Government departments and public institutions are being renamed at such a rapid rate that it isn’t clear what the names refer to. Waka Kotahi for Transport? Why? Since all forms of transport except the canoe were unknown to Maori, and were imported from overseas, why a Maori name? Where did Waka Kotahi come from? Waka, yes. But Kotahi? It doesn’t appear in the revered Bruce Biggs’ Maori dictionary. Waka Kotahi wasn’t a term used by Maori before settlers arrived in the 1840s and 1850s. There are other institutions with self-bestowed Maori names that are unrecognizable to ordinary Kiwis.
Radio New Zealand, too, has been working full time. They are deleting the words both “radio” and “New Zealand” from everyday use. Nowadays it’s “Te Irirangi o Aotearoa” or “RNZ”. Don’t mention dreaded English terms! Some Radio New Zealand reporters fall over themselves trying to conform to a ruling from on high that they should introduce themselves in Te Reo, despite the fact that the concept of radio came from overseas, and was absolutely unknown to Maori.
We have also been told recently that all streets in New Zealand are to be given a Maori name. Wow. That will be an expensive exercise! Who will dream up the new names? The Maori Language Commission that seems to be churning out new words at 200 kph? And since Maori were very thin on the ground in the Auckland area in 1840 and were soon rapidly outnumbered by settlers, it won’t be appropriate either. A relevant fact provided to members of the Waitangi Tribunal during the Kaipara case I heard was that in 1840 there were only 800 Maori living on the million acres of land between the Kaipara and East Tamaki. That fact will be conveniently overlooked. Nothing is sufficiently disrespectful for Pakeha whose street names quite often have family or historical significance to them.
Similar examples of cultural cringe are showing up with the move to teach New Zealand history in our schools. Scratch the surface and it becomes clear that those driving the idea want to downplay the huge significance of the arrival of European culture in New Zealand. Rather, they intend to replace it with only partially accurate accounts of the difficulties Maori faced when brought into contact with a more developed culture.
And if one needs any more evidence that cultural cringe has reached massive proportions in Auckland, have a look at the programme for the Auckland Arts Festival between 4-21 March 2021. Its Maori name, Te Ahurei Toi O Tamaki, takes precedence on the front cover. Remember, that in Auckland, Maori are only 11.5% of the total population. Pacific Islanders are 13% of Auckland’s population and Asians constitute more than 25%, according to the latest census. People of European ethnicity make up more than 50% of Auckland’s population, but in the eyes of the organisers of the festival they don’t count. The programme is “kapa haka, Maori artists, waiata sing alongs and korero [that] will bring the taonga that is te reo front and centre for audiences”. Really? In a city where almost 90% of people are not of Maori ethnicity? Why hasn’t Auckland City, Creative New Zealand, Foundation North and a collection of worthy sponsors spared a thought for the overwhelming majority of Auckland citizens and ratepayers? Where is the “equity” in this festival?
Answer: too much power has been allowed to slip into the hands of crusaders who for too long seem to have been able to commandeer the resources of others for their own political ends.
When, or will, Aucklanders, and New Zealanders as a whole, stop cringing and wake up to what is being done to their culture and largely with their money?
Historian Michael Bassett, a Minister in the Fourth Labour Government, blogs HERE. This article was first published in January.