Monday, September 13, 2010

The state of pakeha culture


  1. Peter, are you suggesting in a semiotic//symbolic way that Pakeha culture is dead/castrated/extinct?

    Living outside Aotearoa/New Zealand I am perhaps not in the best situation to judge but I would like to suggest that this is a pessimistic view.

    Perhaps the very term 'Pakeha' is coming to mean more and more complex things - not just non-Polynesian/Caucasian/Anglo-Celtic New Zealanders but a kind of Aotearoan/New Zealander who is infused with Maori/Polynesian culture so that 'Pakeha' refers to a spectrum from Annabel Langbein to Ann Robinson's bowls, from the All Blacks to Peter Jackson (Langbein and Jackson being at the 'New Zealand' end of the Pakeha spectrum, Robinson and the All Blacks being at the Aotearoan end).

    Maori is now deeply and irretrievably European; Pakeha is now irretrievably Maori, isn't it?

    Aotearoa/New Zealand is in a sense the biggest and the most developed of the South Pacific nations (Australia is more Asian-infused than Polynesian/Melanesian). Its history has landed it at that destiny.

    I suppose that Maori might seem privileged in the current cultural/political climate as a result of attempts to address deracination, dispossession, oppression of all kinds so that the Pakeha position is guilt-burdened, felt by the sensitive as inauthentic in the landscape.

    I think though that the historico-cultural processes are carrying all Aotearoan/New Zealanders quickly beyond guilt and notions of 'First People', 'People of the Land', 'Indigenous' ... into a cultural identity that is not for much longer going to be usefully seen as Maori/Pakeha but as New Zealander.

    The term 'Aotearoan' has never really taken off overseas (or at home?) has it? I use it out of respect but it is feeling increasingly precious and righteous.

    The contemporary New Zealander seems to this Australian a relatively happily and comfortable amalgam of Maori and ... whatever Pakeha consists of (Anglo-Celts, Balts, Chinese, Somali ... ?) in the twenty-first century.

    Pakeha culture seems extraordinarily vigorous in terms of the cultural and other outputs of a relatively small nation.

    The conflicts between Indigenous and Settler seem as soft as down when measured against my own country's seemingly intractable problems with regard to its indigenous population and in terms of the bloodbaths of cultural conflict we all witness in so many, many other countries.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to contemplate what 'Pakeha' might mean in the twenty-first century. I am afraid I may have missed your point or underestimated the anguish of the identity issue.

    Ian MacNeill

  2. Ian, this is an interesting view from outside New Zealand - and by an interested Australian who looks at NZ in a perceptive way. The images are meant to be ironic, of course, but also express a little sadness. Pakeha New Zealanders suffer - generally speaking - from excessive timidity in looking at their own culture, or even thinking they have a culture at all. Or I should better say - cultural roots. This interests me far more than any idea of a culture. As someone obsessed with history, the vitality of cultural roots is what I think about alot. I don't think pakeha New Zealanders are good at looking back at their own roots - partly because they are afraid of what they might find. We feel at home in guilt and a kind of numbness. Maori culture is still forefronted, as an easy solution. But the solution lies in knowing your own history....not an easy thing at all...but a necessary thing.

  3. In my absorption in your image-poem I did not mention how much I admired and was moved by the remarkable images, wonderfully selected and arranged.

    I was too absorbed in the complexity to feel it was ironic exactly but did feel poignancy and wit (a killer combination) and an intensity of intent.

    Ian MacNeill

  4. P S Forgive me for being so literal but ...

    Is the moa (the huge bird is a moa, isn't it?) some kind of reconstruction or is it something like those woolly mammoths they find in the permafrost in Siberia?

    I have a fantasy of it being discovered in a glacier somewhere on the South Island or dredged 'in a remarkable state of preservation' from a swamp as they do with Maori artefacts.

    I M

  5. nice bit of synchronicity - have just been reading both Curnow and Colquhoun on the art/trick of standing upright here. Love the old cemetery on The Hill, wonderful that you're re-planting it. Bulbs are so sneaky. Hope some teen spirit lingers up there of Pre-Raphaelite maidens drifting about reciting poetry.

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