Ngahuia-Te-Awekotuku Māori scholar, lesbian feminist

I was really struck with this woman, her knowledge, her woman-centered perspective, and her exuberance and humor, in the Marks of Mana videos. So I went searching for books and articles, and they were hard to find, at least from here in North America. She has novels, but no one seems to have a copy. But there are videos!

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku — He Tohu interview

Video and transcript at the link above.

"I think that one of the great repositories of mana wā hine, or Māori female strength, fortitude, resilience, and vision is in our literature; in our traditional waiata, mō teatea, haka, and poi. Ngāta, of course, and Pei Te Hurinui-Jones, who are both within the Archives, and of course Te Rangi Hīroa and Māui Pō mare, acknowledge this and honour it. The composers, the poets, the creators of traditional Māori literature were primarily female.

Where did the modern concept of wāhine toa originate?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: In the notion of wāhine toa, you have an idea of a female warrior. We have always been warriors, but certainly because we are not a — I don’t know how to put this - we are not an iwi or tribal society which is the same, the expression of female strength, of woman power can vary. And I think that because of the way that we wanted to approach the issues in the 1970s and 1980s, we tended to actually attempt to standardise, and turn everybody into the same thing, and we’re not.

What did a powerful wāhine in the 19th century look like?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: I think looking back to the 19th century, and the women who signed the Treaty, and the very few women who participated in the Suffrage revolution; and I’m speaking of Māori women, of course. You’ll note that they are few and far between. You’ll also note that they are rangatira [of chiefly class, hereditary leaders], that they are women of substance, women of exalted lineage; they’re not your everyday flax-weaver [laughs].

They’re not your everyday mother breastfeeding her baby, they are women of substance. What about the rest? What did they do? If we look at the 19th century and consider the Land Wars, particularly here in the Waikato, and of course across to Taranaki, one of the few, and rare and, I think largely unrecognised energies in contributions made during that period, was by female fighters, and female leaders. And that’s actually not recorded.

Some of it is in the Archives, certainly I find some when we did the Te Rohe a Mai Exhibit in 2013 at the National Library. We have to think about them, and we have to remember them.

What do you think of the women who signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: Those women were astonishing, and yet they were the thirteen whom we have identified as female. We don’t know if all those signatures, or the remaining hundreds on the — is it nine pages, or nine versions — are entirely male. I say that a lot.

How do you know if you look at a long Māori name, if the holder of that name is a male? It’s a Victorian 19th century patriarchal construct to assume that the signatories of the Treaty were — all except thirteen or fourteen — male. I really challenge that .

Did Māori women participate in politics?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: They were in the houses; they were in the whare rū nanga. You couldn’t keep the likes of Hinematioro, or who else? Who would be another one? Rahi Karenga, out of those houses; you couldn’t. So if the counting was done in the local whare rūnanga, there was no way the women were going to leave; absolutely no way. So I actually suspect that in its own quirky and unusual way, within the Māori world, with those four electorates, there was a wider suffrage.

How did Māori adopt new ideas from Pākehā?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: One of the really exciting things about our people and our history is that — and, you know, ha koa he whaaro whakahihi, even though this is a really arrogant thing to say, I think that Māori, particularly at that time, were incredibly adaptable — and this is reflected in the architecture, particularly - and incredibly inventive, and wonderfully responsive to innovation and change. ...

What is your view of the current state of gender equality?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: As an old-world feminist [laughs] from way back, like, from the very, very early days of the second wave here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I would say it’s a male problem. That the roots of so much suffering, pain, social inequality comes from patriarchy, from the male sense of the male god. I believe that. So within our own environment, within our own ongoing colonial environment, despite the likes of the fabulous Helen Clark [laughs] and the fabulous Sian Elias, and Lowell Goddard, we still have a critically, and grotesquely defrauded environment, in which the assertion of male power continues unchallenged. I believe that, I do. And those of us that seek to challenge it rise, and then we can fall again.

What do you think about assumptions of gender in the Treaty story?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: For me, he tangata, a human being is a human being, and in the understanding of the Treaty that we have now, I think the notion of the human being is inherent, regardless of sexuality or diversity or actual gender. You know, the Treaty is not specific to males and females, it’s specific to everyone, to everyone.

We’re all in there, we’re all in there. Those of us, of course, who were actually partners within the relationship — which brings me to another mad idea too, and it’s that, you know, we look at the hundreds of names, I’m sure that more than fourteen or fifteen were female. I’m absolutely sure of that, because if you look at the way that people are named in my world, my name Te Awekotuku is a man’s name. The assumption, of course, is that the signatory or the marking was a male. We don’t know.

What do you think about the Treaty reconciliation process?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: Everybody yaps on about mana, about mana tangata, you know, about the essential humanness and dignity of being people. And yet in something like understanding the process of negotiating and resolving the wounds and the pain.

And here in Hamilton, you know, we are on the site of some of the most horrific battles this island has ever seen. How can we resolve that agony with money? Cannot. It’s got to people sitting down, and having children together, and enjoying each other’s company, and really listening.

Will the Treaty ever be finished?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: I don’t think the Treaty itself will ever finish. I think that as long as there is a noticeable lack of equity, of justice, of fairness, and a perceived lack — I shouldn’t say noticeable, rather perceived lack — the grievances will never go away.

I think that for many of us, the Treaty becomes like a pou tokomanawa around which we can construct an environment in which we can all function equally, and joyously.

What is your message for young people in the rainbow community, in generations to come?

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku: Never give up. Never, never give up. And know that... ahakoa he te ao wairua — even though you can’t see us, we are there for you; we are there for you. Just look at our photographs, just look at our carvings, just look at our imagery, and we’ll be there for you.

About lesbian and gay youth

Professor Ngāhuia Te Awekotuku is an anthropologist and art historian at the University of Waikato. She was active in the 'second-wave' of feminism in the 1970s and was one of the first to articulate the intersections between feminism, Māori sovereignty issues and gay and lesbian rights. 

As an openly lesbian academic, she was denied entry to the United States in 1972 on the grounds that she was homosexual. She returned to the United States in 1994 to represent Aotearoa New Zealand at the "Stonewall 25" celebrations and international gay and lesbian human rights conference in New York.

In this excerpt from a radio interview recorded then, she talks about the impact colonialism has had on the tradition of same-sex relationships which once existed across the Pacific, and her concerns for young homosexual people living in small towns.

Learning from Leaders with Dr. Ngahuia Te Awekotuku

Video of lecture in Canada on Jan 13, 2020

She tells about her own life and work, then goes to powerful women in Māori legend and history. This is Te Ata, who was enthroned for 40 years, and who the speaker served over much of this time.

The four books authored by Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, two non-fiction, one poems, one novel. She wrote the definitive text on Māori weaving.

The next picture, and story, is about a woman whose name i could not catch. She was a female chief whose country was invaded by a man she had been lovers with. She got him to agree that anyone who went between her legs would be spared. So she went to the top of a the house crest and spread her legs, and hundreds who took refuge in the lodge were spared.

Then she talks about various Māori women's initiatives, including health organizations and a women's shelter.

Rotorua commemorates and celebrates Matariki [Pleiades]

On Tuesday 6 July 2021, 5.30pm, Ngahuia Murphy (Ngāti Manawa, Ngāti Ruapani ki Waikaremoana, Tūhoe, Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāti Kahungunu) will explore the sacredness of te whare tangata – the house of humanity, weaving ritual, traditions and connections to atua wāhine – the female deity.

The second talk will take place on Wednesday 7 July 2021, 6pm. Aroha Yates-Smith (Te Arawa, Tainui, Takitimu, Horouta, and Mataatua) grew up in Rotorua and her PhD looked into lost stories of Māori female deities. Her thesis, titled Hine! e Hine!: rediscovering the feminine in Māori spirituality, examines the role of atua wāhine – Māori female guardians and the marginalisation of the feminine, both past and present.


Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Waikato, Ruānuku) will give the final talk on Thursday 8 July 2021, 5.30pm. Ngahuia Te Awekotuku is a short story writer, essayist and spokeswoman on Māori, feminist and lesbian issues. She has worked across the heritage, culture and academic sectors contributing to various communities and organisations as an activist, curator, lecturer and researcher."

Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (1949 - present)

"Short story writer, essayist and spokeswoman on Maori, feminist and lesbian issues, was born in Rotorua of Te Arawa, Waikato and Tuhoe descent. At Auckland University she was active in gay and feminist movements and Nga Tamatoa, the emergent Maori rights group. She completed an MA in English (1974), and PhD on the socio-cultural effects of tourism on the Te Arawa people (1981). She was curator of ethnology at the Waikato Museum, 1985 - 1987, lecturer in art history at Auckland University 1987 - 1996, and is now professor of Te Kawa a Maui (School of Maori Studies) at Victoria University of Wellington.

"Her first short story, Tahuri: the Runaway, was included in New Women's Fiction (1987) and in her own collection, Tahuri (1989). Loosely autobiographical stories of a young Maori girl's growing up and discovery of sexual identity, this collection makes Maori, and especially lesbian, women central and Pakeha peripheral, carrying out what Te Awekotuku has called her

"responsibility to the fierce women fighters, shamans and poets of Maori legend and myth the resilient courageous women of my own extended family to ensure their stories are not lost in a mawkishly romantic muddle of male translated history".

"She is working on a Marsden funded project located in the Maori & Psychology Research Unit. Ta Moko : Culture, Body Modification and the Psychology of Identity is a three year study which began in November 2001. It explores the origins, technology, and narratives of traditional Maori skin adornment, and also investigates contemporary practice, attitudes and expressions.

"She has been working as a museum curator and Art History lecturer for the last twenty years, focussing on Maori and Pacific Art, and also the arts of other indigenous peoples. She is also interested in women's and gender issues, particularly in sexualities, performance, and ritual."

Complete and Continue