The Maori and the Pakeha: Why can’t it work for us?

I recently had the pleasure of visiting New Zealand, and was quietly impressed by the way in which the minority Maori culture has been embraced by the majority Pakeha (i.e. white) population. That is not to say that NZ is blissfully free of ethnic tension, but such tensions seem to revolve around affirmative action and guaranteed representation rather than a cultural gap.

This is exemplified by the extensive Maori carvings that decorate Auckland airport – at one point just past immigration new arrivals walk under a replica of a Maori village gateway, metaphorically identifying the entire country with a traditional pa. Pakeha are not merely tolerant of expressions of Maori culture, but for the most part welcome them, perhaps seeing their value as part of a national identity distinct from their bigger Australian neighbour.

So why can’t we manage something similar in Northern Ireland? “Irish” and “British” culture are not so far apart as Maori and Pakeha, which originate on opposite sides of the planet. Is it too much to ask that Unionists embrace Irish culture as part of NI’s distinctiveness, even if they do not identify with it personally, or for Nationalists to look more favourably upon Ulster-Scots? The Scots themselves have managed to integrate Highland and Lowland heritage into a cohesive whole over time. Is it fanciful to think that Irish and Ulster-Scots might be similarly reconciled a century hence?

But maybe our close similarity is a barrier, not a bridge. A Pakeha with a Maori tattoo is obviously just that, whereas a Prod wearing a GAA top is visually indistinguishable from the real thing. Culture becomes a marker of identity, not for its own sake but for its ability to amplify invisible political differences. Do we need to resolve political mistrust before the cultural gulf can be bridged, or should it be vice versa?

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  • anne warren

    Some Scots came to Ulster with the Earl of Antrim in the late 16th century. 400+ years ago.

    Has any other ethnic immigrant group anywhere in the world continued to view the local population as the enemy and refused to integrate for so long?

  • Mark McGregor


    I’d don’t have the language pack to deal with your use of Maori (or other) characters and as a result this blog is pretty close to unreadable.

    If its just me, no problem. If others have this problem too maybe you could edit into a usual form.

  • Mick posted this on my behalf – looks like it got badly mangled in the process, and although I have contributor permissions, I can’t edit this particular post. If one of the admins would be kind enough to delete this post, I can try to resubmit.

  • Pete Baker

    How’s that, Andrew?

    Can’t get the accent right though…

  • That’s great, thanks.

  • Granni Trixie

    Andrew: Although you obviously bring up to date impressions of NZ, it probably isnt a much different place to the one I visited iabout 10 years ago, through a British Council event mixed with personal travelling around.

    On that basis, what you describe resonates with my impressions with some additional points. Almost every other person you would meet would claim to have Maori blood in their veins but despite this would tend to regard Maori cultrual practices as a rather quaint legacy.

    Talk from many “proper” Maoris reminded me of WB and MOPERY. Intenal tensions were also evident when talk turned to troublesome issues such as domestic violence and alcohol(often assocaited with poverty). Some Maori leaders wanted to name and address these problems whereas others thought it disloyal to articulate such problems.

    So overall I am not sure that you do not idealize NZ more than it warrants as a model of relationships.

  • Granni,

    I agree, there are a lot of problems in Maori society, as you describe. I was merely pointing out that in one respect they have a more healthy attitude to cultural divisions than we do. Traditional Maori culture may be quaint, and perhaps even irrelevant, but there is a sense of community ownership of it, that it belongs to the whole country, not just to the minority.

  • bigchiefally

    Indeed. A nicely blinkered view.

    Maybe they should have just largely wiped them out like the Yanks, Australians or Argentinians did.

  • Hi Andrew
    I hope you don’t mind me dropping those photos in from a visit i made in 2004.
    I was fortunate and privileged to be invite to stay on a Maori Marae in Maketu North Island for a family reunion of the Tapsell Family one of the most prominent Maori families.
    The European influence on the indigenous Maori cannot obviously be underestimated however, whilst some of their knowledge and culture has suffered over the years, due to undue influence, the Maori culture is now in a far far better place than ever before. The are well organised and integrated through all levels of society. There would even be some begrudgers of just how well organised they are despite them being the indigenous people.
    As mentioned the drink and drugs are a problem (as they are in alot of low income areas through out the world), this particular Marae (tribal home/area) had taken the decision in 2000 to make the Marae dry so no alcohol was permitted within it’s boundaries.
    I have never been made to feel so welcome and once we had been met by a Haka and the Hungi (touching of noses/breathing and sharing each others air) we were told to treat the Marae as our home. I know this particular experience is unique as it was not part of a 2 hour ‘tourist experience’, (we slept for 2 nights in the communal meeting house) but it was one those experiences that i shall never ever forget. The respect for elders, the sense of history and kinship was at too evident.
    This sense of history and interest in Maori culture has filtered through and yes it is big business. I do question the analogy of the tattoos as the GAA top can be taken off!

    Moko is an age old tradition marking rights of passage for men and women and the skin is actually chiselled rather than punctured

    I’d recommend NZ to anyone it is a very special country and i look forward to my third visit some time in the future (my bro’s 50th might just be the occasion to go back and revisit old friends)

  • JoeJoe

    Interesting post. My first visit to Ayrshire was through Prestwick airport, which featured a ‘Ceud Míle Fáilte’ sign at arrivals(= Cead Míle Fáilte in Irish /a hundred thousand welcomes). I mentioned to my Scots business hosts that I had thought it was Irish until I copped on it was Scots Gaelic, and thought the welcome was nice. To my surprise, none of my Ayrshire Scots hosts knew what it meant, but they were all positive about the sign seeing it as part of the country’s cultural heritage. Mind you I found out later, and it’s pretty obvious of course, that gaelic was dominant, not just in the highlands, but the entire west opposite Antrim where it had come from.

  • anne warren

    Is that what you would have preferred?

  • Greenflag

    andrew gallagher ,

    ‘But maybe our close similarity is a barrier, not a bridge.’

    Good point and probably not without truth . For a bridge to work effectively traffic must be possible both ways . When almost the entire traffic flow becomes one way for a longish period of time (NI 1920 to recent times ) or the bridge collapses then small differences become magnified and in time accrue political , economic and social significance beyond their import for many people including the new ‘elites’ on either side of the divide .

    Contrast the relative position of NI protestants in the 1880’s with that of the same people in 1935 or 1974 or now 2010 in terms of their perceptions of the economic and political future on this island and the longer term prospects of political stability within the ‘Union’

    BTW Scots Gaelic began to diverge from Irish Gaelic back from about the 14th century when English power began to dominate the northern borders and cut off or much reduced political and economic connections between Ulster and Scotland . Robert the Bruce’s failed attempt to install his brother Edward as Irish High King was the last attempt at independent Scottish attempts to gain control of Ireland as part of their overall effort to outflank the coming English predominance .

    ‘ Do we need to resolve political mistrust before the cultural gulf can be bridged, or should it be vice versa?’

    An excellent question . My gut instinct tells me that if the political mistrust can be overcome the cultural gulf can be easily bridged not least because of the commonalities but because of the increasing secularisation in both parts of the island and the lessening of extreme religious viewpoints to just fringe elements.

    Every minority group that has ever come to Ireland has always been ‘absorbed ‘ into the local population sooner or later . That has been true of Celts , Vikings, Danes , Normans , English etc . Why should ‘unionists’ be any different ?

    Some will say that because of religion and the fact that in a part of the present NI they form a substantial majority i.e east of the Bann and have ‘successfullly’ maintained their own State over several decades that that in itself justifies a separate polity from ROI .

    They have a point . But it doesn’t apply to the whole of the present NI which is where a ‘repartitionist’ solution presents itself .

  • bigchiefally

    Just trying to point out that there are many cases where an immigrant group, that comes to outnumber, or outgun, the original inhabitants, behaves very harshly towards those it finds living in its new land.

    I think that domination and eradication is a far more common scenario than the integration one you allude to.

    Actually, I am struggling to think of a historical event where integration of a militarily or numerically dominant immigrant group into the native population actually did occur.

  • Eddie (Eamonn) Mac Bhloscaidh

    I dont think that the maori anology works.

    For one simple reason, here, most of us our ‘maori’ but most of us dont want to be.

    Culture is a matter of choice, nevertheless, peoples surnames betray their origins.

    Nelson McCausland has dedicated his career to fighting Gaelic culture but his surname betrays the fact that even he as at least some Gaelic ancestors.

    Same with Jim Allister, David McNarry, Jim Shannon etc etc.

    And frankly, I have heard very little hostility towards Ulster-Scots and frankly, anyone with any real academic knowledge of that subject, that I know is a nationalist.