Mana Tāne

Ko Ruapehu te Maunga,

Ko Whanganui te awa,

Ko Ngāti Pāmoana te hapū

Ko Te Atihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi te iwi

Ko Koroniti te Marae

Ko Seth Haapu ahau.

Whakapapa is central to mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge). It maps relationships and genealogies so that knowledge, stories, philosophies and spiritualities are organised, preserved and shared from generation to generation (Rāwiri, 2011). Ko wai au? Who am I? Only in recent years have I come to know my own whakapapa as a tāne (man) of Māori, NZ European and Tahitian descent. Since 1840, my hometown of Whanganui and many who connect to the land have been subjected to significant harm through policies, laws, racism, and classism related to colonisation (Waitangi Tribunal, 2015). Eurocentric history, systems, and discourses characterised my life and as a consequence, I have attempted to meet Eurocentric standards which often led to a diminished sense of my heritage, gender and identity. However, tertiary education has helped shift my understanding significantly. Unlearning colonial discourses and relearning mātauranga Māori has allowed me to name the symbolic, psychological, economic, and environmental losses that I have experienced due to colonialism and its current form as neoliberal policy. Critical engagement with Eurocentric knowledge has inspired in me an awakening of agency for self and others while kaupapa Māori principles such as tino rangatiratanga (self-determination) and whanaungatanga (collective responsibility) serve as guides in the production of relevant knowledge and potential (Smith, 2000). This reflective essay seeks to critically interrogate colonisation of Māori through Eurocentric knowledge production within Psychology while exploring Kaupapa Māori based approaches.

Eurocentric research has acted as a dynamic of power to shape and constrain knowledge production. Western perspectives in Psychology have assumed a that universal standard exists across human populations that generalises the experiences of other cultures to that of western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic societies (Henrich, Heine, & Norenzaya, 2010). Within Aotearoa, Eurocentric approaches have prioritised colonial understandings and as a result, Māori have not always been afforded the opportunity to frame their own experiences within knowledge production. Historically, Eurocentric approaches have assisted colonisation by enabling early settlers to regulate, script and define knowledge about Māori, then control how knowledge was practiced (L. Smith, 2006). In spite of this, Māori retain a unique and distinctive epistemology that encompasses stories, songs, visions, prophecies, teachings, whakapapa, and memories maintained across generations. Within western research many of these approaches are undervalued and viewed as non-scientific. For example, Eurocentric theories that privilege a rational subject afford no scope for ideas of spirituality, rendering Māori wairua invisible or invalid and characteristic of superstition (Smith, Maxwell, Puke, & Temara, 2016). When research is shaped by, and informed dialogue on, negative colonial discourses, representations continually position Māori as ‘inferior’ to Pākehā (Pihama, 2018). As a result, biases implicit in the ideologies of Eurocentric psychology have been realised as scientific truths (Gergen, 1990). As a consequence, colonial discourse in academic and clinical practices have been legitimised throughout the history of Psychology in Aotearoa.   

In my own understanding, these findings foregrounded some key impacts of how colonial discourse and knowledge production are absent of Māori epistemology, experiences world views and perspectives. Such impacts have led me consider how distinguished rights, silenced voices, and misconstrued information may obstruct an ability to learn the rich context of people’s lives and how my own narrative might be lost to articulations of colonial discourse. Throughout my studies, I have progressed from a position of being confident in Psychology as an exponent of human health and wellbeing to a position of applying a critical view of knowledge within the field. One such view that encompasses my own lived experience of colonisation. Although I am still learning, it is with a sense of critical adoption and responsibility that I am encouraged to attend to a knowledge base that is not marked with adverse interpretations of Māori, notably in the colonial discourse of tāne.

Historically, Eurocentric research has enforced constructions of Māori men as inherently violent and simpleminded (Hokowhitu, 2004). To provide context, early 19th century Western accounts described tāne as savage in nature while undermining mental capacity and emphasising physical attributes. Early settler Edward Wakefield demonstrated colonial discourse by comparing Māori to primates, “Nothing can remind one more forcibly of the monkey who has seen the world, than a Māori thus relating news” (Best, 1976, p. 120). In the fabric of society, many scientific and fictional discourses created the notion that Māori were inferior to Pākeha across all aspects of human existence (Smith, 1999). Hokowhitu (2004) noted that racist representations of Māori men justified the burden of early European settlers to civilise the savage native. Motives were centred around the belief that Māori had not acquired the refined attributes of European men and were therefore in need of enlightenment. Accordingly, colonial objectives to control, tame and undermine were materialised into state educational policies from the 1860s to the 1940s. Māori boys were educated in manual skills whereby limiting their ability to gain intellectual qualifications that could afford opportunities in European trade and commerce (Hokowhitu, 2007).

In the 21st century, mainstream media portrayals have further perpetuated colonial masculinity. Following early contact, processes of colonisation have disrupted and redefined gender identity through cultural, academic, political, psychological, and social constructs. Mass media representations of Māori impact on social relations and how Māori see themselves while undermining the foundations of justice and equity in New Zealand society (Barnes et al., 2012). In reality, Māori men are over represented in prison populations and poor health statistics while in fiction, similar discourses are reinstated. For example, the popular film ‘Once Were Warriors’ depicts tāne as brutal perpetrators and themes of poverty, alcoholism and domestic violence are seen to be generated by Māori patriarch, Jake Heke. In recreational entertainment, physical and staunch Māori masculinity has been re-engineered as an acceptable integration into Pākeha culture. It is noted that “Māori, by their savage nature, were supposed to fight in war or its peacetime substitute, rugby football” (MacLean, 1999, pg. 21). Over the years, iterations of a brutal Māori male archetype have been normalised as traditional characteristics of Māori masculinity.

Drawing from the dominant narrative of Māori men, I am able to unveil the visible and invisible ways in which colonisation has shaped my understandings of masculinity. As a child, I grew up in the seaside suburb of Castlecliff which was at once in economic decline with a reputation for gang activity. Akin to Hokowhitu’s (2004) findings, my early experience of dominant discourse was located in state education. Although my strengths were in creative and academic subjects I ascribed to the notion that physical education was an integral marker of masculinity. Like many Māori boys my age, our identity was more often celebrated on the sports field than in academia. Beyond the classroom, connections to prominent gang organisations were common through family, peer and community members. For example, my older brother lived much of his adult life as a member of the Whanganui Black Power and their subsidiary, the Nomads. In line with mainstream representations of Māori men, I accepted him as the dominant narrative would describe: violent, aggressive, and dangerous, in spite of his actions being contrary in my childhood memories of him as an active whānau member. However, his involvement with drug dealing, theft and bad company led to an assimilation of colonial masculinity, identity loss, imprisonment, and death by murder at age 24.

While not denying his ability to choose, I have come to a deeper understanding of how colonisation has sanctioned the symbolic, psychological, economic, and environmental losses experienced by many Māori men including my brother. As a result, my research process has extended beyond an activity of knowledge production to acknowledging the power of whanaungatanga (engagement) in research and not merely imposing knowledge without invitation or context. As a Māori man, understanding my own position has afforded me the privilege to engage more directly with matauranga Māori. In light of this, I wish to explore the cultural practices that protect and care for Māori within a landscape that has survived extreme political and cultural changes while under colonial control (King & Robertson, 2017).

Kaupapa Māori research is a way to reindigenise knowledge production within Psychology. It is anchored in indigenous whakapapa and epistemology, predating European imperialism and colonialism in the 17th century. This contextual and symbolic approach decolonises psychology through a process of recovery, re-establishment of culture, legitimacy and the assertion of rights anchored in Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing (Reid, Varona, Fisher, & Smith, 2016). Encompassed within indigenous knowledge are traditional mātauranga and related concepts, theories, practices and protocols for being in the world. These ideas traverse western philosophical concepts of metaphysical, existential and epistemological ways of knowing (Smith et al., 2016). As an alternative to Eurocentric concepts such as WEIRD, tenets of Kaupapa Māori Research draw upon the unique values and tikanga (customs) of Te Ao Māori. They derive from values embedded in Māori ways of knowing and Māori ways of being. Concepts include whanaungatanga (kinship), manaakitanga (respect for others and oneself), whakapapa (genealogies) and aroha (love). Each of these tenets can inform the way in which research is conducted by creating a relevant and considerate approach to understanding Māori through meaningful connection, symbolism and storytelling.

In my understanding, kaupapa Māori research draws on a knowledge base that allows Māori to feel a sense of belonging, particularly in relation to traditional and relevant patterns of practice. Although, Eurocentric research has often omitted Māori perspectives from dominant cultural accounts, Indigenous psychology has been able to embrace western ideologies to some extent (Smith, 2000). When considering concepts such as whanaungatanga, the domain is able to interact with colonisation in the sense that it contravenes the notion of the neoliberal individual existing separately to a rich network of relations including family, friends and community. Alternative methods, as described, have opened my understanding of Psychology in that there is space for many different approaches. Therefore, I wish to position my academic journey in the direction of decolonising information and acknowledging the complexities and challenges of this with the intention of recovery through facilitating Māori agency.

Taking into account the resurgence of kaupapa Māori research, Māori have begun to respond to colonisation by reclaiming their identity through cultural practices (Smith et al., 2016). For tāne, drawing on cultural knowledge helps to cope with the ways colonial practices have influenced and shattered Māori masculinities by enabling the pluralities of Māori identity. In addition, negative mainstream stereotypes are challenged through positive interactions within family and community relationships. Research conducted by King & Robertson (2017) explored the benefits of drawing from cultural ways of knowing as a means to enhance and maintain relationships. Their study found that Māori men were able to create spaces where their masculinity was no longer governed by narrow binary through kauapapa Māori concepts such as whanaungatanga. Positive and meaningful relationships allowed men to nurture connections through shared experience which serves to strengthen a sense of belonging. Ways in which networks are demonstrated encompass the re-emergence of traditional practices such as aroha (love), awhi (help) and tautoko (support) which serve to deepen ties with intimate partners, whānau, and communities (Smith et al., 2016). Through enacting cultural ways-of-being, Māori men are able to move past the individual self of colonial construction in order to reclaim their masculinities as inherently relational and uniquely Māori (Smith, 2000). This not only enriches their lives but brings to light the many positive aspects of Māori masculinities such as nurturance, care and love that are often hidden from mainstream New Zealand.

In my understanding, recentering Māori masculinity in traditional ways of being allows tāne to express all aspects of their identity be it strength, love, mana (power) or affection. These relational values create a positive sense of self, and centralise Māori aspirations that may otherwise be lost to socio-cultural challenges, cultural isolation and processes of colonisation (Reid, Varona, Fisher, & Smith, 2016). Upon reflection, I recall how my late father challenged the dominant discourse surrounding Māori men. He took the idea of normalising the emotional and affectionate attributes of masculinity by modelling  manaakitanga through his work in mental health. He showed me that it is ok to be a caring Māori man by making expressions of aroha a normal, everyday occurrence. Although he has passed, I carry his attributes and those of my tūpuna (ancestors) through whakapapa as the living face of a rich cultural identity that shifts the context of Māori within a modern neoliberal society.

This essay sought to critically interrogate and reflect on colonisation of Māori through Eurocentric knowledge production while exploring Indigenous alternatives. In this investigation, the aim was to assess concerns related to the limitations of Eurocentric psychology in regard to Māori identity as it relates to Kaupapa Māori contexts. The relevance of decolonising Eurocentric knowledge production and recentering Kaupapa Māori focused research is clearly supported by the current findings. In general, it seems that mātauranga Māori is, on a whole, more beneficial for Māori wellbeing and research production than Western approaches that impose dominant colonial discourses. Whilst this study did not cover all concepts related to Māori, colonisation and knowledge production, it did emphasise some of the core intersections of culture and psychology in Aotearoa. 






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