Manaakitanga, indigeneity and nationhood: ramblings of a Maori socialist

Tino rangatiratanga flag. Photo taken by Jay Herself
Tino rangatiratanga flag. Photo taken by Jay Herself

 

As the government targets to resolve all historical Treaty claims by 2014[1] (more likely 2016), the subsequent aftermath will be intriguing to observe, as the historic transition is bound to be marked by conflict. The only way New Zealand society can meaningfully move forward is together, some believe that comes in the form of biculturalism, others masquerade assimilation under the democratic guise of multiculturalism; this article will offer an innovative stance on the former.

The Māori concept of ‘manaakitanga’ though affiliated with hospitability, is an expansive cultural expression denoting respect, reciprocity and embracing humanity.[2] This philanthropic notion, though comprehensive, is exactly the direction society should grasp. As on old whakatauki indicates, ‘he waka eke noa’, we’re all in this together. The notion of manaakitanga, which as the Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO) have depicted in their core values, (relationship, responsibility, reciprocity and redistribution); is not just Māori but broadly indigenous.[3] Manaakitanga encompasses the personifying of cultural principles through “sets of behaviour which express concern, generosity, hospitality, mutual respect, equality and humility.”[4] This charitable ideology is pivotal to traditional indigenous cultures and a belief that lies at the heart of this article’s argument. Among the indigenous peoples of Canada and America the celebratory ceremony of “potlatch or gift giving…embodies yet another expression of hospitality.”[5] The chief purpose of this Pacific north-western indigenous ritual is the benevolent redistribution of resources; consequently the potlatch ceremony is a “practical embodiment of distributive justice in which the riches of the community are shared equally by all.”[6] Indigenous hospitality advocates for a relational paradigm of power and authority, but it seems that most nation states (including New Zealand) continue to operate out of a political imperialistic vie for power. Manaakitanga is the political trump card that has yet to be (meaningfully) played.

Economic partnership

In this postmodern globalized epoch of information driven economies, our nation has ceased to capitalize on its “greatest asset: its people. Māori people and iwi organisations may well yet turn out to be this country’s most under-utilised resource.”[7] There is a pivotal opportunity on the kiwi horizon, yet the thick fog of racial exclusion continues to block the rays of a new dawn. For surely if there was more mutual dialogue between iwi organisations and the New Zealand government, then Māori expressions of self-determination would not only aid the national economy but also help to close the socio-economic gauge that hinders Māori – including the growing gap between the small indigenous ‘elite’ and the majority of the indigenous populace. A paramount challenge for Māori will be to curtail the cavity by developing the “Māori middle-class and reducing the share living in poor economic circumstances…Māori owners of capital have the means and moral obligation to engage in the broader goal of realising the potential of all Māori, not just elites.”[8]

I am not suggesting that no pre-colonial Māori were greedy, but I will state that before the advent of European influence upon the shores of Aotearoa, manaakitanga was the cornerstone of indigenous socio-economic life. More mana was held by sharing or ‘redistributing’ resources compared to amassing a horde of selfish capital; short term and long term exchanges “ensured economic support to individuals, families, and sometimes entire villages, particularly in times of scarcity.”[9] The notion of manaakitanga is far from a culturally insensitive token of ‘kiwiana’ but rather a paradigm of partnership and socio-economic stability founded on the anthropological necessity of relationship.

Most recently the Māori economy was estimated around $37 billion, a meek but rising influence to the national economy – New Zealand needs to capitalize rather than “dismiss Māori self-determining aspirations as racially divisive and fiscally inimical to national advancement, the way ahead surely lies in leveraging Māori aspirations for the collective good.”[10] Quintessentially the struggle to practically implement such a beneficial partnership rings the all too familiar bell of political power wars and existential fear, namely the trouble with seeing the other as an ‘equal’ point of authority tends to cause a power panic, wondering who and how much rangatiratanga the other (Māori – Crown & vice versa) possesses.

By 2026 almost one fifth of the younger working aged populace (aged around 15 – 29), will be of indigenous decent, compared with the aging population of the dominant culture[11] – clearly at the crux of the projected indigenous youth boom there is both economic and educational treasures. Government, iwi organisations, as well as Māori and Pasifika parallel institutions need to take advantage of this youthful investment. The kiwi economy has yet to meet par with its Australian counterpart, and with about one in six Māori now calling Australia home,[12] crossing the ditch is starting to resemble a journey to the ‘Promised Land’ then a holiday destination.

The quantity of Māori and Pasifika boys departing kiwi schools void of a formal “qualification remains unacceptably high…iwi increasingly have the wherewithal and, one hopes, the political will, to assume a greater role in building a well-educated, highly-skilled, and culturally confident Māori workforce.”[13] There is a demand nay a ‘Tiriti’ mandate for government and iwi organisations to meaningfully answer the socio-economic call of this situation, while our nation continues to bicker over race relations and indigenous self-determination, our economy parallels the tumbling state of New Zealand’s so called ‘unity’ – and as long as “the trans-Tasman income gap endures and well-educated Māori can get higher returns on their education investment offshore, they will leave in significant numbers.”[14]  It is evident that if kiwi politics continue to dodge the ‘decolonise’ bullet then racial separatist animosity will thicken within New Zealand society, dramatically vexing the economic promises of a unified nation.

Redemptive comrades

David slack depicts the concept of ‘co-operation’ through a redemptive perspective of partnership, especially in terms of ‘Kawanatanga’ and ‘Rangatiratanga’. I love how he terms affirmative action as taking measures to “assist in redressing the balance” and that those measures should not continue “after the imbalance is remedied.”[15] Being bi-cultural in Aotearoa New Zealand encompasses significantly further efforts than simply paying lip service to the ‘other’ culture. “It means in some way understanding it – feeling it, appreciating it, enacting manaakitanga. To encourage another culture without ever intending to let it influence you in any major ways is, in effect, to patronise it.”[16]

Reciprocation and hospitality are inherent pillars of manaakitanga;[17] values that I believe are paramount in nurturing harmonious race relations. New Zealand needs a philanthropic perspective of biculturalism if our society wants a meaningful expression of a multicultural nation. As individuals, rural communities, metropolitan societies and government entities; we must engage in the national need to “decolonize our minds, to recover ourselves, to claim a space in which to develop a sense of authentic humanity.”[18]

Manaakitanga beckons our country to construct a “new relationship – a new social contract – for living together differently by principled means.”[19] Rather than perceiving ‘the other’ as the enemy, both Māori and the dominant culture need to re-educate the nation through political philanthropy. Namely the tug-of-war rope of power needs to be relinquished for the ‘hongi’ of interdependent power, woven together with the notion of hospitality; a relational ideal that should be aspired to reach for national unity.[20] “Manaakitanga focuses on positive human behaviour and encourages people to rise above their personal attitudes and feelings towards others and towards the issues they believe in.”[21] It is imperative for kiwi society to transcend the snobbish exclusionary norms of imperialism and engage in a relational social contract based “on constitutional partners living in constructive co-existence.”[22]

Martin Luther King voiced against ‘imperial retribution’ saying that society must never substitute one form of supremacy for another, rather he advocated for the “creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers.”[23] It is obvious that advocating for a philanthropic relational ideology in regards to race relations is a political whisper in the wind; but I am not promoting legislating morals. Nevertheless I am compelled to agree with Martin Luther King, in that while it may be accurate that “morality cannot be legislated, behaviour can be regulated…the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless.”[24]

As the on goings of the 1840 Waitangi day drew to a close, Hobson infamously coined the phrase that would become synonymous with national ‘unity’; he iwi tahi tatou (we are now one people). In hindsight Hobson’s words, transparently token, cannot be paraded or defended as both the ‘good intentions’ of colonisation nor an example of present day cultural ‘appreciation’. Embedded within manaakitanga is the mutual concept of ‘utu’ – contrary to popular belief utu is not a chant for violent protest nor is it political propaganda to force guilt upon people. It is not founded on revenge or guilt but on the four pillars of reconciliation – truth, acceptance, justice, and grace.

Manaakitanga was and has been the unwanted cornerstone of nationhood but it is obvious that the political tug-of-war for power needs to end. The tūpuna of both tangata whenua and tauiwi drew a line in the sand, and as descendants and migrants we have continued to thicken the boundaries; it must stop. This is not a plea for retribution but reconciliation, not a chant for revenge but relationship; and it is definitely not a separatist movement to vilify all non-Māori as unwanted filth. At the crux, our renewing culture should be a reciprocal paradigm in which mana is redemptively acknowledged.

Through this philanthropic process, both tangata whenua and tauiwi can move forward together in trust and respect. It is not about taken sovereignty from the masses and giving power to the minorities, but reciprocal politics embedded in the prosperous paradigm of manaakitanga, starts with acknowledgement. Acknowledging the wrongs, the casualties, yet more importantly acknowledging the ‘other’.

As a nation we cannot continue the journey of vengeance nor replace it with debilitating shame. We cannot continue the journey of ignorance nor replace it with unsettled guilt. We must walk together, backwards into the future. Proclaiming the truth, accepting biculturalism to genuinely journey towards multiculturalism; upholding what needs to be honoured, and hearing each other weep with grace. Waitangi means weeping waters, I hope that one day we as a nation can weep together with grace, then we can truly say; he iwi tahi tatou (we are now one people) – I believe that through the indigenous principle of manaakitanga, the national unity that New Zealand so blissfully yearns for is both politically viable and within the grasp of our kiwi society.

Closing words

Whether or not New Zealand decides to meaningfully engage in the discussion around political manaakitanga, one thing is certain; that no matter how racially exclusionary or embracing our society develops over the next decade, we are in this journey together – he waka eke noa. Instead of thickening the racial boundaries that our nation inherited amongst other colonial vestiges, we need to journey through the existential binaries of good and bad or victim and victimizer or colonized and coloniser – transcending these social constructs to venture towards the hospitable politics of manaakitanga. Then and only then can we meaningfully cut deep into the very societal fabrics that were woven with the threads of imperialism, re-righting (and re-writing) the norms and discourses that characterize the kiwi culture.

As a relational bicultural society, government and iwi organisations could enter into a co-operative co-existing partnership of authority, profoundly working together to better the kiwi economy and the country’s race relations. The social contract of manaakitanga is written with the ink of hope, waiting for New Zealand to grasp the pen of reconciliation and sign with the signature of unity – ushering in a society of racial harmony and national kotahitanga. Then and only then will the guise of ‘one nation’ fall and reveal the diversely unified body of a multicultural nation.


[1] Te Puni Kōkiri, “Strategic Direction: Government Priorities,” n.p. Te Puni Kōkiri. Cited 8 July 2012. Online: http://www.tpk.govt.nz/en/in-print/our-publications/corporate-documents/statement-of-intent-2010-2013/page/7/

[2] Māori Language Commission, “Manaakitanga,” n.p. Kōrero Māori. Cited 8 July 2012. Online: http://www.korero.maori.nz/news/mlw/theme.html

[3] La Donna Harris and Jacqueline Wasilewski, “Indigeneity, an alternative worldview: Four R’s (relationship, responsibility, reciprocity, redistribution) vs. Two P’s (power and profit). Sharing the journey towards conscious evolution,” Systems Research and Behavioural Science 21 (2004) 4.

[4] Alayne Hall, Margaret Morice and Cherry Wilson, “Waka Oranga: The Development of an Indigenous Professional Organisation within a Psychotherapeutic Discourse in Aotearoa New Zealand,” Psychotherapy and Politics International 10:1 (2012), 10.

[5] Michael D. Palmer and Stanley M. Burgess, eds., The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice (West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2012), pg. 315

[6] Michael D. Palmer and Stanley M. Burgess, eds., The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice (West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2012), pg. 315

[7] Tahu Kukutai, “Imagining a Post-Settlement Future: In this together?” n.p. PostTreatySettlements. Cited 23/07/2012. Online: http://posttreatysettlements.org.nz/imagining-a-post-settlement-future-in-this-together/

[8] Tahu Kukutai, “Imagining a Post-Settlement Future: In this together?” n.p. PostTreatySettlements. Cited 23/07/2012. Online: http://posttreatysettlements.org.nz/imagining-a-post-settlement-future-in-this-together/

[9] Michael D. Palmer and Stanley M. Burgess, eds., The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice (West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing Limited, 2012), pg. 315

[10] Tahu Kukutai, “Imagining a Post-Settlement Future: In this together?” n.p. PostTreatySettlements. Cited 23/07/2012. Online: http://posttreatysettlements.org.nz/imagining-a-post-settlement-future-in-this-together/

[11] Tahu Kukutai, “Imagining a Post-Settlement Future: In this together?” n.p. PostTreatySettlements. Cited 23/07/2012. Online: http://posttreatysettlements.org.nz/imagining-a-post-settlement-future-in-this-together/

[12] Tahu Kukutai, “Imagining a Post-Settlement Future: In this together?” n.p. PostTreatySettlements. Cited 23/07/2012. Online: http://posttreatysettlements.org.nz/imagining-a-post-settlement-future-in-this-together/

[13] Tahu Kukutai, “Imagining a Post-Settlement Future: In this together?” n.p. PostTreatySettlements. Cited 23/07/2012. Online: http://posttreatysettlements.org.nz/imagining-a-post-settlement-future-in-this-together/

[14] Tahu Kukutai, “Imagining a Post-Settlement Future: In this together?” n.p. PostTreatySettlements. Cited 23/07/2012. Online: http://posttreatysettlements.org.nz/imagining-a-post-settlement-future-in-this-together/

[15] David Slack, They Talk About These Principles, But No One Knows What They Are. Bullshit, Backlash and Bleeding Hearts: A Confused Person’s Guide to the Race Row (Auckland: Penguin, 2004), 104.

[16] Duncan Jameison, On Bi-culturalism (Presbyterian Church Aotearoa New Zealand, 1993), 23

[17] Hirini Moko Mead and Sidney M. Mead, Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori Values (Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2003), pg. 13

[18] Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonising Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples 2nd ed (London: Zed Books, 2012), 24.

[19] Roger Maaka and Augie Fleras, The Politics of Indigeneity: Challenging the State in Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2005), 10.

[20] Hirini Moko Mead and Sidney M. Mead, Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori Values (Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2003), pg. 28

[21] Hirini Moko Mead and Sidney M. Mead, Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori Values (Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2003), pg. 345

[22] Roger Maaka and Augie Fleras, The Politics of Indigeneity: Challenging the State in Canada and Aotearoa New Zealand (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 2005), 11.

[23] Martin Luther King Jr., “Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 WMU Speech,” n.p. Archives & Regional History Collections. Cited 25/07/2012. Online: http://www.wmich.edu/~ulib/archives/mlk/transcription.html

[24] Martin Luther King Jr., “Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1963 WMU Speech,” n.p. Archives & Regional History Collections. Cited 25/07/2012. Online: http://www.wmich.edu/~ulib/archives/mlk/transcription.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s