Reo of the Nation

I left you last as I was on my way to the inaugural Parihaka International Peace Festival. There is something uplifting about the name Parihaka itself. For me it triggers memories of the early 70’s listening to more learned Pakeha talk of Te Whiti and Tohu and of the Maori pacifist movement, of the dog pissing on the cannon wheel when the military were trying to intimidate the village, of the suspension of the rights normally associated with citizenship and the unjust imprisonment in grim dark Dunedin caves. I remember reading Scott’s book, ‘Ask that Mountain’ and increasing the pulse of my consciousness. Much later Tim Finn’s lyrics and melody kept the spirit alive. And there was the Hiruharama (Jerusalem) connection with Milton (Te Miringa) Hohaia. Te Miringa Hohaia has been one of the key drivers in maintaining the resistance movement as a part of the very kawa of his pa, and through art and politics and community action he has kept the word Parihaka as part of the reo of the nation, and, as the international nature of the festival demonstrates established it as a pacifist exemplar in world history.

One of the features of the festival itself was the large number of volunteers from various countries – about 300 I’m told – who worked tirelessly in the months leading up to the event, building the site infrastructure. The three marae that constitute Parihaka Pa served as a focus for korero and te ao Maori, things associated with the Maori world, including formal traditional rituals and hui style catering and sleeping for kaumatua and manuhiri. A separate camp was established where those attending the event could park up with their own tents and shelter. There were the usual suspects in house-trucks and a déjà vu Nambassa or Sweetwaters feel to the place – not surprising as Daniel Keighley was the primary architect of the layout and functionality. Although Daniel carries the weight of past failures, and to some degree this eventually created drag for the project, his ideas worked well. Regardless where you were situated there was a feel of connection with the whole gig even though the trance music jivers had their own space set away on a flattened mound away from the main stage, as did the healers, as did the retailers and food sellers and so forth. At night Kiwi ingenuity literally glowed with a sometimes artistic and sometimes decorative lighting system.

On the first day there were about 2,000 people including a who’s who of the contemporary Maori resistance movement including Tame Iti who was technically breaching his bail conditions by being there overnight and who seemed to relish the possibility of being challenged and arrested at such an historic site. One powerful symbol was the presence of a delegation from the Chatham Islands. The people of the Chathams had historically been badly treated by one of the Taranaki tribes. The delegation signified the continuing work to heal those injuries and kept alive the millennium old culture of peace and rejection of physical violence practiced by the hapu indigenous to the Chathams.

A speakers’ forum had been established on the site of Te Whiti’s house. I was scheduled to speak on the Friday night on the whole ‘P’ topic. The notion was that I’d take one stance and there would be an alternative approach outlined in a Police presentation. The cop allocated to the job was the Wanganui Police gang liaison officer, Sgt Rangi Maniapoto who is a huge huge man, six and a half feet tall and proportional in all other dimensions. He’s a multiple-style martial-arts expert with international policing experience, and I imagine that this constellation of attributes encourages people to converse. We’d never previously met. I’d come armed with a DVD of little vignettes lifted from TV advts by good man Tom from Saatchi & Saatchi in Wellington. I use these aids to try and create what Kevin Roberts calls sisomo, using the screen to stimulate all the senses. I can generally provide a reasonably lively presentation in my own right but the sisomo backup lifts things to another plane.

(Off the topic but speaking of Kevin Roberts – and yes, I acknowledge his role in this web site and no, I’m not licking arse – why is it that so many journos get so apoplectic about him? I recently read some really spew-filled tripe with a columnist getting pissed off with his taste in décor! This is tall poppy and some. When KR gave a speech to the Pentagon last year he was pilloried. NZ reviewers seemed to have read the first part of the speech but missed the rest and the crux with it. In my view, had our own commentators bothered to think about it, in a call for a better world and the eschewing of militarism as our primary response, Roberts was articulating a very independent and very New Zealand sourced view of a pro-social approach to global politics. Moreover he was delivering it to an extraordinarily powerful audience, the crew who more than any others have their finger on the trigger. Journalistic bile obscured the opportunity to perceive that this korero was, in a way, similar to that great speech by David Lange at the Oxford Union Debate. Anyway, got that off my chest).

Back to Parihaka. There’s always a bit of creative tension released when presenting alongside of the Police. I’m frank about where I’m coming from and sometimes the Police presenter finds this off-putting. Not this time. Even though Rangi and I had just met and were articulating different stances we were like a well rehearsed double act. The DVD vignettes provided the launch pad and we just freestyled. It was great. Well, I enjoyed it anyway and the audience reaction was terrific.

I returned to Taranaki a couple of weeks after the event to see Jimmy Cliff playing at the Bowl of Brooklands. It was a ‘mini Womad’ concert and the venue provides an incredible setting. Even though Taranaki is often portrayed as exhibiting the worst of settler redneckism the New Plymouth City Council seems to be trying to create a real sense of cultural fusion.

Earlier in the day of the Jimmy Cliff concert there had been a huge multicultural festival with song and dance and a parade through town. However the concert itself demonstrated another aspect of the contemporary Kiwi debate through its bi-cultural approach, that is, formalizing a two-way partner relationship between Maori as Tangata Whenua (people of the land) and every other New Zealander as Tangata Tiriti (people of the Treaty), based on the relationship espoused in the Treaty.

Many people currently feel very confused and even uncomfortable about the differentiation between bi-culturalism and multi-culturalism.

They would much prefer accepting the diversity of multiculturism within the context of a unitary state and thus within a sense of a ‘oneness’as New Zealanders. Bi-culturalism is seen as being divisive. Are you a Maori or a New Zealander, Kiwi or Iwi? On the other hand Maori resist being subsumed into the cultural salad as just one other ingredient. They hold that their indigenous status is a unique feature, a flavour that must not be compromised within the mix. I might say that if Maori TV is anything to go by this approach promises a desirable option and I’m very comfortable with it.

There is a position taken by some Maori that the Treaty was made between Maori and Pakeha. That position doesn’t hold much space for our Asian or African or other clusters of non-European citizens. That’s why I think the Tangata Whenua/Tangata Tiriti works so well. It leaves space for all those of us who are not Maori to gather. In time I imagine symbolic tribes other than Ngati Pakeha will arise – in the North people of Dalmatioan stock are often called ‘Ngati Tarara’ – an onomatopoeic reference to the sound of their speech. What will we call Asian or African NZers in the fifty years time for instance? Will they have earned their own name and will they have created an identity that binds them to this land? In the Solomons, in Honiara, some of the families burned out in the recent riots have lived in the land for over a century but they remain outsiders. Will we be brave enough to use a bicultural approach to create a sense of place and space rather than a division?

Anyway as noted, one of the ways the New Plymouth City Council is working at the community building and nation building challenge is through supporting cultural events such as Womad and the multicultural festival, and that’s all good in my book. On the way back from Jimmy Cliff gig I called in to see Te Miringa Hohaia for a debrief on how the Parihaka Peace Festival panned out. In the end they never got the big number s they’d hoped for and they certainly didn’t break through to the Pakeha mainstream. On the other hand enough people paid at the gate to cover all the bills. The word is that the Parihaka Peace Festival will run again in January 2007.

Back in the Bay, Easter Sunday saw a day of the creative arts and the opening of Helen Mason House at the Waiohiki Creative Arts Village. Helen Mason is the Grand Dame of community arts, particularly pottery, has had an amazing impact wherever she has settled across the country. Her personal journey includes signpost names like James K Baxter, Ngoi Pewhairangi, Colin Mc Cahon and Ralph Hotere to name but a few. Coming on 91 years of age her current project is ‘permaculture’!

Things are going well with the Mokai Wahanu Ora project in Wellington. Chip, chip, little by little the crew gets wound into positive activity, sport, work, creativity. Tu One is successfully running ‘Hip Hop 101’ for the young guys. The women are participating in a home based fitness programme utilizing Swiss balls and mini-weights. A qualified trainer takes them through the drill. The deal is that the project will provide 50% of the cost of the equipment. The participant has to help fundraise the other 50% by helping out with the selling of hangi and they must teach one other person. The big focus at the moment is on getting whanau into good warm homes. This is the single most profound contribution to whanau ora that we can make.

Auckland is a real grind. On one hand the dreaded P is everywhere, on the other there seems to be a slow but persistent shift away from the hard stuff and back to hooch as a less harmful substitute. There have been a number of drug busts amongst the Black Power. Of course these cases have not yet made Court and so detail is sub judice but the street word is that no or little P was involved. That’s probably cold comfort to the Police and society in general but it’s a significant matter for me.

Not that there is necessarily a direct link but it seems opportune to report that I joined the faithful at Damian Marley’s concert. This kid reminds me of his dad and he has that same quick wit I enjoyed when talking with Bob. When asked in a TV3 interview what it was like to be in his father’s shadow he replied “Rasta cast no shadow, Rasta cast light”. He is his own man for sure and his music is in contemporary form, but his lyrics display in language accessible to those on the street, the same deep social and political insights that Bob gave voice to.

Damian’s song about crack, ‘Pimpa’s Paradise’, captures what we are all witnessing with some of the women caught on the horns of the P beast.

Used to look good in the videos
Now she look hideous
Now its broken crack pipes with lipstick traces
Walks the cold nights red district places
She seen more hotels than my tour suitcases

Me with the kids and Damian's Dad

It’s been a really hard struggle at street level these last months. Locally we faced a string of deaths, relatives, friends, and family members of friends. One tangi concerned the death of the mum of a gang leader. As a sign of respect fellows from other districts arrived patched in their regalia. This particular marae is in a village in which members of an opposing gang lived. Normally, in situations such as this, gang issues are put to the side. Unfortunately some of the locals had been on the P pipe I think and just as the tupapaku, the old lady’s body, was being brought out of the gates of the marae, these guys decided to try and pick a fight. Despite spitting at and insulting their perceived enemies they were unable to get a rise from any of the mourners. Those that had come to pay respects continued to do so by refusing to take the bait. That they would have put these other guys in their place was not in doubt, but it was neither the time nor place. Later, after the celebratory meal that marks the end of mourning, despite the fact that all patches had been removed, these guys had another go. This time they were challenged back but chickened out and pulled a gun. There was much drama including the arrival of the armed defenders. In the end the regional leader of the troublemakers was called in.

Due to the work around P some positive cross-gang channels of communication have been opened up. Calm was restored. The guys who created the trouble were called to account by their own chapter. I understand that at least one has been de-patched. Additionally both parties were called before the marae community and in open hui were similarly challenged over their behaviour. One person has been banned from the marae until further notice. Additionally all parties agreed that henceforth patches would not be worn at the marae. This agreement extends to three nearby marae. The key point is that this decision was reached voluntarily. The sense of Maoriness was stronger than the sense of gangship and herein lies the answer to some of our current dilemmas. It made me consider the drivers that led to the establishment of the Black Power for instance and whether the gang of today is still relevant to those originating needs. In the wake of this raruraru (trouble) I started the conversation amongst BP gang leaders about this issue and asked them to consider that if they were starting off today would they form their chapter of the BP to get there? If the answer was that no, they’d do it another way, then, in the now, what would it take for them to declare that the purpose of their chapter had been realised and that their colours would be laid up? It’s a big thought and I’ll come back to you on it.

As you might have gathered the process of tangihana is all consuming and ultimately exhausting in terms of emotional, human and physical resources. Its part of the therapy and it’s a great relief when it’s all over. On the other hand the continued exposure to Te Reo Maori and the repetitive cultural rituals refuels the soul. And, presently reeling from workload and ensuing exhaustion, I need it. Any prayers or good vibes will be appreciated.

Arohanui. D.

Tags: Denis O'Reilly  Maori  Methamphetamine  

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