The Dark Secret of New Zealand — Domestic violence in Māori families

Some time before our seminar “Cultural Studies — New Zealand”, I chose a university seminar which dealt with the depiction of indigenous peoples in films. One of the movies which was very much talked about was Once were Warriors, published in 1994. The drama mirrors the problems of Māori suburban life, like poverty, unemployment, domestic violence and desperation.

In the film, the female protagonist Beth marries Jake and they have five children with whom they live in an untended house in the suburbs of a big, unnamed city of New Zealand. Jake becomes an alcoholic after losing his job and tends to act very aggressively. When he is at home and drunk, he stops his wife from complaining by despising and beating her.One daughter keeps a diary about what happens in the family and when she becomes the victim of rape, she commits suicide. When the parents read the diary later on, the rapist –one of the father´s friends — is beaten by Jake, too. Beth takes her children back to her Māori village again and refuses to continue living in the suburb while helpless Jake stays there without any option for improvement of his situation.

I know, this is a movie and I´m only shown the family´s situation through the lens of a director. Some scenes might be exaggerated and one-sided but there´s a lot of truth in this story. I do recommend the movie because it shows how life can be if you are not very lucky.

Domestic violence is a topic in New Zealand´s Māori families — and it is constantly hushed up. What happens behind the doors is not very much talked about, but the dark secret of domestic abuse does exist and it is a result from the conditions under which many indigenous families have to live. Many Māori people have to experience unemployment and resulting from that poverty and hopelessness. They are frustrated and cannot see any way out of their desperate situation. Of course, domestic violence is not a Māori-only topic, but several studies say that this indigenous group is overrepresented among the ones affected by domestic abuse.

If Māori were fully accepted members of New Zealand´s society, if they had jobs and were completely included and could live under better conditions, domestic violence among indigenous families could be reduced and new hope would be spread. Might be a job for PM John Key — in case he is not in charge of ponytail-pulling right now…