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  • Reni Broughton

Trickster Makes Change

Haututū. Menace. Troublemaker. Tricksters are badass indigenous figures who transgress the status quo and lead cultural resets. They’re cheeky, rebellious, and intuitive; bulldozing through the shit of the past and present, and boldly creating new futures.

Nā Reni Broughton (Ngāruahine, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara)

Image supplied by Salient Magazine

This feature was originally published by Salient magazine, the student magazine of Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington

In Te Ao Māori, Māui has long been the paramount archetype of the ‘trickster’ and his legendary feats are passed down to each generation. We learn from, and are thoroughly entertained by, stories of Māui. But he isn’t the only person in our histories capable of championing change and revolution with supreme style. Innovation is in our blood, it’s in our whakapapa. As the upcoming generation of changemakers, embracing the stories and characteristics of our ‘tricksters’ might just be the way to embrace the chaos of much-needed change.

Tricksters are whispering in our ears

Carving our histories into bones,

Te Kore, Te Pō, Te Ao Marama

They’re emerging, they’re awaking

Can you hear them? Are you listening?


Image supplied by Salient Magazine

Known For:

- Stealing an old crone’s fiery fingernails.

- Harnessing the sun.

- Fishing up some land.

- Shapeshifting.

Look beyond, Look to the community

Māui is well-known and well-documented in our collective oral histories. Māori and Pākehā alike view him as this Herculean action man and rebel without a cause. He’s charismatic, muscly, and super sexy (if the visual depictions are to be believed). The high entertainment value of Māui perhaps overshadows some interesting lessons in change-making that are embedded in his adventures. Māui has vision: he observes the problems of the past and creates solutions for the future.

No heat to cook and no warmth = Māui steals fire from Mahuika.

Not enough daylight to do agricultural, horticultural and domestic work = Māui slows down the sun.

Not enough space for an expanding community = Māui fishes up land.

Despite diabolical behaviour that toes the line between heroism and hubris, his brand of trickster-hood teaches us that rebellion and boundary-pushing is often necessary for the progression of a community.


Image supplied by Salient Magazine

Known For:

- Protective thighs.

- Te Arawa mana wāhine.

- Battle heroine.

Sometimes tikanga must adapt

During a battle between Ngā Puhi and Te Arawa, Te Ao-Kapurangi struck a deal with her encroaching enemy. Hongi Hika agreed that those who passed through Te Ao-Kapurangi’s thighs would be spared from death. In her infinite and quick-witted wisdom, Te Ao-Kapurangi defied the parameters of tikanga māori. She climbed atop a whare, straddled the roof, and urged her people to enter through the doorway beneath her whare tangata. Because of her innovative and creative interpretation of a challenge where she was set up to fail,Te Ao-Kapurangi ensured the survival of her people. One of the most terrifying aspects of being a trickster is understanding when, where, and how to challenge and adapt tikanga. When so much work has been done to restore and reclaim mātauranga, it feels awkward and uncomfortable to challenge and question the way that things are done. Te Ao-Kapurangi’s story serves as a reminder that adaptation, change, and challenging the usual way of thinking and doing is necessary and essential to our continued survival.


Image supplied by Salient Magazine

Known For:

- Christian Methodist proselyte.

- Prophet.

- Military leader.

Shapeshift strategically

Tītokowaru’s trajectory from Methodist proselyte to military leader to peacemaker-prophet during the Taranaki Land Wars seems almost contradictory in nature. But it solidifies his place as one of the most interesting figures in māori history. Tītokowaru demonstrates an aspect of trickster-hood that we see often in our oral histories. He is a fluid shapeshifter. Tricksters often transform into different animals or gender forms to perform tricks or complete challenges. Tītokowaru’s journey is reminiscent of this skill as he navigated the worlds of religion, spirituality, politics and military strategy. Tricksters wear many faces, sitting at the intersections of different worlds, weaving together the knowledge of different spaces. Tītokowaru’s experience is echoed in the lives of many indigenous people today who strategically learn from and navigate contrasting worlds and spaces in order to make change happen for our people.

Tricksters are whispering in our ears

They’re shapeshifting,

whispering, goading, tempting.

Cheeky. Rebellious. Menace.

Can you hear them? Are you listening?


Image supplied by Salient Magazine

Known For:

- Tūhoe activist and social worker.

- Stepladders, blankets, tent embassies, and flag shooting.

- Artist.

Be bold and cheeky in your rebellion

There are many reasons to appreciate Tame Iti’s particular brand of activism. Infused with so much stylistic flair, humour, and artistry, it is impossible not to see his trickster nature and appreciate the cheeky rebellion his work exudes. For years, media and politicians have frothed over painting him into a villainous tattooed terrorist. But by most accounts he is multi-talented, focused on his community and whānau. His political activism is layered with bold, defiant resistance and humorous creativity that⁠—truthfully⁠—makes the work of resistance a little more interesting. Resisting and dismantling colonial systems is draining, labour intensive work. As we continue to tackle the often-tedious work of reclamation, revitalisation, and designing our futures, may we infuse the trickster’s combination of cheekiness and defiance to make for a more interesting journey!


Image supplied by Salient Magazine

Known For:

- Carmen For Mayor.

- Brothel keeping businesswoman.

- LGBTQIA+ and HIV/AIDS Activist.

Takatāpui tricksters matter

With hyper-masculine Māui being touted as the quintessential trickster figure, it is easy to dismiss the presence of Takatāpui in trickster-hood. Indigenous tricksters are closely linked to sexuality, sex, and performance. Carmen embodied this relationship as a beloved and pioneering figure in the Wellington LGBTQIA+ and sex work scene. She was equal parts savvy businesswoman, queer activist, and drag performer. She challenged sexual discrimination and prejudice; her entire personhood is a flamboyant threat to conservative sensibilities. Carmen embodies trickster energy, not just because of what she did as a revolutionary entrepreneur and advocate, but because of who she was⁠—an outrageous, indigenous, transgender woman in a rigid, patriarchal, and binary world. If we dare make change in this world, may we be as unique and unapologetic in taking our space as glorious Carmen.


Image supplied by Salient Magazine

Known For:

- Hollywood director darling.

- Being Jewish but playing Adolf Hitler in film.

- Just-plays-goofy-characters-but-still-lovable actor.

- Casually inserts Māori/Polynesian/New Zealand characters and lore into movies.

Live, Laugh and Play Tricks

@nerdgirlsays tweeted that “Taika Waititi is a trickster god trapped in the body of a man” and she was right. Taika’s unique blend of zany comedy and tragedy makes him an extremely popular filmmaker. His trickster qualities lie in his ability to tell incredibly funny-absurd-tragic-but-hopeful stories. He’s a natural disruptor, casually inserting himself into major roles in his films—a highly risky filmmaking convention. Taika critiques ideas of toxic masculinity, particularly for a New Zealand audience. He also inserts indigenous knowledge and representation in storytelling spaces where it’s missing or lacks nuance. As a ‘trapped trickster god’, he’s found his niche as eccentric storyteller, ‘tricking’ his audience into embracing the comedy in tragedy.

Tricksters are whispering in our ears.

In boardrooms, in sex clubs, in marvel movies.

They’re challenging, creating, collaborating.

Trickster. Changemaker. Innovator.

Can you hear them? Are you listening?

Tricksters are whispering in our ears.

They’re tired of whispering,

They’re commanding, inciting, roaring

“Trickster in the making –

Can you hear me? Are you listening?

We are the new generation of changemakers. We come from generations of tricksters and troublemakers who have challenged, tested, and reworked the fabric of Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pākeha. Innovation is in our blood. We get to design and decide our future, if only we harness the courage and defiance to embrace it.

Your blood sings

the song of who you are,





Can you hear them? Are you listening?

Nā Reni Broughton (Ngāruahine, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Whātua ki Kaipara)


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