Tuesday, 15 March 2011

To learn more...

In October of last year, this blog was part of a debate about Te Papa and the tikanga they used for some taonga.

As a follow-up to that I wanted to draw attention to Kim's post The tapu of taonga and wāhine in a colonised land.

Her post discusses lots of different aspects of the collection itself, the tikanga, and the debate about it in the media and on blogs:

And this is the real issue, while Māori must understand a European worldview and law to survive in this land, colonisation has meant that very few people have any understanding of mātauranga Māori, or, in fact, of colonisation. Whenever an issue requires some understanding, whether it be the significance of te reo Māori, or kaitiakitanga, or whatever, the ignorance of most New Zealanders makes dialogue impossible. And thanks again to colonisation, this creates a problem not for those who are ignorant, but for Māori. Māori must repeatedly start from the beginning and attempt to explain their whole culture—this occurs in conversations, the media, court hearings, tribunal hearings. At some point, tauiwi need to take some responsibility for understanding the indigenous culture, and for understanding how their ignorance contributes to cultural imperialism, to Māori perspectives being marginalised and foreign in their own land.

I recommend reading whole post.


Anonymous said...

Just remember, pakeha, that while it's your duty to learn about Maori culture no matter how much you learn you will never truly understand it because ITS NOT YOURS.

Makes me sick to see pakeha people telling Maori people "Oh yes I understand Maori tradition, I understand Maori culture". No, you don't. You can watch it and learn about it but you can never understand it because you are not part of the tangata whenua.

Learning is good if it empowers indigenous people. But too often "learning" about Maori culture is just a way for pakeha people to claim they don't need to empower indigenous people because they "understand" their culture.

Maia said...

Anonymous - I think that's a really good point, and why I have tried to stay away from commenting myself, and linked to Maori women's voices instead. But I do think that, for me, that can be a cop-out as well.

Just a reminder we require anonymous commenters to use a consistent handle.

maps said...

I'm sure he or she won't appreciate me saying this, but that first commenter seems to hold very old-fashioned European notions both of cultural understanding and of Maori identity.

It was nineteenth century European scholars who had a bad habit of defining non-European peoples in terms of their blood, and who had a tendency to treat non-European cultures as profoundly alien things impermeable to outside ideas and incapable of change. A hundred years or so later, and with the help of historians like the late Judith Binney, Ranginui Walker, and Anne Salmond we've come to see what absurd ideas the early colonial ethnographers had.

In reality Maori have been conducting cross-cultural dialogues with outsiders ever since the arrival of Cook here in the late 18th century. Maori culture is not something which has existed in some state of primordial purity for the past two hundred years, impervious to the influence of non-Maori.

Some of the greatest works of Maori art - the paintings in the Ringatu meeting houses, which fuse Christian and modern European images with traditional Maori imagery, or the poems of Hone Tuwhare, which fuse Marxism with traditional Maori spirituality and many other influences - are works of cross-cultural dialogue, not the expression of some sort of autochthonous and autarkic tikanga inaccessible to outsiders. And it seems absurd to say that Binney, who was honoured by Tuhoe for the work she did on their history, was incapable of understanding Maori culture simply because she didn't have a Maori bloodline.

Maori and Pakeha cultures have been developing out of a complex and sometimes tragic dialogue that has lasted a couple of centuries now, and that we have to make the effort to understand each other in order to understand ourselves. We certainly can't properly understand ourselves in isolation from one another.

I did a post about the Te Papa controversy here:

Nomaps said...


I didn't say some pakeha, like Binney, can't have a better understanding of Maori culture than other pakeha. They just can't have a better understanding than Maori. Binney was honored for learning. But I don't see any Maori checking with Binney before they make a decision on tikanga.

If you think saying that Maori culture belongs to Maori is an idea straight out of the 19th century colonialist handbook then I can only ask what you're smoking and where I can get some.

Nick R said...

@ Anonymous

Oh, ok. You win. I won't bother. Look, now everyone's happy.

No to maps said...

You see anon, that's my point

A pakeha who studies maori culture because they think it will mean they are not accountable to maori does so for the wrong reasons.

Studying maori culture as a pakeha is like studying feminism as a man. You don't do it because you want a cookie. You do it because it's your duty to do it in order to be a decent human being.

If you see no reason to study maori culture except because you want to tell maori what their culture is then you are part of the problem.

maps said...

What comes from the 19th C, anon, is your apparent equation of culture and cultural knowledge with blood. You do seem to suggest that just because Binney didn't have Maori ancestors her understanding of any aspect of Maori culture or history was inferior to that any Maori. There does seem to be an implication that the mere possession of blood gives someone certain cultural knowledge. Would you say that, Ben Couch or Winston Peters have had a better grasp of Maori history than Binney, just because they are Maori?

It'd be interesting to know whether you followed your point of view to its logical conclusion and argued that Maori can't have a better understanding of non-Maori cultures than the members of those cultures. I think that high modernist abstract painting is very much a North American and European art form, but I'd be preferred to bet that Ralph Hotere understands and practices this cultural form better than 99.9% of Europeans or North Americans. I'd also bet that Hone Tuwhare had a far superior understanding of Marxism, which is a set of ideas that hails from the non-Maori world, than most Pakeha Kiwis.

It's really the sweeping generalisations I'm against. When we actually look at the details of our history we see that our cultures are mutuaslly dependent and have developed in a dialoguic way.

maps said...

'You do it [study Maori culture] because it's your duty to do it in order to be a decent human being'

Speaking personally, I got interested in Maori history, or rather in the history of Maori-Pakeha interactions, because it was so fascinating. It enriched my life. It excited me. It gave me stories I shared with friends. It made drives in the country and walks in the bush into adventures.

The average Pakeha is not going to study something because he is told it is his or her solemn duty as the offspring of an oppressor to hit the books. His or her self-esteem is probably low enough after a day at the factory or office and a glance at calamitous economic news on the evening telly.

Besides pointing out how bloody interesting it is, the way to get Pakeha interested in Maori culture and history is to emphasise not only the differences but the commonalities between Maori and Pakeha experience. And Pakeha have to be allowed to have their own historical narrative which accords them some pride - no people has ever accepted a history which casts them as utterly evil.

We can talk about the dispossession of Maori and the nineteenth century wars without damning all Pakeha. We can note the Pakeha who agitated for Maori rights and even fought with Maori against colonialism, and we can draw parallels between the use of state power against Maori communities and the use of the state to smash Pakeha trade unions. The 1913 General Strike and the 1916 raid on Maungapohatu, for instance, can be discussed together.

There's already a model for this sort of treatement of history in the way we nowadays talk about kupapa iwi. I assume that anonymous wouldn't want to damn the likes of Te Arawa or Ngati Porou because of the roles they played in the wars against groups like Waikato in the 19th century. They are entitled to be more than caricature villains. So are Pakeha.

No way maps said...

The average Pakeha is not going to study something because he is told it is his or her solemn duty as the offspring of an oppressor to hit the books. His or her self-esteem is probably low enough

Trying to fight back against oppressors without damaging their self-esteem is stupid.

maps said...

So you want to 'fight back' against working class Pakeha, on the grounds that they are oppressing Maori? You seem to have created a very simplistic and inaccurate picture of the world.

Hell no maps said...

As somebody who is such a huge fan of self-education you seem to want me to hold your hand and explain intersectionality for you. Sorry, not happening.

Not A Feminist said...

I really think we need to stop referring to Māori and Pākehā as monoliths. There are Māori who have never been on a marae before, and Pākehā who have grown up on a marae. There are Māori who think te reo is dead and buried, and Pākehā who go out of their way (and spend thousands of dollars) to learn the language. We need to make the distinction between race and culture.

Your labelling of people in your first sentence - "Just remember, pakeha" - is part of the problem. You're either addressing an individual, which is problematic because you're making the assumption that someone's ethnic background is their entire cultural perspective or experience. Or, you're talking to the entire demographic of Pākehā people, as if Pākehā are a hivemind is the total summation of their cultural experience and attitude. This kind of simplistic thinking is helpful for no one.

Additionally - calling Pākehā 'oppressors' is not accurate; Pākehā benefit from the institutionalised oppression of Māori fostered by the attitudes of some Pākeha in the past. That means Pākehā need to be aware of their privilege and shortcomings as a result of their cultural background. It does not mean being Pākehā equates one to being oppressive.

Other than some questionable word choice, I agree entirely with No Maps. Much like a Christian can say 'yeah but I'm not one of the evangelists who hate gays', but that doesn't mean that ze doesn't benefit from the privilege of being Christian in a Christianity-valuing society. Men who are feminists will still get the job over women candidates; his view on gender equality doesn't mean he suddenly *understands* and certainly doesn't mean he doesn't have to carry the history of benefiting from women's degradation on his back.

I think a lot of Pākehā think that once they side with Māori-positive racial views, that they should be treated with warm fuzzies and flowers and ne'er an ill word; sometimes these people need to be told tat they're still privileged, and simply will never fully understand tikanga Māori, as hard as they might try. That can sting, but the truth hurts sometimes.

maps said...

Of course there are elements of cultures which are special, and which are inaccessible to outsiders, or else only accessible to very careful outsiders. But there are also many places where different cultures overlap or collide, and where dialogue and borrowing are not only possible but inevitable.

In an archive where I have done some research there are a few unpublished letters written by Te Kooti, and an unpublished diary kept by Te Puea.

I think these documents must be fascinating, and if they were published and translated by someone else I would read them with great interest, but I've never orderd them up from the vaults and looked at them myself, even though access to them is not restricted.

I think that to handle materials like Te Kooti's letters and Te Puea's writings one would need to be immersed in the history and culture of Ringatu and the Kingitanga respectively. There's a level of background knowledge required which could be gained only by living inside those 'worlds', either as a result of being born into them or making a meticulous entry into them.

I don't think it would be impossible for a Pakeha scholar to handle the texts - certainly, Judith Binney seemed to deal pretty well with a lot of written and oral material related to Te Kooti - but they're not something which anybody should pick up and handle without long preparation.

But I'd make a distinction between Te Kooti's sacred writings and, say, some of the key events of his life. These events are well-known, and are part of the history of Pakeha as well as Maori. Many writers, Pakeha as well as Maori, have been inspired to write about Te Kooti, so that he has become a character in poems, songs, and at least one novel.

The well-known Pakeha poet Kendrick Smithyman wrote quite a few poems about different aspects of Te Kooti's life: he wrote one about a visit to Te Porere, the last battle pa Te Kooti built, and another Te Kooti's amicable last meeting with Gilbert Mair, the man who had chased round the North Island for years. Smithyman poems aren't attempts to steal Te Kooti, or to 'write like a Maori': they are attempts to set up a dialogue between Pakeha and Maori history and thought.

When Judith Binney came to write her biography of Te Kooti, she included, as one of her appendices, a selection of songs and poems by Pakeha writers like Smithyman about Te Kooti. She argued that these texts have become a part of the traditions which surround Te Kooti.

Before anyone criticises the Pakeha writers who have made Te Kooti into a subject, they ought to remember that Te Kooti himself was a great investigator of and borrower from other cultural traditions. He took the Old Testament and reinterpreted it in a Maori light, making his people into 'Jews'; he took the European tradition of realistic figurative painting and put it inside his meeting houses.

The sort of complex interplay between cultures which Te Kooti and Smithyman in their different ways practiced flies in the face of attempts to put up 'off limits -no entry' signs around one or another culture and history.

The Megapope said...

Thankyou Not A Feminist, I think you've summed up my current feelings towards this very succinctly and in a much clearer way than I could have.

I'm finding this conversation to be really fascinating. My situated perspective is that of a British born male who immigrated here when I was 9 years old. I have just enough Maori ancestry for it to show in my features, and consequently I've always had an experience of see-sawing between inclusion for my looks and tension when it quickly became apparent that I was an outsider.

As an adult now I'm comfortable with my heritage and have taken some research into my ancestors but have chosen not to engage particularly much with that part of my identity. I'm as much Maori as I am Dutch... genetics is a strange beast sometimes.

maps said...

Well, Peter Buck/Te Rangi Hiroa was proud of being what was in those days called a 'half-caste', and expected that people with his mixed ancestry (he had a Ngati Mutunga mother and Irish father) would make a key contribution to New Zealand life, because they'd be able to move between Maori and Pakeha 'worlds'. Perhaps in our own age Keri Hulme has managed the same trick. I think we need more people who can take the sort of stance Buck adopted.

Maia said...

Kim also wrote on defining Maori. I think her arguments are particularly pertinent to Maps's claim that anonymous is defining Maori and Pakeha in terms of their blood.