Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Guest post: Two world views

Cross posted

Adele spent a long time on The Hand Mirror, discussing what the furore around Te Papa meant for her (tahi, rua). She has put a detailed comment on my blog, describing Te Ao Taangata Whenua - the world view indigenous to Aotearoa, and how it contrasts with a Western world view. With her permission, I am posting her comment as a post.

Adele is our guest here. Please, keep any discussion courteous. If you feel tempted to hit the keyboards and shoot from the hip, could I ask you step away for a while, and think about how to phrase your comment so that it is at least civil, even if you don't agree with her, or you find things she says difficult. I myself don't agree with some things Adele says, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn more about Te Ao Taangata Whenua.

Kia ora, Adele!


I am not wishing to dwell too much on the actions of Te Papa except to say that their process lacked foresight. What I would like to debate, however, is the sharing of public space between opposing worldviews – joined by a Treaty recognised in principles, if not fact. I use the term worldview to denote a discussion about ideologies more so than race.

The two worldviews I speak of are, to the left, Te Ao Taangata Whenua – the worldview indigenous to Aotearoa, and to the right, The Western Tradition, the worldview of the coloniser. Te Ao Taangata Whenua is used here rather than Te Ao Maaori because this term better acknowledges the many peoples indigenous to the whenua – nations of people identified as hapuu, or Iwi. The two worldviews are opposing because their cores values are fundamentally different.

The differences became officially manifest in two versions of a singular intent towards sharing place and space -Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the indigenous account and The Treaty of Waitangi, its English counterpart. Two versions in open conflict, such that nowadays, emphasis is focussed on spirit rather than substance and on principles rather than terms.

Developing a principled approach towards sharing place and space is also contentious especially as the worldviews in co-habitation are polar opposing in bed. One connects the spiritual, natural, and human realms via whakapapa. The other has mankind at its summit, holding dominion over the natural world. The hegemonic uplifts democracy as fair and just. The marginalised finds democracy unfair to the minority opinion. Our Gods are seventy plus in number, your God is money.

Despite being incompatible bed mates, there is a covering agreement to share place and space in partnership. The abusive relationship that currently passes for partnership is a hoohaa. There is an obligation on behalf of the state to actively ensure that taangata whenua (Maaori) have and retain full exclusive and undisturbed possession of not only the language but also the culture. That obligation extends to Government agencies. This argument has nothing to do with separating church from state.

Te Ao Taangata Whenua is not sexist. Our cosmology overflows with the power of the feminine. In Te Reo, the personal pronouns and possessive personal pronouns are gender neutral – there is no differentiation by gender. The significance of women is also symbolised in the language – whare tangata, the house of humankind, whenua – means both land and afterbirth, and hapuu meaning both pregnancy and large kinship group. We all whakapapa to Papa-tuu-aa-nuku, mother Earth – in other words, our worldview has strong attachments to the matriarch.

When the western worldview arrived in Aotearoa, it bought along dis-empowered women – mere chattels to their men-folk. It arrived into the world of the savage whose stories spoke of the strength and power of women. The missionaries, in particular, were heaven sent in destroying the heathen and the matriarch. Thus, in the retelling of the stories into written form, mana waahine was rendered impotent.

Mana waahine, today, continues to rage against the oppressive nature of the western worldview – the patriarch with a holier than thou attitude. Thus mana waahine and feminism are also bedfellows in dispute. Feminism, is fathered by the patriarch, and seeks merely to gain equality with their men-folk. Mana waahine, belongs to the matriarch, and aspires to regain the power and strength that rightfully belongs to her – emanating directly from Atua.


Deborah said...

I've put a comment over at my own place about what I don't agree with Adele about - specifically the characterisation of Western feminism. Otherwise... this is an opportunity to learn.

Psycho Milt said...

I've stepped back, deleted various drafts, but it ain't going to work - I find it difficult to treat self-delusional bigots courteously. Sorry, nothing substantive I can contribute.

Cupcakes for all said...

In all that verbage she is just saying that wahines really dig Maori alpha males....it makes them feel more feminine and powerful...and at peace with their place in the world.

Maori women resent and have contempt for white males, not because they are too patriarchal, but because they are not patriarchal enough.

Biology will always win out.

Hineteiwaiwa said...

Hineteiwaiwa said.....

Actually both of these comments really validate the fact that these two people are quite delusional in their thinking. The Maori woman does not resent white males nor do we need the alpha male to feel more feminine. Maori are really quite balanced in their worldview when allowed to practice this belief unrestrictedly. We do not need to validate anothers existence when we are still trying to reclaim our own. Unfortunately the hoops that we are made to jump through have produced a world view of Maori male and female imbalance all in the effort to reclaim and maintain the little remnants of what we are.

notafeminist said...

I find this post is filled with over-generalisations which are not helpful to anyway, and in many ways just a simplistic view of modern feminism. You can't really argue cohesively with such unsubstantiated assertions.

I do appreciate learning about te ao Maori, but I think we ought to realise that Maori culture is open to criticism just like every other culture. We also need to realise that Maori hold tikanga very dearly and will not give it up easily, and nor should they considering how much non-Maori have taken from them, from their land to their language. The last thing I would want to do is take tikanga Maori from Maori.

Generalisations about wahine and Maori aren't actually helpful either.

Cupcakes for all said...

Yes I appreciate I have generalised in my comment, although I find it very hard as a westerner to really "hear" a Maori voice and understand.

As I do not generally internalise the 'surface' content, I remain skeptical of people's public 'face' and motives.
I look for the underlying subconcious drives and nuances which may or may not be apparent to the speaker themselves...thus revealing my own similar unconcious drives as well I guess.

notafeminist said...

It should also be pointed out that gender neutral grammatical elements are not necessarily a marker of the gender-equality of the people that speak them. There are many male-dominant societies where the spoken language leaves gender unspecified in its pronouns, eg Chinese and related Asian languages. Nor is the use of a gender neutral he/she/it pronoun a unique feature of Maori, or even of Polynesian languages; the use of these pronouns can be found in many, many European and Asian languages.

I don't really believe it's fair to say that a culture contains inherent sexism because its language has gender-specific elements; feminists from all around the world hardly argue with "she" and many embrace it, and every advocate of gender-neutral pronouns that I have met does so in the interests of people whose gender lies somewhere else than the polar ends of the gender continuum.

Maori (at least modern Maori) still uses gender-specific terms such as "Whaea/Matua"; I don't believe this is any more or less sexist than equivalent English terms. I've also sat by and watched Maori people tell transgender people that they need to embrace their biological gender if they want to take part in certain cultural activities, which leads me to believe that this gender thing isn't quite as simple as Adele is making it out (in either te ao Maori or te ao Pakeha).

Deborah said...

I find the criticism of Western feminism quite confronting. But necessary! I read Renee's blog, Womanist Musings, and occasionally comment there. Quite often what she has to say really shakes me, and I don't agree with it. On the other hand, I don't think her criticisms are coming out of nowhere. She's not making them up just for the hell of it. I think that some of what Adele is saying with respect to Western feminism comes out of a similar sort of space i.e. there's genuine reason for the anger, and we shouldn't just pretend not to notice it.

Psycho Milt said...

Everyone who's angry has a reason for it, and isn't really open to having the validity of that reason questioned. Fair enough - until they expect us to politely sit through a romantic and idealised view of their own "side" in whatever's making them angry, compared with a negative and false caricature of the "other." Pretending that's all fine just encourages it.

Hugh said...

Milt, for somebody who in his own words has nothing substantive to contribute, you're sure talking a lot.

Psycho Milt said...

Deborah I can talk to politely...

Lucy said...

I'd be curious to know where gender transgressiveness fits into this - where is the place in the Maori worldview, which has clear places for cisgendered men and women, for transgendered men and women? For those who are genderqueer? For those who are cisgendered but transgress in gender presentation and/or action?

Deborah said...

Indeed, PM!

I'm happy enough to sit through an account of other people's beliefs, while not believing them at all. This accounts for my ability to go to Christian churches for baptisms, weddings and funerals. I am a thorough-going atheist, about all gods and spirits and ghosts and magic-healing devices and, well, whatever. So I don't for a moment believe in the gods of Maori spirituality.

I think it's disrespectful to simply accept Adele's account of the relationship between Maori and pakeha, and Maori women and feminism, just as disrespectful as it would be to ignore it, and pretend that Maori anger over many aspects of those relationships was not to be acknowledged. Either way, the implication would be that I am not prepared to engage with Adele. So I don't think that Adele's blanket dismissal of Western feminism is fair, but I do think that she is right to criticise aspects of it. But feminism has come a long way since say, the 1970s, when liberal equality with men seemed to be what many feminists wanted. These days, there's much more attention to the experience of being gendered, and what that means for women and men, and to intersections of oppressions (for example, if some aspects of society are skewed against women, and some aspects are skewed against Maori, then consider what it might be like to be at the intersection). It's worth taking on board the information that many Maori women feel far more solidarity with Maori men, than they do with white women. The oppression that matters most to them, in the sense that it has the most influence on their lives, is the oppression associated with racism, not the oppression associated with sexism. So when Adele is angry with feminism, I think that it's coming out the space where she and other Maori women notice that white women assume that Maori women want the same things as them.

(Comment 1 of 2 - blogger thinks I'm too verbose.)

Deborah said...

(Comment 2 of 2 - follows immediately from preceding comment.)

I was trying to explain this to some of my students earlier this week. Often, when people say they think that everyone should be treated just the same, which seems all fair and reasonable, what they really mean is that everyone should be treated the same just like them. That is, the speaker doesn't even perceive that the differences among people may make the same treatment for everyone profoundly unfair.

I wrote about some of these ideas years ago, in a Massey University magazine. I'd probably change a few things in the article now, because six years later, my thinking has moved on in various ways. But mostly I still agree with what I wrote them. You can download it as a PDF - my piece is on page 5 - or check this google-produced HTML version - again, scroll to about page 5.

I also think that some of Adele's comments about the nature of democracy are mistaken, and I think that my argument for the state not enforcing beliefs still holds - long post at my own place about it. However, I think there's something important to do with incorporating Maori beliefs / world views / customs into our government departments. At present, the neutral state model works very well for those of us who believe that state should remain neutral among competing conceptions of the good, but that's not going to work so well for people who hold that the fundamental world view of the state is mistaken. Ordinarily, I would still argue for a neutral state, because that at least allows everyone choice, but there's something going on here with respect to the effect of Te Tiriti on how we ought to organise our state. But I don't have any particularly well thought out ideas about that. Yet.

Hugh said...

The big issue seems to be, Deborah, that the Treaty of Waitangi specifically forbids a neutral state in that it requires the state to actively protect taonga. If we accept the Treaty as the bedrock of all New Zealand policy there is simply no way around this requirement.

Deborah said...

the Treaty of Waitangi specifically forbids a neutral state in that it requires the state to actively protect taonga.

It doesn't do that at all, Hugh. It has clauses that can be interpreted that way.

Hugh said...

Deborah I realise that in the past the Treaty was intepreted with a very restrictive view of what a taonga is. But my impression was that current Treaty scholarship holds that previous, restrictive interpretation as not only having been superseded but as being essentially an error, and one made in bad faith at that.

Deborah said...

That may well be, Hugh, but that's hardly a specific requirement of the Treaty. There's a lot of loose language around the Treaty, and its interpretation, and it only fuels misunderstanding and mistrust. It's worth being very clear about the distinction between what the Treaty says, and how it is interpreted, and exactly what place it holds in NZ law. It is NOT part of NZ domestic law, in the way that say, the 1688 Bill of Rights is, but a requirement to uphold the principles of the Treaty HAS been included in several acts.

If nothing else has come out of all of this, surely we might at least be aware of the need to be very careful with the language we use.

Adele said...

Teenaa koe, Lucy

The indigenous worldview that I occupy sees duality in existence - the cis-male on the one hand, and cis-female on the other. However, there is a continuum with infinite possibilities inbetween. Thus all shades and hues are encompassed.

The only importance we attach to gender is in the creation of whaanau. But why assume that being gay,trans or queer negates the urge to procreate.

It obviously doesn't as many within the gay, transgendered, and queer identified communities have whaanau.

Hugh said...


There is indeed a lot of loose language but I was under the impression that the requirement to protect taonga wasn't something that was controversial, particularly among Maori. You seem to be reacting quite strongly to the idea that it is. Perhaps Adele could weigh in here?

And I realise that the Treaty isn't part of the law - at the risk of sounding snarky, I've done Laws 101 too - hence why I said "If we accept the Treaty as the bedrock of all New Zealand policy". We certainly have the option of concluding that the Treaty is not relevant to a given policy area, but in putting limits on its relevance we open ourselves to charges of Imperialism. Again, I wonder what Adele's opinion on this is.

Adele said...

Teenaa koe, Hugh

Thank you and yes I will make comment.

Since 1975, there have been 41 statutes enacted that make reference to the Treaty, and many more that reference “Maaori interests.”

So while the Treaty itself has no legislative muscle so to speak, it does have teeth. Treaty of Waitangi jurisprudence is an evolving body of knowledge and increasingly bears weight on the fiduciary nature of the relationship that the Crown has with Maaori interests.

The principles are not vague feel good statements to be ignored by populist demand. They have a moral force that is receiving increased recognition through the Courts.

The following link provides further insight into the divide that exists between Mana waahine and feminism from a legal aspect.


Deborah said...

I don't think there's any controversy about protecting taonga either, Hugh.

But the incredibly fine line I'm trying to walk here is the one between the government protecting belief, and the government imposing belief. So for example, I think that government departments ought to have all their publications in te reo, as well as in English. Hansard ought to be translated into te reo, or where MPs speak te reo, translated into English. I think we ought to be much more actively working through exactly how we might do self-determination, and how we might articulate it with the rest of government. And so on.

What I oppose is any move by the state to require me to believe certain things, and to act as though those beliefs are true. So, for example, I will wait quietly while others pray to whatever gods they believe in, but I will do nothing that indicates that I believe myself. Because I don't believe. And to do anything that mimicked the behaviour of believers would be dishonest, an attempt to deceive believers with respect to my own status.

There's some material on the Waitangi Tribunal website about the principles that are developing with respect to interpreting, understanding, and implementing the Treaty. Nothing in those principles suggests that beliefs will be imposed on people, or ought to be imposed on people.

Finally, could you leave off the patronising remarks. I am engaging in this discussion in good faith, and I do not appreciate being spoken down to, by someone whose on-going behaviour on this site gets very, very close to trolling.

Hugh said...

Deborah, I find it ironic you're accusing me of speaking down to you - you're the one informing me of incredibly basic facts about the Treaty, eg "The Treaty isn't part of the law", that anybody who's done anything to even minimally inform themselves about the issue would be well aware of.

But if you see my behaviour as close to trolling perhaps I should just withdraw before I cross the line.

Hugh said...

Thanks Adele, your position largely reflects what I've heard other Maori sovereignty activists say on the issue. I'm guessing you'd be in favour of broadening the legal strength of the Treaty as well.

But it goes back to what I'm saying about it being hard to reconcile the state's obligations under the Treaty with its need to be religiously neutral. Specifically if the Treaty requires the state to actively protect of spiritual artifacts of one religion but not any others, it's hard to see it as neutral.

Adele said...

Teenaa koe, Hugh

Firstly, while I am a spiritual person, I do not consider my beliefs to be housed in religiosity. Spirituality has no rigid walls, or pillars carved in edicts or man-made laws. An indigenous spirituality derives its lore from the natural world. And, Maaori were colonised with religion before they were colonised with overpowering numbness.

Secondly, the Treaty relationship is the primary relationship from which other relationships should be formed. Get that relationship right first, and then, maybe, other relationships will form with greater clarity.

A Government that recognises the Treaty principles in practise would have instilled within its agencies, and its employees full cognisance of their Treaty obligations. If an employee finds the obligations of state too onerous, or in breach of their own beliefs, than they have the option to not work for the state. In that respect, hypocrisy is in choosing to work for the state without agreeing to its employment terms.

Thirdly, I argue against the perception of the state as being religiously neutral. The instruments of state are thick with judaeo-christian symbolism. For example, parliamentarians are required to swear an oath of allegiance, or affirmation to be faithful and bear true allegiance to Queen Elizabeth and her heirs etc. The monarch is not only our head of state she is also ‘defender of the faith.’

Hugh said...


Firstly, with respect, it's hard for me to reconcile your statement that Te Ao Taangata Whenua isn't a religious belief system with your statement that "our Gods are seventy plus in number". To me any belief system that includes belief in a God or Gods is a religious one. Not wholly a religious one, perhaps, but not non-religious either.

I suspect you may be drawing the distinction between organised religion which, if this is the case, I'd agree is something foreign to Maoridom and non-organised, personal religion. This is an interesting distinction but the idea of a religiously neutral state sees the beliefs of either type as equally significant although the differences may be important in other areas.

You've said that people can choose not to work for the state if they find complying with state requirements re: Maori spirituality too onerous. That's true, but that's evading the larger issue, that the state has the power through passing laws to compel everybody to comply with these requirements whether they work for it or not. This is what Deborah is concerned about when she worries about a state enforcing a certain pattern of belief.

Nobody is claiming that the state is religiously neutral, simply that it should ideally be religiously neutral. The parliamentary prayer is something that a lot of people want to see abolished, ditto the monarch's religious title. (I don't see swearing allegiance to the Queen as a religious issue - it's an issue for a whole bunch of other reasons, but not a religious one). And I would argue that the need to protect taonga falls within that.

kim said...

I know this is an old thread, but I've just posted an essay I wrote on the same topic at he hōaka. In case anyone's is interested.
ngā mihi