Dame Anne Salmond is Distinguished Professor of Maori Studies and Anthropology at the University of Auckland.

I agree with Alan Duff when he says, "Real men don't beat up kids, or wives, or anyone else. Real men love." I know that, as a child, he experienced domestic violence. I respect him as a writer and for his fantastic work with Books for Homes. I admire the passion with which he tackles the burning issue of child abuse among Maori and violence against women.

At the same time, when he suggests this hateful violence is a legacy of a "simple" pre-European Maori culture, with its "screaming, eye-popping haka", he is wrong. In saying that, I realise I run the risk of being flagellated as a bleeding-heart liberal, or worse, by some of the Herald's readers.

Rather than appealing to scholarly authority, then, let's turn to the accounts written by European men who visited New Zealand in the very early days and saw with their own eyes how Maori family life was conducted. We can begin with the traveller John Savage, who wrote in 1807, "The children here appear to be treated with a great degree of parental affection. They are robust, lively, and possess, in general, pleasing countenances."

Samuel Marsden, the leading missionary who visited New Zealand for the first time in 1814 (and could never be accused of possessing a bleeding heart), noted: "I saw no quarrelling while I was there. They are kind to their women and children. I never observed either with a mark of violence upon them, nor did I ever see a child struck."


In 1824, Richard Cruise remarked: "In the manner of rearing children, and in the remarkable tenderness and solicitous care bestowed upon them by the parents, no partiality on account of sex was in any instance observed. The infant is no sooner weaned than a considerable part of its care devolves upon the father: it is taught to twine its arms round his neck, and in this posture it remains the whole day, asleep or awake."

As the artist Augustus Earle wrote in 1832: "They are kind and hospitable to strangers, and are excessively fond of their children. On a journey, it is more usual to see the father carrying his infant than the mother; and all the little offices of a nurse are performed by him with the tenderest care and good humour."

In 1839, the missionary Richard Taylor observed, "One of the finest traits I have noticed in the New Zealanders is that of parental love; the men appear chiefly to nurse their children, and are generally to be seen with one on their back covered up under their mats, the little things appear likewise sensible of their fathers' love for they seem principally to cling to them."

I'll end with this quote by the trader Joel Polack in 1840: "It is not uncommon to see young children of tender years, sitting next to their parents in the councils, apparently listening with the greatest attention ... They ask questions, [and the chiefs] answer them with an air of respect, as if they were a corresponding age to themselves. I do not remember a request of an infant being treated with neglect, or a demand from one of them being slighted."

These quotes from early European visitors could be multiplied ad infinitum. According to their reports, Maori domestic life was generally harmonious, and the men were kind, loving and devoted to their children.

At the same time in Britain, it must be noted, the violent chastisement of women and children was commonplace, in the law and in everyday life. Under the doctrine of "coverture", women and children were legally the property of their husbands and fathers, who were entitled to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline.

This accounts for the air of amazement, and sometimes disapproval, with which European men in the early 19th century described the lenient way in which Maori domestic life was conducted.

In order to tackle domestic violence in 21st century New Zealand, it's vital to identify accurately the most likely causes for our shameful record of abusing women and children. Unfortunately, the Once Were Warriors storyline which indicates that Maori domestic violence is an ancestral legacy is part of the problem, not the solution.

It is wrong in fact, and it props up stereotypes that do a great deal of damage to Maori people and to our society.

If you teach children for long enough that their ancestors were violent, abusive savages, after a while, they are likely to believe you. This in itself can be a cause for shame and self-loathing. When they become adults, they may use this myth as a convenient excuse to beat up women and children.

Children like Moko (and maybe Alan Duff, as well) are the victims in all of this. Rather than condemning tikanga, it might be wiser to draw upon ancestral Maori ways of conducting family life for inspiration and healing. As Samuel Marsden wrote in 1820, "There can be no finer children than those of the New Zealanders in any part of the world. Their parents are very indulgent, and they appear always happy and playful and very active."

This is as true today as it was then in many Maori families. Instead of blaming Maori ethnicity or culture for New Zealand's terrible record of domestic abuse, we need to look to poverty, alcohol, drugs, gang culture, prisons and other role models for brutal behaviour - in sport for instance - for the root causes of domestic violence in New Zealand, and tackle these at the source.