Crimes Against Nature: Stories of Takatāpui and the Wilderness in Wairarapa

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This is the second post in the Succession III: Queering the Environment series, edited by Jessica DeWitt, Estraven Lupino-Smith, and Addie Hopes. For this series, contributors were invited to explore ideas of queer rebellion as interruption and resistance.

“Ka aroha atu a Tūtānekai a Tiki; ka mea atu ki a Whakaue,
‘ka mate ahau i te aroha ki toku hoa takatāpui, ki a Tiki.'”1

“Tūtānekai loved Tiki; he said to Whakaue,
‘I am dying from my love for my intimate companion, for Tiki.'”

(Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke, Hinemoa)

In 2008, Ngahuia Te Awekōtuku presented an important revision of the tale of her ancestress Hinemoa. In the original missionary retelling of the story, the noblewoman Hinemoa crossed the darkened waters of the great volcanic lake Rotorua to unite with her beloved against the wishes of her father. Te Awekōtuku expanded upon this narrative, drawing on folklorist Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikāheke’s writings in te reo Māori to emphasise Hinemoa’s genderfluidity, the story’s long-standing connections with the concept of hoa takatāpui (close same-gender companions), and Rotorua’s queer connections to darkness, obscurity, and otherness. The result is a crafted narrative reflecting a time before colonial attacks on Māori cultural conceptions of sexuality. Hinemoa, here, is granted connections with her successors, the takatāpui of today.2

Te Awekōtuku’s various writings have inspired further investigation into histories of takatāpui throughout Aotearoa. For instance, queer activist and scholar Dr Elizabeth Kerekere, inspired in part by Te Awekōtuku, uncovered a wealth of historical material regarding Māori conceptions of gender and sexuality, such as mōteatea (chants, songs, and poems), whakairo (carvings), and tales of tipua (otherworldly entities) who could shapeshift and change sex at will.3 In this piece, I hope to draw attention to other historical accounts of takatāpui, this time, queering the remote districts of Wairarapa as a backdrop against colonial interactions with gender and sexuality. In what follows, I examine two stories that take place decades apart that both demonstrate environmental colonisation, and draw connections between Wairarapa’s environments and the queer identities of those who call it home.

Both women can be described through Te Awekōtuku’s framework of wāhine takatāpui as
“wom[e]n of courage and strength … conscious of the many erotic possibilities offered in her world.”

The first story features Kuini Hine-i-paketia and her companion Ani Matenga Te Patukaikino, wāhine of mana who lived in their ancestral forest district of Te Taperenui-a-Whātonga. This district stretched from the political centre of Pāpāwai in the south to the settlement of Taniwaka in the north, a vast expanse termed “Seventy Mile Bush” by colonists. Hine-i-paketia, “a lady in appearance and manners,” engaged in land sale negotiations with Land Purchase Commissioner Donald McLean, a colonist intent on clearing what he described as “waste land”.4 Ani Matenga Te Patukaikino, herself the sister of powerful rangatira Te Hapuku, served as not only her unofficial political advisor, but also as a confidant.5 Throughout their tenure as leaders, these women continued to operate at the interface of colonialism and traditional ways of life. Both women can be described through Te Awekōtuku’s framework of wāhine takatāpui as “wom[e]n of courage and strength … conscious of the many erotic possibilities offered in her world.”6 Their stories remain so intertwined that academics have, on more than one occasion, confused them for one another, unintentionally placing them perpetually in oa korero ahiahi a Hinewha – the proverbial night-time union between women.7 As a result of their status, alongside resisting ecocide in their district, Te Patukaikino and Hine-i-paketia had undoubtedly displayed Te Awekōtuku’s “courage and strength”. Moreover, their demonstrable closeness, in combination with the prevalence of similar sexual relationships among women in their immediate context, indicates that these wāhine defied colonial ideals of “monogamous heterosexuality,” instead embracing each other’s fluid sexualities as important aspects of their own culture.8 These hoa takatāpui – who, at times, referred to each other playfully with each other’s names – displayed a flamboyant reluctance against land alienation.9

A watercolour painting of a Māori woman looking ahead. She is wearing a cape, a scarf, and a dress. Her lips are tattooed black, and she wears earrings made from birds' feathers. In front of her are the green leaves of a giant flax shrub.
Hine-i-paketia posing among the leaves of a harakeke shrub, a “strong and courageous woman”.
Robert Park, “Natives of Ahuriri, Hawkes Bay, alive in 1851 [detail],” watercolour, PIC Drawer 12925 #T3192 NK203, National Library of Australia, Canberra, ACT, Australia. Public Domain.

As the “Principal person of the whole District,” Hine-i-paketia was far senior to her consort Puhara, despite her gender.9 As a similarly ranked woman, her hoa Ani would often speak for her in her absence, a unilateral display of the closeness between these two powerful Māori women. In 1850, for example, Hine-i-paketia apparently became indisposed immediately before a meeting with McLean. Ani addressed the Commissioner in her place. McLean wrote in his diary that she “spoke firmly … The birds, and usual food, that made the land valuable, have disappeared; [so] let us have Europeans to enrich our country, and bring goods for all, old and young.”10 Ani’s fiery and pointed speech highlighted these women’s connections to the land, wittily lamenting that the resources of the forest, in Europeans’ eyes, had been exhausted. Countering McLean’s perspective of the district as “waste”, she carried Hine-i-paketia’s message with a deliberate emphasis on the duress under which colonialism now held their whenua. An anonymous letter conveyed to McLean soon afterwards accused that he “had departed from [his] original intentions” of preserving Māori-stewarded environments.11

These efforts intensified over the next year. Hine-i-paketia sent McLean a demand for immense sums of compensation, paid yearly, for various Wairarapa land sales. Cuttingly, she also added one simple instruction: “Don’t be annoyed by this statement.”12 Around the same time, and possibly with her hoa‘s influence, Ani sent him either a threat or a challenge to his masculinity, using Europeans’ gendered conceptions of the “rugged” frontiersman against him: “Old man, my message to you: I find that all castrated dogs are good dogs.”13 Despite these figures being commonly portrayed as passive observers, as “powerful women” apparently unable to resist the encompassing advance of European settler-colonialism, their epigrammatic stance against “systematic colonisation” ensures that they endure as bright flashes of wāhine takatāpui rebellion, however small, against the European erasure of Māori forest histories.14

Some decades later, the hinterlands of Wairarapa were again used as backgrounds for queer resistance. In the eyes of the settler Robert Gant, the rivers and forests near his town of Whakaoriori became a canvas on which queer stories could be openly portrayed.

A faded photograph of six naked men wading playfully in a river. A seventh man looks on from a stack of logs on the bank closest to the camera. In the background, a stony river island can be seen.
Queers experiencing the freedom of being themselves, against the backdrop of the Ruamāhanga River.
Robert Gant, “Men bathing in a river,” 1887, albumen print, PA1-q-962-38-1, Alexander Turnbull Library,
Wellington, New Zealand. Public Domain.

Gant, an amateur photographer, carried his camera through the woods and waters of Wairarapa from 1887 onward, capturing homoerotic scenes on albumen prints.15 In his work, a queer reading of the environment is conspicuous – men appear free to appreciate each other’s bodies against the backdrop of idyllic forest dells and glistening river waters. Two photographs from the collection depict multiple male figures bathing in rivers, many seductively baring their buttocks, posing on their sides.16 Another depicts sharply dressed forestry workers relaxing intimately, about to kiss, in the setting of a dense woodland.17 A few of the unnamed men in these erotic works appear to be tangata whenua (Indigenous), an interaction between peoples reinforcing the peaceful and tranquil nature of Gant’s idealistic photography. Though Brickell correctly points out the exoticising, colonial lens of Gant’s portrayal of Māori men, “they are not positioned dissimilarly to the young Pākehā [European] men,” implying an especially rare integration of tangata whenua, and takatāpui, into queer European-dominated social groups.18

Against this highly masculinised “wilderness”, Gant’s ability to portray the softness and tenderness of men-loving-men was a contrast against societal ideals of “robustness” and
the consideration of “sodomy” as a “crime against nature”

In South Wairarapa, the landscape is dominated by former forested land – cleared for roads and pastures by the time of Gant’s arrival – and rivers, tributaries of the great Ruamāhanga, coursing through the undulating plains, scorching in summer and freezing in winter. Many of the sexualised natural features of Gant’s homoerotic works – “Bunny’s Bush,” the “groin projecting from the river bank”19 – have been lost through the constant advance of pastoralism and the forestry industry. The scrubland, once dominated by aruhe ferns, now lies mostly covered by yellowed blades of rye-grass. In the late 1880s, during Gant’s prime photographing years, the environment near Whakaoriori would have existed at the threshold between cleared land and untouched bush. As well, the Wairarapa plains represented the interface of cleared land and its accompanying heteronormative, rigidly masculine ideas of frontiersmen, alongside secluded, obscured forests and rivers, and the ability for queer romance to bloom. The idyll captured by Gant, then, represented a safe space for the liberation and pleasure of queerness in an especially oppressive time for homosexuals.

Against this highly masculinised “wilderness”, Gant’s ability to portray the softness and tenderness of men-loving-men was a contrast against societal ideals of “robustness” and the consideration of “sodomy” as a “crime against nature,” not to mention notions of race and class.20 In a photo entitled “Makora, last Sunday in 1888,” Gant portrays three men touching and embracing each other, while another man smiles, cuddling his sheepdog. A beautiful sunset filters through the trees and brush, closing out the year through a queer expression of romantic love directly connected to their changing environments.21 As Brickell describes, “the forest glade … help[s] to fashion the interactions captured by the camera’s lens.”22 Like Hine-i-paketia and Ani Matenga Te Patukaikino, Gant used his natural surroundings not only to express his queerness, but to resist – in his case, the forces that sought to prevent his idyllic view of queer love from ever surfacing above the Ruamāhanga’s strong currents.

A grainy black-and-white photograph of four men, wearing traditional Victorian English attire, sitting on a wooden bench in a forest. Three of the men sit on our left, their arms wrapped around each other. The other man sits slightly away from them, cuddling a small dog who sits underneath him. Behind them, the sunlight glows brightly.
The forest becoming a neutral background, one where queer romance could bloom.
Robert Gant, “Makora, last Sunday in 1888,” 1888, albumen print, PA1-q-962-29,
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Public Domain.

Recently, Wairarapa has remained an equally turbulent setting for both queer people and their environments. Taratahi’s former mayor, Georgina Beyer, a self-described “Māori tranny prostitute,” admitted in that towns in the region “are not entirely safe places for out gay people,” and, relating this oppression to the ecology of the district, cited homophobes literally “poisoning their water” to eliminate them.23 For how much queer history lies within the Wairarapa’s past, and under its very soil, comparatively little work has been done to uncover these rich pasts. As was the case with Hinemoa, I believe that these histories, legends, and stories exist to be dug out of Ahiaruhe’s meadows, plucked from Ponatahi’s trees, and fished up from Ngāwī’s rich seawater. Like with Hinemoa, I also believe that existing stories, presently buried under decades of queerphobic ideologies, can have their hidden queer elements exposed and presented to us. For now, I can offer these two stories as small components of this dense tapestry of queer lives, projected against the complex, shifting ecologies of Wairarapa.

Feature Image Description: The confluence of Māori and European experiences of the land and its resources, capturing dying trees, a “rugged frontiersman,” and three companions at rest. “Rimutaka Hill Road with Māori and a horseman,” by Nicholas Chevalier. November 1868, watercolour, C-014-011, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. Public Domain.


[1] New Zealand, Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, April 17, 2013, 689:9496 (Te Ururoa Flavell, Māori Party) (Waiariki)

[2] Ngahuia Te Awekōtuku, “Hinemoa: Retelling a Famous Romance,” Journal of Lesbian Studies 5, no. 1, 2008, 1-11.

[3] Elizabeth Kerekere, “Part of the Whanau: The Emergence of Takatāpui Identity, He Whāriki Takatāpui” (Ph. D. thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2017), 33, 46.

[4] Bryan Gilling, Lands, Funds, and Resources: Aspects of the Economic History of Māori in Wairarapa ki Tararua since 1840 (Wellington: Waitangi Tribunal, November 2004), 65; Robert Park, “Natives of Ahuriri, Hawkes Bay, alive in 1851,” watercolour, PIC Drawer 12925 #T3192 NK203, National Library of Australia, Canberra, ACT, Australia.

[5] Kerry Conlon, “Surveying Hineipaketia: The Politics of Power, Rank and Gender in Nineteenth Century Hawke’s Bay” (MA thesis, Massey University, 2014), 53-54.

[6] Te Awekōtuku, 2008, 3.

[7] Conlon, 2014, 8; Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, “He Whakatauki, He Titotito, He Pepeha,” Te Pipiwharauroa 133, no. 1, April 1909, 10.

[8] Angela Ballara, “Hine-i-paketia,” in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, ed. W. H. Oliver (Wellington: Allen & Unwin, 1990), 1:190-191.

[9] Angela Ballara, “Wāhine Rangatira: Māori Women of Rank and their Role in the Women’s Kotahitanga Movement of the 1890s,” New Zealand Journal of History 27, no. 2, 1993, 131.

[10] Donald McLean, diary entries dated December 14, 1850 to February 12, 1851, 25, MCLEAN-1008793, Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL), Wellington, New Zealand.

[11] McLean, 1851, 25.

[12] Hine-i-paketia and Te Hapuku to Donald McLean, June 4, 1851, MCLEAN-1031700, ATL.

[13] Ani Matenga to Donald McLean, April 21, 1851, MCLEAN-1030318, ATL.

[14] B. A. R. Card, P. C. Ensor, G. L. Holgate, B. H. Hutchinson, J. H. C. Morris, and J. M. Wardell, Pastoral High Country: Proposed Tenure Changes and the Public Interest – A Case Study (Christchurch: Centre for Resource Management, University of Canterbury and Lincoln College, 1983), 31-32.

[15] Chris Brickell, “Men Alone, Men Entwined: Reconsidering Colonial Masculinity,” Journal of New Zealand Studies 13, no. 1, 2012, 11-12.

[16] Robert Gant, “Men bathing in a river,” 1887, albumen print, PA1-q-962-38-1, ATL.

[17] Robert Gant, “Four men in Bunny’s Bush,” 1889, albumen print, PA1-q-962-54-4, ATL.

[18] Chris Brickell, “Visualizing Homoeroticism: The Photographs of Robert Gant, 1887-1892,” Visual Anthropology 23, no. 2, 2010, 17.

[19] This is written on the index card accompanying PA1-q-962-38-1.

[20] Brickell, 2012, 15.

[21] Robert Gant, “Makora, last Sunday in 1888,” 1888, albumen print, PA1-q-962-29, ATL.

[22] Brickell, 2012, 30.

[23] Alex Casey, “Georgina Beyer still has a fire in her belly,” The Spinoff, March 6, 2023,; Anonymous, “Rural areas risky for gays, says Beyer,”, October 25, 2008,

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Jamie Ashworth

Jamie Ashworth is an environmental historian from Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa New Zealand, with a background in education and library services. They have recently completed their Master of Arts (History) programme at Massey University, having written their thesis on forest management in 19th-century Wairarapa. Their research interests include pre-20th century horticultural and agricultural methods, public responses to environmental change, and the material culture of Māori and European artistic impressions of landforms and landscapes.

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