Tau Henare: Culture – all the good stuff

by Guest Post

Tau HenareNational Party MP Tau Henare writes on what he feels Maori Culture is, and how it can help society as a whole. Once more not an endorsement (though we really like this piece):

With all the talk of recession and how to get out of it, I remember only too well the last one. The 80s downturn for us in Otara was like a bald-faced gate crasher who arrived early, wrecked the place and wouldn’t leave.  Sixth form certificate wasn’t enough to get me a job. 30 years of service on the railways wasn’t enough to protect my father from redundancy. Yet as bad as things may have appeared to others, it was still one of the most upbeat times of my youth. I owe this to the rise of Maori culture. A culture largely forgotten by many of my father’s generation as they settled into the gentle pace of urban life. But its timely revival in rough times had given my own generation enthusiasm mixed with hope.

When cultural renaissance and recession collide it throws up some pretty odd stuff. For us it was new, it was exciting and we could change the world with our reckless blend of race, feminist, and class politics all thrown together to form one simple rant “we’ve all been done over by the rich white man and we want justice”. Yet it didn’t take long to realize that we got it all wrong.  That race was not about culture.

“Maori culture was around long before the theory of race was hatched in the laboratories of Europe” my old uncle said, and that far from being simply a racial category, Maori, like all cultures are in fact a set of ideals. It was only about the good stuff, and if we commit a crime or do bad things, we are operating outside the prescribed limits of our culture. We act as individuals. To say “Maori crime” is as stupid as saying “Christian crime”, or “English crime” or “Welsh crime”. For no society sets out to promote rules that are evil or bad.

Those words have never left me and while I might revert sometimes to the easy rhetoric of race politics, I mostly remember how culture comforted me and distracted me, the exhilaration of rowing a waka down the Waikato River with a hundred others, the voluntary work at the local Marae, hitching to hui across the country and picking up the language along the way, meeting relations for the first time, changing our names.

So if culture is only about the good stuff then why aren’t we grabbing it with both hands?

The role of culture comes into its own during hard times. Essentially, it’s because it distracts us from the hopelessness of our situation while compelling us to become more creative, inventive and imaginative. Together with visionary leadership, we have the fundamentals to freeing ourselves from recession.

Maori CultureThe combination of visionary leadership and culture can be seen in an earlier era. During the Great Depression, Sir Apirana Ngata understood that this was central to Maori economic recovery. He believed that communities had to become self-reliant, socially cohesive and bound together by a peaceful culture with arts at its axis. Consequently, the renaissance was born resulting in a resurgence of Marae building, carving, weaving, kapahaka and everything else in between. The dairy farms he promoted as a foray into self-employment were back-breaking work with sometimes meagre returns yet there was no burning resentment, no chip on the shoulder, no dole when things got a bit rough. Their motivation was fed by something that cannot be found in any economic model.  Fittingly his image graces the $50 note as a reminder that economic recovery and cultural regeneration are mutually inclusive. Hence the blueprint was set as a remedy for future downturns.

Maori faced similar problems in the 80s. And through the chaos of urbanisation, a 23% unemployment rate and a youthful population, two guardians of an earlier era, Sir James Henare and John Rangihau, emerged with a new twist to the old remedy. The revitalisation of Maori language was their focus, forged from the old education system and remodelled to create a new philosophy. For out of early childhood centres, Te Kohanga Reo was formed; out of schools, Te Kura Kaupapa; out of universities, Wananga; and from there came a record number of Maori tertiary graduates.

All that was old is new again. The current situation spurs us on to explore new pathways and the coalition between the Maori and National parties provides a unique political platform for that to occur, not only because it is the mean between two extremes, but because it offers a forum to develop policy with the power to unify a nation facing uncertainty using the old remedies from the past.

Whereas in the past cultural revival has been exclusively for Maori by Maori, this time I sense a maturity and a willingness to share the same vision. That vision has a Maori heart whose presence, detectable only by nuances, pervades everything we do as a nation. The haka before a rugby game is a familiar example and so too the singing of the national anthem in Maori, proficient pronunciation, the hongi, body moko are all now common features of our nation’s cultural pulse.

To build on that requires world views to merge.

For instance in relation to recent policy statements, where some see just a cycleway, I see an opportunity for cash poor, land rich Maori communities to enter the tourism industry by unlocking some of the most scenic and historically fascinating geography in the country.

Where some see an army boot camp, I see shades of the old Maori Battalion whose noble mantra of service and sacrifice for one’s country should be an inspiration to a troubled generation.

Where some see the nine-day working fortnight as simply a day off, I see an opportunity for workers to learn Maori

As someone that has traversed the full spectrum of political thought, and indeed started a party based on this very concept of culture, I have come to the conclusion that it has no natural political home but that culture should be woven into the fabric of all ideologies, because its true worth, particularly in times of crisis and uncertainty, is that it encourages the energy, enterprise and intellect in people to aspire to a greater cause or as my old uncle would say “all the good stuff”.

(Image: _MG_9661 – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licensed photo by LH Wong)

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Alasdair Thompson November 20, 2013 - 9:05 am

Tau’s article is a good read. I have long supported getting behind and embracing Maori culture as our unique point of difference and advantage within the world. We have lots of differences and advantages with other countries but they are not unique. The ‘good’ of our Maori culture is unique, Rarotonga excepted but its unique in its co-existence in a multi cultural society.
I have written about this in my new book, Life Changing ( Learning from the last: fixing the future) . My father was fluent in Te reo. I was in my 40s before I started learning it so I could participate as a mayor visiting Marae. This was such a wonderful experience for me, it led to a wider interest in our history and much more.
I sometimes feel sad that some of us rush to judge what we might call Maori Crime, Maori family abuse…As Tau points out, it is as individuals that we do both good and bad things.
I once referred to the ‘ difficulty of being Maori in NZ’ in reference to how well so many do in Australia. The media beat it up, rushed to Tariana for a sound bite.She obliged. I called her and explained, ‘ oh she said, I agree with you on that’. The media sell reporting conflict. So its good to see Tau took the opportunity you gave him to do his guest article.
I was not at all surprised by how good it is. Hone too has written some really good stuff…although I’m not enthral led by some of his antics.

David Meech November 23, 2013 - 7:52 am

I have long been suspicious about our Pakeha generated statistics.
If we look at the Bain case there are issues of drug use, prostitution, the hint of child abuse and even reports of withcraft in relation to Robin Bain’s time spent up in Melanesia. Yet none of this seeped into any kind of statistic until suddenly we saw people murdered.
Again with “Maori child abuse” – the statistic for Maori is 1.2 deaths per 100,000 children and for all other races 0.8 per 100,000 children. So congratulations on killing 0.4 of a child less than Maori – the point is it is all simply a New Zealand issue.
Yet you do not see that term “White child abuse” at all in our newspapers.
Again with the Louise Nichols saga we have rape not entering any sort of statistic and we have young women testifying that they were raped inside a police station at 13 yrs old by police members. We have police convicted of purgery, rape and of colluding to pervert the course of justice – the point is almost none of all these worrying events seemed to hit any sort of child abuse statistic at all until very late after the events and only through massive personal effort and at personal cost by Louise.
People often use these statistics as a point of judging each other yet the statistics themselves are very shakey indeed.
Ultimately I don’t see Maoritanga as essentially being any different from British culture going back 300 or 400 years. We were both active merchants with the emphasis on village community and we were both fairly fractious, tribal and warlike. Look at the long string of British wars since 1840 and beyond, it is a huge list. Many of these wars and battles were with former allies and some. for example WWI and WWII were violent indeed.
The main difference now is that Pakeha culture has become fairly competitive where the emphasis is on being 1st, 2nd or 3rd in anything you do – Maoritanga is and remains essentially more inclusive with a place for everyone and that is its strength.

John Poole November 23, 2013 - 3:11 pm

Why would any one get behind Maori culture, as we see it today it is very barbaric and primitive, history is not taught in our schools these days, the only thing we know about Maori history is what has been recorded since Europeans have been in this country, what that tells us is that they were “Stone Age “had not developed a simple thing like the wheel, or even used clay to make ceramics, the Europeans are pilloried, and yet the area from the British Isles to the Russian Steeps North of the Mediterranean Sea has been the cradle of just about every invention that the human race have developed, I will give some credit to where Saudi Arabia and Persia are now, that contributed early on, but they got lost along the way, Europeans are the Salt of the Earth, do not forget that, on the whole we do not expect “Royalties” for the thousands of things that we have brought to humanity, yet the Johnny come Lately Maori, would have us pay for every thing that they consider was there’s before Europeans came here, no amount of debate or argument will convince the thinking person that what I say is not correct.

Morag Woode November 24, 2013 - 2:24 pm

Tau Henare’s wonderfully manipulative article whitewashes so much that is behind the sheer chicanery that is today behind todays self-serving Maori activists complaining and demanding more and more “compensation” for the events of nearly 200 years ago.

Much of today’s claims are arguably fraudulent, and Henare was only too recently an ill-mannered, bullying and rude chairman of the Maori affairs select committee, stacked with relatives of the complainants, and promoting one particular claim as proven when it was nothing of the sort – simply alleged. However, as with the NgaiTahu claim, where MPs were and are simply too busy to do the research needed to protect the country’s interests, we have been haemorrhaging compensation that historically is completely unjustified.

Many (now all part-) Maori, to, are fed up with with the ongoing glorification of Maori as special and superior, but at the same time insisting that taxpayers keep funding whatever hands are held out – and whatever utterly untruthful claims are and have been made – such as ownership of rivers, the foreshore and seabed, the radio spectrum etc.

These have been opportunistically and dishonest.

Preserving Maori language is perfectly reasonable for part-Maori who wish to do so. This is quite different to disadvantaging part-Maori children by pushing then into Kohanga Reo schools – and many New Zealanders are utterly fed up with having the barbaric and aggressive haka constantly and inappropriately centrestaging- especially on young and often frightened in schools. I know of two children, a boy and girl both 5 years old, who were very upset by the aggressive, shouting boys from a local intermediate performing a haka to their class.

Part-Maori need to get over feeling special, to acknowledge what many have been valuable about their own culture and to be honest about its awful downsides.

The great Apirina Ngata would have deplored the handouts mentality common among Maori activists, and would certainly not have approved of the aggressive haka being inappropriately performed.

Majority New Zealanders do not appreciate being exhorted to learn todays’ by no means authentic Maori language, when they have their own cultures and their own forebears to be proud of.


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