There’s a scene in Mean Girls where Karen Smith justifies getting with your cousin. And maybe she had a point. Yeah, it’s probably a pretty desperate move, but in some cases, it’s excusable. You didn’t hear it from me.
They say that forbidden fruit - or in this case, we’ll say kūmara - is the sweetest, and as someone who has, admittedly, done a double take at a few relations, I’ll be the first to concur. While we’ve come a long way from the mattress room (where tradition meets Tinder) and branched out beyond “most likely cousins” to “less likely cousins”, the lines are still quite blurred. So where does the gene pool get a little too shallow for comfort? How close is too close? Or, maybe more importantly, how far is far enough?
Well, the first hurdle you'll encounter is the inevitable overlap. It's a small world out there, especially for Māori, and sooner or later you'll discover that your potential bedmates are, one way or another, connected through a complex web of whakapapa. So, before you get your hopes up, making sure your family trees don't intertwine like the vines of a kūmara patch is the first step. Do what you have to do. My advice? Ditch the Tinder bio and get straight to the point with a cultural checklist: we want eel-wrestling, top-knot-wearing, seafood-diving tāne out here. And wāhine mā, if he can sit on the pae, just swipe right. Extra points if he’s inked.
That’s a whole lot of admin, though. So to avoid this rigorous vetting process, some Māori have opted out altogether. Maru, a third-year student here in Ōtepoti, was quick to explain why. “I’ve actually had a few run-ins and it’s been tricky… I can never find someone that isn’t related to me, or, we’ve got some pretty colourful intertribal histories,” Maru said. “If I’m gonna take part in Family Feud, it’s gotta have a big cash prize at the end.”
But is there a better way? Oh, how the sparks would soar if a pristine match-making service came to our aid… think, something snazzy like ‘MāoriMingle’, where indigenous swipes meet indigenous vibes. Cast Māui’s fishing line and see what kind of catch you reel in! Discover potential matches through a unique algorithm that analyses your whakapapa to find your star-crossed lover. Worried about meeting someone who might be hiding their true identity? MāoriMingle has a “taniwha tracker” feature to help spot potential impostors - if their taniwha doesn’t match the profile, you’ll know they’re fishy. Can you just imagine the tags? #whānau-oriented, or will it be #hakaenthusiast?
But on the other side of the kūmara patch, things are looking a little… mushy.
Maiao (Ngāti Maniapoto) has had her fair share of terrible online experiences, claiming the ‘name game’ and severe cultural cringe. “I get it, some people don’t get around much. But so many folks out there have barely spoken to a brown person, let alone dated one,” she said. “When it starts to feel like you’re a walking cultural exhibit on the first date, there probably won’t be a second.” And in the age of digital dating, Māori singles must master the delicate art of balancing traditional values with the swipes of destiny. One moment you're at a whānau hui (family gathering), being questioned about marriage and graduation by Aunty Bubbles, and the next, you're swiping left on a potential Pākehā partner with mediocre rizz, asking what their favourite colour is while they try to prove how culturally sensitive they are. But where are the brown-skinned beauties, inked and toned, cheeky laughs and all?
And let's not forget the social media scrutiny. The FBI (aunties) will make sure your online presence will be picked through with a fine-toothed comb. That cheeky post you made in 2016 about your dislike for kina? Yeah, that's going to come back to haunt you. Prepare for a thorough grilling by the Vetting Committee (again, aunties), who will demand an explanation for your apparent disrespect of one of Aotearoa's finest delicacies.
Speaking of delicacies, I just know that Hinemoa would have some pretty strong thoughts about what we Māori consider ‘chivalry’ nowadays considering she literally swam to Mokoia for Tūtānekai. Clearly, he was quite the catch. Don’t even get me started on Kahungunu. Just an aside, but what I wouldn’t give to see his Tinder profile.
But in the grand scheme of things, it sounds like this dating shit was just easier when sex wasn’t taboo and marriages were arranged. In most cases, premarital sex was encouraged and carried no stigma. And while arranged marriages were common within Māori communities, elders and leaders of the hapū often played a leading role in selecting suitable partners based on compatibility, lineage, and social status. Though these unions were not solely based on seduction, there was great emphasis on creating strong alliances and maintaining social cohesion. And there was certainly flirtation and courtship. These often involved the exchange of songs, poetry (waiata), and meaningful gifts.
I hate to be that person, but it sounds so much better than today’s hookup horrors. Imagine thinking you’re leaving your small hometown and clan of cousins behind, only to chat up a bunch of distant relatives in a different city. Bringing a whole different meaning to ‘long-distance relationships’ as if it weren’t already bad enough. Clearly, we’re experiencing a kūmara shortage.
But it all depends on the size of your rāks (wallet), as it seems that cousinly love is only acceptable if you’re white AND incredibly wealthy. Just look at the divide between all sorts of Royals and the people of Alabama: one was revered for ‘maintaining a pure bloodline’, while Alabamians are referred to as white trash rednecks. #JusticeForAlabama. I wonder what other immoral shit you can get away with if you’re exponentially wealthy. Maybe these folks need to have a squiz on Tinder, because Ancestry.com just doesn’t hit like it used to.
So who cares if you’re from the same iwi? Find the Philip to your Lizzy, and swipe responsibly, e te iwi.