Entanglements of Empire: Missionaries, Maori, and the Question of the Body
Tony Ballantyne is Professor of History at the University of Otago. He is the author or editor of many books, including Between Colonialism and Diaspora: Sikh Cultural Formations in an Imperial World and Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History, both also published by Duke University Press.
This chapter suggests that the precariousness of missionary work to Māori was exposed by the sexual transgressions of missionaries themselves. It offers a close reading of the most protracted scandal that rocked the mission: the dismissal of William Yate in 1836 following allegations he established sexual relationships with a number of young Māori men and boys. Rather than abstract sexuality from broader social relationships and treat it as a discreet and self-contained domain, this chapter suggests that the scandal around Yate was profoundly shaped by the broader social dynamics and conflicts that he set in place. It stresses that interracial proximity was central to Yate’s authority, both as an author of a pioneering ethnographic treatment of Māori society and to his role as a missionary. This reading of Yate differs from much of the writing on Yate which has been primarily concerned with his sexual “identity” and that has seen him as challenging both the racial and sexual prejudices of his missionary peers. It uses the Yate scandal to explore a series of overlapping debates about the ways in which missionaries should modulate intimacy, the consequences of certain types of sexual acts, and how such transgressions could be best managed.