‘Sitting in the fire’, an indigenous approach to masculinity and male violence: Māori men working with Māori men


  • Peter Mataira Ngatiporou and Ngati Kahungunu. Lectures in community organising, policy and practice and international social work courses at the University of Hawaii’s School of Social Work.




violence, masculinity, family violence, wh?nau violence, m?ori masculinity,


There were these three sexes, because the sun, the moon and the earth are three: and man was originally the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the moon … He cut them in two and bade Apollo give the face and the half of the neck a turn in order that the man might contemplate the section of himself … Each of us when separated is but the indenture of man and he is always looking for his other half … Human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love (Plato Symposium. Aristophane’s Speech, The Double Nature of Man, 16-18).


I like what Arnold Mindell (1982) said about conflict and chaos: That they are ‘our best teachers’ in determining how to create and strengthen resilient communities. In our efforts to develop effective programmes to root out and eliminate violence from our neighbourhoods, our homes and our whanau we ought to embrace this paradoxical injunction, and, to trace it alongside the ‘concentric dualism’ thinking sketched in our traditional Māori hapu/iwi understanding of whanaungatanga (Kawharu, 1980). Far be it for me to suggest that community harmony and zero tolerance are plausible societal outcomes. I believe strongly that sustained emphasis placed primarily on the inner workings of Māori men – their wairua, tinana, hinengaro and whanaunga relationships – is the critical first step. The absence of conflict and presence of peace are ‘ideal types’ and indeed one might suggest they are one in the same, but I believe they are fundamentally dissimilar. The point I really want to make here is how I, and other Māori men, metaphorically speaking, begin the process of ‘stepping into the fire’, to work alongside our Maori men in liberating them, and ourselves too, from the despondencies, disappointments and oppressive ways (internal conflicts), and moving these towards reconciliation and a restoration of a content ahua about ourselves and our families (internal peace). As I see it we need to advance a new approach to decolonisation, to masculinity, to the validation of our indigenous ways and to appreciating nga matauranga Māori in support of meaningful Māori men’s education and mentoring group work; a paradigm that incorporates freedom and openness of expression, reflection and introspection; a paradigm that also acknowledges the need to build self-confidence and self-respect which paves the way for change.

My purpose in writing this piece comes from two quite different directions and motivations: First, as an invitation and a challenge for more Māori men to have confidence to ‘sit in the fire’ and work to eliminate violence in our families and communities; and second, to dissect and critique the dominant cultural paradigm which places together Western empiricism, the endeared, but hopelessly biased public media; and election politics – the perennial ‘law and order’ drone (that is, to inject a fear of Māori insurgency and ‘terroristic acts’ into the timid mindset of the marginal swing voters) – all of which seem to justify a particular direction in public policy and public opinion. Indeed, I am deliberate in my aspiration to focus on ‘strengths and assets’ of Māori rather than on ‘needs and deficits’ and, in this challenge, I state a more salient ‘political’ juxtaposition to Pākehā mainstream which all too often places Māori in a iniquitous vis-à-vis romantic predicament. I’m less inspired by the kinds of policies that seem to stem from Māori being at the liability end of Aotearoa’s bicultural ledger. Describing us through Pākehā strictures and their embedded cultural biases is unacceptable. I think given the scale and extent to which Māori men’s violence has come to circumnavigate the nation many times over, we know enough to know its damaging effects on our culture, our whanau and on how we perceive ourselves. We are reminded constantly of everything that’s bad about Māori men’s behaviour. We have to radically change the paradigm – and also the practice – and work towards building new images of Māori men as real-life ‘nurturing warriors’. 


Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as cultural workers – letters to those who dare teach. Translated by D. Macedo, D. Koike & A. Oliveira. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Kawharu, I. (1980). Lecture notes. Māori Society 101. Department of Anthropology and Māori Studies. Palmerston North, NZ: Massey University.

Mindell, A. (1982). Dreambody. Boston, MA: Sigo Press.

Plato. Symposium. http://fs.uno.edu/asoble/pages/symp.htm

Plato. Symposium. http://greek-texts.com/library/Plato/timaeus/eng/611.html

Te Puni Kokiri (2004). Transforming whānau violence: A conceptual framework. (2nd ed.) Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Māori Development.




How to Cite

Mataira, P. (2017). ‘Sitting in the fire’, an indigenous approach to masculinity and male violence: Māori men working with Māori men. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 20(4), 35–40. https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol20iss4id328