Club Politique by Che Tibby

The Emperor's New Clothes

Since we're clearing the air about ego, I thought I'd confess to hoping to one day write something worthy of paper-bound publication. Knocking out blogs is one thing, but actually writing something meaningful enough to put down in black and white is another it seems.

I've done a lot of reflection on King's Being Pakeha since being a little critical of it way back in the early part of this year. I still think that the relevance of the book is especially keen for the generation above mine, but there is ongoing relevance for New Zealanders who do experience the kind of awakening King describes. That contrast to the 'other within', Māori, and the 'other without', pretty much anyone non-Kiwi, is still something we force upon ourselves generationally. It still leaves open to question the content of Kiwi-ness itself though. If our identity is defined by what we are not, what is it that we are?

I figured this was the pertinent time to talk about this one, seen as this blog will have to be wound up very soon. I've been with [prominent financial institution] for a year now, and when I started was given managerial approval to continue to write. The good news is that I'm moving to [population ministry] and am taking up a senior position. The bad news is that I'm taking on a senior role, and while they seem open to the idea of my keeping this going, I'm thinking that the conflict of interest between being a public servant and wanting to tell our leaders how to act is too great. So, sometime before now and October 2nd I'll be putting my last blog online. We can talk about that more later.

OK, identity. This question of what we are is a dozy. How do you comprehensively define an entire nation? Because I think you simply can't. No matter what yardstick you try to lay you'll always have at least someone who is obviously Kiwi not entirely conforming to the norm you've tried to establish.

And that's what's so important about New Zealanders and travel. Because we tend to spend a lot of time overseas we are able to better reflect on what we aren't, and that reinforces the intangible ties between us. There's something about the bond that forms between you and your fellow nationals when you're out of our sleepy, slightly boring little country that can't really be put into words.

It's the same with Māoritanga. Understanding and experiencing Māoritanga, as King indicates, is a key definer of New Zealanders. Naturally it's not the only definer, but it is a very clear marker. The perpetuation of that culture, and the willingness of New Zealanders to 'get its back' in the face of ongoing assaults on its worth is a fundamental characteristic of real Kiwis.

King was writing at a time when Britishness was beginning to be seriously questioned by New Zealanders. We just didn't feel like we identified with the Empire any more. All those old ties were breaking down and becoming meaningless. So, though I am (and he was) 'racially' English, what has defined me is my experiences as a New Zealander, in this unique national context. Trying to define me by my quantum of blood, of whatever stock, would be racism at its most stupid. I am not English.

This doesn't mean of course that New Zealanders without reasonable experience or understanding of Māoritanga are somehow 'less Kiwi'. Nor does it mean that Kiwis who haven't travelled are less authentic than those who have. If anything it proves my point that you can't use a single variable to define nationality. But even old-school racists and assimilationists understand more of Māori culture than your average Australian, as a trip to Australia on fieldwork demonstrates.

The truth? I don't think being Kiwi can ever really be defined. Māori will always remain both distinct from and simultaneously within New Zealand culture, despite the efforts to undermine it. If Colonial governments couldn't do it by force, the witterings of a few out of date national leaders, of whatever political ilk, will not end Māoritanga. New Zealanders of colonial stock will, if anything, become properly polynesian in good time, and reconcile their alienation from Māori with an identity properly rooted in the here and now.

And I wish to live long enough to finally see that acceptance happen. To know that our descendants are no longer strangers in a strange land. To know that our future selves squint, a twilight people, stranded between the too bright light of a colonial past and the darkening night of a precipitating future. We too few in number. We who gift our brightest and best to an ungrateful world. Those fledged gulls, some never to return. We send will always send them aloft on patchwork polynesian wings, gifted with wonder and ardour for life, our bright-eyed and wonderful children.