Koia te aroha:
Ngā pāpā Māori

Just love: Māori dads

Reweti Arapere carrying his son on his back.

Koia te aroha:
Ngā pāpā Māori

Just love: Māori dads

Reweti Arapere carrying his son on his back.

For hundreds of years, Māori men have been gentle, kind and involved fathers. They have wiped away tears and sung to their babies, as little hands cling to their necks. How and why have these stories been lost? Michelle Duff reports.

As a boy, he never heard his father raise his voice in anger. Sometimes, his parents would ask him and his siblings to leave the room. When Te Moananui-ā-Kiwa Goddard grew older he realised it was because they were having a disagreement. But the sound of their voices never carried. That desire to protect has stuck with him.

“I don’t really want to dictate to my kids what they should be, but if there’s anything I could encourage in them it’s just to be a good, loving person,” he says. “Yeah, just love. That’s the most important thing to me.”

When he was young, Reweti Arapere’s dad worked long hours. When Kipa Arapere got home to his five children, he must have been exhausted. Yet Arapere’s childhood memories of his dad are of a man who had all the time in the world. “It felt like we were brought up rich with lots of culture and heritage,” he says. “Dad had his head down working hard, and even when he got home he was real tired. But he always had a lot of energy for us.”

Reweti Arapere with his children.

Reweti Arapere with Taupounamu, 7, and Parekōhatu, 4.

Reweti Arapere with Taupounamu, 7, and Parekōhatu, 4.

Corey Woon’s daughter Malia, 16, thinks it’s kind of funny. It doesn’t matter if he’s taking her to sports, on school trips, mid-homework or making her lunch, Dad always has a yarn to spin. He’s inspired by seemingly anything, including, on a recent trip to Auckland, by the backstory of the road itself. “He pulls them out of nowhere,” she says. Woon makes no apologies. “Every day is another adventure for me,” he says. “I’m not the perfect dad, but I try and create memories, tell stories, and answer questions as best I can.”

Corey Woon and his children gathered around a couch.

Corey Woon with Lennox, 10,  Malia, 16, Cuba, 5, and Kalani, 21.

Corey Woon with Lennox, 10,  Malia, 16, Cuba, 5, and Kalani, 21.

Are any of these stories familiar?

How about this one. The man picks up a barstool, teeth bared in rage. He beats another man almost to death, laughs, and sinks another crate bottle. He rolls home to his family where he demands his wife cook him some f...ing eggs, and then punches her in the face. His children cower in their rooms. 

You know that guy, right? His name’s Jake. He never existed, yet he haunts our nightmares.

This is the spectre of Māori fatherhood, ground into New Zealand’s cultural fabric like a long stain of Double Brown on a pub carpet.

Once were Warriors was the first time that a major movie centred Māori, and it was very positive in the sense that it bought domestic violence and the urban Māori story to the forefront,” says Brendan Hokowhitu, father of four and Waikato University professor of Māori and Indigenous studies.

“But no doubt, for many, it reinforced stereotypes of Māori.

“Still, now, the main way we see Māori men — and Māori fathers — presented in the media is as violent, criminals, sexual predators, and child abusers. These images become normalised, and internalised.” 

The saddest part? Māori start to believe it, too.

Stuff has sought out the untold stories of Māori fatherhood. We didn’t have to look hard.

Lyall Te Ohu holding his son.

Lyall Te Ohu and his 10 month old son, Tūmoana Te Ohu.

Lyall Te Ohu and his 10 month old son, Tūmoana Te Ohu.

The everyday dads like Lyall Te Ohu, the statuesque tradie whose favourite part of every week was walking his preschool daughter, Rāhera, and her friends up Auckland’s Maungawhau. Or actor Jamie McCaskill, who plays his six-year-old Willow to sleep on the guitar and is so proud of her artwork, a stick-figure, he’s getting it made into a T-shirt to promote his showband, The Māori Sidesteps.

These fathers are everywhere. So why haven’t we been paying attention?

Stuff investigates how the myth of the Māori father was created, and sustained. How stereotypes shifted over time to fit the narrative of those in power, especially those who fear displacement.

And how those chains can be broken.


Te Hiiri Hori Tupaea Tuhakaraina-Goddard
“The New Zealand father is devotedly fond of his children, they are his pride, his boast, and peculiar delight...”
Writer Joel Polack, 1840

In Māori culture, hair, like the head, is tapu, or sacred. When the demi-god Māui was born, his mother revived him by casting him into the sea wrapped in a twisted knot of her hair. His full name is Māui-tikitiki-o-Taranga, tikitiki meaning top-knot. 

Reweti Arapere’s son, Taupounamu, 7, has long hair. These days, it is fairly unconventional. During lockdown last year, Taupounamu cut some off. His mother was upset. Arapere, who is of Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Porou descent, took his son out into the garden, where they buried a lock of his hair in the backyard, and said a karakia.

“Māui was known for being a mischief, and I wanted Taupounamu to understand he shouldn’t feel bad about being inquisitive. I imagine he was just trying things out,” Arapere says. “When you are trying to raise your kids in an indigenous way, there are always breadcrumbs of how your ancestors did it too.”

Reweti Arapere with his children.

Reweti Arapere with Taupounamu, 7, and Parekōhatu, 4.

Reweti Arapere with Taupounamu, 7, and Parekōhatu, 4.

The first paternal figure in Māori cosmology is Ranginui, the sky father. He was entwined in an eternal embrace with the earth mother, Papatūānuku, until their children forced them apart. Yet even in separation, love and commitment are the main narratives. While Ranginui weeps for Papatūānuku, the parents never get angry or reprimand their children.

Pre-colonisation, Māori lived by this celestial example. Society was not patriarchal, and men and women had complementary roles. Domestic violence was uncommon, and anyone who caused harm to a woman or child would be dealt with swiftly by the tribe. As Professor Kuni Jenkins and Helen Harte write in their Children’s Commissioner report; “The most observed practice was shared and loving parenting.”

Records from early settlers about 18th and 19th century Māori family life reveal men who wrapped their babies in blankets, sang them oriori or lullabies, and taught them with games and waiata. “One of the finest traits I have noticed in the New Zealanders is that of parental love; the men appear chiefly to nurse their children, and are generally to be seen with one on their back covered up under their mats, the little things appear likewise sensible of their fathers’ love for they seem principally to cling to them,” the missionary Richard Taylor wrote in 1839.

Or this, from the author Joel Polack a year later: "The New Zealand father is devotedly fond of his children, they are his pride, his boast, and peculiar delight; he generally bears the burden of carrying them continually within his mat.”

Two men sit beside children and dog in front of meeting house.

A Māori family sit outside a meeting house on the East Coast in the early 1900s. (ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY)

A Māori family sit outside a meeting house on the East Coast in the early 1900s. (ALEXANDER TURNBULL LIBRARY)

Pākehā men were surprised — and even annoyed — to see how Māori treated their children, at times considering them too indulgent. Theirs was not a seen-but-not-heard culture. Māori kids were taken everywhere from a young age, including to councils of war, and even expected to ask questions. Here’s Polack again: “The children are seldom or never punished; which, consequently, causes them to commit so many annoying tricks, that continually renders them deserving of a sound, wholesome castigation.”

And Reverend Samuel Marsden, observed in 1820: “I saw no quarrelling while I was there. They 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.” 

Generally, from the 1800s onwards, Māori life began to be torn apart through tribal conflicts, land wars and colonisation. Communal living was replaced with the nuclear family and new, Western models of gender roles encouraged male dominance. The uprooting of whānau, hapū and iwi through dubious land sales and confiscations, urbanisation, assimilation policies and removal of Māori children by the state led to generations becoming dislocated from the nurturing traditions of the past. 

Hokowhitu says Māori men were considered the main obstacles to colonisation.

“The idea of Māori as violent or physical goes back to ideas that Europeans brought over, where Europeans were thought of as more intelligent. In order to justify colonisation, Māori were criminalised and thought of as inherently violent, and not having good ethics.”

When a Pākehā dad does an offence, you just write him off as an individual. When it’s Māori or Pacific, we tend to describe the culture as the cause of that.
Brendan Hokowhitu

The Native School system, started in 1867, was begun to educate Māori. While Māori had a strong desire to learn, it was led by a stream of superintendents who balked at teaching the “dark races,” anything academic. This was justified as common sense by the state. “The natural genius of the Māori in the direction of manual skills and his natural interest in concrete, would appear to furnish the earliest key to the development of his intelligence,” Inspector of Native Schools James Pope said, in 1906.

Brendan Hokowhitu

University of Waikato Professor Brendan Hokowhitu. (CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF)

University of Waikato Professor Brendan Hokowhitu. (CHRISTEL YARDLEY/STUFF)

At every economic downturn, Māori men were the first to lose their jobs, throwing many who had moved to the city for employment into lives of poverty, Hokowhitu says. Under-educated young Māori men were disenfranchised, penniless, and some turned to gangs or crime. “This has created an often dysfunctional urban masculine culture … and largely debilitated Māori men from functioning as equals in society,” he wrote in Educating Jake: A geneology of Māori masculinity

Māori men today make up more than half of all prisoners, despite being 16.5 per cent of the population. Māori women and children are twice as likely as Pākehā to be victims of domestic violence. Māori babies are taken more frequently by the state, young men are more likely to be homeless, drop out of school or take their own lives , and adults die earlier and in poorer health.

Yet many still see these statistics as deficiencies of race, Hokowhitu says.

“Māori do not have the latitude the rest of the population enjoys. When a Pākehā dad does an offence, you just write him off as an individual. When it’s Māori or Pacific, we tend to describe the culture as the cause of that.

“It’s not as if British soldiers came in peacefully and said ‘Hi, may we take your land?’ They had their own warrior cultures, but you no longer associate them with that.”

And Māori warriors in pre-colonial times weren’t inherently bad, Hokowhitu says. “They were trained to protect their whānau and their hapū.”

Reweti Arapere and Parekōhatu.

Reweti Arapere with daughter Parekōhatu.

Reweti Arapere with daughter Parekōhatu.

Arapere, 36, runs parenting courses for young Māori men in his role as a youth worker. There, he tells them true warriors are in touch with all of their emotions. In the Māori world, there is always duality. Light, and dark. Strong, and vulnerable. If there is conflict, there needs to be resolution.

“There’s all this ‘real boys don’t cry’ bullshit, who can drink more beer at the pub, disrespect women, sleep with as many as you can. I tell them the strongest warrior is the one that loves his mum, because they will fight for her till the end. 

“Māori boys should be able to show their vulnerability, as well as their strength.”


Lyall Te Ohu with his children.

LYALL TE OHU [NGĀTI KAHU]/SUPPLIED

LYALL TE OHU [NGĀTI KAHU]/SUPPLIED

I’m not the perfect dad, I make mistakes all the time. But I think the biggest thing for me is creating memories, and sharing stories.
Corey Woon

The joys of parenthood are hard to explain, says Lyall Te Ohu, 46, of Ngāti Kahu descent. He has a ten-month-old baby, Tūmoana, and a daughter, Rāhera, 6 and three quarters.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve done, but it’s the best thing I’ve done. The rewards for doing it are very hard to quantify. It’s definitely something inside that you feel, that you can’t feel anywhere else.”

His own father was given as a whāngai (traditional open adoption) to his grandmother, and grew up in poverty in Mangonui in the far North. “For him to be a father to me without an example, I don’t know how he did it. I certainly look to him for what he has done for me.”

He gets frustrated with negative portrayals of Māori. “If people’s views are that Māori dads are violent and absent and would rather spend their money on bourbon and cigarettes, of course you can find examples of that. But if you go to any sports event you can find loads of Māori and Pacific Island parents and fathers who are pushing hard to be great examples for their children, and to lead their children into a positive way of life.”

Lyall Te Ohu holding Tūmoana.

Lyall Te Ohu and his 10 month old son, Tūmoana Te Ohu.

Lyall Te Ohu and his 10 month old son, Tūmoana Te Ohu.

He finds he learns from his children, too. His daughter Rāhera went to Te Puna Kōhungahunga, a Māori medium early childhood centre in Auckland’s Mt Eden. Every week, they would climb Maungawhau. “That was easily the best part of my week, every week. Any day up the maunga with the children was better than any party.” 

He considers the responsibility of fatherhood to be intergenerational. “I’m not just there to pay the bills, to make sure my kids have what they need. I’m there to provide an example to them that they can take to their children, and the generations to come that I may not even meet,” Te Ohu says. “That’s the biggest part for me.”

Corey Woon, 45, also feels this challenge as a father-of-six in a blended family. His own father was one of ten children, whose parents died when he was young. He was given as a whāngai to extended family, and joined the army when he was 18. Woon knew him as a stoic, quiet figure, who didn’t show emotion and was closed-off about his past. 

“He wasn’t the kind of person who would talk, or share anything. So I’m left with all these questions, like ‘What sort of upbringing did he have? What did he go through?.”

Corey Woon with Cuba.

Corey Woon with son Cuba.

Corey Woon with son Cuba.

Woon makes sure he is open and emotionally available for his children. “I’m not the perfect dad, I make mistakes all the time. But I think the biggest thing for me is creating memories, and sharing stories.” 

As a young, first-time dad, Woon often felt like he wasn’t good enough for his then-partner’s family. They were Hilux-driving, Pākehā farmers, while he worked long hours at the local freezing works for $9.50 an hour. His days were fraught with self-doubt. “I was told that I would never amount to anything, and that was quite a sad time.” 

In his darkest moments, he would turn to the bottle. Now, as a social worker at Palmerston North’s Highbury Whānau Centre, Woon tries to instill self-belief and teach disaffected youth the importance of relationships and healthy coping mechanisms. “It’s just about breaking that stereotype of men getting together to get on the piss — it’s about bringing brothers together, to make sure they’re okay.”

Woon, who is stocky and has tā moko, experiences everyday racism. “When I’m walking around Pak’nSave with a full trolley, you’ll get the looks like ‘How is he going to pay for that?’”

He makes sure he doesn’t wear blue or red clothing, in case he’s mistaken for a gang member. This includes monitoring the clothes he buys for his five-year-old son, Cuba.

Still, driving his white Chrysler, he often gets asked if he’s a drug dealer.


Tony Merriman

TONY MERRIMAN/SUPPLIED

TONY MERRIMAN/SUPPLIED

Once the flames have been lit under an idea, it’s hard to put it out. Evidence becomes less important than what sounds like the truth.

In 2006, a New Zealand geneticist attended a conference in Brisbane, Australia. The material announcing his presentation, while boring to the naked eye, was designed to appeal to attending scientists and media. “Tracking the Evolutionary History of the Warrior Gene in the South Pacific,” it announced. The term “warrior gene” was used three more times, alongside enough adjectives to sink a waka. “Historically, the NZ Maoris [sic] were extremely adventurous risk-takers and fearsome warriors,” it read, before a graph proclaiming: “The Warrior Gene is prevalent in Māori men.”

The ensuing Sydney Morning Herald headline: “Warrior Gene blamed for Māori violence,” helped take the story global. In New Zealand, versions of it — which featured quotes from Dr Rod Lea claiming Māori had high levels of a gene said to be linked to aggression — ran across all media. "Obviously, this means they are going to be more aggressive and violent and more likely to get involved in risk-taking behaviour like gambling,” he told the SMH.

This was not true.

In the following days and weeks, the holes in the research became clear. It was criticised as unethical: 17 Māori men had been involved in the study, which they had been told was about alcohol and smoking.

The public claims were baseless: the existence of a “warrior gene,” itself a made-up term, had never been proven. 

Even if such a gene did contribute to aggression, there was no way its impact on an entire population over time could be assumed.

To use poor science to attempt to explain existing social issues around domestic violence, gambling, alcoholism and incarceration was not only wrong and irresponsible, politicians like Tariana Turia, Hone Harawira and other scientists such as Gary Raumati Hook and Peter Crampton wrote, it was racist.


Whāia te mātauranga hei oranga mō koutou – seek knowledge for your wellbeing.


In response, in a 2007 New Zealand Medical Journal article Lea and colleague Geoffrey Chambers blamed the media for negatively twisting their findings, and said the original research was sound. Lea has not worked in New Zealand since, and Chambers has retired.

When contacted by Stuff, Chambers said it was perfectly conventional research.

"I think it’s an exemplary study of its time, well designed, well constructed. All these things don’t find concrete conclusions, they have indicative findings and put them out there so people can support them or knock them down.”

However, he said some things written in the promotional material for the conference — and comments made by Lea — were "unfortunate".

 "In retrospect I regret all of it. It was unfortunate that Rod said what he said at the time, and since then I’ve done my best to correct that. I don’t want Māori and Pacific to be branded unfairly and I was the last person to want to do that."

Media reports about the research “could well have been fodder to racists.”

"We didn’t study family violence, we didn’t know about family violence, and we had no idea that it would have any bearing on family violence.”

The study has been publicly refuted multiple times, with researchers like Otago University’s Professor Tony Merriman, pictured above, using it as an example for his undergrad students of how not to carry out and communicate genetics research. He says it set research with Māori back years. “It was just dreadful. There’s been no evidence for their ‘warrior gene’ hypothesis before or since,” Merriman says.

In January 2021, 14 years later, in a wide-ranging, racist rant, a talkback listener told former Magic Talk host John Banks Māori were victims of their own genetic background. The Māori were a stone-age culture, he said. “They're genetically predisposed to crime, alcohol, and underperformance educationally.” Former Auckland mayor Banks was eventually sacked for both allowing and encouraging the caller. 

“These people will come through your bathroom window," he said.

Once the flames have been lit under an idea, it’s hard to put it out. Evidence becomes less important than what sounds like the truth.


Close up of father and child's hands.
Being a father is everything. It puts my career and my ambitions in perspective and gives me a focus which isn’t about me anymore, it’s about my family.”
Jamie McCaskill

“I always wanted to be a good father, I wanted to be there for my child.” says Jamie McCaskill, 41, Ngati Tamaterā and Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi.

But the first time around, it was not that simple. He had his first daughter Phoenix, 21, when he was at acting school in Palmerston North. He and Phoenix’s mother had already split, and she moved to Whakatāne to raise their baby.

While he visited as much as he could, and had Phoenix to stay, he says the pair struggled to form a close bond until she was older. As a young dad, the pain of missing Phoenix was interchangeable with that of feeling like a failure. “It was hard not living with Phoenix the whole time she was growing up. As a father who didn’t bring her up, I always carry guilt that I wasn’t there for her full time. I think the guilt I carry is that stereotype, not just an absent father but an absent Māori father,” McCaskill says.

Jamie McCaskill playing an instrument and singing with his daughter.

Jamie McCaskill with daughter Willow, 6.

Jamie McCaskill with daughter Willow, 6.

His second daughter Willow, 6, is her dad’s best friend. He taught her to ride a bike and play the ukulele, and she wants to be a performer, too. Now, he feels whole. 

“It’s what I always wanted with my eldest, for her to have that dependency on me that I craved. It has been really nice to have my child close to me all the time. It’s just amazing, I get to see everything. First words, first walk, first lolly, first song,” McCaskill says.

“Being a father is everything. It puts my career and my ambitions in perspective and gives me a focus which isn’t about me anymore, it’s about my family.”

Willow hugging her father's arm.

In the Manawatū, bordering the Rangitīkei River, the rolling hills of Te Reureu valley are a sleepy oasis. It’s where Te Moananui-ā-Kiwa Goddard’s tīpuna settled centuries ago, after a long journey south. 

Most of the lands they were caretakers of — Goddard doesn’t like the term ownership, it’s a Pākehā word, he says — were taken and are now the subject of a Ngāti Raukawa treaty claim. His hapū Ngāti Pikiahu Waewae and Ngāti Rangatahi Matakore remain, as the stewards of Te Hiiri, Te Tikanga and Poupatate marae. 

As part of the 1980s revitalisation of te reo Māori, his family helped to set up the Ōtaki school, Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Rito. “My parents fought to create things that didn’t exist so we can exist the way we exist now. Which is basically that we understand the language, we understand the traditions,” Goddard says.

Te Moananui-A-Kiwa Goddard embraced by his children.

Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Goddard with children Wailan Parehuia-Te Hei Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 15, Pirihira Te Whatupounamu-Waimei Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 13, Rongonui Te Waiturituri o Matariki Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 12, and Te Hiiri Hori Tupaea Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 2.

Te Moananui-a-Kiwa Goddard with children Wailan Parehuia-Te Hei Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 15, Pirihira Te Whatupounamu-Waimei Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 13, Rongonui Te Waiturituri o Matariki Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 12, and Te Hiiri Hori Tupaea Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 2.

He is now a Māori teacher at nearby Hato Paora College, and lives next to the marae in his childhood home with his partner Janine Tuhakaraina and four children. They don’t have specific roles as parents. “We share the load, we share the responsibility. We share the love and the nurturing. It’s not really about motherhood or fatherhood, it’s about parenthood.”

This tradition is part of what was disrupted by colonisation, he says. “We’re never going to go back to the way things were. Is that a sad thing? Is that a good or a bad thing? I don’t know actually, because that was taken away from us. That’s why we have to fight now, we’ve been fighting for the last — how many years? Just to regain some speckles of what’s Māori.”

As the sun goes down on Te Tikanga Marae, Goddard says the only pathway he can see forward is through love. “I want my kids to know it doesn't really matter where you go or what you do, as long as you're conscious of people, and you treat them with respect. Have your mana intact. And when I say mana, I mean pride. I mean, resilience, I mean, always being who you are.

Te Moananui-A-Kiwa Goddard with Te Hiiri Hori Tupaea Tuhakaraina-Goddard.

Te Moananui-A-Kiwa Goddard with Te Hiiri Hori Tupaea Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 2.

Te Moananui-A-Kiwa Goddard with Te Hiiri Hori Tupaea Tuhakaraina-Goddard, 2.

“There’s nothing more important than knowing who you are in this world. Whether you’re Māori, Chinese, Pākehā, what matters is that people know who they are.”

The stories we tell are important, Goddard says. 

So are the ones we hear.

“You know, in our diversity, we could probably see each other's beauty, if we only just paid attention.

“There's beauty everywhere. As long as you're looking.”


Reporting: Michelle Duff
Visuals: Warwick Smith
Design and layout: Alex Lim
Editor: Carmen Parahi

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