The website for the book “Guilty as Charged?”
The website promotes and supports a book called:
“Guilty as Charged?”
One Pākehā’s Journey to Understanding the Special Place of Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand

Be sure to read the sample section 5.22 in Part Two about ‘The Rainbow Warrior’ on the contents page.

I Don’t Do Culture—They Do!

If there’s one thing we Pākehā feel smug about its culture. Not the culture we have, but the culture we think we haven’t. We look with mixture of curiosity, bemusement, not to mention a dash of pity, on all those people of the world who take part in ‘culture’ or are regimented by ‘culture’. How strange to conform like that. How strange to let a ritual dictate one’s life. How strange to think the same as those around you.

We Pākehā aren’t like that. We don’t conform to a stereotype. We are free thinkers, free doers. We are simply ourselves.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In our smugness we have deluded ourselves. We Pākehā do conform to a stereotype. We do think like others. And we are just as regimented by a culture as anyone else.

The difference is, we just don’t see it. Our culture is so normal to us that we simply don’t see that it’s not normal for others. In fact, one could describe culture as whatever is normal for a group in question. Chinese culture is what is normal for Chinese; Indian culture is what is normal for Indians; Māori culture is what is normal for Māori (hence the term ‘māori’ in the first place, which actually means ‘normal’); and Pākehā culture is what is normal for Pākehā. Every group of people has their normality, their normal ways of operating. In fact, group ‘norms’ are necessary for any group to function as a group in the first place—to understand one another, to work together, to share common goals and aspirations—in short, to do everything that makes a group ‘a group’. This means that every group has a culture.

This fundamental point lies at the heart of all inter-group conflict. What I do is normal. What ‘they’ do is culture. Why can’t ‘they’ just be normal? What can’t ‘they’ stop being so strange and do things the normal way? Once we have thought these things, it’s only a small step from there before we declare, “I am right and ‘they’ are wrong.”

Inter-group conflict will never be solved until we can begin to see normality as ‘our’ normality, i.e. that normality is no more (and no less!) than ‘our’ culture. Until ‘our’ normality is on a level playing field with ‘their’ normality’, we will never get anywhere. In order to address the concerns of the ‘other’, we must first address our own ignorance.

In other words, the only road to racial harmony in New Zealand is that we Pākehā confront our cultural attitude of smugness and superiority towards Māori culture. We Pākehā hold the key to racial harmony in New Zealand in our own hands—we just need the humility to look at ourselves and see it.

(For further discussion of this topic, see Section 5.2 in Guilty as Charged?. This appears in the free sample chapters available by signing up at the top right of this page).

What Do Pākehā Know About Māori Culture?

Western culture is a culture of knowledge. We know a lot about a lot of things—from atoms to galaxies. And the key to this knowledge is rational, objective thought. We ask questions; we observe; we study; we answer… and then we verify. This verification is essential. ‘An answer’ only becomes ‘the answer’—i.e. knowledge—when it can be verified by others.

This type of thought has been very successful. It has created the modern technology that we all live with. However, there is a downside to this success. It has been too successful for its own good. I’m not talking about the downside of technology here, such as global warming or nuclear warfare (although they are not totally unrelated to the point I have in mind). What I am talking about is that rational, objective thought has been so successful that, instead of being just one mode of thought, it has become the mode of thought in the Western mind. The Western mind thinks that rational, objective thought can answer everything.

What’s this got to do with Māori? Well, ever since Pāhekā have laid eyes on Māori, ‘we’ have been fascintated by ‘them’. ‘We’ have studied ‘them’, drawn conclusions about ‘them’ and written books about ‘them’. There have been a steady stream of anthropologists, historians, linguists, sociologist, and scientists gawping at ‘them’ ever since Cook stepped foot in Aotearoa in 1769.

So… what have ‘we’ learned? What do ‘we’ Pākehā know now about Māori culture? Well, ‘we’ know that ‘they’ do haka. ‘We’ know ‘they’ say kia ora to mean “hi”. And ‘we’ know that ‘they’ were once cannibals. All very interesting. ‘We’ know a lot.

Actually, ‘we’ know very little. Or rather ‘we’ are asking the wrong questions. Apart from the fact that ‘our’ study of ‘them’ is highly patronising (how would ‘we’ like a steady stream of experts coming into our homes and studying ‘us’?), our insistence on rational, objective thought means ‘we’ have got it all wrong. While ‘we’ may know rational, objective things about Māori culture, ‘we’ are forever missing the point. ‘We’ still don’t know what’s really important in Māori culture. And, even more fundamentally, ‘we’ never will.

For Māori culture is not a culture built on rational, objective thought. The key to Māori culture is subjectivity. Everybody and everything is related to everybody and everything else in the Māori world. What the world is, depends on who one is.

Every Pākehā is at least vaguely familiar with the idea that Māori place great importance on their line of ancestors going back generations, i.e. their whakapapa. However, what few Pākehā realise is that ‘whakapapa’ extends beyond people. It extends into the natural world as well (and the spiritual one, for that matter). There are lines of connection joining every individual to everything in the world.

For this reason, one does not ‘know’ Māori culture. One ‘experiences’ it. Or, more correctly, one is ‘part’ of it.

So, what do we Pākehā ‘know’ about Māori culture? Not a lot. And how much can we Pākehā ever ‘know’ about Māori culture? Not a lot. But how much can ‘we’ Pākehā become ‘part’ of Māori culture?

Well, that’s a completely different matter.

(For further discussion of this topic, see Chapter 2 in Guilty as Charged?. This appears in the free sample chapters available by signing up at the top right of this page).

Minorities in a One-Person, One-Vote Democracy

Winston Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” This quote has become very well-known and I’m sure most people living in a democracy will have some idea where Churchill was coming from—politicians bowing and scraping to fickle short-term public opinion; the inability of governments to tackle long-term problems; the child-like squabbling of political parties etc etc.

One consequence of the “worst form of government” that is less often mentioned, or at least thought about, by the average voter is its effects on minorities. Consider a simplistic democracy of three people. Two of these people always agree on everything—they call everything ‘black’. The other person completely disagrees with this—he calls everything ‘white’. Under this scenario ‘black’ always wins. In other words, what is agreed in this democracy is always the complete opposite to what one voter thinks. Nothing works they way he wants it to.

Obviously this is a completely fictitious and unrealistic illustration. In a democracy, each of us agrees with some decisions and disagrees with others. And, by and large, most of us think that the system is fair—if we compromise today, maybe we won’t have to tomorrow.

But what if there is a group in society that is always compromising? What if there is a group of people who have a coherent set of values, coherent set of priorities, and a coherent set of answers that are never given expression in the democracy? What if there is a group that wants ‘white’, whereas the outcome is always ‘black’?

Well, this is precisely the sort of thing that often happens with any group that forms a minority in society. But is this really fair?

The first reaction to this will be no, but… We can’t pander to every group under the sun—the Moonies, the monster raving loonies…

But what about Māori? Māori are a group of people in New Zealand society with a coherent set of values, coherent set of priorities, and a coherent set of answers that are often vastly different from the majority view—far more than most Pākehā can ever imagine. However, because they are a minority, they frequently have to forego these values/priorities/answers. They frequently want ‘white’ when the rest of society says, and gets, ‘black’. Is this fair for Māori?

Is this fair for a people who were once the sole inhabitants of Aotearoa? Is this fair for a people who form the bedrock of this land? Or failing that—since the rule of money seems to be what’s ‘black’ in New Zealand—is this fair for a people whose culture is exploited as a distinctive selling point for New Zealand overseas? Is it really fair that Māori ‘white’ is exploited to pay for New Zealand’s ‘black’?

Isn’t ‘user pays’ also ‘black’ in New Zealand?

Natural Disasters and Indigenous Knowledge

Saturday 4th September 2010 is not going to be a day New Zealanders will forget in a hurry. The earthquake in Christchurch is a stark reminder to us all of the price of living in such a beautiful country. Most New Zealanders, I’m sure, will have some personal attachment to Christchurch, such as friends and relatives. I myself have a sister, cousin and friends living there. They have all had quite a nasty shock, not to mention some damage.

This disaster has brought to my mind a section I wrote in Guilty as Charged? called Traditional Knowledge versus Science—Experience versus Experiment (Afterthought 3.1). Paraphrasing that section, I ask here, does local Māori knowledge have something to say about this earthquake? Perhaps local (Māori) knowledge is aware of certain fault-lines; perhaps local knowledge is aware of the frequency of earthquakes in this area; or perhaps local knowledge knows that certain suburbs of Christchurch are more stable than others?

I make no assumptions about the answers to these questions. I do not know the answers at all. However, what I do know is that traditional indigenous knowledge—wherever in the world it is—is extremely valuable. Put simply, indigenous knowledge encodes the essentials about survival within the local environment. It is knowledge built up by experience and passed down from generation to generation. Therefore, it is knowledge that in some ways surpasses that of modern science. Science only answers the questions people ask. Moreover, it is blind to the relative importance of the different questions. Indigenous knowledge, on the other hand, answers the imperative questions asked by the local natural environment—how are people going to survive what the environment throws up?

If all this sounds fanciful, consider the massive tsunami of 2004. What happened just before the tsunami? The tide went out a very long way. Many people in Thailand brought up in the modern scientific world thought this was interesting so went to take a look. They were killed when the wave came.

Conversely, when the tide went out on a remote African community, they were scared. Their (non-scientific) knowledge told them that this was very dangerous and they took to the hills. Everyone in that community survived, even though their village was destroyed.

More about this amazing story can be found in Afterthought 3.1 in Guilty as Charged?. I’ll just leave you with this thought: what vital knowledge do Māori have that could save lives and property in the next disaster? For we all know that there will be a next one. And I am equally convinced that Māori knowledge will have some answers.

The Treaty of Waitangi Myth

Over the following weeks and months I’m going to offer snippets from my book Guilty as Charged?.

Here’s a good one to get the ball rolling. Most New Zealanders think that the Treaty of Waitangi is unique—i.e. there is no other similar document between a colonial power and an indigenous people. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only was treaty making quite common place in 19th-century European colonial policy—it was actually the norm! In fact, Australia is virtually unique in not having a treaty.

And if that isn’t enough, many of the key phrases found in the (English version of) the Treaty of Waitangi were also used in other treaties as well!!

So is there anything unique about the Treaty of Waitangi?

Find out in Section 7.1…

(Section 7.1 is one of the free sample chapters available by signing up at the top right of this page).

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