Colonisation and Family Violence

“There is no historical support for claims that traditional Māori society tolerated violence and abuse towards children and women.” Tā Mason Durie

“I saw no quarrelling while I was there [in Aotearoa New Zealand]. They [Māori] are kind to their women and children. I never observed either with a mark of violence upon them, nor did I ever see a child struck.” From the letters and journals of Rev Samuel Marsden, 1765-1838

The number of Māori who experience and perpetrate family/whanau violence in New Zealand is disproportionately higher than for Pākeha/NZ Europeans. It is important to understand that this is the result of the ongoing impact of colonisation, and that family/whānau violence is not traditional for Māori.

Colonisation enforced patriarchal English laws and values, while at the same time eroding traditional Māori knowledge, social structures and practices. Before colonisation, Māori tāne (men) and wāhine (women) had complementary roles and respectful relationships, and the safety and wellbeing of women and children were the collective responsibility of whānau, hapū and iwi. Traditional Māori practice meant that a wāhine remained part of her whānau even when she went to live with her husband’s whānau.

The Victorian norms and British common law that Pākehā settlers brought with them and imposed on Māori conflicted strongly with the existing social structure of Māori. Under English law, the husband and father was the head of the household, women had few rights and were legally the property of their fathers and then husbands.

Colonisation meant the erosion of traditional practices, and the loss of cultural identity and the large-scale confiscations and theft of Māori land, which resulted in the loss of many cultural protective factors for Māori wāhine and tamariki.

Māori wāhine today who experience intimate partner violence live with the ongoing effects of colonisation, and historical and intergenerational trauma. They experience entrapment, not only by the actions of their partner, but also when they and their whānau receive dismissive, racist, or otherwise unhelpful or unsafe responses from organisations and people who they ask for help.

Watch this 1 ½ minute video produced by the NZ Police to learn more:

Whānau Violence is not Traditional for Māori