A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brookes
(Bridget Williams Books, $69.99)
Reviewed by Alison McCulloch
It was the creation stories that grabbed me. In the first chapter of her epic History of New Zealand Women, Barbara Brookes places a version of the Māori creation story alongside that of the Pākehā colonists, setting the scene for how each society saw women. The contrast is startling.
For Māori, the world emerged (in part) through the union, and separation by their offspring, of Rangi (the Sky Father) and Papa (the Earth Mother). It’s an intricate story with myriad twists and turns that, Brookes writes, “presented models of powerful women: of a female element to be reckoned with”.
Compare that to the Christian creation story of a lone male God, the model for man, where woman is created as an afterthought, “a helper fit for him” (as Genesis has it). What’s more, that “helper” is also a temptress, responsible for the Fall who must be punished: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis again, quoted by Brookes.)