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  • Writer's pictureTE RĀKAU

"Hinenui Te Pō is a light in the darkness”

Updated: May 9

Helen Pearse-Otene | December 2021

Performing pūrākau in research on incest and childhood sexual abuse.



This article describes the use of Māori performance methods to recover and analyse ancestral perspectives on incest and childhood sexual trauma.

A research team of community members and Māori performing artists drew upon pūrākau theory, arts-based research and a Māori theatre pedagogy called Theatre Marae to investigate the story of Hinetītama, the Dawn Maiden, who unwittingly married her father Tānemahuta.

The researchers explored the pūrākau and shared their personal narratives during marae-based hui and an intensive creative workshop in the theatre. Their findings were then incorporated into a play called The Swing which was performed and further analysed in facilitated audience discussions.

This analysis suggests that incest and childhood sexual abuse are perpetuated in societal processes that enable absent fathers; the silencing of mothers; the objectification of others for self-gratification and creativity; the disconnection of children from their whakapapa; and the Western-prescribed nuclear family.

Furthermore, it proposes that the tale of Hinetītama and her transformation into Hinenui Te Pō, the Guardian of Death, is not merely a Māori version of an incest taboo, but an endorsement for traditional Māori child rearing practices that authorised the extended whānau as the basic social unit and dignified men as nurturers.

Access Helen's full research publication at the Journal of Indigenous Wellbeing online.

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