Māoritanga, souvenirs and New Zealand national identity: colonisation, co-option and commodification

June 9, 2009

Guess what? It’s another university essay…

Māoritanga, souvenirs and New Zealand national identity: colonisation, co-option and commodification

New Zealanders’ sense of national identity has changed considerably over time. While once it might have been virtually inseparable from British identity, recent decades have seen a shift, with Māoritanga increasingly co-opted into the national whole. To a lesser extent this has occurred for cultural symbols from other parts of the South Pacific. The relatively recent acceptance of Māoritanga is, however, still conditional on it taking place within a Pākehā-created structural framework. This is a process of further encroaching colonisation, with the battleground now moved from land to culture. The resulting commodified Māoritanga is fed into New Zealand’s national identity, and from there is sold to the outside world. This essay will examine how Māoritanga contributes to a Pākehā dominated sense of national identity in New Zealand, through the lens of Pākehā and Māori New Zealanders’ interactions with the rest of the world.

For Pākehā New Zealanders, unique symbols of national identity are few and far between. The pavlova and Phar Lap are claimed by Australia, fish & chips by Britain, and Kiwifruit are originally from China. Despite the non-native origin of much Kiwiana, the contexts of their reproduction still serve to alienate more recent immigrants to New Zealand, those who do not “share a common past” (Bell, 177). Notably absent in most depictions of Kiwiana, however, is any acknowledgement of the one unique part of New Zealand, Māoritanga. Donna Awatere expanded on this, suggesting that “in this country white people have no real identity of their own apart from that which exists in opposition to Māori … the Pākehā has got nothing and has never realised it” (cited in Bell, 177).

Many Pākehā have talked longingly about the cultural richness of Māoritanga, implicitly comparing it to the paucity of uniquely Pākehā culture. In 1954, The Very Rev. J. G. Laughton argued that “part of the action of Māoritanga undoubtedly is the realisation and revaluation of the things that are distinctively Māori, and outstanding in that category is the language” (11). Laughton went on to state that Māori had “lavished art on carved prows and stern posts of the ocean canoe and on the door posts of the tribal houses, and developed the arts of weaving and beautiful reed work“ (Ibid). In a situation where Pākehā identity, and therefore New Zealand’s national identity, was so weak in confidence, it was perhaps inevitable that Pākehā would look to appropriate elements of Māoritanga.

It is when seeking to represent New Zealand to the rest of the world that Pākehā are perhaps most likely to put forward bastardised elements of Māoritanga. Dr. Ani Mikaere notes that “when travelling overseas, Pākehā leap forward to perform bastardised versions of the haka and ‘Pokarekare Ana’, and adorn themselves with Maori pendants in an attempt to identify themselves as New Zealanders” (3). Mikaere contrasts this with the decrying of Māoritanga by those same people when in New Zealand, which she puts down to “cultural insecurity” that “knows no bounds” (Ibid). This policing of the acceptable level and nature of exposure and acknowledgement for Māoritanga, enacted by the Pākehā majority, serves to reassert Pākehā dominance over the indigenous people of this country.

The inclusion of Māoritanga as a part of a New Zealand tourist experience is regarded as essential. Briar O’Connor questions this, noting that while Māori cultural performances (such as haka and poi) are “offered as ‘authentic New Zealand experiences’, these tend to be available on the tourist route only” (161). Certainly, many Pākehā will never see a haka outside of the sports field. Instead, Māoritanga is used as a unique selling point to draw in tourists attracted to the ‘exotic other’. Once brought to New Zealand, tourists will pay money for ‘authentic’ cultural experiences and artefacts (such as tiki), at times in ignorance of cultural offensiveness, such as in the case of plastic tiki salad severs mentioned in O’Connor’s article (168-70).

When a piece of Māoritanga is turned into a commodity, it removes it from common ownership by all Māori, and changes it into something to be bought and sold on the capitalist market, something Pākehā brought with them to this country. Some Māori activists have fought against this, with one, Teanau Tuiono, noting that as some Māori have been assimilated into the capitalist system, it has served to create “capitalism with a smiley (Māori) face. Bullshit. Watching our rangatiratanga go up and down on the stock exchange is not a good thing” (6-7)

Māoritanga plays an increasing role in New Zealand’s national identity, including Pākehā identity. This role, however, remains strictly policed, and is only acceptable two circumstances: insofar as it accepts a capitalist framework and plays a part in New Zealand’s tourism industry, and when it allows Pākehā to foster a unique sense of national identity when interacting with the rest of the world. Pākehā have moved from attempting to destroy Māoritanga, as was done in earlier days of colonisation, into attempting to take it for themselves and use it as they see fit.

List of cited works

Bell, Claudia. “Kiwiana Revisited.” Cultural Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand: Identity, Space and Place, Claudia Bell & Steve Matthewman, eds., Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2004. 177. Print.

Laughton, The Very Rev. J. G. “Maoritanga.” Te Ao Hou, Erik Schwimmer, ed., Wellington: Maori Affairs Department, 1954. 11. Print.

Mikaere, Dr. Ani. “Are we all New Zealanders now?” A Maori response to the Pakeha quest for indigeneity. 2004. 3. Print.

O’Connor, Briar. “The Dilemma of Souvenirs.” Cultural Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand: Identity, Space and Place, Claudia Bell & Steve Matthewman, eds., Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2004. 161, 168-70. Print.

Tuiono, Teanau. “Tino Rangatiratanga and Capitalism.” Thrall Spring 2002. Christchurch: Thrall, 2002. 7. Print.


Patriarchy and punk: Fighting hegemonic masculinity in a supposedly equalitarian subculture

June 8, 2009

Yet another university essay:

Patriarchy and punk: Fighting hegemonic masculinity in a supposedly equalitarian subculture

Punk sees itself as an oppositional subculture, one which fights against many of the dominant norms of society it considers to be oppressive. Within punk, however, there has long been a battle for equality between men and women. Many female punks are forced not only to battle sexism in wider society, but also in their chosen subculture. The resistance to the sexism inherent in today’s hegemonic masculinity has taken, and continues to take, many forms. This essay will examine some of the ways in which hegemonic masculinity, and more specifically sexism, exists, and is resisted, within the youth subculture of punk.

The roles played by female punks within the punk subculture are diverse and wide-ranging. In some instances, female punks are able to claim a position of influence, as shown by Griffiths, who states that “female anarcho-punks – un-marginalised –  have played a central role in organising gigs or music shows in New Zealand’s major cities” (239). This is not always the case however, with McRobbie noting that women are in fact often marginalised and defined as “the people who were dancing over in the corner by the speakers” (cited in Born, 306). These contradictory positions show that while female punks may have social power in some situations, this does not mean they are participating in punk on a truly equal level with male punks. Even in the example given by Griffiths, female punks are playing what can be considered to be a traditional female role, that of sorting out logistical issues, even if the setting – a punk music venue – is slightly different from that which most people may encounter.

Rape and other forms of intimate violence are prevalent throughout society, so it is therefore no surprise that it occurs within the punk subculture. Through these forms of violence, men display power over women. However, this blatant form of misogyny is not the only way that this power is displayed. In a subculture such as punk, where anti-sexist beliefs are often seen as a requirement, and the police are regarded with mistrust, some men have taken it upon themselves to deal out what they see as justice to abusive men. In many ways, this form of community justice serves to reinforce hegemonic male gender roles, and to further marginalise the status of women within the community. Female punk Lauraine Leblanc relates a story in which her male punk friends attempt to stand up for her by assaulting a man who had insulted her, despite the matter already being resolved to Leblanc’s satisfaction. “Having been inducted into the local punks’ ‘tribe’, it seemed that I was theirs – the guys’ – to ‘protect,’ regardless of whether or not I wanted or needed such protection … I was angry that these boys, most of whom were a decade younger than I, assumed I was in need of their protection … Punk lives, and I guess chivalry’s not dead either” (104). This example shows that, even when attempting to escape hegemonic masculinity, men can act in ways which serve to reinforce it.

The riot grrrl movement, a subset of punk, was created in the early 1990s to explicitly oppose the sexism that it’s members found in the punk subculture (McKee). One of the major aspects of riot grrrl was the creation of ‘zines, which provide “an opportunity for women to voice their experiences, opinions, stories, and criticisms of culture in a photocopied ‘safe space’” (Holtzman, Hughes & Van Meter, 7). In creating women only spaces, the riot grrrl movement attempted to avoid the most harmful effects of hegemonic masculinity. Some women, however, felt that even in these spaces, they were still not able to escape sexist behaviour. “What is disturbing is that women are not being called on the shit we do to hold ourselves back, in part, because there is an attitude that women have nothing to do with continuing sexism, because we’re victims. Ultimately, I don’t see equality in sight until we confront ourselves” (Bartchy, cited in O’Hara, 109). O’Hara notes that the power of our societal conditioning makes it harder to escape hegemonic masculinity (Ibid), in a further example of hegemony’s ability to shape human behaviour, even when that behaviour is an attempt at resistance to hegemony.

As an oppositional, confrontational subculture, punk’s examples of hegemonic masculinity and how that hegemony is able to shape resistance is especially relevant to those interested in how structures of power operate. While, as noted by Osgerby, riot grrrl “confront[ed] subjects such as misogyny and physical abuse” (122), it was by no means a complete solution to the problems of hegemonic masculinity’s expression within punk. This is in part because, as a (partially) separatist movement, it did not attempt to change male behaviour, but also because the social conditioning of the women within it meant that their behaviour reflected some of the problematic parts of the hegemonic masculinity. The ongoing processes of negotiation and accommodation through which the prevailing hegemony is reproduced are not done from an equal standpoint, but rather one in which the hegemonic position itself is able to define the boundaries of that negotiation.

List of cited works

Born, Georgina. “Modern music culture: on shock, pop and synthesis.” Popular Music: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. Volume 4: Music and Identity, Simon Frith, ed., London: Routledge, 2004. 306. Print.

Griffiths, Richard. “Wicked Wardrobes: Youth and Fashion in Aotearoa New Zealand.Cultural Studies in Aotearoa New Zealand: Identity, Space and Place, Claudia Bell & Steve Matthewman, eds., Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2004. 239. Print.

Holtzman, Ben, Craig Hughes & Kevin Van Meter. “Do It Yourself …and the movement beyond capitalism.Radical Society: A Review of Culture and Politics, Timothy Don, ed., New York: Radical Society, Ltd, 2005. 7-15. Print.

Leblanc, Lauraine. Pretty In Punk: Girls’ Gender Resistance in a Boys’ Subculture. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1999. 104. Print.

McKee, Michael. “ Riot Grrl”. The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest. 2009. Web. 7 June 2009.

O’Hara, Craig. The philosophy of punk: more than noise. Oakland: AK Press, 2001. 109. Print.

Osgerby, Bill. Youth Media. London: Routledge, 2004. 122. Print.


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