Louis Crimp: the face in our mirrors
With his two appearances in the media over the past week, Louis Crimp has allowed Pakeha New Zealanders to look into a mirror. Many of us don't like what see.
The aged Crimp has a cadaverous face and a mouth that seems unnaturally small. He speaks slowly, with a slight lisp, and without the euphemisms and qualifications common to mainstream political discourse in New Zealand. In his interviews with the New Zealand Herald and TV3, Crimp has expressed his hatred of Maoridom, and his disappointment at the failure of the Act Party, to whom he gave one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars last year, to take the fight to 'the savages'.
Crimp's statements have been condemned by all of New Zealand's mainstream political parties, including Act, and by both left and right-leaning political pundits. But the criticisms of Crimp cannot disguise the fact that he expresses, in his acerbic, homespun way, the opinions of many Pakeha. Crimp is not, as some pundits have argued, a senile old fool, or a hopeless eccentric: he is the authentic face of Pakeha chauvinism. We can no more disown him than John Cheever could disown the face he saw in the mirror of that bar.
Talking to the Herald's David Fisher, Crimp denied that Maori were "real New Zealanders", and claimed that their culture consisted entirely of "waving their spears and poking their tongues out".
Crimp's bluntness may have discomfited many Pakeha, but his view that Maori culture is something pre-modern, and consists mostly of dancing and chanting by semi-naked men, is widely shared this country.
In the early nineteenth century New Zealand was used as a name for Maoridom, and Maori were the only people described as New Zealanders. After they had won control of these islands from Maori in the second half of the nineteenth century, though, Pakeha appropriated both 'New Zealand' and 'New Zealanders' for themselves. When Pakeha guidebooks and museums depicted Maori, they were treated as an archaic people, whose culture was alien to the modern New Zealand of dairy farms and railways. Such a view ignored the Maori adaption to modernity in the nineteenth century, which saw them building their own flour mills by the dozen in the Waikato and electrifying the town of Parihaka in the Taranaki, and creating new forms of art, like the painted Ringatu meeting houses of the East Coast, in response to influences from Europe and elsewhere.
In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Maori have continued to assimilate technological and cultural developments made elsewhere in the world. Writers like Hone Tuwhare, artists like Ralph Hotere, and scientists like Peter Buck have all fused modern ideas with a Maori worldview.
For too many Pakeha, though, Maori culture still consists of men in grass skirts waving taiaha and poking out their tongues. Louis Crimp's brutally reductionist view of Maoritanga is by no means marginal or eccentric.
In his interview with TV 3's Jane Luskin, Crimp attacked the Maori language as useless, and denied that it should receive state recognition or funding. For long decades, the Maori language was nearly competely absent from New Zealand schools, and from New Zealand public life. Asked to study in a second language, many Maori children did badly at school, and entered the workplace without skills. After a long campaign by activists and academics, Maori was made an official language of New Zealand in 1987, and state funding was made available for Maori-language primary and secondary education.
But these developments do not entitle Kiwis to feel smug, because the policies that led to Maori educational failure for much of the twentieth century are being inflicted in the twenty-first century on the speakers of this country's other Polynesian languages. The Leo Bilingual Pacific Language Coalition was founded in 2010 to protest the refusal of successive New Zealand governments to allow youth from the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, Samoa, and Tonga to study at school in their own languages. In South and West Auckland, a new generation of Polynesian youth is struggling to learn an alien language. The co-founder of the Language Coalition, Judy McFall, says that Pacific Islanders are tired of having their language skills treated as "learning deficits" rather than "learning advantages". Louis Crimp might as well have authored government policies towards Pacific Islands languages.
Crimp displayed another venerable feature of Pakeha ideology when he complained, during his chat with Luskin, that the Maori language is unknown "out of New Zealand". Crimp seems unaware that languages closely related to Maori are spoken in more than a dozen Polynesian nations, and that more distantly related members of the same Austronesian language family are used everywhere from Vanuatu to central Vietnam.
Crimp's ignorance of the many relatives of Maori in the Pacific and in Southeast Asia is related to the geographical delusion which has been common amongst Pakeha since the nineteenth century. New Zealand sits deep in the South Pacific, at the other end of the world from Europe, but Pakeha have often tried to believe that we live on an island anchored comfortably off the coast of Britain. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century Pakeha talked of Britain as "home"; today we still act as though we live in the northern hemisphere, consuming British and American television programmes and movies, and taking our holidays in London and Disneyland rather than Nuku'alofa and Apia.
One of the more torturous responses to Crimp's statements has come from Chris Trotter, who has long struggled to reconcile his left-wing politics with his loyalty to North Otago, one of this country's whitest and most conservative regions. In a column for The Press called 'Telling the Majority "Where to Get Off", Trotter conceded that Crimp was 'a redneck', but argued that his views were shared by many New Zealanders, and suggested that this gave them a certain legitimacy.
Trotter noted that, in a recent referendum, the citizens of the Waikato District voted heavily against the creation of Maori seats on their local council. Trotter seems to consider this vote a triumph for democracy and universalism, and a setback for 'separatism'.
I've spent the last couple of days in the Waikato District, on a property close to Hukanui, one of the most ancient and important marae of the Tainui people. In the 1860s Hukanui was the home of a man named Hakopa Te Waharoa. In 1864, after a Pakeha army had invaded the Waikato and pushed King Tawhiao and most of his supporters south into the sanctuary of the area known today as the King Country, Waharoa was asked by his countrymen to stay behind, and given an unenviable task. Over the next few years he exhumed scores of bodies from the slopes of Te Kopu Mania O Kirikiriroa, the sacred hill in the centre of the place known today as Hamilton, and reburied them semi-secretly in the country around Hukanui.
erase the traces of their predecessors from the landscapes they had won by war.
Tawhiao led his people out of exile in 1881, after the signing of a peace deal, but they had to suffer a new type of isolation, as confiscations and discriminatory laws and practices made them into second-class citizens in their old homeland. Parliament banned Maori from practicing their own religion and from sitting as jurors on cases involving Pakeha, and many businesses in the Waikato refused to take customers with brown skins. As late as 1955 the lower Waikato town of Pukekohe was branded the 'Little Rock of New Zealand' by the Auckland Star, after the revelation that Maori were refused access to its pubs and its barber shops. In 1960 the American sociologist David Ausubel enraged Pakeha by publishing a book which compared regions like the Waikato to the segregationist southern states of his homeland.
Maori responded to their exclusion from the mainstream of Waikato life by creating their own institutions. After his return from exile Tawhiao had founded a Maori parliament, a Maori bank, Maori police, and Maori courts. The King Movement persisted through the twentieth century, and in 1994 was given some measure of Pakeha recognition by the signing of the Tainui Treaty settlement.
In the recent referendum, Waikato voters rejected the notion of Maori seats on their local council by a margin of about four to one. A fifth of residents in the Waikato are Maori, and the overwhelming majority of them choose to vote on the Maori roll at general elections. It seems likely, then, that the recent referendum split the Waikato along ethnic lines, with Pakeha voters rejecting Maori seats and Maori voters favouring them.
The history of the Waikato shows the absurdity of Chris Trotter's attempt to present the recent referendum as a contest between universalism and Maori 'separatism'. For a century and a half, the Maori of the Waikato have created their own institutions in response to the tyranny of the Pakeha majority which conquered and occupied their territory. The Pakeha of the Waikato do not vote against Maori seats on their council out of a commitment to universal human rights and democracy, but out of the same prejudices and obsessions which made their ancestors desecrate and destroy Te Koopu Mania o Kirikiriroa.
Like Louis Crimp, the recent referendum in the Waikato shows us the real face of Pakeha chauvinism. As John Cheever knew, a mirror doesn't lie.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]