Different yet entwined
Back in 1997, Sir Sidney Mead in an address to Turakina Māori Girls College had some wise words about the state of our respectfulness of each other.
He had generously conceded Pakeha had made progress in sorting out who they are. “Before World War II,” he wrote, “Pakeha was a mixed up sort of fellow. His body belonged to NZ but his soul belonged to a little island somehow else.”
Now he belongs here.
But there’s still a way to go, Sir Sidney told the Turakina girls. “We have a vast army of Pakeha sympathisers and helpers... however there is a huge majority of Pakeha who are still to be persuaded that we (as Māori) have a right to be different from them.”
Twenty years on, is that still be true?
One reason we keep falling into these unexpected eruptions in race relations is our failure as Pakeha to recognise the difference between the world of Te Ao Māori and the world of western European heritage.
We may live and sleep side by side or even in the same bed, but our heads are in different places. Just look at the graphics that introduce programmes on Māori TV and TVNZ.
Māori TV uses images of the cosmos and the spirit world, mediated by elders and ancestors. Try those on TVNZ and they’d be seen as promos for sci-fi fantasy.
400 years ago the differences between us were never doubted. The sailing ships of the first Dutch and English explorers were seen as floating islands, manned by goblins with eyes in the back of their heads as they rowed backwards to shore. And Māori in turn, were seen as colourful but unpredictable savages.
The lack of awareness and respect for each other’s cultures didn’t start to change until the missionaries arrived, though their coming brought a whole new set of complications. But the differences were clear and only began to blur as a settler culture took over and tried to assimilate Māori.
Very rapidly, as their land and culture and language eroded, so too was their right to be different.
With a history like that to own, who wants to be a Pakeha?
By the 21st century, that colonial history of dispossession has created massive inequalities of wealth and health, education, incarceration, housing and every other social indicator.
Yet resourcing Māori to address these issues themselves is constantly resisted.
The Pakeha myth persists that Māori won’t need to be different because with intermarriage and assimilation we can very soon all be happy middle class people together and you won’t need Māori seats in Parliament anymore, let alone a Māori All Black team.
It’s a very well-established myth.
The Rev James Buller, writing in the Grey River Argus back in 1873, saw “the future of the Anglo-Saxon people of this country, with the blood of the Māori flowing in their veins, will be worthy of reproducing our noble sires in the far off land, and claim for New Zealand the enviable distinction of the Britain of the South.”
That was 1873.
But more astonishing is this still-recent Human Rights Commission written in 1980: “Being a Māori is often a state of mind,” they pronounced, “there being so little Māori blood involved." (Perhaps the writers didn’t know the law had changed six years earlier to define Māori ancestry by whakapapa rather than blood quantum.)
The report blithely continues, “The majority of Māori call themselves New Zealanders, and are quite happy to live like the rest of us.”
One of those was the Hon. Ben Couch, Minister of Māori Affairs. In that same year, he wrote, ”I am a New Zealander first and a Māori second. We are living in a Pakeha world. If I were to rely on the Māoris for a living, I would starve.”
You don’t hear that kind of diminishing much anymore. Especially as Māori culture, language, education and self-determination is flourishing, confiscated land is slowly being returned and compensation paid for historical abuses.
Today Māori seem to be more different than ever, but not according to the old racist stereotypes. Their distinctiveness presents a much more positive image of a people claiming a future for themselves, alongside but not defined by, Pakeha. Watch Māori TV if you’re not sure about that. They seem to be having a lot of fun as they sing and dance and argue their way into the future.
There is all the difference in the world between us.
Yet there is a huge and ever growing entwining of the two cultures, as they become ever closer yet without threatening their growing distinctiveness. That’s a hard equation to get your head around. Mix doesn’t have to mean merge, it seems. Nor has it ever been illegal in New Zealand, as interracialism was in the U.S.
Many early Pakeha settlers from surveyors to soldiers and magistrates had Māori wives and by the end of last century over half of all Māori men had non-Māori partners.
The mix has been there from the beginning, people from both cultures identifying with the other, including those early Pakeha Māori who deserted their European ways altogether, sometimes even fighting for the other, as the Kaupapa Māori troops did on the side of the Crown, yet retaining their autonomy as hapu and iwi.
Ron Crosby’s study of these Queenie troopers as they were called, shows them to be not traitors but strategists, securing their right to protection and independence.
This mixing without merging is the magic of our shared history. Examples are embedded in our art works and architecture, our language and etiquette.
In Tuhoe country, at Maungapohatu deep in the Uruwera mountains, symbols from a pack of playing cards representing the Christian Trinity adorned the walls of that most Māori of places, the prophet Rua Kenana’s temple – a marvellous cultural mix.
And on the tukutuku panels in Waiapu Cathedral in Napier, along with all the traditional elements of stars and flounders, pukeko footprints and albatross tears, there is a woven pattern called mumu, drawn from the games of draughts played by Pakeha settlers waiting outside the courthouse to buy land.
And Māori watching this strange new game, heard them saying “Your move, your move, your move.”
How’s that for cultural entwining?
Even more subtle, it seems that gains in the mana of Māori have a transfer effect on Pakeha as well. It’s a truism to say that even the least sympathetic Pakeha experience a surge of pride when they see a haka performed or a waiata sung overseas, even if they have taken little notice of these performances at home.
And many Pakeha in response to Māori films like Whale Rider, Dark Horse, Boy or Waru, leave the theatre feeling more hopeful about the future we share as New Zealanders, their own as well as Māori.
Maybe, just maybe, that ”double rainbow” that James K. Baxter dreamed of is beginning to shine.