THE FUTURE PLACE OF MAORI CULTURE IN NEW ZEALAND SOCIETY
LECTURER IN PSYCHOLOGY, VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OF WELLINGTON
THERE ARE two good reasons why this paper is likely to promote discussion. The first is that within the title-topic there are three concepts whose meaning varies greatly according to who happens to be using them. The second talking point will no doubt arise from the fact that I am non-Maori and am being bold (or foolish) enough to step into a field where emotions and good sense do not always go hand in hand.
To deal with the latter aspect first, this paper will mainly raise questions. I would answer them one way—you might answer them another. This is a working paper, not an attempt to lay down rules, present unassailable evidence or preach conversion to some new orthodoxy. Some of the questions which occupied my mind as I prepared this paper I will list right away. You might think about them before you go on with the analytic discussion which follows.
What is Maori culture?
How would one set about describing it? Is it a unitary matter or are there several kinds or types or components? If there are several components, which are essential and which not?
How is this culture communicated?
By whom? When? Where? Why? In these communication processes, what is the role of élites? Of parents? Of schools? Of the ordinary man? Of you?
What does this culture do for those who possess it, or live by it, or have an interest in it? What might it do that it does not now do?
Is it changing?
How? Who is changing it? Why? In what ways does a comparison with the state of the culture 20 years ago suggest possible trends, processes, developments? Is change always in the directions which people consciously desire? If not, why not?
These then are some questions which must concern those who have an interest in Maori culture. I do not profess to answer them; merely to illuminate them.
It might at first seem that there are only three words in the title of this paper on which we are likely to reach general agreement concerning meaning, use, and function—‘the’, ‘of’, and ‘in’. In the discussion which follows, I will not be concerned with ultimate future (whatever that might mean), with questions of assimilation or
not, but with the real, near and meaningful future, that of your lifetime, and your children's lifetime, insofar as you are able to influence it. The mere fact that you are discussing this topic ensures that some sort of Maori culture will persist. We must ask ourselves what it comprises, how it may be fashioned, for whom it may function, what trends within it may be encouraged, and how?
Four useful ways of thinking about culture
Of all the slippery words in common use few can be as variable in meaning as this word ‘culture’. One anthropological survey lists 160 definitions and there is endless confusion in discussions, public and private, professional and lay, because people either do not define their concepts, or are inconsistent in their usage. Part of the trouble is that people say they will define culture one way, and then go on to use the term thus, and so, and variously otherwise, without signalling (or even being aware of) shifts in meaning. Their mistake is to limit the term to a greater degree than they require for their purpose. To avoid this, I suggest that we think of culture in four ways, and try to be clear when we are using any one of the four. Furthermore, in your discussions you should call sharply to question any person who does not tell you clearly which concept he is referring to in any statement he makes. These four do not exhaust the possibilities of meaning in the word culture. Nor do they refer to phenomena found independently in behaviour, that is, they overlap in theory and in practice. It is useful, however, to try to keep them separate in your thinking.
I Culture as a way of life
Culture in this sense refers to the stamp of stylistic distinctiveness on every action within the way of life of a group. Work, play, song, dance, speech, gesture, life, even death, all are patterned in a way which is uniquely the way of that group. Culture in this sense is not something optional or occasional. The person can no more divest himself of his culture than he can of his skin, not because culture is genetically determined (though the capacity for it no doubt is), but because amongst all ways of life it exclusively has authority and rightness for him. In this sense there are not only the cultures of national groups but some others as well. For example, it may be appropriate to speak of a scientific culture or an academic culture since these occupations bind people within common patterns which they possess. On the other hand, it is probably wrong to speak of the culture of the poor, urban culture or rural culture unless somehow the people involved select this pattern, prefer it, and think of it as natural and right for them and are committed by their membership in the culture.
II Culture as a set of traditions, customs, or practices, perpetuated and/or cherished by a group
This is one of the oldest definitions of culture within modern anthropology. It defines the culture of anthoropologists (many if not most), or Roman Catholics, or boy scouts, or any other group which ritualises events in a particular way, less limited than the first definition, it is still very wide. However, the focus of attention is not now any and every act, merely some. In this sense there is a Jewish culture in New Zealand, a Greek Orthodox culture, and many others.
III Culture as a creative process
Perhaps the most common definition of culture is that which stresses literary, artistic, dramatic or otherwise creative activity. You will never hear an anthropologist say of someone, “He is very cultured”, not because anthropologists don't know any poets, artists, etc., but because, under one or the other of the two definitions above, they define everyone as having a culture of one sort or another. But the popular usage does not merely represent an idle value judgement. Anthropologists have themselves stressed the importance of creativity and point to the fate of cultures that fail to change. Odd though it may seem, the Darwinian ‘adapt or perish’ focuses attention on the tremendous importance in cultural survival of playing with ideas, with words, with techniques, with imaginative models of “as if” and “as might be”. Freud considered that such cultural pursuits as art and drama expressed personal wishes which could not be acceptably expressed within the other rituals, customs and practices of a way of life. Culture in this sense is a means by which a person extends his expression beyond merely a personal discharge of tension into a pattern of shared creative expression having style and form and ritualised patterning but permitting a wide range of adaption to new circumstances and events, real or imaginary.
IV Culture as a personal sense of difference
I have occasionally met people who say, “Of course, I'm Maori you know”, but otherwise have neither Maori knowledge nor characteristics. Their Maoriness comprises nothing more than their knowledge of an incident in their greatgrandfather's sex life—their awareness of a genetic link with someone of Maori descent. Such people represent the last step in the cultural scale; but for their awareness they would cease to have any link with the cultural group with whom, they perhaps erroneously feel, their genes impel them to keep some residual association. But culture as a personal sense of difference can mean something much more than this. At the other end of the scale awareness can become a vigorous protestation of equality, or where this is frustrated, a militant nationalism. Awareness of membership in, or identification with, some group slants the person's judgement in such a way that that particular group becomes the locus of an emotional link. The person identifies with its status and membership characteristics and seeks to make its fate his fate. The group becomes his culture in terms, not of what he is, but of what he wants
to become. No person ever has more than one culture and maybe no culture ever had any reality except in one person. All the tidy monographs about the generality of patterns of life of particular people ignore, as they must, the fact of the personalness of culture; they present the theme because the variations are so many, so complex, sometimes so widely divergent that they muddy our minds and muddle our thoughts. But people are as they are—not as anthropologists would have them be; a generalisation which happily applies also to anthropologists.
Now all this might seem sophistry and harisplitting. Some might say that any Maori who really is a Maori will show behaviour within all four categories. You may if you wish to do so, group all four into some total grand super definition of culture but if you do, you must keep in mind that your action may not help in discussing the future of Maori culture. There are as many kinds of Maori culture as there are Maoris. Variations occur in kind as well as in degree and these four definitions list four out of the range of possibilities simply for our present purpose of thinking about the future.
Four kinds of future for four kinds of culture
If a Maori Culture I exists today in New Zealand, it does so only for a few. I can't be dogmatic about this because there are many places I have never visited and thousands of Maoris I've never met. But of those I have met, in areas both rural and urban, isolated and not, Culture I exists only for some of the very old—people who live in a world of different manners and meanings from the young. If you disagree with this I challenge you to state the stylistic differences, seen in every action, in every part of life, which you would consider to define Maoriness for some large number of those who call themselves Maori.
If there are such individuals or groups of such individuals it seems to me most unlikely that their distinctiveness and style can survive intact under the onslaught of pakeha schooling when young, of pakeha employment when older and the vigorous pushful assertiveness of the mass media of pakeha life which they can neither ignore or deny. To regret this is human; to ignore it is fantasy.
The second kind of culture, the occasional culture, which characterises certain optional, voluntary groups and links members of those groups in common or shared practices, rituals, and customs, will show survival, change and be affirmed for as long as people want the comfort of association such sharing brings. Such culture can be found amongst old men, and young scholars. Its future is their concern. The tangi has a future just as other culturally derived mortuary rites persist; it will change as they have changed. The hui can be integrated without strain into the social life of city Maoris; they not only attend such gatherings but also on occasions run them. The hui has grown from a small democratic forum into a demonstration of organising capacity and group solidarity of immense size. Maybe Maoris, like some pakehas, associate bigness with success. Personally the little hui holds more for me in terms of enjoyment and satisfaction than vast marathon ventures but there is no reason to believe that Maori people will continue to equate bigness with success and perhaps huis may again become occasions when every voice is heard.
Perhaps there are not enough institutions to keep all existing customs alive and changing into the future. Perhaps we need a school of arts and crafts organised so that many can participate rather than few. Perhaps schools of whakapapa, or of patere and pou, could be organised more often. But you cannot push people into these activities. So long as somewhere some is working at, on, or in these things, need the originary Maori person bother? Will he? He tailors his culture to fit his estate. Saying that he should know this, or do that, is to speak idly unless he wants to. No one ever forced a culture on to anyone; by its nature Culture II is optitive, voluntary and depends on warmth of association, on interest, and that which is seen by a group to be the pre-requisites and requisites of membership.
In the third kind of culture both Maori and pakeha have an interest. In action song and haka, carving, weaving, kowhaiwhai, in poetry, history, legends and even whai korero, anyone with interest enough can gain some expertise. But skill is not enough. For these activities to grow they must meet new needs and be adapted to new purposes and conditions. How this can be done, when and where, I leave to your discussion. But it must be done.
I remember once watching a listless, unenthusiastic group of Maori High School students mechanically perform an action song. Since I wondered at the lack of élan in their performance I asked some of the party about the song later in the day, and my suspicions were confirmed. Too much practice, too little variety in their practices, too much emphasis on drilled conformity, too little real participation in making the song, in understanding its sentiments, in suiting it to these people at this point in time. No folk art survives on classics alone. Classics teach excellence and show how to renew the art form to suit new topics, new interests, new ways of living. New creations in the tradition of action song are not uncommon; some achieve the status of modern classics; the ephemeral are not the less important in advancing the tradition. But is haka as vigorous in cultural growth? And what of patere and pou—did Puhiwahine say all that was to be said in these traditions? Some young Maori people use pakeha art forms to express Maori sentiments, sculpture, graphic art, poetry, and other literary forms. Within these traditions there is a chance to show what being a Maori in 1960 means, to help people to understand. The need is great.
Such activities express the fourth kind of culture; the least understood and most difficult to
understand, form of Maori culture. Personal culture is impossible to describe in generalisation; abstractions approach such description but do not cover it in all its detail and subtlety. Some things one can say with safety. Personal culture is not an amalgam but an integrated whole; not bits of this and bits of that; not the best of both worlds; it is my way or his way. It is the basis of a person's self-esteem and confidence. To speak of pride in one's culture does not mean pride in the culture of someone else but pride in one's own attainments within a cultural tradition, or of one's participation in some valued activity.
You are not your brother's keeper in this matter. The only experience of this kind of Maori culture that you can control is that which you possess. Whatever you decide to keep will be kept. Whatever you decide to change will change. Whatever you ignore will cease to exist within your version of Maori culture. Lamenting the sins of omission of others is a profitless occupation. Schools can't keep Maori alive as a language nor can arts be perpetuated by the immature efforts of children. What you consider should be done you must expect first of all to do yourself: or you must move others by your actions, to feel the need for action.
Your own personal culture cannot be externally evaluated—there are no known standards by which such evaluations can be carried out, except perhaps in moral matters or in other ways on which there are strong social sanctions on which people reach something like general agreement. But it can be internally evaluated by the standards you set yourselves, by the degree to which you satisfy yourself that your actions are worthwhile.
If you have found this paper a little confusing and maybe confused I am both sorry and glad; sorry because of any necessary disappointment it may have caused but glad because I suspect that anyone who is simply and straightforwardly dogmatic on a matter like this is usually wrong and probably dangerous. Think again of those 165,000 individual cultures—there's diversity, and richness, in 165,000 different lines of development for you; and in the face of all that, it would be a brave man (and not a wise one) who would speak or write of Maori Culture as if, like the horse when the motor car came, it had no future at all.
NOVEL ABOUT MAORI GIRL
The First Full-Length work of fiction to depict a Maori in present-day New Zealand society is to be published in London this month by William Heinemann Limited. Entitled “Maori Girl”, the novel is by Noel Hilliard, aged 31, a teacher at the Mangakino District High School. It is planned as the first of a series depicting Maori-pakeha relationships in New Zealand today. The Maori girl of the title is one of a large family brought up on a dairy farm in Taranaki. Economic circumstances force the children to leave home to seek work. The girl finds that her rural Maori background has ill-equipped her for life in Wellington. The book describes her difficulty in finding accommodation and employment, and her efforts to escape from her loneliness in what is for her an alien and hostile city.
Mr Hilliard attended the Gisborne High School and Victoria University. Before teaching, he was for some years employed in daily newspaper work in Wellington. He is married, with two children.
A recommendation for a full-scale research programme into all aspects of Maori education, including the pre-school child, was put to the Commission of Education by a newly formed Federation of Maori Students. The resolutions submitted were: Courses in Maori pronounciation in primary schools; encouragement of the teaching of the Maori language at elementary and advanced levels; provision of special classes in a small number of Maori schools for four-year-old children; the introduction of Maori studies as a core subject at all teachers' colleges; the teaching of Maori myths, traditions and history as an integral part of all school courses and of traditional Maori arts, crafts, games and cultural activities in all primary schools; recognition by New Zealand universities of Maori studies as an arts unit for any degree requiring arts units and the intensification of vocational guidance to Maori students at an early post-primary level.