Relationships and Delaying Sexual Activity



Relationships and delaying sexual activity.

How to use the material

This resource can be used to initiate a discussion with young Maori women about their right to initiate, enjoy or decline sex, or to delay sexual activity and sexual relationships until they feel ready.

Considered the most famous woman of Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Maniapoto descent in the 19th century, Puhiwahine was renowned for her skills as a composer of waiata and a poet. She was vivacious, witty and charming and people, male and female, were drawn to her. During her youth, she and her people travelled often to visit other tribes around the country, where she was admired and desired by several young chiefs. In two instances in particular, the desire was mutual and Puhiwahine had sexual encounters – first with the young Maniapoto chief, Hauauru, and later on with a distant cousin, Te Mahutu Te Toko, of Maruapoto. Both encounters were intense but were cut short, as neither of them were approved by her whanau and hapu. For one thing, Hauauru was already in a communally sanctioned sexual relationship. If Puhiwahine had become his secondary sexual partner or punarua, she would have been relegated to a position of lower social status and her mana would be diminished. Both these young men inspired Puhiwahine to compose waiata aroha that expressed her love and longing. Years later, Puhiwahine composed ‘He waiata ki ana whaiaipo’, in which she recalls the the names of several chiefs, young and old, some of whom she enjoyed sexual encounters with in her youth, and others whom she admired and whose company she had enjoyed but whose sexual advances she had declined.

Points for discussion

  • Discuss the attitudes towards sex and sexual relationships in Puhiwahine’s time. A young Maori woman could act on her sexual needs and desires without shame or stigma. She could exercise her mana to initiate and enjoy sex; equally she could enjoy non-sexual relationships and decline sexual advances if she chose to. However, for both young Maori women and men, more long term sexual partnerships were often carefully chosen to create or maintain links with other iwi or hapu (sub-tribal kin group) and required the approval of their whanau (family) and hapu.
  • Compare this to the complexity and intensity of modern day sexual relationships, which are further complicated by peer pressure and social media. Young Maori women have the right to initiate and enjoy consensual sex, and to decline to engage in sexual activity and enjoy non-sexual relationships.
  • Some young women may not feel ready to deal with the emotional intensity of a sexual relationship; or they may want to get assistance or information from their GP, Family Planning or a sexual health clinic first. Young Maori women can exercise their mana to delay getting into sexual activities and sexual relationships until they feel ready.

Key message(s)

Young Maori women can exercise their mana to initiate and enjoy consensual sex, to decline to engage in sexual activity, or to delay sexual activity and sexual relationships until they’re ready. It’s their choice!

Contextual information

The text of this famous waiata was sourced from ‘Puhiwahine, Maori Poetess’, a book by Pei te Hurinui Jones, published in 1961. Puhiwahine Te Rangi-hirawea (also known as Rihi) (1816-1906) of Ngati Tuwharetoa and Ngati Maniapoto composed He Waiata ki Ana Whaiaipo around 1846, when she would have been almost 30 years old. It was composed in response to good-natured teasing from several of her friends about the many sexual attractions and sexual encounters she had had as a young woman. It is characteristic of  waiata whaiaipo that the composer speaks of her love for several men, addressing each in turn and sometimes taking herself on an imaginary journey. Puhiwahine was often asked to sing her waiata whaiaipo and waiata aroha at tribal gatherings to entertain the people. The descendants of those named in He Waiata ki ana Whaiaipo consider the song to be a source of pride, a badge of honour to be passed down from generation to generation. For that reason, the waiata still survives and is sung to this day.


ai(tia) to have sex
coquette to flirt (said of a woman) ‘Coquette’ is a French term, the feminine of ‘coquet’ – a male flirt (now obsolete). The use of the term ‘coquette’ to describe Puhiwahine is misleading. It portrays her as frivolous and slightly devious, rather than as a woman who is confident in her sexuality and totally comfortable exploring it. The term ‘flirt’ is synonymous with being a ‘tease’, ‘seducer’ or ‘gold-digger’. In a contemporary context, the terms ‘flirt’ or ‘flirting’ need to be critically analysed . For example, some men – including lawyers, court judges, pedophiles and men accused of violence against women, justify the abuse/rape/sexual assault of women by insisting the woman had flirted with them, and had therefore ‘asked for it’. This notion assumes two things: that a man can determine when a woman or girl ‘flirts’ with him; and, the woman having allegedly ‘flirted’, that a man cannot be responsible for his actions.
epeepe distant cousin
harukiruki intense
hononga relationship
mana Every Maori is born with an increment of mana as one aspect of the spiritual attributes they inherit from their parents and tupuna. Mana is closely related to personal tapu (see ‘tapu’, below). Regardless of the degree you are born with, mana can be built up through doing good works in the community that uplift the mana of the collective. Conversely, mana can be diminished through thoughtless, dishonest or destructive actions. Mana is the creative and dynamic force that motivates an individual to do better – maybe even better than others.
matenui to desire strongly; earnest desire or longing
mate tane/wahine to be lustful for a man/woman, have a sexual encounter with a man/woman
moe(a) have sex with. NOTE: In translating purakau, narratives, whakapapa, etc. into English, ‘moe’ is often rendered as ‘marry’, e.g. ‘ka moe a Rangi i a Mea . . .’ The concept of marriage is a western/ Pakeha concept and was not part of Maori cultural tradition. The customary Maori practice of cohabitation between partners was sometimes referred to as ‘moe maori’.  Among the rangatira class, however, this form of cohabitation must be sanctioned by the whanau and/or hapu involved. Moe maori was still in common usage as recently as the 1950s, although the introduction of the Marriage Act (1908) meant that a customary union had to be formalised, i.e. performed by a minister of religion, to be recognised as legal. Under Pakeha law, this was important to one’s ability to make claims to land and inheritance. When the Maori Purposes Act was introduced  in 1951, Maori couples had to marry according to European customs to be eligble for the Family Benefit, and to ensure their children were not classified as ‘illegitimate’.
monenehu(tia) to diminish
ngangahau vivacious, spirited
Ngati Maniapoto Part of the Tainui confederation of tribes that trace their origins back to the Tainui waka, Ngati Maniapoto is based in the Waikato-Waitomo region of the North Island.
Ngati Tuwharetoa Ngati Tuwharetoa is a tribe that descends from Ngatairoirangi, the tohunga who navigated the Arawa canoe to Aotearoa from Hawaiki. The Tuwharetoa territory extends from Matata in the Bay of Plenty, across the central plateauof the North Island to the lands around mount Tongariro and lake Taupo.
ngau tarariki keenly felt bite (of love)
onioni to have sexual intercourse
onioni-kore non-sexual (relationship)
pae papaho papori social media
parekareka fun, enjoyable
pa kuwha sexual activity/activities
pehanga a-papori peer pressure
piringa ai sexual relationship
poapoataunu stigma, shame
poho kereru to be proud, puffed up with pride (a figurative expression)
pukonohinohi to long for, yearn for; longing, yearning
punarua secondary wahine (communally sanctioned partner)
ringarehe expert, skilled, skilful
taiohinga youth, adolescence
takaroa to delay, defer
tapara(tia) to desire, be attracted to
tapu Every Maori person is born with personal tapu. Personal tapu can be built up, through doing good works that are approved by the people/iwi. Protection of the self is closely linked to tapu and the attribute of mana (see ‘mana’, above). Mana and tapu are closely related and one affects the other. When one’s tapu is in a steady state, the person is well, both physically and psychologically. Wellbeing occurs when the self is in a state of balance, when personal tapu is safe and not under threat. Things like gossip, public humiliation and personal abuse can harm one’s personal tapu.
tataki witty
tauonioni to copulate, have sexual intercourse
tauporongia to curtail, cut short
taurakuraku to ‘scratch one another’, i.e. to flirt
toikupu poetry
waiaro attitude
waiata aroha a song or chant expressing love and longing
waiata whaiaipo a song for a lover. These witty, flirtatious waiata were sung for entertainment. The composer often referred to her love for several men, addressing each of them and sending herself on an imaginary journey to visit them.
whakaahuareka to take pleasure in, enjoy
whakaara to initiate
whakahoahoa friendly, charming
whakamanea attractive, charismatic
whakanau atu to refuse, decline
whakanene teasing, jesting
whakatomuri to hold back, delay
whaiaipo lover
whare haumanu hokakatanga sexual health clinic
whiwhiwhi complex, complicated


Cook, M. (2011). Marriage and partnering – Marriage in traditional Maori society. In Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Davis, T. A. (2017). Puhiwahine Te Rangi-hirawea, Rihi. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (1993). Te Ara- the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Help Auckland. (2018). Sexual abuse myths busted. Retrieved from

Jones, P. T. H. (1961). Puhiwahine: Maori poetess. Christchurch NZ: Pegasus Press.

Mead, H. M. M. (2003). Tikanga Maori: Living by Maori values. Wellington, NZ: Huia Publishers.

Orbell, M. (1991). Waiata: Maori songs in history. Auckland, NZ: Reed.