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Families can have a history of violence

Sunday 7 Dec 2008 6:40 p.m.

The conviction of 49-year-old William Curtis, father of murderers Wiremu and Michael Curtis, on eight charges of abusing Nia Glassie highlights the fact that violence can run in families.

Zack Makoare admits that he used to bash his wife and smack their four children.

He says he thought his behaviour was normal because his parents and grandparents had done the same. But his attitude changed when his wife called in the police and their teenage son committed suicide.

"Just to say I stopped one day, it didn’t happen that way," he says. "It was the support of a community – people talking to you about it."

After researching his family history, Mr Makoare discovered violence in his family had started with his great-grandfather in 1889.

"Te Waata Makaore was hung in the Napier prison for a murder that happened in Mahia," he says.

Although Mr Makaore says this is no excuse for his own behaviour, his family have lived with shame and anger for nearly 120 years.

"What you got was the introduction of self-hatred and self-hatred over five or six generations manifests itself into great violence."

Maori violence counsellor Mereana Pittman says Maori families can have a history of violence for a multitude of reasons including: tribal warfare, colonisation, alienation from ancestral lands and customs, trauma of wartime service, urbanisation, gangs, alcohol and drugs.

Ms Pittman says most Maori are not abusive or violent but they are still twice as likely to die from assault as non-Maori, and those responsible are nearly always Maori.

"I felt the shame when those kids died," she says. "I felt the shame as a Maori."

Maori child advocate Dr Hone Kaa says child abuse is often something Maori refuse to talk about, even though most feel shame when a Maori child is killed.

"Some of our kaumatua have declared it to be tapu and not to be talked about because it impinges on my whakapapa and my tapu," he says. "But I just say to you 'put that to one side because children are dying.'"

Dr Kaa says if more Maori talked about abuse and violence in their community, it may help stop another Maori child from being killed.

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