Warrior gene theory sparks debate and highlights domestic violence in New Zealand

A New Zealand researcher whose claim that Maori people carry a "warrior" gene that makes them more prone to violent and aggressive behaviour has provoked strong reactions from some quarters.

Rod Lea, a genetic epidemiologist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research in the New Zealand capital, Wellington, has told a genetics conference in Australia that Maori men were twice as likely as European men to carry monoamine oxidase, describing it as a "striking over-representation" of what has been described as the warrior gene.

Lea, said the gene had also been linked to such risk-taking behavior as smoking and gambling, and the presence of the gene "goes a long way to explaining some of the problems the Maori have.

His remarks have served to spotlight the over-representation of Maoris in violence statistics and come at a time when New Zealand's domestic violence problem, has been described by a government report as endemic and shameful.

The situation was highlighted by the deaths of three-month old Maori twins in Auckland, the nation's largest city, in June; Chris and Cru Kahui had both suffered severe head injuries but their Maori family have refused to cooperate with police.

Government figures show that Maori children under five years old are being admitted to hospital with "intentional injury" at twice the rate of other ethnic groups.

New Zealand's indigenous Maori population have reacted angrily to Lea's comments and Maori leaders are outraged and say the statement only serves to reinforce "Once Were Warriors*" cultural stereotypes.

Agencies working with violent offenders in Christchurch say violence is just as common among non-Maori groups.

Stopping Violence Services (SVS)* requests all its clients give their ethnic background when they begin a programme and they say last year, 439 were recorded as New Zealand European and 107 as Maori, 6 were Pacific Islanders and 48 gave their ethnicity as "other".

SVS general manager Paul Shamy says he does not believe the the problem is any worse among Maori than anyone else and it is more important to focus on the general state of violence in society.

A UNICEF report last month found that between 18,000 and 35,000 children are exposed to domestic violence each year and the problem is so common that most New Zealanders know a child who has witnessed violence at home.

*Once Were Warriors, published in 1990, was New Zealand author Alan Duff's best selling first novel. It was the basis for the 1994 film directed by Lee Tamahori. It tells the story of an urban Maori family, the Hekes, and portrays the disturbing reality of domestic violence in New Zealand Maori society.

*SVS is an organisation working to stop men's violence to women and children


  1. Tom Anderson5555111 Tom Anderson5555111 United States says:

    How can domestic violence be considered endemic?  It happens all over the world in all classes of society.  It's really only endemic to domestic situations that have a history of violence, it is not specific to the Maori.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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