Guest post: Two world views

Cross posted

Adele spent a long time on The Hand Mirror, discussing what the furore around Te Papa meant for her (tahi, rua). She has put a detailed comment on my blog, describing Te Ao Taangata Whenua – the world view indigenous to Aotearoa, and how it contrasts with a Western world view. With her permission, I am posting her comment as a post.

Adele is my guest here. Please, keep any discussion courteous. If you feel tempted to hit the keyboards and shoot from the hip, could I ask you step away for a while, and think about how to phrase your comment so that it is at least civil, even if you don’t agree with her, or you find things she says difficult. I myself don’t agree with some things Adele says, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about Te Ao Taangata Whenua.

Kia ora, Adele!


I am not wishing to dwell too much on the actions of Te Papa except to say that their process lacked foresight. What I would like to debate, however, is the sharing of public space between opposing worldviews – joined by a Treaty recognised in principles, if not fact. I use the term worldview to denote a discussion about ideologies more so than race.

The two worldviews I speak of are, to the left, Te Ao Taangata Whenua – the worldview indigenous to Aotearoa, and to the right, The Western Tradition, the worldview of the coloniser. Te Ao Taangata Whenua is used here rather than Te Ao Maaori because this term better acknowledges the many peoples indigenous to the whenua – nations of people identified as hapuu, or Iwi. The two worldviews are opposing because their cores values are fundamentally different.

The differences became officially manifest in two versions of a singular intent towards sharing place and space -Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the indigenous account and The Treaty of Waitangi, its English counterpart. Two versions in open conflict, such that nowadays, emphasis is focussed on spirit rather than substance and on principles rather than terms.

Developing a principled approach towards sharing place and space is also contentious especially as the worldviews in co-habitation are polar opposing in bed. One connects the spiritual, natural, and human realms via whakapapa. The other has mankind at its summit, holding dominion over the natural world. The hegemonic uplifts democracy as fair and just. The marginalised finds democracy unfair to the minority opinion. Our Gods are seventy plus in number, your God is money.

Despite being incompatible bed mates, there is a covering agreement to share place and space in partnership. The abusive relationship that currently passes for partnership is a hoohaa. There is an obligation on behalf of the state to actively ensure that taangata whenua (Maaori) have and retain full exclusive and undisturbed possession of not only the language but also the culture. That obligation extends to Government agencies. This argument has nothing to do with separating church from state.

Te Ao Taangata Whenua is not sexist. Our cosmology overflows with the power of the feminine. In Te Reo, the personal pronouns and possessive personal pronouns are gender neutral – there is no differentiation by gender. The significance of women is also symbolised in the language – whare tangata, the house of humankind, whenua – means both land and afterbirth, and hapuu meaning both pregnancy and large kinship group. We all whakapapa to Papa-tuu-aa-nuku, mother Earth – in other words, our worldview has strong attachments to the matriarch.

When the western worldview arrived in Aotearoa, it bought along dis-empowered women – mere chattels to their men-folk. It arrived into the world of the savage whose stories spoke of the strength and power of women. The missionaries, in particular, were heaven sent in destroying the heathen and the matriarch. Thus, in the retelling of the stories into written form, mana waahine was rendered impotent.

Mana waahine, today, continues to rage against the oppressive nature of the western worldview – the patriarch with a holier than thou attitude. Thus mana waahine and feminism are also bedfellows in dispute. Feminism, is fathered by the patriarch, and seeks merely to gain equality with their men-folk. Mana waahine, belongs to the matriarch, and aspires to regain the power and strength that rightfully belongs to her – emanating directly from Atua.


12 responses to “Guest post: Two world views

  1. When I say I don’t agree with some things Adele says, I don’t mean her description of Te Ao Taangata Whenua. (It would be very odd to disagree with a description of something I know only a very small amount about.)

    My disagreement is around the characterisation of Western feminism. I feel as though many feminists now work very hard at intersectionality, and that feminism as a whole has long moved past simply looking for equality of men. It has become much richer, especially as feminists have started to listen to some womanist theorists, and to try to grapple with the criticisms that womanists have made. I don’t think that feminism is monolithic, any more than Maoridom is monolithic. However, I do accept that this work on intersectionality is very recent, and that it is by no means finished, and that it has a particular character in Aotearoa New Zealand which we to learn more about.

    Some of the other things I find challenging about what Adele has to say are better discussed in the thread where she put her comment. In any case, it will take me a little time to think through what I want to say.

  2. My feminism is not related to equality with men. It is about justice and respect regardless of gender. These are not the same things, I don’t think.

  3. My identity is not solely linked to my racial origions and my great great aunt who was one of the first woman pilots here would be severely upset to be described as a chattel due to her marital status. I love to learn new stuff but there is just much generalizing and putting people in separate boxes hat I struggle with here.
    Why can’t we celebrate humanitys similaritys as well as embracing differences?

  4. Adele is a fairly uncommon name, even moreso when you add in the spelling, and I have commented several times on Deborah’s blog identifying my comments only as “Adele”, so I just wanted to clarify that I am not the Adele quoted in this post. If you are reading past (or future for that matter) In a Strange Land posts and see a comment from “Adele” please don’t assume it is from the Adele who wrote the above guest post. I am a resident of the US and what little I know about Maaroi culture comes from watching The Whale Rider and reading The Bone People.

  5. I think there’s something in Adele’s post, but it’s not due to feminism per se, but to the social effects of religion. In this piece over at my place, I pointed out the following:

    Doing the necessary comparative religion research for Bring Laws and Gods has forced me to engage with the ways in which religious traditions both resemble and differ from each other, as well as highlighting their strengths and weaknesses (yes, I’m unafraid to make value judgments on that; spot the Enlightenment liberal).

    As a general rule, the paganisms are much better at religious tolerance and sexual diversity. Women have a generally higher status. They are, however, weak on care for the poor and (especially) the disabled. Monotheisms are poor at religious tolerance and sexual diversity. Women have generally lower status (with the important but partial exception of Judaism). They have an ethic of compassion and care, however, that is probably the origin of all modern progressivism, from early Church charitable movements to Marx to the Beveridge report and everything else in between.

    As anyone who reads my blog knows, I’m a skeptic and atheist — I don’t believe any of it. I am, however, interested in the social effects of religion.

    For a whole range of reasons, the status of women in Western and Islamic societies was much, much lower than it was in places as diverse as Aotearoa and Japan, and for a very long time. It appears that this effect was linked to religion, too. There are thirty wills from pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon England, ten of them written by women. And they are identical to the male wills in every respect, indicating independent property rights, complete testamentary freedom and separate legal personality. By the time of the Norman Conquest, however, coverture marriage had become standard. Married women had no rights — to property, to inherit, to draft a will, to keep their own money. This persisted until the two Married Women’s Property Acts (1870 and 1882).

    The Treaty of Waitangi was in 1840. I have no doubt that Maori looked at the way New Zealand’s European colonials treated women with utter horror. Pagans certainly did the same thing when criticizing Christianity in classical antiquity. What made it worse in the latter case was that in Greek speaking parts of the Roman world, Christianity seemed to be good at attracting female converts (although some scholars dispute this).

    The awkward thing is, between 1840 and (to choose a convenient cut off date) 1960, something extraordinary happened to Western (but not Muslim) women. Their status shifted from being among the lowest on the planet to the highest, with speed that would make even the most enlightened classical pagan (a Musonius Rufus or Hypatia, for example) have an attack of the vapours. It is a shift that those people living through (including us) have yet to fully appreciate. Its effects may take a hundred years to work out.

    Now put yourself in the position of a Maori woman (or woman from any culture where religion has different social effects) watching this process. I think it’s fair and reasonable that she be a bit wary. She’ll want to know the reasons for the sudden shift, and she’ll want to be sure that it’s real, not chimerical. One of Adam Smith’s greatest insights concerns the capacity of even very ordinary people to act intelligently in their own interest. To that extent, people like Adele have every reason to be cautious.

    Apologies for the long comment, Deborah. The issue is a complex one.

  6. I don’t think ‘Adele’ is quite so uncommon in New Zealand, where many of my readers come from. But many thanks for the reminder, Adele (who is in the US). I think that your voice and Adele from Aotearoa New Zealand’s voice are quite distinctive, so hopefully there won’t be any confusion. But I will watch for it, and add a clarifying note if necessary.

  7. Thanks, Deborah. Mostly I was just a little startled when I flipped to your blog to read the new post and the first word was my name! LOL

  8. You’re a white racist bitch. You don’t speak for me or any other minority. Go fuck yourself Deborah.

  9. Umm… wow. I guess whoever posted this never thought I’d actually publish it. It’s so abusive, and so out of control, and so clearly indicates that whoever posted it hasn’t actually bothered to read what I’ve written, that I think it could possibly be someone posing as “MaoriWoman” and by implication, trying to smear Maori. Either way, it’s pretty nasty.

  10. really sorry, deborah, that you had to put up with that bit of nastiness.

    i’m going to take exception to this though: something extraordinary happened to Western (but not Muslim) women, unless by that statement, skepticlawyer meant that muslim women suffered a loss of status as a result of colonisation, which is true. i’ve seen (but can’t remember where) data that showed the literacy of muslim women dropped dramatically after colonisation. during some research i did for a speech 3 years ago, i found that in the eleventh century there were 13 universities in damascus set up by & run for women. muslim women were entitled to inheritance and to their own earnings from the 7th century. they didn’t take up many leadership positions, though i’d note that both pakistan and bangladesh had women leaders well before australia did.

    i’m not saying that everything is wonderful for muslim women across the globe (though a lot of their issues are related more to poverty, illiteracy and war than anything else). but i really don’t think that kind of throwaway generalisation is helpful, and i tend to resent it. it minimises the wonderful work that is being done by many women to challenge and change their societies, and the successes that some of them are achieving. and it minimises some of the ground that is being lost in western countries, as women suffer from the backlash against feminism.

  11. Thanks, anjum.

    I’m fascinated by that tidbit of information about universities for Muslim women in the eleventh century. I’m going to have to go do some digging around now, and find out some more. I’m curious about whether it coincided with the flourishing of science in Muslim societies, about which I know nothing except that it happened, and much of our “Western” knowledge was transmitted to us via Arabic scholars.

  12. I think your instinct on this comment is pretty good, Deborah. If ‘MaoriWoman’ is Maori, then I’m Denzel Washington.