Understanding the Maori and Pacific Body: Towards a Critical Physical Education Pedagogy

By Hokowhitu, Brendan | New Zealand Physical Educator, November 2008 | Go to article overview

Understanding the Maori and Pacific Body: Towards a Critical Physical Education Pedagogy


Hokowhitu, Brendan, New Zealand Physical Educator


Abstract

In this article I discuss how Maori and Pacific people are positioned as practical and physical in relation to societal norms. I first discuss the ways that the Maori body has historically been thought about, drawing links between these and contemporary representations of the Pacific sporting body. I use the development of sporting academies to illustrate these points before teasing out some implications for physical educators. To conclude, I argue for a critical physical education pedagogy that embraces the holistic nature of tikanga Maori and one that moves us beyond the limitations continuing to regard Maori or Pacific cultures as 'physical.'

Key words: Maori, Pacific peoples, physicality

There is a certain stereotype for Maori and Pâkehà that you have to face up to.. .Maori are good at PE... [Teachers need to) ensure that the structure of courses are shaped around their interests, such as sport, so there is a "practical" application they can relate to (Physical Education Teacher, cited Palmer 2000, p. 275, emphasis added).

Many physical educators hold on to the idealistic egalitarian philosophy of the 'level playing field,' which describes the sportsfield as an objective site where race, gender, class, and sexuality drop by the wayside to enable people from all persuasions an 'equal opportunity.' Yet, as physical educators, we are not immune to pre-conceptions and, indeed, these affect our practices, as the above statement by a physical educator, taken from Farah Palmer's doctoral thesis, highlights. As a Maori who lives beyond the stereotypical constructions of Maori found within various New Zealand discourses, I am irritated by the continued perception of Maori as either sports-stars or criminals, and, as a consequence, view the above quote as merely a diluted version of such representations. Conceptualising Maori and Pacific peoples as 'practical' or 'physical' will ultimately limit their potential.

The purpose of this article is to discuss how Maori and Pacific people are positioned as practical and physical in relation to societal norms. The article firstly discusses the genealogical development (or historical conceptualisation) of the Maori body, tithing this to contemporary representations of the Pacific sporting body and the advent of sports academies in the New Zealand education system. Finally, I suggest that physical educators have a role to play in interrupting the continued subjugation of the Maori and Pacific bodies to the physical realm. Here I argue for a critical physical education pedagogy that realises the holistic nature of tikanga Maori and that moves us beyond the limitations of constructing Maori or Pacific cultures as 'physical.'

The Maori body

Maori were good at war and they were damn good at playing rugby, so they took on a special status of being Kiwi males with a slightly exotic flavour. (Jock Philips, cited in Schick & Dolan, 1999, p. 56).

Where do these preconceptions come from? Or more importantly, how do they appear to be so real, truthful, and 'commonsense'? Firstly, as physical educators, we must recognise that our practice is centred upon educating the body and, furthermore, that how we treat various bodies is shaped by an inconceivably complex power network that works to produce certain 'truths.' When I talk of a 'power complex,' I am suggesting that how we think about and interpret the Maori body can not be located within the languages of any one discourse or institution, but rather throughout multiple diffuse institutions that control the very reality and truths that we come to understand our world by. Put simply, as educators, we are influenced by a myriad of ideas, which impact our practice.

From a Maori perspective, I have previously examined how historical and contemporary discourses have imparted a regime of control through the chronic employment of stereotypes aimed at legitimising certain truths about the Maori body. …

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