A final question is why those who sought to define and explain tapu and noa were unable to see beyond an explanation which had as its base a hierarchy of genders and a revulsion of female sexuality. It is argued that coming from a culture where power, particularly sexual power, was considered a male characteristic, the early ethnographers would have been completely at a loss to explain or make sense of the raw female sexual energy they found in the Māori cosmogonic stories and saw reinforced in the every day operation of tapu and noa. They sought to reduce the significance of the womb symbolism of Te Kore and Te Pō, and to cancel out the principle of gender balance inherent in the union of of Papa and Rangi by inventing a supreme male god as the creator; they characterised Hineahuone as a passive receptacle for the mae seed, rendering her sexual energy invisible and ignoring the pivotal role played by Papa in the creation of humankind; they retold the Māui stories in ways that marginalised his kuia. But it was extraordinarily difficult to ignore or minimise the supreme strength of Hine-nui-te-pō. Faced with this irrefutable expression of female sexual power, they characterised it as evil and destructive. This fitted in nicely with biblical notions of woman being responsible for sin The negative connotations that then attached to the female sexual organs were also entirely consistent with Old Testament notions of women being unclean because of menstruation.
As a result, Māori women have not merely had their spiritual role minimised, nor have they simply been rendered invisible. Their once revered role as facilitators of the movement between tapu and noa states has been characterised in purely negative terms. They are now perceived, principally, as polluters of tapu. Perhaps the most denigrating aspect of the colonisation of tapu and noa, however, lies in the denial of the intrinsic tapu of women. This represents a frightening devaluation of women, the consequences of which will be explored at a later point.
Ani Mikaere, The Balance Destroyed: Consequences for Māori Women of the Colonisation of Tikanga Māori, Mana Wahine Thesis Series, Auckland International Research Institute for Maori and Indigenous Education, 2003, pp. 89 - 90.
Dr Ani Mikaere is Director of Māori Laws and Philosophy at Te Wānaga-o-Raukawa. More of her writing and thinking can be found on-line here and here.
A personal note:
For most of the time that I have been blogging, I have been living in Australia. Now that I have come home to Aotearoa New Zealand, I have been able to find writing by Māori women to include in this Friday Feminist / Womanist / Activist / Wāhine Maori series. As ever, I don't necessarily agree or disagree with the excerpts that I post. They are excerpts that are relevant to something that I have been thinking about, or to something that is current in the news or in my blogging community, or sometimes simply something that I have stumbled across and want to share. I try to include a link to further information about each writer, and importantly, I give the date of publication, so that it is possible to set the excerpt in the context of the time in which it was written.