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