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Tangata Ngākau: Māori Boys and Masculinity in the Writing of Bruce Stewart, Witi Ihimaera, and Whiti Hereaka

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posted on 2021-12-09, 10:05 authored by Dale-O'Connor, Kieran

This thesis surveys a selection of writing by Bruce Stewart, Witi Ihimaera, and Whiti Hereaka, and considers how these texts represent varying modes of masculinity available to and expressed by Māori boys and young men. Whilst the three authors present starkly different characters, all of these characters challenge pre-existing claims about Māori men and masculinity propagated by earlier, predominantly Pākehā writers.   The first chapter focuses on the collection Tama and Other Stories by Bruce Stewart (1989). Many of the characters in this collection feel pressured to be tough and stoic, but I argue that such pressures are shown to come largely from Pākehā father figures. The modes of masculinity that the boys either portray or wish to portray are much less focused on stoicism, aggression, and physicality than what they see from their fathers. I suggest that Stewart sees instruction in tikanga Māori and mātauranga Māori as useful if not essential for young Māori men to escape the pressure of oppressive colonial narratives about Māori masculinity.   The second chapter discusses Witi Ihimaera’s novel Bulibasha (1994). In contrast to Stewart’s stories, Bulibasha presents a young boy largely isolated from Pākehā society, but I argue that this does not mean that he is free from the influence of Pākehā masculinity. The novel presents many different expressions of masculinity but only those that are influenced by colonial narratives and which reinforce Pākehā hegemony seem to prosper. Such colonial narratives and influences are arguably less visible than they are in Tama and Other Stories, but this does not make them any less insidious nor damaging to the men in Bulibasha. I suggest that spaces where Pākehā masculinity is less dominant, men are shown to be less stoic, domineering, and oppressive. Likewise, characters who appear to be more immersed in te ao Māori also seem to promote a greater sense of balance and equity between men and women.  The final chapter looks at the novel Bugs by Whiti Hereaka (2013). The influence of Pākehā societal norms and narratives on Māori masculinity is shown to be more acute in the setting of this text than in the mid-20th century setting of Tama and Other Stories and Bulibasha. Characters in Stewart’s writing are able to construct their own decolonised spaces where Māori masculinity can be expressed, whilst Ihimaera’s characters struggle to avoid colonial influences even in a predominantly Māori community. By contrast, Hereaka shows characters who feel the full effect of urbanisation and the inherent marginalisation of te ao Māori. For characters in the urban 21st century setting of Bugs, connection to te ao Māori and the ability to access knowledge of tikanga Māori is severely restricted. Whilst Stewart’s and Ihimaera’s characters had access to different visions of Māori masculinity, and varying access to te ao Māori, characters in Bugs are more isolated. I argue that because of this, their ability to reject Pākehā narratives is more limited, and after rejecting the influence of Pākehā masculinity it is not always obvious what alternatives are available.  Throughout this thesis deference is given to critics who write from a decolonising and kaupapa Māori perspective. In particular, the works of Brendan Hokowhitu on Māori masculinities, Ani Mikaere on gender in Māori society, Linda Tuhiwai Smith on decolonizing methodologies, Elizabeth Kerekere on sexuality, gender, and Māori, and Belinda Borell on cultural identity and urban Māori, inform the reading and analysis of each of the texts.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

English Literature

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Hessell, Nikki