Story: Hōkakatanga – Māori sexualities

In traditional Māori society sex and sexuality were openly discussed and represented in art. This changed as Europeans introduced Victorian morals to New Zealand, and traditional songs and stories were censored. In the 21st century sexual diversity was again recognised as an important part of wellbeing.

Story by Clive Aspin
Main image: Sleeping soldier watched over by a Māori woman

Story summary

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Sexuality in Māori tradition

Traditional Māori society accepted and was open about sex. Many stories and songs featured sex and love, including between same-sex couples.

Carvings often show both male and female sexual organs, and some depict people having sex.

Early Māori sexuality

When Europeans arrived in New Zealand, they found that Māori ideas of sexuality were different to their own. Māori chiefs had more than one wife, and sex before marriage was generally acceptable. Contemporary research suggests that same-sex relationships were acceptable.

European influence

Under the influence of more conservative European attitudes to sex and sexuality, Māori attitudes changed. Sexual organs in carvings were often covered or removed, and sexual references were often removed from stories and songs.

Sexuality in contemporary Māori society

Māori society, like society in general, has come to acknowledge and accept sexual diversity. In the early 2000s the Māori Sexuality Project, run by Auckland University, researched sexual attitudes and experience among Māori. Many gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and intersexual Māori women and men have adopted the word takatāpui to describe themselves, which identifies them by both their sexuality and their culture.

How to cite this page:

Clive Aspin, 'Hōkakatanga – Māori sexualities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by Clive Aspin, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 22 January 2019