Guest Post: Why I will never be an Aotearoan

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I am and always have been a very proud New Zealander. Although I have little  interest in  sport, particularly rugby  – I am often unaware of when or even  who the “AB’s” are playing – a little part of me is proud that teams with “Black” or “Ferns” somewhere in their name punch well above their weight in so many sports.

It makes me feel good that New Zealanders are prominent in so many fields: the first person to split the atom; the first to climb Everest – and more importantly get down again – people at very high levels in their various fields. I am, like the late comedian John Clarke, someone whose attention is immediately drawn to the letter “Z” when reading, and immediately connects that with New Zealand, the name of our homeland.  But we are now subject to relentless social engineering aimed at changing all that.

Back in the early 1980’s when I was living in New Plymouth, and still in the oilfield, there was a push to change the name of what old Taranakians call “the Mountain” from Egmont to Taranaki. This created huge resentment among a lot of people of all ages – I was then not yet 30 – and across the political spectrum. A campaign began, of which I was part, the guts of which was that the name of the province was Taranaki, but the name of Mountain was, and always should be, Egmont.

Even back then, we all understood that Lord Egmont – after whom Cook named the Mountain – had never set foot in New Zealand, but that Egmont had been First Lord of the British Admiralty in Cook’s time. So what? That was the accepted name of the Mountain that dominates the entire province of Taranaki, as it had since Cook’s time and long before.

Long story short, a compromise was reached that the Mountain would henceforth be known officially as “Mt. Egmont/Taranaki” – in that order – and on any map printed after the mid 1980’s that is what he is called. But  all that is about to change; with no consultation with anyone, the Mountain’s name is soon to be just “Taranaki” with “Egmont” gone forever – and with it part of our English history and heritage. I deeply resent that change, and the way it is being clandestinely made. And now the same thing is happening to the name of our country – a country known throughout the world as “New Zealand”

As regular readers know, I am a long time listener to National Radio, aka “Red Radio”. Why? Well, in short, I would rather listen to Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon and Kim Hill on Saturday rather than to Sean Plunket talking to half educated semi-articulate idiots on talkback, and in our tiny country those are the only two “talk radio” alternatives.

Radio New Zealand – funded by your  taxes – now routinely refers to the country as “Aotearoa/New Zealand”, and frequently just “Aoteraroa”. I bristle every time I hear it. Is that because I am a racist? In short, I don’t believe so. Strictly defined, a racist is a person who believes that certain races of people are superior or inferior to others.  While to my shame I may once have believed that – at least to some degree – my time in Tonga quickly  taught me that that was simply not so; the members of all races fall on the same bell curve as every other race on any measure: some are smarter or stronger or taller or nastier or more duplicitous than others.

My opposition to the relentless pressure to change the name of the country is that it implies that Maori culture and history is the only culture and history that is of any relevance to us in this land. I categorically reject that. I agree with Don Brash, Bob Jones and others who argue that the Maori benefited enormously from British colonization, although there were without doubt some pretty  awful things done following our becoming “one people” as Governor Hobson famously proclaimed.

Although the argument results in eye rolling from people who frankly should know better, the Maori did far better out of colonization by the British rather than the others snapping at their reluctant heels such as the Spanish, the Dutch, and the French. Anyone who knows anything about 18th to 20th century history knows that the Spanish probably would have wiped the Maori out if they didn’t knuckle down – just as they did to the “Indians” everywhere else they conquered – the Dutch would have been somewhat better, and if the French had become the colonizing power, Nouvelle Zelande would almost certainly still  be a French possession, like Tahiti and New Caledonia. The Frogs have never been good at giving up possessions.

So we have a combined heritage of Maori and British cultures and history. Other than the four main cities – Nat Rad is trying to change the names of those by stealth too – I would argue that the majority of our place names  remain Maori. Respect and admiration for Maori culture – or at least some aspects of it –  has completely changed in the 50 years since Winston Peters explained away his dark skin by hinting that he was  Italian, and was thus nicknamed “Luigi” by his fellow students at Auckland law school.

Every second person now bears a Maori tattoo – often completely contrary to Maori custom: for example women’s tattoos were on their chins only, not all over their arms.  Blond haired blue eyed women on the dating site I frequent list their ethnicity as “New Zealand Maori”. We have long abandoned any “blood” qualification for Maoriness – although interestingly if you want to share in settlement moneys – particularly if you are Ngai Tahu – you’ll need a bit better claim to being a Maori than that you feel like one.

I have no problem with any of that. If a vapid blue eyed blonde haired woman wants to tattoo her chin – or her forearms – and call herself a Maori, that’s no skin off my nose. I have no problem with the resurgence of te reo – although I don’t believe Joe and Jane Taxpayer should have to pay for it. All my Tongan rellies’ kids are reasonably fluent in Tongan, and their parents don’t need taxpayer money to “protect” the Tongan language.

The bald reality is Maori lost their language because they no longer valued it, not because they were “beaten at school for speaking it” which was in any case Sir Apirana Ngata’s idea. As Minister of “Native Affairs” Ngata concluded that to succeed in the modern world, his people needed to be fluent in English, so English only was to be spoken at school, with Maori at home – just as is the case with my Tongan rellies. The fact that they were “beaten” at school for speaking it is a red herring: in the 1920’s and even right into the 70’s you got “beaten” at school for all sorts of infractions. I was regularly getting the cane before I left school in 1975.

So, I will never accept that I am a citizen of Aotearoa, or that that is the name of my country, just as for me, the volcanic cone that dominates the province of Taranaki will always be Mt Egmont. I am proud of my British heritage – in my case heavily diluted by French, which became  more problematic after 1985.  Although I have little interest in it, I am proud that Shakespeare’s literature dominates the English speaking world. I am very happy that English – after Mandarin – has become the predominant language in the world.

And here at home, I am by and large very proud of what the English brought to this country, and their recognition of the Maori as the only people they colonized to be granted the massive privilege of citizenship of Britain, enshrined in Article III of that international treaty that is actually no such thing. That citizenship, incidentally, was a direct result of Cook’s estimation of Maori as the finest “native” race he had ever come across in his peripatetic travels.

 I am proud to descend from peopIe on my paternal grandfather’s side who once ruled an empire upon which the sun never set. I am proud that my forebears won the Battle of Britain against odds of four to one – led by another famous New Zealander, Sir Keith Park of whom  Lord Tedder said “If any one man won the Battle of Britain, he did”.

So resist brothers and sisters! When someone refers to our country as “Aotearoa” don’t be afraid to speak up and say “Actually the name of our country is New Zealand”. When reference to Aotearoa  is associated with derogatory references to Cook or the British, don’t be afraid to engage; when someone at a summer BBQ spouts utter bullshit about our history, engage! Be proud of the fact that you are, like me, proud New Zealanders. And always will be.

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