Healthy relationships


Healthy relationships

How to use the material

This resource can be used to start conversations with young Māori women about their right to initiate consensual, safe and pleasurable sexual activities, just like Rongomaiwahine!

Rongomaiwahine was a descendant of Ruawharo, the tohunga of the Tākitimu canoe, and Popoto, commander of the Kurahaupō canoe. A woman of very great mana, prestige and beauty, Rongomaiwahine was said to have attracted many admirers. Rongomaiwahine heard the gossip about Kahungunu and Hinepūariari that due to the large size of Kahungunu’s ure (penis) and the relatively small size of Hinepūariari’s tara (vagina), they experienced discomfort during sexual intercourse. Rongomaiwahine challenged Kahungunu that if the ‘shallow pool’ of Hinepūariari was inadequate, he would not be disappointed by her own ‘deep pool’ and should dive in – if he dared! Kahungunu could not resist and took up the challenge. The relationship that developed between Rongomaiwahine and Kahungunu was based on their strong, mutual sexual attraction, and is now legendary.


  • Discuss how in the time of Rongomaiwahine the Māori societal view of women’s sexuality was positive; Māori women could initiate sexual intercourse without shame and stigma; Māori women’s sexual pleasure was celebrated; and sexual intercourse, genitals, and sexual activity were openly talked about.
  • Compare this to the negative, colonising views nowadays in Aotearoa and in some Māori communities about the sexuality of young Māori women – for instance ‘slut-shaming’, date-rape, and sexual abuse.

Key message

 Young Māori women can exercise their mana to initiate and enjoy sexual activity. It’s their choice!

Contextual information

The resource draws on an extract from a paper by Professor Tīmoti Kāretu on Māori people’s perceptions of sexuality before these were affected by colonisation. Rongomaiwahine and Kahungunu were ancestors of great renown. Rongomaiwahine was the principal ancestor of the people of the Māhia Peninsula. It is said that many of Rongomaiwahine’s descendants choose to identify themselves as Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, rather than as Ngāti Kahungunu, as they believe her to be of superior lineage. The story of Rongomaiwahine and Kahungunu is celebrated in the waiata ‘Kōtiro Māori E.’

Link to waiata ‘Kōtiro Māori E’


‘deep pool of Rapa’When Rongomaiwahine refers to ‘te kōpua hōhonu a Rapa’ or ‘the deep pool of Rapa’ (her father), she is signifying not just that for her own pleasure she is more than able to envelop Kahungunu’s large ‘ure’ (penis), but that her genitals represent the aristocratic lineage from which she is descended. In that sense, her invitation to Kahungunu to ‘Dive into my deep pool – if you dare’ is a challenge to his lineage!’
manaEvery Māori person is born with mana as one aspect of the spiritual attributes they inherit from their parents and grandparents. 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 other people. Conversely, mana can be diminished through thoughtless, dishonest or destructive actions. Mana is the creative and dynamic force that motivates a person to do their best; maybe even do better than others.
tapuEvery Māori person is born with personal tapu. Personal tapu can be built up, through doing good works that are approved by other people, one’s hapu or 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. Well-being 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 tip the balance and harm one’s personal tapu.
tohungaskilled person; expert; spiritual mediator
‘well-endowed’This expression is an example of how sexual references in the Māori texts were translated in order to make them more acceptable to Victorian sensibilities (see ‘A cautionary note’ in the introduction narrative page of the te Aitanga a Tiki website). In this example, ‘… tērā te hanga o taku tāne … takoto noa mai te nuinga i waho’ Kahungunu is described as ‘well-endowed’ and ‘there is more of him out than in’ rather than as having a penis so large that most of it lays outside, rather than inside, Hinepūariari’s vagina.
‘wife’In the material about Rongomaiwahine by Tīmoti Kāretu, he uses the terms ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ in reference to Kahungunu and his sexual partner Hinepūariari, and also to Rongomaiwahine herself. We can be sure however that in pre-colonial Māori society there were no such concepts as ‘husband, ‘wife’ or ‘marriage’, as these were terms that were introduced by missionaries and other Pākehā who settled in Aotearoa. Rather Hinepūariari and Rongomaiwahine were in sexual relationships that were sanctioned by their respective whānau and hapū, that may or may not have been long-term, and within which children were produced (see ‘A cautionary note’ in the introduction narrative page of the te Aitanga a Tiki website).


Kāretu, T. (1995). The influence of te reo and tikanga on Māori people’s perception of sexuality. Paper presented at the Hui Whai Māramatanga, Whai Oranga Mate Ketoketo/Arai Kore (HIV and AIDS), 22 March 1995, at Papakura Marae, Auckland.

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

Whaanga, M. (2017). Ngāti Kahungunu. Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Whaanga, M. (2017). Kahungunu and Rongomaiwahine. Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Whaanga, M. (2017). Ngāti Rongomaiwahine: Important ancestors.