Chiefs, gender and hierarchy in Ngāpūtoru

Jukka Siikala

The male bias of the expedition era has left its mark upon the anthropology of Polynesian culture. Until recently the objects of analysis have been almost exclusively the chiefly system and warriorhood, which were ethnocentrically interpreted. However, women were active and central in transmitting high rank and Polynesian history provides examples of women who became important chiefs. The question then arises: what in traditional society explains the prominence some females achieved? As mediators between a bounded structure and what lay beyond it, be it political authority, supranormal spheres, or Western culture-bearers, the female played a decisive role. They also acted as chiefs, sometimes even as warriors. This poses a paradox, for the structural position of women, cosmic in nature, does not allow for female chieftaincy. What is important here is a gendered category and not particular males and females. Thus, whole social groups and islands can be regarded as “warriors” or as “females.” Actual women who have historically achieved chieftaincy do so as sociological males, not as females, for, while women are a means to the end of chieftaincy, chieftaincy is still gendered as male. But becoming male for a female is as possible as becoming female is for a male, just add the causative prefix ‘aka and act like one.

Research Type(s)
Book Chapter
Submitted by Almah Tararia
June 25, 2022
Published in
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