Friday, July 3, 2020

Wild Fridays #26: Thought Provokers

Maori Lives Matter Too

A comment from Kim in last Friday’s post made me realise that, while I know about racial inequalities in Australia from living here, and in America from the news, I was totally ignorant about the situation in our sister ‘Down Under’ country (just ‘across the ditch’ as we sometimes say) New Zealand. I am guessing that many of you in other countries may be similarly ignorant, and similarly interested in becoming more aware.

I sought some enlightenment from Marja, who participates here (her blog is A dutch corner in New Zealand); and also from a friend’s daughter who was brought up in New Zealand and now lives, works and raises her own children there. They guided me to the poems on racial issues which I’m sharing with you today – the words of Maori authors, who are obviously the best people from whom to learn their point of view.

I was blown away by this one, by Whiti Ihimaera (author of Whale Rider, which was made into a beautiful movie). What an amazing blend of sardonic humour and controlled ferocity!

Dinner with the Cannibal

Of course I should have realized, at dinner
That he would be a man of special tastes
His mordant wit and intellect proclaimed him bon vivant
I suppose I was bedazzled by it all
The chandelier, the red roses like stigmata
Too flattered by the invitation
To notice that the table was laid only for hors d'oeuvres

Read more…

Like Australia (and indeed the whole of America) New Zealand is a colonised country. When I asked my friend’s daughter what (if anything) the indigenous Maori people complain of from Pakeha (white) New Zealanders, she said:

"Māori" as a collective noun [coined by the Maori themselves] was invented to differentiate the indigenous people living in Aotearoa from the Europeans who arrived on their shores. They were and are a tribal people, with much difference between. I'm not sure it's possible therefore to say what Māori want or complain of. I certainly wouldn't feel entitled to do so.

But we can all speak about what Māori reasonably expected to happen following the promises made, misunderstood, and broken, in Te Tiriti o Waitangi - the Treaty of Waitangi. Which were multiple, in fact.

You can read more about the Treaty here.

It seems to me (albeit mine is still a fairly uneducated opinion) that the Cannibal poem addresses just such issues.

My friend’s daughter also told me:

Māori are disproportionately negatively represented in family violence, child poverty, infant mortality, suicide, health and education achievement statistics. Māori are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.

Such disproportion is a clear sign of inequality and disadvantage. Those things are expressed actively, but begin with attitude.

A poem by Hone Tuwhare (1922-2008) – described variously as ‘New Zealand’s most distinguished Maori poet writing English’ or 'New Zealand's pre-eminent Maori poet' – addresses attitude, laying it bare:

A Pakeha Friend tells a Maori Joke

I can’t explain why I can’t resist listening
to your fund of racist jokes. This one’s about the
Maoris, right? I ready myself for it; my eyes lit
up and creasing.

I mean, it’s got nothing whatever to do with
me, personally. Some other Maori is copping it, not
Your eyes begin to water. You are laughing long
before you come to the end of the joke. Well hell,
I can’t help myself either. There’s a nudging kind
of connivance when I join you in the laughing.

But I think – for me at such times, laughing
becomes the closest thing to crying; and it is begin-
ning to worry me just as if I’d caught clap or V.D.

Ever had clap, or V.D.? I say.
Nothin’ to it, old son, you say. You have to
cop it a few times before you can call yourself a man.
A few shots of penicillin, and you’re okay again.

I dunno. I want to walk away. Go tell your
racist jokes to someone else. You’re a heapa shit, man.
(Year of the Dog, 34).

 And finally, one about stereotypes, from a young slam poet, Sheldon Rua:  

Here is the text of his poem:

I am Māori
Wait, but I’m supposed to be a hori! Right?
Holes in my Warehouse shoes
Sleeves covered in the fact that I don’t have tissues
Or Can’t afford tissues.
I’m supposed to be illiterate right?
Uneducated gangster always looking for a fight
I aspire to be nothing more than a high school
Because I
Was never going to university
Or maybe I’m just too proud
To admit that I need help
To get to university
Or to graduation
Or to year 13
Or my next English class
And apparently my flaws in education is a
“home thing”
So when I don’t achieve it’s a “home thing”
When I play up in class it’s a “home thing”
When I go to school without food and starve
It’s a “home thing”
But a house is not a home
And unfortunately I occupy a house
It’s not even a home
But Dad’s there… drunk
And Mum’s stoned
The only thing in my cupboard is dust but you
still tell me to cook the man some eggs
“Don’t moan or I’ll give you something to
moan about”
Ehara au I te rangatahi Māori
Rite ki ratou nanakia ana
So yeah, I am a Māori
But I am unfamiliar to hollow homes
I am unfamiliar to dusty cupboards and empty
Unfamiliar to the pain which stains the eyes of
my people like paint
Black, and blue
Which stains the minds of my people into thinking that
Living like this is something we choose

These stains may remain but
They don’t have to
My tama I’m talking to you
These stains may remain but they never, ever,
have to
My wahine I am talking to you
And I hope this gets through
You can resent me now
Say that I don’t know what the hell I am talking
Because of where I live and what I do
And maybe I haven’t experienced life like you
And maybe your shoes are a bit too big for me
But in reality
I’m a Māori
The same as you
And yeah I realise this reality is of some not all
But regardless of your reality
People will still throw in the same box as the
Māori next door
Regardless of your reality
You can go from broken bones to broken boxes
You can go from broken homes to broken
I have proof
I still see the snotty nosed Māori girl in my
mother’s eyes
She lives just down the road
Only this time she looks grown
She learnt to handle her own
Whilst steering the handlebars of my life she helped build
Solid like stone
I put my mother on a pedestal
For showing me how to pedal through pitiful
points of view of my people
And as I cycle my way through cycles of cynicism
I’ve noticed
That stereotypes, they don’t change
But people do
Tangata Whenua I pray that is you


"Hori" is slang, a derogatory term for a person of Māori descent.

Ehara au I te rangatahi Māori     I'm not a Māori teenager
Rite ki ratou nanakia ana     They are just as cruel

tama     that's right

wahine      women

Tangata Whenua      People of the Land

Amene     Amen

I'm very grateful to both Marja and my friend's daughter for all the help.

Material shared here is presented for study and review. Poems, photos, and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, usually the authors. The poem by Hone Tuwhare is available online from a legitimate source for free download, and the poem by Sheldon Rua has been widely disseminated on facebook, so I felt free to use them in their entirety.


  1. ‘Whale Rider’ is one of my favourite films and I used to show it at school when I was teaching, to interest students in other cultures. I have friends and relations in both Australia and New Zealand. I have been enjoying Marja’s view of life in New Zealand too. I love Janet Frame’s writing, but I don’t know of many other poets, so I’m delighted at the selection of poetry you have shared, Rosemary! Being a linguist, I especially enjoyed the poem by Sheldon Rua – thank you for the translation of Maori words. These lines are so true:
    'And as I cycle my way through cycles of cynicism
    I’ve noticed
    That stereotypes, they don’t change
    But people do'.

    1. Yes, I've mostly only been aware of a few white NZ poets too, most notably the famous Baxter – though he almost counts as Maori. I'm indebted to Marja for finding me the pieces by Tuwhare and Rua, and also for the translations. The whole experience has very much piqued my interest in Maori writing now.

  2. Thank you Rosemary I love the poem by Witi Ihimaera Great find. I worked with a Maori woman who was very gifted and I took er girl who was equally gifted to see the dolphins and Godwits as she wanted to be a marine biologist. It was so sad to see complicated their problems were so they couldn't use their gifts. I hope for the little girl she does. We are so privileged yet we have no idea

    1. 'We are so privileged yet we have no idea.' That's such a sobering realisation, and certainly must be confronted by those of us to whom it applies.

  3. Thank you. Dinner with the Cannibal" by Ihimaera is masterful in how it flips the narrative and shows the "white" settler as the cannibal.

    1. Hello, Jeff! Thanks for commenting. I think that poem is masterful indeed, in absolutely every way.

  4. I like this very much, it needed to be writtem. And continued untill ALL is equil.
    We have indigenous folk here in America, they were here first, WAY FIRST. They are our Americian Indians.
    I worked with two Indians for about three months on two different summerz after high school and in college. We were the "form gang" on a road paving 'gang' of three. That involved the handling and moving the daily steel cenent forms that also the big cement mixer traveled while pouring out wet cement to be spread by others.
    I learned a lot from those two that year.
    Also on evening while Mrs. Jim and I were visiting my parents in Nebraska we decided to see an Indian Pow Wow performance at a local tribes reservation. My mom cautioned us not to go, we had invited her and my dad to attend with us. They did not wish to go. That also was a learning experience.
    I had on more encounter with some indigenous folk in New Zealand. I may tell about that more later. Maybe. I rubbed moses with the tribal chief and we were felt to be most welcome at their tourist show.

    1. I'd love to hear those stories in full, Jim. Maybe you will write them on your blog one day?

  5. Ohh my heart, this is such a moving post, Rosemary!💘 I loved both the poems especially "I am Maori." I can't explain what I felt but I will say this, I wanted to go up there and stand next to the person reading the poem and support him like anything. His words stir up empathy like you wouldn't believe. At one point I even forgot my surroundings. I was just listening and relating to all that he had/has to say.

    I especially resonated with; "I’ve noticed that stereotypes, they don’t change/But people do." And I hope with all my heart that it's true that people do change their perspective towards others in general. I hope they look past race, colour, ethnicity and that they stop judging and following stereotypes blindly. Because at the end of the day it's just over generalized belief which has little to no truth in it.

    Thank you so much for sharing!💘

    1. I'm moved that you were so moved, Sanaa! And how true your words: 'it's just over generalized belief which has little to no truth in it.' If only all could see so clearly!

    2. (Btw there are three poems. Don't miss out on the one that needs you to go off page to read more.)

    3. Oooh Lord! How could I have missed it? I guess it slipped my mind after I read and heard the poem by Sheldon (his words have such deep impact) yes but oh the use of language here in "Dinner with the Cannibal," is so raw and is somewhat between tenacious and fierce. I wouldn't call it too much, as it is just what is needed to get the attention of the readers and boy did it get mine!

      It seems to me that Maori were duped or didn't quite understand what they were getting themselves into when they signed the treaty.. which is perhaps the reason behind their grievances. This is what I understand.. there could be more to the matter.. but this is such a powerful poem! It portrays wonderfully the exchange, the protest, the anger and confusion and of course the regret that came in the end.

      Also, I couldn't help but laugh at the humour in "and I have never liked the taste of Hindu or Pakistani, too much curry in their diet taints the flesh," thinking that I just cooked curry last night for dinner! Oh well.

      Thank you for re-directing me to the poem, Rosemary!💘

    4. Well I guess you're safe, then – from that particular cannibal at least. Good to be unpalatable to those who would dismember and swallow us!

  6. Wonderful poetry, Rosemary. It tugged at the heartstrings. So many shameful stories in treatment of indigenous peoples by white explorers...Australia, New Zealand, U.S., Hawaii, Alaska and perhaps others. Most had belief systems that honored the earth and its gifts. So much could have been learned from them.

    1. It was very stupid of the white invaders not to consult with the locals, but they had a vested interest in perceiving them as 'savages', and in the case of Australia as almost non-existent (the land being falsely declared largely unoccupied), so as to justify their crimes.

  7. It’s so sad that this kind of prejudice is practiced the world over, During my work with indigenous peoples in both Australia and our own Northern Territories (Canada) I learned a great deal. I love the poetry you have introduced us to. Especially Hone Tuwhare (I looked up some of his other poems) These poets have such strong voices and the courage to speak their truth. Wonderful. Thank you so much for introducing them and sharing your thoughts.

    1. I think it's good that there has been such an outpouring of protest in so many countries recently, so that it has surely become much harder to pretend that thing are OK. It would be wonderful if it would lead to immediate reform, but I fear that's going to take longer yet.

  8. It's so strange--and in a way, not surprising at all--how similar things are around the world. I know it sounds almost naive, but I always wonder if we would be a bit nicer to each other if we only saw that we are just living the a different version of the same reality. Just a few days ago, someone from my native country told me how heartbroken she was that racism was still a thing in the USA. I was shocked because the same happens back home, but for some reason she doesn't see as the same thing. Makes no sense to me.

    "A Pakeha Friend tells a Maori Joke" lingers... Mostly because I've been there--with different words and different ugliness, but still there--and I can't say that I have been as graceful.

    1. I think you can be excused some lack of grace under such circumstances!

      I don't know what would make us nicer to each other, but being willing to open our eyes to the nastiness, especially in our own back yards, has to be a start.

  9. Incredible poetry from people who know first hand about prejudice. Thanks for sharing this, Rosemary.

  10. GAH! I thought I left a comment on this. I am glad for the introduction to new poetic voices. I was very moved by the delivery by the young man on the last piece.


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