The zika outbreak has given me the shivers but not how you would have imagined. Naturally, like ebola, mad cows disease and bird flu the disease rightfully deserves its respect. Yet again many of these perils reflect the consequences when men meddle in the matters of Mother Nature.
Yes, zika merits our serious recognition as a disease that could potentially bring a great deal of harm to human kind. However, scratch the surface a little deeper and one does not need to probe very far to see the manifestation of perhaps an equally diabolical ill simmering away.
The travesty which I allude you to is the remarkable endeavours being undertaken by First World nations to ideologically bash the emerging ones. Look at the facts one might instruct me. This is not xenophobia or cultural clobbering but the fact of the matter. In brief this is a disease which is raging in the largely more impoverished and developing states of the world.
A click on the World Health Organisations website will second that you and your senses aren’t being blinded by cotton wool allusions. What you see is what you get. I get that and if that is the picture then so be it. But what leaves me feeling indignant and utterly outraged is the West’s blatant vilification of these zika ridden states and their sense about their own moral and ideological self-righteousness.
“It wouldn’t happen in ‘Straya (Australia), cobber’ says one of my neighbours at a street picnic. ‘Why not? I say. You guys do have the tropical elements’. He looks dumbfounded that his crystal clear argument has flown over the top of my head without my awareness. “Mate nah way. You know cos we’re on to things like that. We’re a European country”. “ahh a European nation” I repeat like a compliant parrot praying to be rewarded with a cracker. In reality I’d have tested this Ozzie to a geographical and cultural duel if the energy hadn’t been lacking but I still had many neighbours to shake hands and gas bag (chat) away with.
In recent years, I had challenged the guys and gals to see ourselves under one of several associations. We could be Australasians an idea that culturally did not sit well with some who saw Australia as the hegemonic cowboy of a Southern frontier which went beyond its geopolitical shores. Belonging to the greater continent (most of it under the waves) of Zelandia gave us a powerful physical sense of punchiness which to some degrees turned us into the hegemonic ogre for the nations of New Caledonia and Tonga that sat on our shores.
In the evolving world of commerce, the obvious affiliation to make was to see ourselves as part of Asia. After all they were the economic hand that was feeding us. Interestingly, the traditionally Orientallyphobic Australians elected to do this in football but most probably for the conniving and crafty profit of playing against teams of a more formidable calibre rather than the weaker Pacific states.
Then there is the idea of Oceania which I feel encapsulates the New Zealand mood more soundly than the others. Our ancestors from Hawaiki were the same ones who sowed their seed across the Pacific and eventually gave us the people who would be our first native people. But, my conception was no more valid than any of the other assessments. It was just part of the jumbled jigsaw that we constantly quibbled about when it came to defining who and what made a New Zealander.
However, the idea that I was a “European” sat uncomfortably with me. Yes, genetically I was probably highly European in composition, a tad Celt, a splash Angle, maybe a morsel Jute with just a hint of feisty Viking and God knows what else. But, why, here at the end of the Earth would I still seek to associate myself with a continent and a people so very far away. In fact, I cringe when I see that annoying most frustrating of generic identity markers in our census and voting papers ‘Tick here if you are a European NZ’. Why is it that we still have to place such prominence on the idea of the “Europeaness” of NZ. Whose Europeaness are they even inferring to?
“I love NZ cos it’s the England of the Pacific” says one Pom.” That’s interesting I say especially given that so many Kiwis have Irish and Highland decent”. “Yes, I suppose” the speaker observes. “But they had to adapt to fit in”. Clearly, not all kinds of Europeaness were equal in our formative years. Yet, the idea of Europe as a civilising force never left the NZ mind-set.
The North Americans, Australiana and who other but those missionaries of cultural enlightened and civility the Europeans engaged with us because we convinced them, promised them and guaranteed to them that we prescribed to White Western ways. As times have changed and in spite of greater knowledge and travel we still find it impossible to part way with the oxymoronic broach of the “European NZ”. Why are we so unwilling to embrace the all accepting generic title of being just New Zealanders?
“We can’t deny our roots” one student informs me. “We are what we are and why should we deny it?” To a mild extent the point is taken but what often troubles me especially here in the “whiter South Island” is the impetus placed by these descendants upon the “European” aspect of their New Zealandness. Isn’t the point germane and evidently redundant unto itself? That would be like an obese person insistently introducing himself by saying “hi I’m Fat Tony, because I’m fat” ok thanks for that we get you. But at least the part of the identity wishing to be conveyed is clear.
But what the heck is someone trying to infer or tell us when they say “even though I’m living in New Zealand in Asia, Australasia, Zelandia or Oceania but please don’t forget I’m above all else a European New Zealander”. From my perspective at least it hints to the insecurity which still haunts our part of the world.
Unlike the Americans who fought a war of independence, the Irish who were a European culture who reclaimed their values through might and right or even the Aussies who built their identity around lampooning the Brits we played the card of the UK tag along colony. Never questioning always obeying and always copying. Is it any wonder that when we saw Maori art, dance and ‘waita’ that we got totally titillated by the idea that we could be more than just drone clones of Britannia.
Even with this brim-full of eye catching jewels we were terrified of treading away from our “Europeaness”. Perhaps, in respect to our early forefathers that is the only social binding fabric which people from around Britain and the Empire had to initially distinguish themselves in this brave new world. But for us to cling to such assumptions is dubiously questionable. Why should we be insecure to still refer to ourselves with such an irrelevant referential prefix to the simple fact that we are all New Zealanders or Kiwis if you prefer the more avian natured referral to our nationhood.
In a fascinating twist, the term Kiwi perhaps has come closest to capturing the universal idea of a New Zealander, especially a Caucasian one, who does not need to make their genetic or pigmentary roots announced. A Kiwi is a person from New Zealand and that’s that. That’s fine if people know what or who a Kiwi is. In a study conducted several years ago, a Middle Eastern school, intrigued by the defining of a people by referral to a flightless bird sought to quiz people outside of “civilised White world” if they knew where these natives hailed from. To the horror of many “European” New Zealanders, people across Africa, Asia and even in parts of Eastern and Western had no idea of who a Kiwi was or even what a kiwi (the bird) was. But they did know.. Wait for it… Where “” New Zealander”” was most likely to come from even when their wisdom towards our state and its history was fickle on a generous assessment of appearances.
A Maori friend of mine keen to see the Mairification of New Zealand vernacular English is keen to mop up this confusion and increase our individual uniqueness. “Why not just embrace the Maori word for all Westerners ‘pakeha’ (white person)?” the public scorn towards the term proves resistantly defiant though. From people who doubt the Maori translation of the term to those who question it’s “unspecific” defining to my humorous amazement. How interesting that we cannot accept the generic titles bestowed upon us by our Maori brothers but we continue to be shackled by the all swallowing ones of the Old World.
Why is it that like Soviet or present day Russian Federation fear mongers that we fear being enveloped or contained by the barbarians, the savages and the “non Europeans” who surround our “European” land adrift in the Pacific Dark Continent? Afraid to release ourselves from our “Europeaness” as a nation for fear of being seen as a third world. For that is the real mind-set which seems to permeate through the thick craniums of the averagely homogeneously fearful “European” white settler descendant.
As we widen our eyes in horror as zika romps its way around the world while we sit back and feel relieved because we subconsciously recall that we are a “European” developed, civilised, advanced, modern progressive, industrial and cultured economy. How risibly false is the conclusion which we have reached?
Even in a nation where religion is in sparse practice it abhors me when I hear that God is punishing the hordes of Asia for their lasciviousness, cheap breakable toys and following strange Eastern faiths. Are we that completely marbles to make these stupid ignorant remarks? Why do we hold steadfast to the belief that what’s from the West is better than the rest?
In complete disregard for the knowledge which made its way westward from the Far East and everywhere in between the 500 years since the Renaissance seems to have instilled in the West an air of invincibility. A sense that everything that I is good in the world is directly attributable to their endeavours. Anything not good must come from somewhere else. Not even the sciences of anthropology, cultural studies nor even linguistics many of the words on which that great European bastardised tongue English have shifted our narcissistic notions when it comes to contrasting the West with the rest.
That is not to say that we do not wish to “consume” or “experience” the Other, the Oriental, the unfamiliar, the primal or indeed the Exotic. Since the wrapping up of World War 2 and the surrendering of Imperial domains the allure to try the Other has only grown. From rousing and reflective post-colonial literature, the probing into foreign feasts to the increasing number of us wishing to see how the “Other half” live. And if they don’t reflect the myths which we so romantically conjure some certain Western people can be extremely disappointed.
One friend seemed almost dismayed when I introduced him to one friend who was a member of our regional Kai Tahu tribe. I don’t know what disappointed him the most. That the Maori could speak fluent English and was a lawyer by profession or because he met us impeccably dressed in a 3 piece suit instead of bare chested and in a flax skirt. Or was it because he arrived in a Lexus rather than riding in on the back of a moa (which are now deceased, if you didn’t know).
Yet, myths, can prove to be powerfully enduring, especially, when it comes to the task to generically collectifying the Others who do not conform to our own groups. Such as in that age old concern that has long preoccupied the minds of every one of our countrymen and women, how can you tell the difference between a New Zealander and an Australian?
It almost seems like a joke but I assure you that it is no laughing matter for when one peels back the garb and pomp attached to the ceremony of nationalism what is left when we look at the naked individual stripped of all embellishments? Two naked bodies, what are we to focus on? What if both bodies are white or maybe one is brown? Maybe one will have a “moku” (tattoo) that might help. Then again who doesn’t have a tattoo in this day in age in some undisclosed part of one’s anatomy? Or what about a piercing, a tan? (like that old Aussie beach game of spot the Kiwi, or maybe it’s just a fake spray tan that was even sun kissed in the first place. What is the “ideal” New Zealand shape and form and how can it be determined, defined and distinguished from the Australians or a Canadians or an Americans?.
The truth is that symbols play an instrumental role in bringing meaning and identity to our bodies. But it is by no means the exclusive way in which we are recognised. Culture and ritual are just a few cloaks which bring texture to our sense of selves. In essence, our body is only an object which is adorned “by the ideas that we self determinedly inscribe upon it to make us feel and believe what we seek to believe about ourselves.
Of course, our identity can be moulded by others but it is through our own efforts that we strive to transform behaviours, rituals and acts into something that represents ourselves. For instance, despite some debate, it would be unimaginable to have an All Black rugby match without the haka. Why? Because this act alone makes the occasion an incredibly personal one. It says that while we may be engaging in an English game we don’t want to be perceived as just another bunch of Englishmen. We are asserting our multicultural heritage and cry out to Maori gods (not Judeo Christian ones) to deliver us the foreign conquering adversary that faces us.
Indeed, many European and American commentators upon arrival in Nz have noted that the Kiwi spiritually, like the Maori is heavily invested in the land. From our most reputable and respectable artists and literary greats, this sacred kinship with the land shines through in every Nz. From the weekend longing to mow the lawns, scale some sheer cliff face to carve up some mountain, the Kiwi bond to the land is one which is all powerful. We feel that it is our divine right to fish from our streams, go camping and to pitch a tent where ever we please and to run bare footed on lush leafy lawns.
Perhaps home ownership, that what every Kiwi aspires to the most is the solidest proof that we here in New Zealand see God as the Garden of Eden. After all, we all know New Zealand is really God’s Zone for why would he choose dry and dusty Australia when he could live in a land blessed with the splendour of the fantastic four seasons. Nature and the holy provenance of our hallowed paddock is what New Zealanders believe in. Our environment and our faith towards it is our religion.
The problem with this form of dogma is that it has inevitably set up for a collision course with that double dilemma which we also share of wishing to juggle the pleasures of the bush with the glories of Western productivity. The ecstasy of spending a weekend getting lost and finding ourselves in our cornucopia of natural abundance while enjoying a wondrous wealth of material marvels. The great juggling act of identity the Kiwi/New Zealander proud of his Pacific Patch and prepared to protect paradise at all costs against the “EUROPEAN” New Zealander concerned with growth, the markets and what the other “Europeans” will say heaven forbid if they see us running around in blissful oblivion as savages returning to innocence. Tearing up Eden, adding another cow, bowling over another reserve all because we too fear that we may be included by the West into that category which we fear the most “the Other”.
A people unique and no longer wishing to be confused with Poms yet alone Aussies and yet like curious nosy neighbours seeking to replicate and mimic their models at any opportunity we get. And still the idea of Europeaness plagues us. From the economy we manage to the question of who we should allow to enter into our country. On one occasion we are selling the “mythical” fables of our hidden secret Holy garden only later to bite the hand of the believing tourist pilgrims who fall for our false modesty and make believe.
Please understand, I realise the disease of zika like any other biological fear needs to be treated and addressed respectfully. But when it comes to turning us into foreign visiting bashers who are lining our coffers while putting up with our bullsh*t then quite frankly the affair makes me feel ashamed to call myself a Kiwi, pakeha, New Zealander or why not yes even a God damn European at the buttocks of the Earth.
The treatment and derogatory views directed towards our Pacific brothers and sisters during this global alarm has been shambolic. As one Tongan friend tells me it becomes rather tiring when cynical remarks such as “you’re welcome in my shop. So long as you aren’t zika ridden” constantly fill ones daily encounters with fellow… Well whatever you choose to call us. Are we still in democratic NZ or something akin to Nazi Germany? Why don’t we just tag or brand these people like cattle? Always fearful of the brown and cornmeal coloured people fearing that “these” particular type of people are the ones who will destroy our pristine South Pacific paradise because they don’t come from other European minded and ordered societies. Please, how can we seriously believe that these people can do anything more spectacularly brutal to the New Zealand landscape when we descendants of Europeans have proven to be the ultimate environmental and socio ethnic obliterators? We don’t even seem all that remorseful about it.
Even some of the foreigners, bright brilliant budding boys and girls in my class make up excuses to pardon our plundering. “The Maori were lucky that NZ was colonised by the English.” says one poorly duped. Argentine girl. “They would have had a far worse experience under a French or Spanish flag”. I try to assure her that while our bicultural relations seem happily harmoniously and romantic upon reflection the reality is that the Maoris fought an incredible battle to not perish. In fact Britain and the settlers were adamant that based on the survival of the fittest the Maoris time on Nz was up. But something surprising happened that shocked the British: the Maori survived and kept hanging on.
It appears that Britannia, who even in spite of her Continental Cringe and belief in Splendid Isolation, were no better than the Belgians, Germans, Dutch and other European stock at pushing Others to the brink of extinction. They obviously met their match in the plucky Maori. So valiantly did the Maoris fight on I’m surprised Mel Gibson hasn’t made it into a cinematic masterpiece.
So how good were the Anglo Europeans to the Maori? Well, Maori were forced away from their tribal lands, many were forced by the missionaries to denounce their Gods and their tongue the essences behind every cultures being. In fact, Maori language wasn’t taught as a language in schools until the late 80s. Even then the traditional linguists who taught French, German and Latin argued about the relevancy of such an obscure and “dying” language. As obvious the Latin teachers I would argue realised that it took one to know one!
While our tv continued to be dominated by “European” and American trash until the Maori finally achieved its dream of its own tv network. And no, it has not collapsed as many of the other commercial networks had imagined. And yet “European” parents persist to refute the school board dream to make Maori a permanent part of our curriculum because they perceive it as an unjust “cultural imposition”. But, why wouldn’t we wish to embrace some things that is so distinctively our own? What harm could come from learning the language? Who says the kids can’t learn Russian or Spanish at the same time with it. What about the New Zealanders who objected to the English literature and history curriculum that paid diddly squat attention to the land which I hailed from NOT My great great great grandfather?
Swallowing Tyson, Byron, Shelley and Keats when what I longed to read was Mansfield, Sargeson and Hulme. And yet, like the Maori, I submitted myself to a highly Anglo centric curriculum so that I could get the straight A’s required to enter varsity (university). Thank the heavens above that our lecturers weren’t Brit cultural drugged donkeys.
And what became of all those badass non-compliant beings who refused to bend to the will of the system? Those rebels who were punished for rejecting a mind numbing conformity which meant nada to them. How can we call this retribution just and conceptually righteous? And yet in a rapidly evolving world we still have our heads like ostriches in the traditional sand. Why does learning languages just have to be about the cultural imperialism of submitting ourselves to yet another “European” phonetic force. Why not shock the world and say right to hell with French German, Spanish and English lets really titillate and tantalise the grey matter of our tots by steering them towards Arabic, Hindi, Chinese or perhaps even Swahili.
For too long the pivot of Europe has centred the world but that does not mean that Europe is the be all and end all of our existence. How further culturally enriched would we be if we started to embrace the ways of the “Other” whom we have demonised for far too long. And yet such an offbeat radical concept does not sit well with our pin headed Beehive (our parliament) leaders.
As our very own Education Minister shot down the idea saying that Web based translating services were so close to perfection that a “humanities” or “liberal arts” approach to learning was a waste of university time. But then why study math if a supercomputer or a calculator can do all the problem solving for us? Why learn to cook when we can zap up a tv dinner each night in the microwave? Why stay in shape when we could easily waste hours of gym time by having surgery and so forth? What our dim Minister has apparently overlooked is the diversity of ASSETS which come from learning a language, ANY language.
I’m not merely talking about having an insider perspective towards cultural functionalism and a greater understanding towards its operation though this is undeniably invaluable nonetheless. Perhaps beyond and above this is our “psychological” childlike position of perceiving the World through one set of lenses. Monolingualism, especially as it exists here in New Zealand tends to produce a myopic global picture. It is akin to what we might call what the Americans are suffering from tunnel vision or World Series Syndrome. Of course, “the World Series” is clearly NOT what the title infers but any efforts to point out the absurdity of it all will not sway the insular Yank away from questioning the title of such an affair. Yet, if we mock the Americans we should not feel as if we hold the cultural moral high ground when it comes to our relations with worlds beyond our own.
Why is it that we have missed the fairy tale Disney resolution of the happy ending? Instead we are consumed by that other secretly underlying theme which is at the heart of every one of Walt’s tales, the issue of fear. The trepidation and turmoil we feel towards anyone who threatens our hegemonic stature, Simbas evil uncle, the evil queen, Rapunzel’s mother. Taking great efforts to ensure that the beauty of others is contained perhaps out of the alarm that it will highlight just how ugly and shallow we really have become. Always seeking to enforce the cultural monopoly of identity Europe while we stamp out the blossoming of other exotic buds. Riding aloft upon the post 9/11 fear bandwagon listening to our whiter more “European” allies telling us to fear the boats heading our way.
Canberra nobility throwing their weight around ensuring that the soft NZ back door is well and truly blocked off from a potential sneaky Asian Invasion. Unless as was the case with the Polynesian wave that swamped our shores back in the shaky 70s, they are willing to work for white European masters for peanuts. Are we seriously receding that rapidly towards a preabolitionist slave drivers utopia? Do we need to each have a UN copy of the universal declaration of Human Rights pinned on our fridge?
The rise of global consumptive capitalism has just afforded “European” societies such as our own to recommence a new with renewed vigour to take off from where we “white people” left of when it comes to the exploitation of the non-white third world. Recruiting the non-Western minions in to do the chores which make us cringe and shudder. And then, we have the nerve to deplore the erosion of real genuine Britannic Kiwi culture at the hands of Indian, Philippine, Chinese and Middle Eastern migrants. Yet, haven’t these groups in their own right contributed to fun, frivolities, fetes, fashion, fragrance, film, flavour and flamboyance which has transformed NZ for the better?
Surely, no one pines an absolute return to the bland “All English” one size fits all culture of NZ prior to Britain telling us “ta-ta”. When even the term European or continental carried that old British stigma of “alien”. For in our, Europhobic sentiments we can easily overlook that it wasn’t until the 80s when feelings towards the French, Italians and those two black sheep Germans and Irish really began to soften. We found that we were enjoying Big Macs and Kentucky Fry before focaccia, fritatas and friands. Haven’t things changed from when even the humble sandwich was sniffed at with social suspicion? Asides from allowing one to become what they ate, regardless of the middle class paradox, this cultural infusion surely helped not only to lift our dietary and social stature but perhaps most importantly our appreciation, respect and curiosity towards all European and non-European “others”.
What Kiwi now, dare I ask would be pleased to see the termination of the Chinese lantern festival, the Indian deepawali celebrations or to forfeit their Thai Tom kha gai for a crumpet and jam at onces? The thought is just unbearably unthinkable to even chew over.
From where I stand as an Anglo Saxon Kiwi raised in a largely Italian part of the capital, these colourful people have shaped who we are as much as the British kiwis amongst us. With that said, why would we still wish to see ourselves confused with a generic idea of Europe when they are but a partial patch on the quilt of who we as a nation and as a people. It is only when we embrace diversity that we can become comfortable with the multicultural robe which we are trying to forcefully slide ourselves into.
We are not “Europeans”, well we are by decent, but we should now well and truly be beyond seeing ourselves merely as the genetic lineage of an extended “outdated” idea of European expansionary reach. This does not mean that we should loathe Europe per se but it should encourage us to think more deeply about ourselves and why we are not just lost displaced southern dwelling Europeans in a land which we are trying to convert into the one which we left behind in “the Old World”.
What we immediately need to do is to start thinking what drew most of us away from the glorious Motherland to this predominantly pacifist nation in the first place. Upon historical reflection, England was far from a social Eden. We left because she was overcrowded, because her streets were noxious, because she was crime ridden, because poverty ran wild. In sum, we departed England in droves because she could be both a socially unequal and culturally intolerant place. New Zealand represented a fresh start, where the judgements of the old European way remained rightfully where they were meant to belong. In our New Age post racism and sexism, classism may be the bastion where these apparently obsolete practices have now clandestinely and comfortably retired to. Where women continue to earn less than men and where the “outsider” continues to subserviently serve the European Overlords.
As a last point, I recall meeting a highly cultured but prudish woman who told me that it was the duty of every European New Zealander to return back to England in order to return a better more cultured “European” New Zealander. The remark left me in a state of revulsion as I don’t think “any” New Zealander is better than another less European New Zealander. Regardless of our race, face or place we have each contributed something beautiful to this place we All call home. As far as my primitive outlook is concerned, there are only good people and bad ones and there are some characters (like the aforementioned woman) that definitely DON’T deserve to wear any title pertain to this country with pride. Why? Because many of us came from Britain? Well if Britain is better go back but the truth is that this is where you come from so do not snigger at its scent for it is your odour also.
No country is perfect, I accept that warts and all. All one can hope for is to be a part of a collective of good citizens. A community of people who treat their fellow citizens with kindness and compassion. And at the end of one’s life, those folks will say “now that was a great New Zealander, pakeha, Kiwi, Pacific Islander, South Sea Islander, Australasian” or whatever exemplifies our shared universal pride.
Quite frankly, I wholeheartedly praise the philosophical idea of the Godly citizen (even in what has been defined as a spiritualist Post God society). The virtuous morally upright individual who knows that to be a sound moral being entails being a devotedly dedicated functional cog in his or her society’s sound operational system. Someone you can always count on who holds no individualistic reservations, objections, private agendas or personal hang-ups and who won’t let you or the “National” team down.