Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review - Ranginui Walker - Mata Toa

This is an interesting subject matter and “The life and times” is also an accurate title. The book describes many of the events, from the 1970's to now, that have created and developed the debates, and shaped the relationship, between maori and pakeha and thus our country. This foundation has facilitated deeper discussions and strengthened tino rangatiratanga for maori. As stated within the text:

“'Walker has been participant, commentator and observer in the renegotiation of Maori-Pakeha/state relations.”and “Walker represents a particular generation that sought to re-establish the mana of Maori in New Zealand.”

I found the history contained within the pages to be very interesting and a timely reminder of how much has been achieved for maori emancipation, over such a short period of time. The events are covered relatively sparingly but few are missed. It feels a bit like a skipping stone, hitting the water and skimming off onto the next important event. Never delving too deep into the event itself, but rather recording it, and moving on. This may be too harsh because there are a lot of events to cover. It has reinvigorated my interest in these events, I want to, and will, read and learn more.

“Publicly Walker was on a mission to confront the racism – minor and major, historical and contemporary – that he saw as limiting the equal participation of Maori.”

This is an important point for me. I also believe that we must confront all racism publicly, and I also agree that such racism limits the equal participation of maori. Much of this racism is covert and insidious; disguised in cloaks of respectability. Sometimes the cloak slips and it becomes a lot more obvious. Examples are all around us, whether it be the Foreshore and Seabed Act, or the digging up of tupuna to extend Auckland Runway. It is happening and it needs to be exposed for what it is. Ranginui Walker confronted most of the examples of racism that occurred since the 1970’s. He was not afraid of telling the truth, from a maori/indigenous perspective. He confronted head-on, as a warrior, the overt and covert aspects of racism and colonization.

If we do nothing, this racism works its way into cultural memes until they become the truth for some people. And examples of that abound, from, “maori weren't the first people here”, to the Moriori mythology. Recently there has been an upsurge in the proposition that the celts were here first and taught the maori everything before the maori turned on the celts and killed them all. Under this train of thought, all of the maori language and culture is actually celtic in origin. People actually believe this! And they tell others and before you know it, it becomes accepted.

"His legacy is most obvious in contributing to a more enlightened approach to colonial history and the position of tangata whenua. From that, he has seen and been part of – changes to resource ownership, political and constitutional rights, the delivery of government services and the mana of maori. Our national self-consciousness has been challenged and has changed as a result.”

To be part of the debate is one thing; to commentate and offer insights that effect actual change, is a whole higher level of contribution. Ranginui Walker is an intellectual, an academic. He comes from an authoritarian, conservative background. He was raised for his first few years as an only child, in a maori environment. Whilst he subsequently forgot much of that learning when he began interacting with general society, he in later years, re-learnt and reconnected with all aspects of his maoritanga.

Part of the gift of humanity is our diversity. We can appreciate and respect unique aspects of others, and value the contribution each individual voice makes. I value Ranginui Walker’s unique voice, it is a different voice to mine, and to everyone else's, but his is a voice of mana.

There is no doubt that this man has contributed much to Maori and this country in general. He has had his critics over the years, some of them have felt that he was too strong in his words, and others have found him too accommodating. His voice resonates with me. I agree with nearly everything he says.

In terms of his legacy, nothing more need be said. The eyes of the warrior!

One of the aspects of the book I found frustrating was that I got a lot of information about what happened but not so much about why. What was going through Ranginui's mind during these events, what was his motivation, why did things happen the way they did. Perhaps I've been spoiled by recently reading Enstein’s biography which was just so good.

I felt I didn't really learn much about the man himself. Perhaps that's not too surprising considering how reserved and private he is. He is not a person who seeks the limelight, he prefers to work studiously in the background. But as is often the case, he was thrust into a public role and has fulfilled that function admirably for many years.

The book is well written and a credit to the author and subject but, for me, it is dry. I prefer more juice of personality.

I recommend the book and I will be looking through it often, not just to remind me of what a contribution one man can make to the betterment of his people and his country, but also to check on the order and events of our recent history.

“…the story of Ranginui Walker is as much a story of a country as it struggled, and partially succeeded, in more adequately recognising the rights of Maori as the indigenous people of Aotearoa”

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