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Biculturalism – a tuakana/teina relationship of mutual respect?

January 27, 2012

In another one of his essays, Michael King presents some interesting points on the topic of ‘biculturalism’:

King quotes Arthur Schlesinger (as saying “History haunts even generations who refuse to [acknowledge it]. Rhythms, patterns, continuities, drift out of time long forgotten to mould the present and to colour the shape of things to come.” (195)), then goes on to describe the many ways in which Maori and Pakeha histories shape current behaviour and attitudes. “As is so often the case in history,” King explains, “elements of continuity are as noticeable and as interesting as elements of change.” (195)

Having already described various incidents in which he witnessed the modern continuation of Maori practices/rituals/traditions that had also been observed (from a large cultural distance) by commentators in the eighteenth century, King notes that “there are others. The strong degree of tribal competitiveness that delayed the distribution of fishing quota by the Waitangi Fisheries Commission; the appetite for martial behaviour that animates urban Maori gangs and makes the New Zealand Army a popular Maori career choice; the admiration of people who are cheeky and cunning in the mould of Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga; the easy resort to song and story when there are messages of a communal kind to be transmitted; the continuing weight of unwritten tikanga or tradition; the I-am-we ethos of tribal culture in which the corporate self is more important than individual identity. All of these elements are part of the ‘rhythms, patterns and continuities’ that drift out of time past to leave an imprint on the Maori present.” (195-196)

Of contemporary Pakeha culture, he writes: “..what is true of Maori culture is also true of Pakeha New Zealanders. A myriad of echoes of old New Zealand still resonate within the contemporary culture. The ‘man alone’ ideal, the hunting/shooting/fishing ethic, and that of the solitary bachelor, survive in New Zealand from the frontier days, when, partly because of the shortage of women, many men lived that way; the bach culture based on a strong desire to live simply on the margin between land and sea, or between tamed and untamed places; the home-maintenance tradition that sets men to work on houses, boats and gardens; the fiercely egalitarian instinct which prefers to see resources spread widely and equitably throughout the community and not, as elsewhere, in massive disproportion between the very rich and the very poor; the reactions of dissenting individuals or groups in the face of authority; the largely informal social attitudes. All these phenomena have a history which can be linked back to the attitudes and values formed in the nation’s years of gestation in the nineteenth century.

Both collections of habits, values and attitudes have sufficient force to be called traditions. And both give New Zealand an ongoing bicultural character over and above the forces which, in other contexts, make the country multicultural. Multiculturalism too is a reality, in the sense that Maori culture is tribal rather than nationally homogeneous; and Pakeha culture is made up of many strands, some of which – the Scottish, the Irish, the Jews, the Chinese – may wish to retain active links with their cultures of origin; and in the sense that the quality of being a Maori, a Pacific Island, a Gujarati or a Jewish New Zealander may differ markedly.” (196)

“But the dominant realities of New Zealand life are still a mainstream Pakeha culture, in which almost every citizen has to participate in order to be educated, secure employment, play sport, and engage in most other forms of recreation; and a tangata whenua culture in which the language, the rituals of encounter and ways of farewelling the dead are still markedly different from those of the Pakeha majority, and more visible and pervasive than those of other minority cultures. In addition Maori is the foundation human culture of the land, the first repository of its namings and its histories and its songs; and it is the culture of the people who have, for as long as they want it, a special relationship with the government of New Zealand via the Treaty of Waitangi – a relationship which other peoples and cultures, including the Pakeha majority, lack. Whether other cultures need or want or are deserving of such a relationship is another matter. The fact is that the Treaty of Waitangi is unmistakably still there after more than one hundred and sixty years; and its significance and relevance is ensured by a Maori insistence, accepted by the current Government, that the document mediates a living relationship between Maori and the Crown, and by a majority Pakeha view that this constitutes an appropriate stance for the country to take. Should either of those views change, then the significance and the potential power of the Treaty too would change; because they are dependent for their force on the consent of those two constituent peoples.” (196-197)

Maori and Pakeha in New Zealand are in a relationship in the nature of siblings: tuakana and teina….” (201)

Ref: (blue bold emphases mine; italics in original) Michael King (2011) The Silence Beyond: Selected writings by Michael King: With an Introduction by Rachael King. Penguin Books: Auckland. 

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