Wanker Word of the Week: Decolonisation
The annual government enforced Te Reo week has prompted the usual high-minded musings from media and academic worthies. Some made sense – Te reo as taonga that needs some protection from government much like the Kiwi or the kakapo – others did not. These invoked the concept of "decolonisation".
Reminiscent of a shady medical practice involving rubber tubing and being spread eagled on a medical table, your correspondent Dr Black was perplexed. Faced with a left-wing term of nebulous meaning, I of course made for the online version of the popular "yoof" magazine Teen Vogue. I find it an invaluable lexical resource when defining such terms as they seem to be created and used most frequently by teenage girls. According to Tina (or was it Becca? I forget), decolonisation is "reclaiming what was taken and honouring what we still have."
Tina/Becca goes on to define colonisation (which she thinks we should be decolonising from) as "the stealing of lands; the raping of women; the taking of slaves; the breaking of bodies through fighting, labor, imprisonment, and genocide; the stealing of children; the enforcement of religion; the destruction [of] spiritual ways of life." S'truth! I'm guessing it was all bad then, right? Well only in the Tina/Becca thirteen-year old girl view of the world. The trouble is that this is pretty much also the adult lefty view of the world. See Marama Davidson for an example. So, Tina/Becca/Marama may I proffer an alternative list?
Rule of law, germ theory, representative government, the scientific method, Christian morality, plumbing, medicine, the wheel, books, literacy, Shakespeare, baths, handkerchiefs, and really, really big hats. All advantages colonisation by early nineteenth-century pommy types would have made available to Maori.
Historian Paul Moon in his excellent book This Horrid Practice concludes that widespread Maori cannibalism was essentially ended by the influence of Christian missionaries and the adoption of Christianity by Maori. Why does that never appear on the positive side of the ledger when the accounts for colonisation are drawn up?
Language seems to be a particular beef. The example of Maori kids being beaten by teachers for speaking Te Reo is held up as particularly iniquitous. But it wasn't. Well, no more than usual for the time. Beating kids was a virtual national pastime in the nineteenth century. My left-handed great grandmother had her arm tied behind her back by nuns to stop her using the "devil’s hand" to write with.
If decolonisation as a political project has obvious flaws and hypocrisies, decolonisation applied at the personal level is downright creepy. How many times have you heard a Maori New Zealander give a mihi that honours all their ancestry? Faced with someone with skin no darker than me the last time I fell asleep on the beach without sunscreen, I get to hear their tribal affiliation, their supposed bond of deep affection with various rivers, mountains and flax bushes but never where their more melanin deprived ancestors hailed from.
Just once I'd like to hear someone say: "I'm descended from Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa and Nga Tahu" and then add, "and a long line of Albanian sheep shaggers" or "the infamous alcoholics of Clan McDougal."
But they wouldn't because what they are doing here before our eyes is their own personal decolonisation. An ethnic cleansing on the micro level. A "Pakehaectomy" if you wish. The elision of the part of themselves that gets them no political points from the reigning junta of progressive ethno-freaks who view all existence through a racial lens.
The uncomfortable truth is that all Maori New Zealanders alive today are as much products of colonisation with all its good and bad aspects as Pakeha New Zealanders are. Any attempt at "decolonisation" is merely declaring war on themselves.