa, he laments the loss of his intimate relationship with a man named Tiki, his hoa takatāpui.

Kerekere says the fact they were sexually intimate was pretty obvious.

“Some people say that’s not sexual but then what do you think ‘intimate’ means?”

I can think of many different things that the term ‘intimate’ means but what was the Maori word used to describe their relationship? If it was ”mema’ rather than ‘wahine tane’  or mo te taatai’ then that sounds more like a Bromance not a sexual relationship.

Maori were sex positive before colonisation. This can be seen in stories and songs, Kerekere tells the Herald, like the waiata about an elder woman singing about how her vagina used to travel the country. […]

Kerekere’s thesis cites the story of missionary William Yates being sent home to England for engaging in mutual masturbation and fellatio with more than 100 young Maori men. What was interesting was that in the court news it said “the Maori weren’t ashamed and did not believe anything to be wrong”, Kerekere says.

An alternative explanation for that story is that yet another paedophile or pederast from the church targeted a large group of young boys or adolescents. As the young Maori men or boys were unlikely to be able to speak English I would be interested to know who translated that they weren’t ashamed? Yates himself?

“He was just a massive embarrassment to the Church because everywhere he went he kept doing it.

“The key thing was that it was accepted by Maori.”

Really? Pedophile priests inside the Catholic church have gotten away with sexual abuse of Catholic children for more than one hundred years because members of the church swept it all under the carpet and pretended it wasn’t happening. Lack of action does not equal acceptance in my book. An alternative and just as valid interpretation of what happened is that Maori back then displayed tolerance of evil behaviour.

As English culture spread to Maori, sexual freedom was stamped out, Kerekere says. Women and children were seen as the chattel of men and subservient.

Religion certainly changed things as concepts such as marriage, monogamy and the missionary sexual position were introduced.

“Colonisation changed everything – our expression of sexuality, women having control of their own body, female leadership.

“We lost all of that, having fluidity, being polyamorous . . . our sexuality was stolen.”

Kerekere analysed 150 proverbs on gender, relationships and sex for her thesis. She drew and painted them to find patterns in their imagery. Fire and “talking in the night” were common metaphors for sex, she says.

It was when she found the whakatauki (proverb) “Nga korero ahiahi o Hinewha” which literally translates as “the night-time talks between women”. After looking at other metaphors Kerekere believes it actually means sex between two or more women.

“‘Talking in the evening’ often was an allusion to sex. When you see all these other examples and in each one it means sex, that means this one also means sex.

“You couldn’t have sex during the day, that means you’re lazy. There’s lots of whakatauki about sex at night.

“It’s the first new proof of takatāpui in decades. When I found it I was crazy excited.”

Kerekere believed she had found two other whakatauki, one alluding to polyamorous male relationships and another a female polyamorous one.[…]

-NZ Herald


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