27 October 2010

Book Review: Sexuality and the Stories of Indigenous People

Jessica Hutchings is a Maori postdoctoral fellow in environmental studies in New Zealand and Clive Aspin is a Maori researcher at Nga Pae o te Maramatanga in New Zealand. They were the editors of this collection.

Upon hearing one the satirical song of Eskimo (I'm the Only Gay Eskimo), I contemplated long and hard about the nature of sexuality, globalization, modernity and economic complexification. This made me ask the question: What is life like a gay Aeta? Is there such a thing? In many of the very small and insular communities that I've had personal interactions with, 'gay' identity is something that is either like the purloined letter or is invisible.

The book shares a variety of experiences from every end of every possible spectrum I could think of in indigenous communities. One concern I had in one story was a criticism of Maori politicians and religious leaders who attempt to claim that same-sex relationships and desires did not exist before Western contact. Even anticolonialism people have homophobia issues just think of Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Mask famous footnote about how whites brought homosexuality to Martinique. I have never denied that type of claim, I just always felt it was homophobic in its selective incompleteness.

Whites brought heterosexuality and the perspective with them -- not just homosexuality. I also think, like a number of other peculiarities at the periphery of life, the identities and lives that eventually were swept into the homosexual bin by colonial means actually provide a glimpse into how exactly our ancestors really dealt with colonialism (without the postmodernist or legalistic jargon). I touched on this very briefly in my review of With Respect to Sex and Indian responses to colonialism.

Some of the stories in the book were way too intellectual and I found my affinity with the autobiographical stories that were not extensively footnoted with scientific journal citations or not significantly preferences by academic literature reviews. I am not fluent in Maori so the first chapter was almost entirely unintelligible. Once long ago, I had read the story of Tiki and Hinemoa, a famous Maori love story where Hinemoa (goddess) woos and gets the Tutanekai (god) by trickery. It was always an interesting story as many Polynesian stories I've been told or read are. What I didn't know, however, was that Tutanekai had a 'takatapui' friendship (takatapui is an ambiguous indigenous term that is sometimes used by gay Maori to identify as such) with another warrior named Tiki:
Tutanekai, with his flute and his favorite intimate friend, his takatapui [friend], Tiki, and Hinemoa, the determined, valorous, superbly athletic woman ... who took the initiatve herself, swam the midnight water of the lake to reach him, and interestingly, consciously and deliberately masqueraded as a man, as a warrior, to lure him to her arms.
Somehow Tiki and the female-t0-male transgenderism missed the version I was told long ago. This kind of Victorian revisions wasn't unique to Maori at all. Almost all of the same-sex intimacy was taken out of the English translation of the nineteenth century serialized stories of Hawaiian chiefs in Ruling Chiefs (collected and published in Hawaiian recently as Ke Mo'i Aupuni). The translator's purpose may have been much more complex than just homophobia. She may have felt that to include such a thing would have minimized the significance of the translation or its purpose for Hawaiian nationalism. These are things that every culture must work out for itself.

Neil Garcia, in Gay Philippine Culture, does address, to some extent, pre-Catholic forms of transgenderism and same-sex intimacy. In fact, he bases his claims to how best to view "gay" identity now on that understanding. I think this approach is useful, and must be done in a more wide-spread and systematic way. And in it, we can really answer the question if its possible to have a gay Aeta and if so, do they give up their residence in an Aeta tribe to have such an identity? (If we look to Micronesia, the answer is sometimes yes, sometimes no, sometimes something in between.)

The version I read was a 201 page paperback published by Huia Publishers (December 31, 2007), ISBN-13: 978-1869692773. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.


  1. Haven't really seen a gay Maori yet. Hopefully I'd see one soon

  2. I'm sure you have, you just didn't know they were gay or were Maori. =P