Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Guest Post: Review Colonising Myths—Māori Realities: He Rukuruku Whakaaro

I’ve been struggling with this review for a couple of weeks now.  Do I start with a disclaimer?  I was formally a student of Ani’s for three years, she is now my immediate boss, and I am part of Te Tākupu who jointly published her book (with Huia Publishers).  But I admit no bias—the first time I read Ani’s writing I was stunned.  Her writing is passionate, intelligent, brave and clear.  She doesn’t disguise her emotions with academic disinterest—she speaks honestly about what drives her, be it despair, frustration or wonder.  She doesn’t hide her assumptions and logic behind jargon or convoluted arguments—her writing is so clear that her thoughts are exposed for the reader to judge.  Often, she takes a topic that is supposed to be complicated, and strips it back to simple truths and lies.  It is for all these reasons that I choose to continue to learn from her, and why I am so excited by this book.

”It is crucial that Māori continue to think and to imagine beyond the intellectual imprisonment of what our colonisers deem to be realistic.  So long as we do, and so long as we do so in concert with our Indigenous sisters and brothers in our common struggle for self-determination, who can predict where the relation of forces may lead us” (p 204)

The book is arranged into five sections (twelve essays in total, most previously published, two written for this book), which together form a trajectory hinting at where those forces may first take us.

  • Stories of survival: working inside the imposter legal system

  • Talking back: a Māori view of Pākehā hopes and misconceptions

  • The relationship between tangata whenua and the Crown

  • Tikanga Māori and Western values

  • Tikanga at the centre

Starting within Pākehā law schools, where Māoriness was so marginalised that Ani’s priority was her and her students’ survival, the first three essays are revealing, upsetting, and strangely affirming.  Pākehā may find them uncomfortably familiar.  They should be compulsory reading for anyone teaching in a Pākehā dominated school, and everyone at university (if only I had the power to make it so).  By focusing on her experience, these essays show the strain that Pākehā ignorance of their monoculturalism/ cultural imperialism puts on Māori.  Māori staff and students are always expected to be gracious and generous in supporting the learning of Pākehā, despite the racism and cowardliness that those Pākehā may show.  Ani talks of dissatisfaction, despair, hopelessness and despondency.  Whilst caught up in the day-to-day grind of striving to create a space for Māori within the confines of Pākehā law... it was extraordinarily difficult to achieve any true clarity of analysis with respect to my objectives or my actions. (p xix)

In the second section, Ani moves from the Pākehā law school environment to working at Te Wānanga o Raukawa, where Māoriness is at the centre.  This gives her freedom to react against the system she had been trapped in, to explore her frustration with the “misconceptions” that many Pākehā have about their history and place in the world, and the cynical way this ignorance is used against Māori.  The irony of being lectured by Trevor Mallard on the necessity for Māori to trust the perpetrators of our oppression is, quite frankly, breathtaking. (p 117)
“As a first step, Pākehā need to own up to the truth about how they have come to occupy their position of dominance in our country – and to deal with it...  The ease with which Pākehā cast themselves as victims of their own past never fails to amaze me.” (p 91)
The two articles in this section were written with a Pākehā audience in mind, but there is a lot here for Māori readers.

By the third section, Ani is focused on the relationship tangata whenua have with the Crown, a relationship that she argues should be based on tikanga.  She tears apart Treaty jurisprudence, exposing Treaty principles as a lie.  She challenges Māori to address social harm by first rejecting the Crown legal system.  She breaks down the Crown’s criminality towards Māori.
”The Crown has been responsible for a relentless campaign of criminal violence against us.  Every day that it continues to assert its authority in this land, it demonstrates that violence carries its reward and that crime pays.  It has vicously attacked our physical, social, emotional and spiritual well-being over a long period of time, thus setting in train a crippling cycle of violence from which some of us, unsurprisingly, have struggled to escape.”

Having argued that tikanga Māori is the only legitimate way forward, in the fourth section, Ani shows how colonisation has affected our understanding of tikanga.  She includes two essays confronting patriarchy head on, powerfully and beautifully.  This is the work she is most famous for.  She concludes this section with a discussion of the way Crown law has incorporated or co-opted aspects of tikanga.

By this point, Ani has shown how destructive a Pākehā dominated environment is for Māori.  She has established that Pākehā need to face the future with an honest understanding of the past, and willingness to engage with Māori to heal that past.  She has exposed the abusive, victim-blaming relationship that the Crown forces on Māori.  And she has shown that colonisation has even infected our understanding of tikanga.  Even so, she has consistently argued that tikanga Māori holds the only appropriate solution.  In the final section, Ani explores tikanga Māori.  The two papers in this section are wide-ranging and inspirational.  Ani places whakapapa at the centre of all tikanga.  Whakapapa dictates that relationships are of paramount importance: relationships between past, present and future generations – which include, by necessity, relationships between humans and atua and, therefore, between humans and all other living things –must be nurtured. (p 289)  She speaks of a whakapapa imperative behind the drive to save our reo or repatriate our taonga.  This is an inclusive, non-hierarchical and practical philosophy, always striving for balance.

Ani’s examination of the implications of a worldview based on whakapapa is an uplifting end to a book which has laid many challenges.  This is the final stage, returning to the past to secure the future.

Kia ū ki tōu kāwai tupuna

Kia mātauria ai, i ahu mai koe i hea
E anga ana koe ki hea

Trace out your ancestral stem
So that it may be known where you come from
And in which direction you are going.

Colonising Myths—Māori Realities: He Rukuruku Whakaaro
Ani Mikaere 2011
Preface by Moana Jackson
Published by Huia Publishers and Te Tākupu, Te Wānanga-o-Raukawa
339 pages plus index


Anonymous said...

Or as Te Kupu put it:

Whakakotahi Pakeha - Waiho te Whenua, waiho te Moana, waiho Nga Tangata Whenua o te Ao Haere atu, Haere atu ki Engari

Pakeha - Haere atu ki te Po

What else needs to be said?

Kim Mcbreen said...

If you're looking to buy a copy, the book is $35 from Te Wānanga o Raukawa (ph 0800 wananga).