Jurassic Roar

It’s spring. The kowhai has begun to blossom and on this, the last day of the month, a sunny Sunday in the Bay, I picked the first asparagus of the season. Seasons are cycles, and just like nature, the same ideas and beliefs come around again and again. I want to use this issue of the blog to again challenge the current assertion that my confreres and whanau in our street gangs are less than human, are the source of our social ills and should not be extended basic human rights including the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Our opinion leaders and erected preventatives are all cycling flat out in their own way coping with pre-election jitters and casting pre-election jibes at each other. But even though that Machiavellian body called politicians share a well established tradition of lies and duplicity, their entitlement to the presumption of innocence goes unchallenged. Not too long ago the venerable Colin Meads was used as a personality brand anchor for a now failed finance company, more robbery of good and generally old Kiwis has arisen from those finance houses than from all of my brothers and sisters currently in our jails combined. Yet we do not vilify financial and investment industries as organised criminal groups and reverse the burden of proof for them.

Recently Sir Brian James Lochore ONZ, KNZM, OBE made a speech drawing on the resentment held in some quarters about anti-child violence legislation. Sir Brian is a taniwha of the nation. As a member of one of the most elite clubs in the country, the Order of New Zealand, and as a previous All Black and All Black Coach, he presides over a holy trinity of respect in our land. I think I’m only one of many who are disturbed as to what he was saying. I confess, I didn’t hear him speak and I can only rely on the press releases and reports, but Sir Brian sure seemed to use some curious examples of what a better (than now) society might look like. As I understand it Sir Brian proposed that it is alright to belt (‘smack’) your kids. Just like Kiwi kids, Kiwi adults don’t like being told what to do. Whilst it is apparently ok to have the ‘Nanny State’ criminalise everything that moves as far as the poor and brown are concerned — including the reversing the burden of proof when accused of wrongdoing — the moment that Nanny pokes her nose into the lives of the middle classes and those above them, all hell breaks loose and the big guns like Sir Brian are brought out to roll us back to a time where pesky women and greens and Maori didn’t get input into policies. Sir Brian said

“We are living in a PC world which is destroying us, where you actually can’t put the hard word on

people.”

New prison, Waikato

Ah, (putting discussion of what is truly PC aside for a moment) I beg to differ. The ‘hard word’ is being put on people all over the country on a very regular basis. The hard word is actually a sentence, a sentence of imprisonment. The Politically Correct hard word of the moment is “lock ’em up” and our accelerating rates of imprisonment display that the current Government is already being visibly PC, Politically Compliant. But as I say, it’s not good enough for at least one of our great men, and if we go back to the Norm Withers’ petition taken some years ago, he’s not alone in Aotearoa. In any case Sir Brian cited better times in days of yore:

“In the evenings we went to the rugby parties with the kids, who slept in the back of the car. We can’t do that anymore because we haven’t got rid of the perpetrators that actually destroy our society.”

Yeah, that sounds fantastic, let’s put our future in the back seat while we go on the piss. We’ll just delegate Sheriff Joe types to get ‘rid of the perpetrators’ by, I presume being Politically Correct and locking them up.

The ‘lock ’em up’ philosophy is demonstrably Politically Correct because it is, more or less, shared across the major parties, Labour and National. The major debate amongst them is more to do with issues of parole, muster management, and the respective merits or otherwise of the privitisation of the criminal justice industrial complex. Never mind the facts though. Research by Arizona State University demonstrates that our much vaunted “sort ’em out’ hero” Sheriff Joe’s retributive policies have been totally ineffective in reducing re-offending rates. In fact Sheriff Joe’s PC (Patently Crazy) legacy to his State will be to have a growth in the prison rate for every year of his tenure of office and a crime rate topping that of both New York and Los Angeles. Way to go Joe!

Back here, Cabinet Minister Phil Goff triumphantly announces to our own Parliament at every occasion that this Government has increased the prison population by 71%! You the man Phil! Actually that’s probably true because Goff, through applying his dogmatic beliefs to high impact policy areas, especially Justice, can rightly take some personal responsibility for the status quo. He disestablished the old Group Employment Liaison Service (GELS) which was a pretty effective set up for managing the gang sector and cancelled the access programmes that helped engage these populations in employment. In any case Goff has presided over a regime that has produced a relatively large prison muster with a disproportionately large Maori representation. In fact under the Integrated Offender Management System, Maoriness has been defined as a ‘criminogenic’ factor. Watch this space for news of a Contemporary Treaty Claim!

As far as I can make it out, Goff believes that whilst imprisonment is a punishment, it is not a deterrent to offenders. This is because crims apparently do not think about the consequences of their actions (and by intimation are incapable of doing so). Accordingly being in prison of itself does not change behaviour and thus prison, on its own, does not protect the community from further re-offending. On this basis the only time prison is truly doing its job is whilst the criminal is locked up when, by definition, the community might expect to be protected by the inmate’s absence from it. It’s a sort of neo ‘nothing-works’ philosophy, and if you factor in our current and high rate of recidivism it is an unsustainable proposition. Think about this. Prisons are proving to be the recruitment point for gang members and, as the large scale busts at Paremoremo and Springhill Prisons suggest it’s business as usual for those committed to organised crime. These may in reality be a minority of prisoners, but if the underlying Corrections’ philosophy is based on nihilism and nothing works, then what is there for those making their mind up? Get ready for an explosive time in an already stretched prison system. In my lexicon, ‘reward’ is something we do to encourage people to repeat an action, and “punishment’ is an action taken to dissuade. As always we can choose ‘pathology’ as our paradigm or we can choose to see other humans in the context of ‘potential’. There’s plenty of management literature on ‘Theory X’ or ‘Theory Y’ in terms of getting the best out of people. Rehabilitation is based on the potential for personal change and I thought that was the fundamental assumption of both a Christian society and a self-actualising society. Anyway, Sir Brian Lochore with a Jussaric Roar is demanding to get rid of the “perpetrators”.

I thought of my late brother Laurie, the Laurie O’Reilly, now a decade dead, and his struggle to strengthen the rights of the child in Aotearoa New Zealand. Laurie was a lawyer, rugby coach, rugby player, husband and dad. Laurie was “a better man than me, Ganga Din”, as our dad would say. Reprobate that I am I don’t even rank myself within the ambits of his achievements. As a rugby player he was good. As a rugby coach he was exceptional and this is attested to by the success of his charges, such as member of the current All Black coaching team, Wayne Smith. But his enduring legacy was in his legal work, especially for the rights of our most vulnerable citizens, the children. As a lawyer Laurie pushed the nation’s intellectual and legal framework with regards to the rights of children. He is cited in tomes about Family Law. He became the Commissioner for Children, and, in this role, he was a brilliant advocate for the primacy of the rights of the child and promotion of a culture of non-violence within the whanau of our nation. I can’t imagine Laurie letting Sir Brian’s dinosaurian cry slip by without comment or challenge, so I do so in his memory.

Enough bleating for a while. Here’s some progress from the frontline. A week or two back we had a little ceremony in Wellington for six graduates of a carpentry course organised by the Consultancy Advocacy and Research Trust (CART), with Whitireia Polytechnic providing the tutoring and the National Qualifications certification. The initiative came out of the participative action research we had undertaken with the Darksiders and their own conclusions that they needed skills and qualifications to get decent incomes. Whitireia provided a really good tutor, Guy Harris, a salt of the earth sort of bloke. In light of the criminal histories of some of the brothers, Guy was really apprehensive for a start but he soon discovered that behind the street swagger were good human beings. The blokes took out student loans to fund themselves and in October of last year away they went. There was a presumption that we would face challenges with literacy levels but this proved to be unfounded — I wonder if the brothers’ participation in rap battles and their years of composing lyrics have built an unexpected capacity with the written word. The course didn’t go without its hitches, ups and downs, and only 50% finally completed it. Some of the reasons are ‘pastoral’ and relate to the chaotic environment that can sometimes surround them. Others just have to do with the inevitably hard and repetitive story that is part of acquiring new knowledge and skills. Despite the hard to deal with target group, the eventual achievement rate is comparable with those achieved by mainstream providers. But those guys who stuck with it and achieved their tohu can now go out into the workplace with real and verifiable skills.

In early 2008 there was a series of tit-for tat incidents of violence between groups of youth in the south eastern suburbs of Wellington. One group was associated with the Full Blooded Islanders (FBI) and the other with the Darksiders/Black Power. One incident in particular brought the groups on the verge of what might be called youth gang warfare. One of the community traditions of Central Wellington — for many of established by a kaumatua of Nga Mokai, the legendary ‘Burma’ Bill Maung — has been to sit down with each other and reason things out (korero) when the crap hits the fan. You’ve read in previous blogs about the Kiwi style community policing demonstrated in Wellington by Theo Gommans and his colleague Te Roera (Clive) Puna one of Nga Kaitakawaenga, the Police’s Maori Liaison team. This has built a capacity for dialogue, so when mediation was required the CART team and senior members from each group intervened and enabled things to be sorted out. There was a desire on all parts to identify underlying issues. Basically, due to ongoing work, the needs of Blacks and the Darksiders have been identified to some degree. The current issues with them stemmed from the needs of a young cohort who were at a loose end and were mischievous. The needs of the FBI group were unknown. With support from the Ministry of Social Development I met with the FBI leadership to discuss what was needed. They put forward two of their numbers as key workers and together we figured out a plan of action so they could scope the situation.

Full Blooded Islanders

The FBI hail from what a memeber described as the “FBI Pacific Triangle”, the homeland islands of the Pacific, Australia, and the new Polynesian capitals Auckland, Christchurch and Porirua. The FBI use what they call a Tanoaalofi decision making structure, a council of members dedicated to the leadership, positive direction and pro-social development of their aiga. The FBI identified their key threat to development as being:

“Deceptive trend and input of afro- American culture hip hop and gangsta lifestyles”.

Um, any problems with that? The stated desire is for the FBI members to “be model citizens, doing well in their community and walking with integrity as Samoan members of New Zealand Society”. I can’t fault that either. They have set some overarching goals:

  • An enhanced relationship with the community and authorities
  • Elimination of actual and potential offending by group members
  • All youth members to be in recognised education, work experience or employment programmes
  • An effective network dedicated to the wellbeing and focus of the family
  • The promoting of a healthier lifestyle

and envisage achieving them through a series of initiatives familiar to ideas put forward in this Nga Kupu Aroha blog:

  • Recreation centre
  • Community programmes for education life skills
  • Boxing gym
  • Health programmes
  • Music studio
  • After-school care and homework programme involving both youth and parents
  • Culture and crafts including language, drama, music and traditional art and dance Community garden with a Pacific flavour
  • Family budget support
  • Employment and business including education & self employment opportunities such as screen printing, marketing, contracted work, lawn mowing business
  • Drivers licence for youths and parents
  • First aid programmes for youth and mums

Two hapu, one kainga

The biggest achievement to date with this initiative is that the inter-group violence has stopped, because ‘shit happens’ mitigation measures have been put in place to deal with trouble and minimise harm if it arises. In the meantime, the FBI are out looking for agencies to team up with to help them achieve the goals for their member whanau/aiga. To give an idea of how far things have come, earlier this month the Wellington Black Power hosted a national meeting of their own brotherhood to discuss the Treaty of Waitangi Claim they have been developing under the guidance of Moana Jackson. Representatives came from all over the country. The powhiri was held at the Cook Islands Hall in Newtown. The Wellington boys use the Te Ati Awa kawa as a mark of respect to the mana whenua and, as a mark of respect to their community, they invited leaders of the respective and interested ‘hapu’, Dave Hanna from Wesley Community Action, Theo and his Police colleagues, and representatives of the Full Blooded Islanders to sit with them on the paepae. That’s got to be community building.

Eugene Ryder addresses manuhiri. Police, Dave Hanna (Wesley Action) and FBI aiga members at Black Power Mangu Kaha powhiri for national meeting.

The other group in the story who were getting tangled up in trouble were the cohort of Darkside Black Power affiliates, maybe even sons and nephews of the older crew we have been making progress with. Young, and mainly Maori, this posse were not engaged with work or education. They have tended to hang about Newtown and Wellington central city and get involved in petty crime and violence. They were of a great concern to the Police. We started off by holding a Focus Group with members of the group and asked three questions:

  1. What are your long term goals (five years from now)?
  2. What are your barriers to achieving these goals?
  3. What are the ways in which we can overcome these barriers?

In summary, they told us that they wanted to have happy whanau, to be healthy and fit, be good at sports, have access to training courses and education, have good jobs, money, a good house and mean cars. These sound like pretty reasonable and pro-social ambitions. On that basis we set up a ‘Better Futures Project’. We reasoned that getting a job provided the pivot for things like good housing, mean cars and so forth. Accordingly, we aimed to put these rangatahi on the path to achieving the key goal of gaining a good job. We aimed to provide

  • Activities to keep these youth occupied
  • Strategies to support their well health
  • Strategies to support increased their employment options
  • Opportunities for whanau inclusion

The original intent was to deal with 12 individuals but in all 18 participants took part on the programme. 10 saw it through from start to finish. The results in August 2008 are that:

  • 7 have full time employment
  • 4 are engaged in courses run by the Salvation Army and other providers
  • 2 are involved in work experience programmes with Wellington Workforce
  • 3 left the course early and haven’t been seen since
  • 1 is serving a term of imprisonment
  • 1 has been diagnosed with a mental illness and is receiving professional help

This is not just pie in the sky stuff eh! It’s real. These otherwise-terrorists, as some would have it, are becoming citizens and taxpayers rather than outlaws and cost centres. Two things are happening. On one hand they are saving the taxpayer through a reduction in negative spend in chasing them and locking them up. On the other they are actually contributing to the nation by their productivity, their own share of PAYE tax, and enhancement of labour force capability through skills training.

I’ve seen reports of this sort of general approach being applied elsewhere, for instance on the North Shore, with similar results. If that is so, then the developmental formula I am consistently promoting is successful more than because of just one or two special personalities. Mind you, on the other hand, a leader is a common denominator in changing a negative situation to a more positive situation and I see such leadership at work in the form of Lawrence Yule, the Mayor of Hastings.

You will recall the “Enough is Enough” march held recently in his city as a result of a series of violent incidents in the suburbs of Flaxmere and Pakipaki. I reported at the time that I thought the Mayor had a useful cut on the situation — he said to the Mongrel Mob ‘you are members of the City but this behaviour is intolerable’. There were Mob members marching in support of the ‘Enough is Enough’ kaupapa. As things panned out the individual alleged to have undertaken the home invasion on the whanau of the march organisor, Councillor Henare Keefe, is a young boy well known to the family. The respective whanau have met and resolution and accountability are on the way. The alleged offenders in the Pakipaki incident have also been tracked down and charged. One of them, (by rumour formerly an MM patch member) is said to have been beaten and left at the door of the Hastings Police station. Whatever the truth of what has gone down, the situation seems to be under control. More than that though the Mayor has been into constructive dialogue with the leadership of the Hastings Mongrel Mob and, what ho!, a voyage of discovery has occurred. In any case earlier in the month I attended a follow up meeting to the “Enough is Enough” march. The hui was held at Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere. Mayor Yule told the hui about his dialogue and progress with the Mob and the hope that he had for his community. He told us, “I wished I’d started this discussion five years ago”. These are great case studies and it will be interesting to track the Hastings vs Whanganui outcomes in years to come.

But wait, there’s more. Over the past 6 months I’ve been working with Edge Te Whaiti, a key positive influencer amongst the Mongrel Mob Notorious, and helping him undertake research about the wants and needs of his fraternity. Across three hui in Tokaanu, Putaruru and Auckland, we ended up canvassing 90 people, mainly Maori males of ‘tama toa’ warrior age, affiliated to the MM Notorious. The socio-economic profile of the group is somewhat predictably that of a low-decile community with the pattern of over-crowded housing and benefit-dependency. But, beyond that, suspend your expectations. We used my Consensus Cardsort process asking participants:

“What do I want for my whanau in five years time?”

The answers are remarkable in that they are unremarkable. These most maligned New Zealanders have aspirations that would fit well in any company.

  • warm safe whanau housing;
  • enjoyable and well paid employment;
  • whanau ora in the form of a happy, drug free and violence free household;
  • healthy living in terms of good food and fitness;
  • future aspirations in terms of a better lifestyle;
  • excellent education for whanau members; and,
  • development of cultural identity and enjoyment of turangawaewae.

These themes are consistent with generally recognised determinants of good health and consistent with what we might consider to be broader ‘mainstream’ approach to whanau ora. For example the Ministry of Social Development programme designed to support and uplift families, “Family Start”, has, as its desired outcomes:

  • Children will have improved health, education and social outcomes.
  • Parents will have improved their parenting capability and practice.
  • Parents will have improved their personal and family circumstances.

Family Start Guideline (CYF 1999:5)

All of these are regular Kiwi aspirations, and these are the aspirations expressed in the narratives produced by these Kiwi gang families. These Mongrel Mob whanau have similar objectives in life for themselves and family as do other New Zealanders. There will be some examples of failure, misapplied intellect and self defeating behaviours. But in the main, these people aren’t trapped in a pathological or deficit paradigm. An increasing number are oriented to realising potential and are increasingly committed to breaking the cycle of failure that may well have dogged (no pun intended) some of them over the past three decades. From my oft cited Muldoonist perspective of “intelligent pragmatism and true humanitarianism”, in terms of avoiding high cost negative expenditures, it makes good sense for the State to proactively invest in these whanau and to continue to encourage and draw on their willing and pro-social discretionary effort. It’s frustrating to deal with the scepticism of bureaucrats and commentators alike when it comes to expressing gang whanau aspirations of good health, whanau ora. In fact getting pissed at the clubrooms and leaving the kids to sleep in the back of the car may be considered to be negative forms of gang type behaviour rather than a positive aspect of days gone by. But the cynical inhabitants of radio-talk-back-land will maintain opposition to provision of developmental support. For instance at least one political party is canvassing public opinion as to whether a ‘gang member’ should be entitled to state housing, regardless that ‘gang member’ is an ill defined term, and that the denial of this most essential health critical resource will also extend to the children of the so perceived gang member. Durie (1994) proposes that for Maori, poor health is

“typically regarded as a manifestation of a breakdown in harmony between the individual and the wider environment”  (Durie. 1994).

If gang whanau living in gang communities can not get access to services and support available to other New Zealanders, then this ‘breakdown in harmony’ may equally arise from social exclusion and treatment as ‘other’ by general mainstream society as it may from individual or collective expressions of anti-social behaviour. An example of the social exclusion of gang related whanau is expressed in a recent article in the Sunday Star Times (August 3 2008) by talk back host Mayor of Whanganui, Michael Laws. In the article Mr. Laws notes that

“It can’t be easy being a gang member” because they are “vilified by normal society and targeted by rival gangs”.

Laws cites race as a factor

“It remains the enduring pity of Maoridom that it is their ethnicity that provides the largest balance of gang recruits”.

Laws posits a question.

“Do gang members have civil rights?”

and Laws provides a response.

“The answer must surely be ‘no'”.

Laws holds that whoever he declares to be gang members are sub-human, undeserving and bad. Ward Churchill (1996), quoted in the recently published Hauora Maori Standards of Health IV (2008), notes that

colonisation is based on dehumanising indigenous peoples. The concept of ‘race’ is derived from the simplistic presumption that there is a hierarchy of peoples from black to white, where white is proposed to be more advanced genetically, biologically, intellectually, socially, culturally, and spiritually. Consequentially there are values and views about who is normal (and therefore who is not), who is ignorant; who is civilised and who is barbaric; who is deserving and who is undeserving; and who is good and who is bad.

This binary and pathological perspective socially and economically excludes those Maori who are considered to be, or who consider him or her self to be, gang members. This creates a breakdown in harmony between them and their communities, and according to Durie’s (1994) hypothesis, sets the gang member and their whanau up for an ongoing cycle of failure and poor health.

Obviously ‘lock ’em up’ is predicated on the nation’s capacity to catch and hold Sir Brian’s “society destroying perpetrators”. That leads to the cyclical and consistent pre-election cry for more police on the street. However, the proposition that more police in proportion to the population equals less crime looks to be a spurious equation. Professor Michael Rowe, Institute of Criminology, Victoria University, a specialist in policing theory and operations, concludes that:

  • Traditional police patrols make little difference to crime rates, and may in fact increase the level of reported crime;
  • There is no proven connection between the number of officers and crime rates;
  • The primary traditional crime prevention strategies adopted by modern police have been shown to have little or no effect on crime.

Professor Rowe suggests that introducing front line police cannot, in isolation, create or re-create strong cohesive communities in which police are integrated into everyday life. He says that it might be possible for community policing to succeed in ‘difficult’ neighbourhoods (think anywhere in South Auckland, Porirua, Flaxmere) if it is done in a sustained way that is integrated into broader efforts from government, local councils, the voluntary sector, and so on, in order that social and economic problems are addressed alongside policing and crime issues — “social and economic problems are sorted alongside policing“. You will see why I am so keen on the sort of initiatives I have been writing about.

We need to do everything we can do to stop young people getting enmeshed in the criminal justice industrial complex. That includes being cautious about social control ideas that start off by looking benign but simply end up being a non-criminal process to lock young people up — as being mooted in Rotorua. For instance since the Brits introduced Antisocial Behaviour Orders (ABSO) they have seen at least 1,000 kids aged 10-17 locked up (986 between 2000-2006 and since then another 300-400). ‘Asbos’ were introduced to give ‘immediate justice’ through civil orders but simply fuelled a huge rise in entry to the criminal justice system. Prof Rod Morgan, Chairman of the Youth Justice Board suggests that about 30% of the kids issued with Asbos have mental health problems and cognitive disabilities making the order-breaking, and thus incarceration, unsurprising.

Did you pick up on the ‘P babies’ pandemonium? As I heard and read it, a presumably well-intentioned school principal, John Cubbit from the Pekerau School in Te Awamutu, went to a Police presentation about methamphetamine. Typically these presentations tend to be pretty hyped-up and in the heat of the moment things can be overstated and exaggerated. Anyway there has apparently been a 37% increase in disciplinary actions, including suspensions, taken against primary aged school children over the last year and that trend has been linked in with the anticipated onslaught of “P babies’ – that is children born to P using mums. Principal Cubbit had no sooner got back into the school grounds when he encountered one of the little buggers, exhibiting every Damien like characteristic the policeman had warned him of. So he gets his fellow Principals around him to discuss the matter and faster than you could say ‘refer madness’ he is on National Radio’s Nine to Noon.

There was balance in the interview. Through questioning, Principal Cubbit conceded that the kid’s behaviour could be attributed to other causes and indeed other substances. This was backed in an interview with an academic involved in the only actual NZ study being under taken with P-using mums. Dr Trecia Wouldes, a lecturer in psychological medicine at the Auckland School of Medicine, said ‘kia tupato’, be careful with creating these terms. Most P users are poly-drug users, and if indeed the child’s behaviours are a result of the mother’s intake of drugs then it may be just as if not more likely a result of use of other substances in particular alcohol.

However Principal Cubbit’s sound bites must have been so irresistible that they drowned out the considered and informed voice. Radio NZ National carried an alarmist news bulletin, presenting Principal Cubbit’s apprehensions as if they were facts and ignored the rebuttal from the most qualified New Zealander dealing with this topic even though it was given in an interview on the same radio programme! That borders on the irresponsible. We aren’t going to beat P if we wallow in hype. We need to be real and our nation’s authoritative public radio news network needs to help us get there by reducing the hype. It is true that Radio NZ National ran the alternative perspective much later in the day — a result perhaps of calls of complaint from other people like me who are involved in community action to build community resilience against P. Whilst the tabloid style is more understandable for a paper like the Sunday News, to a degree the same responsibility sits with them too. Their favourite anti-P campaigner is a lovely grandma from Pukekohe called Marie Cotter. Marie led a march against P some time back, and a couple of weeks ago she was given a page in the Sunday Star Times to spread the good word. Marie was telling parents about the telltale signs of P use amongst their littlies. Apparently one of her friends keeps finding bits of tinfoil in little Johnny’s pocket and Marie picked this as a sure sign of P use. Wrong drug Gran. Where’s a sub-editor when you need one?

I reckoned a year or so ago that Kora would become one of the best bands in the country and I haven’t changed my mind a bit except that ‘would’ is now ‘have’. They’re off soon to conquer the world. Kia kaha Kora! And in a spontaneous act the other week my brother Ross France, he of Storm and Friends, and a bit of Herbs, and Diatribe and so forth, decided to go up to Taupo to listen to House of Shem. I heard them last at Ragamuffin. Carl Perkins has grown into one of those mentoring dads. I love it where dads and sons and their mates get music on together. Young brother Shorty drove up and on the way we listened to a bit of Ross’ new sounds Dreadtown — Three Houses Down and 1814 a young reggae band from the Far North.

House Of Shem performing at Raggamuffin 2008 (Rotorua, NZ)

Raggamuffin 2008

Three Houses Down are an aiga from Tonga connected by bloodline and by urban geography. They play Pacific roots reggae and I like their stuff. Some of their numbers contain familiar riffs — but the melodies are great, harmonies superb, and, moreover the lyrics are drumbeats of youthful Pacific insight and intelligence. Take for instance ‘Dandyman’, a barbed politico-socio comment by educated young Tongans living in the Polynesian capital of the world, Auckland New Zealand

Dandyman — Three Houses Down

What’s with the monocle? Is there a third eye?

…Maybe the third eye roams Watching its domain Safeguarding its wealth Lands, people, champagne

…the pretensions of a Polynesian Dandyman

What can he know of the common man? Born to privilege, private school, Sandhurst Time to say “No more, please yield, We’ve had benign, now give us your worst Dandyman”.

Dreadtown - Three Houses Down

Well, music speaks louder than words, and I’m sure the voice of the Tongan masses, expressed in this instance as popular Pacific reggae (and don’t ignore the profile of the Nuku’olofa rioters), has had an impact on the King’s decision to ‘yield’. Anyway, back to the House of Shem, we hooked up with Carl and his crew. Ross had played with him as part of the Herbs lineup on the Hong Kong Tour, and I’d looked after House of Shem in my Ragamuffin duties and renewed old acquaintances with Carl and made new ones with his whanau. Their concert, held at the Spa Hotel, was excellent. It reminded me of the early days of Herbs as they built up a fan base. These guys are tight and have good ‘bio rhythms’.

Talking of Ragamuffin (Waitangi Weekend 2009) its got them all. Brother Tigi Ness and Unity Pacific, the aforementioned Three Houses Down, Kora, Inner Circle, Arrested Development (oooh yes! Again!) Shaggy, Eddy Grant and the Marley boys Ziggy and Stephen. Ker rikey! Don’t forget too the karanga from our brother Te Miringa Hohaia to attend the ever increasingly whanau friendly hui at Parihaka in January.

Parihaka Peace Festival, Taranaki

We had a 5.9 earthquake last week, centred just a few kms away, and I never felt a thing. Put it down to deep pissful sleep. Encouraged by the surge of spring I’ve been chomping at the bit, re-evaluating what I need to be doing, and what I need to stop doing. And for me that’s always the hard part. Arohanui. D


Tags: Colin Meads  Denis O'Reilly  political correctness