Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Hine-Titama: Maori Contributions to Feminist Discourses and Identity Politics

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Hine-Titama: Maori Contributions to Feminist Discourses and Identity Politics

Article excerpt

Hine-Titama 1980

Kahukiwa's picture entitled Hine-Titama (see Figure 1) was completed as part of the exhibition Wahine Toa (Women of Strength) in 1980 (Kahukiwa & Grace 1991, p.10). This exhibition emphasised the importance of female characters in Maori mythology or, as one observer noted, `it attempted to redress the portrayal of women as shadowy figures in conventional Pakeha [White] versions of Maori mythology by giving their immense personalities full due' (Kirker 1995, p. 4). Another observer noted that `several of the "Wahine Toa" images have subsequently been "canonised" as "icons" of New Zealand art' (Mane-Wheoki 1995, p. 12). Hine-Titama qualifies as a candidate for such canonisation due to its wide exposure through the New Zealand media (for example Baughen 1982; Menehira 1982; Te Awekotuku 1991) and its use as the cover picture for the book (Kahukiwa & Grace 1991) that developed from the Wahine Toa exhibition. In this paper, I describe of the painting's content and form so that a critical analysis can follow. Notions of interdependency and complementarity in Maori cosmology have been aptly emphasised in published literature (see Marsden 1975; Kawharu 1975). Such work indicates a generally held (rather than feminist) interpretation of complementarity in Maori cosmology. With such work in mind I discuss ways in which female roles within the complementarity of this Maori cosmos are highlighted. My description necessarily begins with an account of some Maori mythology. Hine-titama is known as the `dawn-maid' in some accounts of Maori mythology, including the book Wahine Toa (Kahukiwa & Grace 1991, p. 70). In records of Maori cosmogony (Best 1952, p. 41; Te Rangi Hiroa 1982, p. 453) Hine-titama is considered to be the mother of all human beings. She is one of three main interconnected manifestations of the female element (uha) in Maori cosmology. The other two manifestations are Hine-ahu-one, whom the male god Tane fashioned from the earth to become the first female form, and Hine-nui-te-po who presides over after-life. Maori male deities sought uha as an indispensable part of the creation of human beings (Best 1952, p. 41). In this cosmogony, Hine-titama represents the female component of human existence and procreation. She is also, however, an offspring of the sexual union between Tane and Hine-ahu-one. After producing a number of children with Tane, and later realising the incestuous nature of her relationship with him, Hine-titama fled in shame to another dimension called Te Po, one of death rather than life, and she became Hine-nui-te-po. There is, however, an inter-dimensional quality about these three female figures that mirrors the three parts of a Maori cosmological order: `Maoris (sic) do not accept the idea that the universe is limited to the world in which men live and die. Instead they see the World of Men as existing in relation to two other realms, Te Po [night] and Te Rangi [day]' (Merge 1976, p. 55). The three female manifestations represent godly and earthly realms, day and night, and also an interdependent cycle that includes conception, pregnancy, life and death. For the Wahine Toa exhibition, Kahukiwa produced paintings of all three of these female figures. Each work bears the name of its featured deity.

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In Kahukiwa's picture that takes Hine-titama's name as a title, the artist presents the goddess as a young Maori woman. Her head and shoulders are realistic in appearance although her facial features may be seen by some viewers as more caricatured than realistic. Similarities to the autobiographical features in some of Frida Kahlo's paintings denote that artist's acknowledged (Mane-Wheoki 1995, p. 10) influence on Kahukiwa. The texture of the Hine-titama's hair and the indentations of her neck and upper torso are realistic in appearance. The form of her body becomes more abstract further down.

A highly stylised male figure, able to be viewed as both within and immediately in front of Hine-titama's body, is a dominant feature of the painting. …

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