Whakama: The Truth in White Lies

  • Jani Katarina Taituha WILSON


This article explores the deeper meanings of the term whakamā so it is understood as a fundamental inhibitor of Māori potential, particularly in relation to rangatahi (Māori youth). The kupu (word) whakamā has a number of distinct meanings; firstly, whakamā comprises ‘white’ and ‘clean’,1 and together literally mean to be whitened clean. Secondly, to reflect the process of the blood draining from the face, whakamā is also to be ‘embarrassed’ or ‘ashamed’. As I will show through one of my tribal pūrākau (stories) and a close-reading/analysis of characters in recent feature White Lies (2013, dir. Dana Rotberg), whakamā is far from a straightforward concept. The analysis of White Lies in particular demonstrates and underlines some of the subliminal elements of whakamā in the characterisations of Marāea (Rachel House) and Rebecca (Antonia Prebble), particularly in terms of landlessness. As a Māori film scholar who is generally focused on what cinematic representations of Māori in film history get wrong, I was taken by White Lies for what it gets right in terms of whakamā, particularly in terms of the contribution of whakamā to the clarity – or lack thereof – in decision-making. For the most part, whakamā is a feeling that cannot be easily expressed, and this essay contemplates some of the difficult qualities necessary to explain the effects of whakamā.

How to Cite
WILSON, J. (2018). Whakama: The Truth in White Lies. Back Story - Journal of New Zealand Art, Media & Design History, (4), 53-71. Retrieved from https://ojs.aut.ac.nz/back-story/index.php/BackStory/article/view/5