Monday, September 07, 2020

The old gods

Some conservative older Pakeha are complaining about Labour's promise to make Matariki, or Maori New Year, a public holiday. They say Matariki was never part of their childhoods in the '60s or '70s. That's not surprising. Matariki is a Polynesian religious celebration, & indigenous religion was outlawed in New Zealand between 1907 & 1962 by the Tohunga Suppression Act. Tohunga, the priests of Maori religion, were fined or jailed. Whare wananga, where knowledge was passed between generations, went underground. Matariki celebrations would have been unthinkable in mainstream New Zealand society. By making Matariki a public holiday now, New Zealand can make some restitution for the repression of the ancient religion of these islands.

Matariki is a Maori celebration, but it has parallels in many other Polynesian societies. In Hawai'i, for example, the festival Matahiki sees tributes to the god of fertility Lono, cousin of Aotearoa's Rongo. By making Matariki a holiday, New Zealand can remember ancient Pacific connections.
In many parts of the Pacific, Christian indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices are still repressed. My friend the Tongan artist Visesio Siasau, for example, endures abuse & discrimination because he rejects Christianity & follows his country's ancient gods. In Tahiti, the self-proclaimed 'pagan' Moana'ura Walker has overcome a history of Catholic authoitarianism and established a thriving indigenous temple. By making Matariki a holiday, New Zealand will send a message of support to Siasau and to activists in other Pacific nations suffering from Christian oppression.


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