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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. For more samples, simply click on the link in the box opposite. Alternatively, click on the Buy Now button opposite to gain unlimited access to the whole book!

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).

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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

September 29, 2010

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 […]

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Natural Disasters and Indigenous Knowledge

September 13, 2010

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 […]

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The Treaty of Waitangi Myth

September 2, 2010

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 […]

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Special Offer—For a Limited Time Only!

June 30, 2010

The book Guilty as Charged? is now available on this site for viewing, downloading and printing. The normal price for this book is NS$39.95. For a limited time only I am offering this book at the special discounted price of NZ$9.95! Simply click on the Buy Now button on the right of this page to […]

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We’re Ready to Go!

June 7, 2010

This site is now ready to be used. The book Guilty as Charged? is not yet available on this site in its entirety, but other aspects are in place, such as an overview and chapter summary. Do take a look. If you are interested in finding out more, do sign up in the box at […]

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Kia Ora once again!

May 6, 2010

Hello again. I am now busy constructing this site. Please feel free to look round at what’s there already. If there’s something you think should be on the site, but isn’t, do come back later. I might be thinking exactly the same thing and in the process of putting it there!

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Kia Ora

December 10, 2009

Welcome to My name is Malcolm Pullan. I have written a book about the current standing of Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand and their relationship with Pākehā. Over the coming months this website will be developed to support this book. Do come back later!

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