Post-colonialism continues to be a central tenet of Maori discourse, even-though it has almost passed its use-by date. What sounded radical in the eighties – tino rangatiratanga, an 'us' versus 'them' divide between Maori and Pakeha, the state as enemy of the oppressed – is less convincing as the New Zealand population diversifies and the Maori middle-class grows. The old radicals have become the new conservatives, building their power-base and determining the rate of cultural change.
Having battled in and out rules most of my life, I'm resistant to the policing of culture that tends to come with the post-colonial Maori identity. Social and cultural change is evaluated against a checklist of Maori criteria. Maori culture is highly assimilated however. It is also so saturated in Christianity that the two cannot be separated. Consequently, postcolonial Maori culture is in fact a hybrid culture in the guise of tikanga Maori.
What I also dislike is how postcolonialism positions Maori as the perennial victim. It assumes we have no agency; that all Maori malaise is the result of being colonised. I do not feel this way. We have the power to determine our own destiny. What happens when we say we are powerful and free?
We cannot suppress change. Our culture is being influenced and shaped by complex external forces. An increasingly youthful population – half of Maori are under 23 – are digital natives; they live in cyberspace, bombarded by brands, images and sound-bites. The messaging is not neutral, it influences the way they think and behave.
Moreover, these young people are not passive. They participate in the conversation; what they think matters to marketeers, corporations and pop-stars. This week, for example, an overnight petition signed by 50,000 concerned viewers, saw TV3 sack two of its X-Factor judges. The public engagement with the issue was instant, so too TV3's intervention. The audience became the judge of the judges.
This machinery can be used for social good. The Health Sponsorship Council's campaign It's Not Our Future demonised smoking for teens through a constantly updated cache of local musicians, actors and sports stars. The campaign had 12,000 Facebook followers. Social media enables the circulation of values focused on the greater good. Maori youth are part of this social media conversation as consumers and producers. They bring to this conversation their own understanding of Maori identity and continue its change.
Maori culture is no longer a static thing, change is the only constant.
Cultural Assemblage Culture is comprised of many parts – authentic, borrowed and traded The components can be substituted and re-organised Culture morphs in a continual forward movement Now that power has been de-stabilised and de-centralised, resisting cultural change is futile. If we think in terms of Cultural Assemblage, postcolonialism becomes one of the many defining features that include issues such as globilisation, Maori diaspora and the influence of media. The importance of these influences and fluxes will be weighted differently according to the focus of any given discussion. What these discussions do mean is that we actively seek change, and graft in new cultural components, which can be sourced from our own traditions or elsewhere.
In his report on Maori and Pasifika child poverty He Ara Hou / The Pathway Forward, Manuka Henare argues Maori and Pasifika should be in charge of measuring their own well-being, rather than accepting very depressing health and social profiles served up by statisticians and academics. He anchors his thinking in the capabilities theory of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, and links Maori and Pasifika into an international conversation. Henare's approach is proactive, expansive and postmodern.
In Cultural Assemblage I see much room for potentiality, diversity, and change. Culture is a metamorphosis. It is the butterfly wriggling out of its chrysalis into the sun.
All images © Chiara Corbelletto Chiara
Corbelletto is an Italian artist living and working in Auckland, and a graduate in Architecture from the University of Milan and from Modigliani Art School, Italy. Her fundamental interest is in the levels of structure underpinning the reality we live in.