Friday, May 20, 2005

Being Pakeha Part II

Well, it seems I have struck a nerve. I was about to reply to some of the comments on my last post, but it seemed that it was more blog worthy.

All of the comments were very interesting, and revealed that this is a topic that is close to the heart of those of us who form the majority. This flies in the face of what many scholars think about majority groups, but confirms what my feelings are. In this day and age where ethnicity and culture are so important, the question arises in those of us whose culture goes unacknowledged, particularly by the modern media.

I choose the term Pakeha to describe myself for several reasons, the first being that the myth of its negative origins is now well and truly exploded. Pakeha does not mean village flea or maggot or white pig. Rest your minds! The second is that it acknowleges the Maori culture which is important to me, because I both love and respect it. Thirdly, for me, the term New Zealander is incomplete, since it does not acknowlege any ethnicity. Whatever the politicians would like us to think, we are not 'one people' but many peoples, and learning to live with each other and celebrate difference is a key challenge. Fourthly, well you know what I think of 'New Zealand European', although I was both challenged and comforted by Lynn's point of view.

So, I love the term Pakeha, and what it represents in and of itself. But my question remains, what is my culture? Do I have one? Yes, clearly I have an identity, but what is that constructed of. Perhaps more clearly, my question is, what is my ethnicity, what is it about being Pakeha that is different from any other ethnicity?

This is my journey. Your comments uplifted me, and challenged me. Thanks for joining me on it.


Anonymous said...

I remember, when I had just become a Christian and changed heaps, and started studying sociology, and realised I felt no connection to any culture, not even so-called "Kiwi culture". The only way I could describe my new lifestyle and worldview was a "biblical culture".

Back then I knew nothing about my family history or ethnic background. My parents never cared to share it and I had lost touch with the little I learnt at school and read in books.

But over the last few years things have changed. I am more of a "Kiw bloke" than I have ever been, but then it seems there aren't actually too many classic Kiwi blokes left! I now know more about our family's history than my parents do, and have learnt the stories of those early colonial families, and the history of the British Empire at the time.

You say you have no connection with Europe, which implies you are not of British descent. Or has your family simply not passed on the culture it once knew?

I think my parents take for granted what they know. What's more, as a general trend our society (as portrayed in media, schools, universities) has become not just apathetic but hostile towards classic British culture. Most things which are fundamental to Britishness are ideals which are now viewed as old-fashioned, cheesy, boring and oppressive - Christianity, patriarchy, masculinity, manners, tasteful art to name a few.

British culture is incredibly rich in tradition, religion, politics, philosophy, science, the arts, sport. Have you had any experience with the Anglican Church, or the Presbyterian Church? Did you read Enid Blyton when you were young?

My ancestry is almost entirely British (English, Scottish & Northern Irish), and I have seen in my grandparents and great-aunts that Britishness that so used to define us as a people, and am even starting to pick it up off them.

I have read and heard of many "scholars" who say we have no culture - I think this is nonsense. It is there if we are willing to seek it out - do some reading, talk with some old folks, get to know our grandparents and great-aunts. In fact, this is something we must do, while we can, while our grandparents' generation are still alive.

I too am annoyed by the census box "NZ European". Why? I am not European, I am British, as are most people who would tick "European". Britain isn't even a part of the continent. I cross out "NZ European" and put "NZ British".

A. J. Chesswas said...

That was me - if you couldn't tell

Sharyn said...

The problem for many New Zealanders, I think, is that our ancestory is spread far and wide - that is my ancestory is spread from Norway to Germany to Scotland, England etc...

I, however, feel no connection to Europe, to any of those places. I am aware of my Norwegian ancestory, how my Great Great Grandad jumped ship to be here. I have no desire, however, to look for my ancestary there. My culture is tied up in some way with this place.

I am glad that you have found connection with your culture through your roots. That's not for me however. I want to know what Pakeha means.

I definitely do not feel a connection with Britian. I do, however, have a little wee bit of Moriori in me, and that accounts for my big brown eyes (like Marmite eh Mum!) and my dark brown hair.

Now THAT'S an interesting story, those Morioris. Who still thinks the Maoris ate them? ;-)

Sharyn said...

Rereading that, I see how that sounded. I do love to hear about my Norwegian ancestory, and I am fascinated to hear about my family histories from my Mum and Dads side. What I am meaning here is that I don't feel a cultural link there, I am looking for the cultural link of this place.

Kapish? (that's phonetic..)

Iain said...

Yeah, I for one feel quite similarly to you.

I have a problem. Here at the Bible College (Auckland campus) I learn all sorts of Missions papers and about how the voice of various countries and peoples are important. We learn to listen and value cultural background and identity, and modern day insights and expressions from those people.

And yet all my classes tell me, a) The West is bad (read 'colonial' and oppressive), and b) The Non-West is good for many reasons.

I can take papers on Christianity and World Religions, on Two-Third World Theology (which was awesome)... and in doing this I learn about myself by indirectly seeing the difference reflected in others.

But if we're all part of the chorus of life, then what IS the part I'm supposed to sing? I'm no more identical to the colonial and oppressive people who have the same colour skin as me than I am to the Samoan families that I attend Church with.

But if I don't let somebody else's (negative) history define who I am, then who am I?

Sharyn said...

Yes yes yes, this is my point exactly.

Phew! I was starting to think I was alone.