Posts Tagged ‘Language’

Current events

datePosted on 13:53, April 27th, 2010 by Lew

I was reluctant to post while I had the chance on ANZAC day, since there was such a good debate going on, and now I’ve (temporarily) run out of time again. So just a few quick observations.

  • Phil Goff’s one-two punch on the top tax rate and Auckland governance is solid, and both are good orthodox Labour positions for him to take. But it’s more of the same: lacking verve and failing to get cut-through as a consequence. I mean to post on the positioning of the taxation pledge at some stage, but in case I don’t get to: this is a good opportunity for Goff to demonstrate compromise as well as differentiate himself, by coupling a reimplementation of the top rate with an increase of the threshold.
  • Even without Sunday’s tragic helicopter crash, Goff’s timing was poor in making these two announcements before ANZAC Day. I guess you take the opportunities you can get, but delaying things by a week would have been more useful in my view.
  • As an aside, my mum knew the three late airmen vaguely through Search and Rescue, and confirms the universal sentiment that they were of the very best sort. I’m pleasantly surprised that the crash hasn’t turned into a witchhunt about why we’re still using Vietnam-era hardware; as true as the sentiment might be, we can all do without people thundering “if we’re going to have a military, we owe it to our troops to have it decently-outfitted” under circumstances such as these. Such is the power of ANZAC day, I suppose.
  • On a related point, the discipline with which the military, government, police and media have adopted the Air Force’s framing terminology in this event is remarkable. All four groups are talking about “the Air Force family” and exploiting the metaphor for all it’s worth. Those words are used almost every time one of these people stands in front of a microphone, and in addition the three deceased are “brothers”; Mark Sainsbury reported live last night from the family’s “lounge”, the squad room at Ohakea air base; all four have referred to the Iroquois as being like “your grandfather’s axe” — the reference being that, although it’s very old, when the handle is worn it gets replaced, and when the head is worn it gets replaced, so while it’s his axe in spirit, it actually contains no parts of the original tool and is as good as new in function. On the one hand, this is compelling symbolic stuff: nobody who deviates from this framing can really be said to be showing the proper sort of respect and deference; on the other hand, it’s a bit creepy for everyone to be falling into lockstep behind Defence HQ communications. There are ways of saying these things without using the exact same words, and the constant repetition spooks me. Maybe I’m just sensitive. [Edit: There was a clean sweep for “Air Force family” or something similar in speeches supporting the Prime Minister’s parliamentary motion of condolence. No shock there, I suppose.]
  • On a somewhat lighter note, Councillor Tony Jack has picked the wrong district council to put a motion banning macrons in council materials. This is the Kāpiti Coast District Council, who moved to put the macrons into Paekākāriki and Ōtaki only a month ago. Jack’s motion was voted down, at which point he predictably declared that PC had gone mad. Bless. Of course, the Stuff article doesn’t contain the macrons, so I guess he wins as far as that goes.
  • Tim Watkin at Pundit continues to write excellent sense and ask smart questions about race relations in Aotearoa New Zealand. I think the emphasis in Tim’s piece is just right — there is a legitimate claim to indigeneity for non-Māori, but it’s not so obvious as Trevor Mallard’s “I was born in Wainuiomata”, and there’s a lot to work out before such definitions can be settled upoin comfortably. I’m all for having this discussion. I particularly like the ornithological allegory drawn by commenter “william blake” — we are all Pūkeko!
  • Also on a lighter note, a (very) atheist friend whose six year-old daughter has chosen to go to Bible study classes recently asked him if, because Jesus had risen from the dead, that meant he was a zombie. It apparently took every ounce of his parental commitment to letting his girl make up her own mind to explain the origins of zombie stories, how myths come about, etc. rather than just saying, yes, Jesus is a zombie. Good on him — not sure I would have had the fortitude.
  • Speaking of things biblical, and of belonging, Joanna Newsom has a new album out, and here’s the first single — about tilling one’s own bit of the Garden of Eden:

Ok, so not so brief after all. Discuss. I’ll dive back in as I can. You can treat this as an open thread as well: post what you want to talk about.

L

A little sanity from Laws

datePosted on 10:50, January 27th, 2010 by Lew

I often find myself thinking of a saying which I’ve seen variously described as Arabian, African and Chinese, but which I’m pretty sure every culture has in its own version:

At the hearth: me against my brothers. In the house, me and my brothers against our cousins. In the village: me, my brothers and our cousins against our neighbors. Outside: me, my brothers, our cousins and our neighbors against the world.

Michael Laws and the formerly-divided Wanganui District Council have unanimously condemned the adoption by media (TVNZ, Radio NZ and other outsiders) of the standard Māori pronunciation of “Fonganui”, while quietly endorsing the new “Whanganui” spelling as an official alternative. In an expression of the last phrase of the proverb above, the council also resolved to “work with local Māori leaders to draw up a guideline for national media and organisations as to how the city should be pronounced.”

Quite apart from being an almost unprecedented — and very welcome — indication of goodwill from Laws and his settler-majority council toward tangata whenua, this also marks a subtle shift away from the bombastic demagoguery of the h debate to a sort of diplomacy, perhaps a realisation that civil society solutions to complex political identity problems come about by education and negotiation; they require change by consent. This was the fundamental difference between the pro-h and anti-h arguments in the great h debate of oh-nine: the anti-h position was presriptive, insisting that it had to be a “Wanganui” for everyone with no tolerance for dissent. The pro-h position was about recognition, insisting that “Whanganui” be acknowledged as having preeminence, but not enforcing this usage in an absolute fashion.

But ultimately (although Laws and the council may not have gotten this point) pronunciation is a different question. Pronunciation and dialect in Māori remains an expression of a speaker’s rangatiratanga. Māori was, and to a large extent remains a dialectic language where howyou say something provides important context about who you are and what you’re saying — a concept somewhat unfamiliar to many Pākehā New Zealanders who are used to a reasonably homogeneous accent, but one which will be very familiar to anyone familiar with the USA or the UK. This is why you’ll hear Māori from elsewhere in the country pronouncing it “Fonganui” without much objection from Whanganui Māori, and why you’ll hear Whanganui Māori pronouncing “Whakatane” as “Wakatane”, as well as “wānau” or “ware” or “wakarongo mai”, and while it may draw sniggers from speakers of other dialects, it is generally recognised as a manifestation of Whanganuitanga to speak this way. For their part the Whanganui (and Taranaki*) Māori are proud of their dialect much as Texans or Geordies are. Tariana Turia, in speeches, has described just such situations, such as when visiting relatives from the Tongariro region, the children teased her for poor pronunciation. Far from being ashamed by this, it was a small source of pride for her and a matter of her own mana and Whanganuitanga, a recognition of the small differences between relations which throw the much more important commonalities into sharp relief.

All this is a somewhat roundabout way of saying that, while it’s wonderful that Laws and the council have seen the need to ally with their cousins and neighbours against the world, and moreover have (apparently) seen the need to do so in a diplomatic and non-coercive manner, this is a battle they simply may not win because there is an important distinction between standing on your own mana and trying to force others to adopt your ways, requiring them to sacrifice their own mana in doing so.

L

* Māori Language Commissioner Ruakere Hond is leading the campaign to promote the Taranaki dialect.

Fear itself

datePosted on 20:37, February 28th, 2009 by Lew

Chris Trotter seems to think I’m being culturally precious and pandering to Māori separatism with my post on the h issue. He misses the point, and fearmongers about vague Orewa-like shadows of a savage threat to the settler way of life.

While it did a lot of describing, the purpose of the post was not descriptive, (is) but normative (ought). The question was not whether Wanganui has become the de facto and de jure name of the town; it manifestly has, a fact I acknowledge by using that spelling throughout that post and this one.* The question was whether those who made it so had the right to make it so, and whether they have the right to keep it so against the will of those who retain rights to the name and its usage – rights granted in principle (but not necessarily enforceable in law) by the Treaty of Waitangi.

Chris seeks to derail this by reference to the changing nature of language, but his example hardly addresses the point, far from invalidating it. The `ought’ I’m arguing is that those with a legitimate historical, linguistic and cultural claim to a name – nobody disputes that they do – which forms a core aspect of their whakapapa and regional identity and who have been actively working to maintain that name for generations should not have that claim summarily invalidated by the whim of a majority whose sole attachment to the word is the ignorance of colonial hegemony – wanting to control whatever aspect of the local culture they can for fear of their own insecure identity. The Bowalley Road example, while interesting, is fundamentally different from the case in point for two reasons: first, it is a name which was attached to a place by individual fiat rather than from long-established common usage; and second, nobody seems to care that it has been changed. My argument rests firmly on both these considerations, and they lend it legitimacy: if it were a made-up name, and if nobody cared, my claim would clearly be invalid. The proponents of retaining the current spelling also appeal to both these grounds for legitimacy, so the question is not which of the two causes is legitimate – it is which of the two spellings should take primacy over the other. Who gets to exercise cultural control – rangatiratanga – over the name? Its originators, whose regional and whakapapa identity is tied to in it, at whose pleasure the original Pākehā settlement was founded, and who have since been systematically excluded from its affairs to the point where they are now outsiders on their own historical lands; or the settlers, whose cultural and linguistic dominance is already evident in myriad ways, who are responsible for the marginalisation of the tangata whenua, and who fight tooth and nail against every attempt at reconciliation or reparation unless it is on their terms and their terms alone. The two claims to primacy have the same grounds in principle – it’s just that the grounds of one are stronger than the grounds of the other.

The second part of Chris’ article is worse, though, because rather than misunderstanding the point and its arguments, he misstates the cause and repeats a divisive propaganda line about the dangers of allowing the natives to exercise any authority. Although Chris might not agree, this kite about the Māori radicals in the closet just waiting for their moment to disrupt the nice harmonious race relations we have in NZ is not too dissimilar from that flown by Don Brash five years ago at the Orewa Rotary Club. Let me deal with the two paragraphs in turn:

What’s more, Ken Mair’s demand that the pre-colonial appellation be restored is, I strongly suspect, part-and-parcel of a much more ambitious plan to reclaim his people’s sovereignty over the entire region. To do that, however, Ken and his people would have to fight the colonial wars of conquest all over again – this time emerging as the winners.

Why didn’t we see through their nefarious plan?

1. Change the name.
2. ?????
3. Declare the Mairist Republic of Whanganui.
4. Profit!

The assertion is beyond preposterous; comparing it to the Underpants Gnome business model almost does the model a disservice.

The goals of tino rangatiratanga ceased to be cession/secession, revolution and mass reoccupation by force generations ago. Tangata whenua – and particularly those of the Whanganui region – have embraced the legitimate governmental and judicial processes at their disposal, so much so that one of their daughters is a minister in the current government.

So perhaps the “grasping settlers” Lew condemns are smarter than he is willing to admit. Perhaps they see right through Ken’s seemingly harmless demand that the spelling of the city’s name be changed. Perhaps, by resisting this little challenge today, the Wanganui District Council and its Mayor can avoid resisting much more dangerous challenges tomorrow.

I never condemned the settlers as stupid – I freely admit that they’re not; they have very smartly and efficiently suppressed almost all Māori resistance, to their great advantage. I condemned their actions and attitudes as unjust and counterproductive in the long term. Chris’ whole argument here begs the question that there’s a race war on, and this is the fundamental assertion that the logic of Orewa and of the iwi/kiwi billboards and of the underclass and the warrior gene expects us to accept – for without it, the edifice crumbles. The entire assumption rises from that same grasping settler mentality I identified – fear of the other, fear of scarcity, fear of losing control, the constant feeling of being embattled and under siege and somehow insecure.

If one accepts – and there is copious evidence for this – that there is no intractable race war, and Māori no longer want to fight, but to retain rangatiratanga over the things they still have, and gain control – mostly symbolic, rather than material – over a tiny fraction of what they lost, there’s no argument to be had here. Work with them, rather than against them, treat in good faith and look to the future, and the future begins to look a whole lot brighter.

Today, 28 February, is the anniversary of the 1995 occupation of Pakaitore, the grounds upon which the Wanganui District Courthouse stands, known formerly as Moutoa Gardens in honour of the `loyal Māoris’ who defended the settlement against a Hauhau assault at Moutoa Island in 1864. The occupation lasted nearly three tense months during which the settlers thought their town had been invaded – my wife’s cousin phoned from London in the middle of the night to make sure she wasn’t in any danger; of course, she wasn’t because there was no violence beyond the usual which happened between the Rutland and Commercial Hotels. The occupation centred upon the claim that the land had been expropriated by the city, not sold by tangata whenua. On this same day in 2007, the Māori Land Court returned the block to iwi, who now receive a rental from the Ministry of Justice, whose courthouse continues to operate undisturbed. The land remains publicly accessible to all, although the statue of John Ballance no longer stands. Today, in the wind and rain, there were tents set up selling fry bread and hāngi and raw fish and home-grown veges and artwork; people standing around talking and kids playing. Ken Mair was there; he doesn’t know me and I’m just about as white as can be, but he greeted me warmly and bid me welcome and we chatted for a moment. There was a big tino rangatiratanga flag, but no chest-thumping or politicking or nationalistic fervour – it was a marketplace, on the site of a historical marketplace. The only problem was that there were hardly any white folk there, and those who were there looked guilty and suspicious, like they thought they were trespassing. The people selling the raw fish were embarrassed that they had trouble producing change for a $20 note. A girl of about seven wanted to know where I was from, and when I told her `Wellington, but I grew up here’, she asked `why don’t you live in Wanganui any more?’ What’s needed, and wanted, is more understanding, not the entrenchment of colonial ignorance or its endorsement as a valid way of life.

So, Chris, beyond the vague shadows of Orewa, what `dangerous challenges’ might the latter-day settlers of New Zealand face if they allow tangata whenua a bit of symbolic and linguistic authority over their own names and history?

L

* I use the spelling `Wanganui’ because this spelling currently has primacy. While I believe the spelling should be `Whanganui’, it’s not good enough to just have it become the de facto spelling. In order to recognise rangatiratanga, it must be made official – ariki ki te ariki, tangata ki te tangata.

Ka ora!

datePosted on 23:27, February 18th, 2009 by Lew

Ka ora! (I live!) – the triumphant second part of the famous challenge in Te Rauparaha’s haka Ka Mate, composed after his narrow escape from seemingly-certain death. Ka mate is itself a symbol of life and vigour and indomitable spirit, a rowdy celebration of vitality, and one of the most vivid and tangible symbols of New Zealand culture, both for Māori and for Tau Iwi, and much-loved and admired by people the world over, so ubiquitous that many simply know it as the haka, as if there were none other.

Now the rights to this famous tāonga are to be vested in Te Rauparaha’s descendants, Ngāti Toa Rangatira. This is a sore spot for many people, who for the reasons above feel as if they have a stake in Ka Mate as well. Much of this hearkens back to the old `iwi/kiwi’ rhetoric of the 2005 election campaign, and in particular I’d like to point to one small exchange which I think illustrates that that rhetorical line no longer has quite the currency it did; then I’d like to engage with the actual matter of the issue: the meeting of intellectual property, identity and mātauranga Māori.

Backdown

haka13The Rod Emmerson cartoon at right appeared on the front page of the New Zealand Herald on 11 February 2009, the day the Letter of Agreement between Ngāti Toa Rangatira and the Crown was signed, and is the most direct reference to the old iwi/kiwi debate. The image was also attached to the online story. However, that day during Question Time, Minister for Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson harshly criticised the cartoon, saying it was “puerile and inaccurate […] highly offensive to Ngāti Toa. We are not talking about that kind of redress”. This position was reiterated by John Key, and was the subject of another article the following day. They’re absolutely right: as I will demonstrate below there is no merit whatsoever to the argument.

After Finlayson’s statement in Parliament, the cartoon was detached from the article – but it remains on the NZ Herald’s server, and that it was attached to the article is proven by google images. Tangentially, the cartoon appears to be one of a batch by Emmerson, including this one, very similarly composed. At least two other cartoons emphasised the financial issue – Mike Moreu’s and Tom Scott’s.

The importance of this very minor editorial backdown by the NZ Herald is huge. I’m not arguing that Finlayson’s statement in the House caused the Herald to take it down, but it was undoubtedly an influence: perhaps the Herald saw that the tide has turned. The very fact that a National Minister would so firmly repudiate such an allegation of graft among Māori business interests, against the editorial line of both our major press outlets, shows how far they have come since the bad old days of Don Brash’s populist point-scoring. It also shows that they’re in government and mean to stay there.

Rights

People talk about `intellectual property’ as if it’s unified by a central legal idea, or created from whole cloth. In fact the whole realm is a minefield of social, legal, technical, customary and common-law complexity from several intellectual traditions, dating back to the enlightenment, and very poorly updated to encompass things which have happened since. The S92 protests currently underway are an example of its deep and thorough dysfunction. It’s vastly more ugly and complicated than you might think: for an excellent critique of the whole system, I can recommend none better than Drahos and Braithwaite, Information Feudalism. Incidentally, like Richard Stallman, I abhor the term `intellectual property’ for this reason; though unlike him I don’t eschew its use when talking about the whole awful mess together.

When people talk about `intellectual property’, usually they mean `copyright’ but want to sound knowledgeable. Even when people talk about `copyright’ they are usually, in fact, mixing up two quite distinct parallel traditions: economic rights of copyright, and moral rights of the author. Simply; economic rights allow the copyright holder to extract a rent from a work, while moral rights afford other sorts of protection, such as the requirement of attribution. The two sets of rights can exist independently or apart; they need not necessarily go together, but can coexist happily if need be. The discourse inherent in the cartoons above, and in much of the news copy, is rooted in the supposition that economic rights are the only rights, and that Ngāti Toa Rangatira must therefore be looking to extract a rent from Ka Mate (even if only a piffling, `dollar dollar’ for the single most famous piece of Māori art in existence). This is also the foundation of Whale Oil’s rather smug argument that, since NZ copyright allows for a term of 50 years after the death of the author, copyright on Ka Mate lapsed in 1899 and it’s now in the public domain.

As is so often the case, the reality is quite different. The Letter of Agreement mentions nothing of the sort – no discussion of economic or moral rights, or of copyright, or even of that broadest of terms, `intellectual property’. No, the complete text in the LoA relating to Ka Mate is as follows:

– Ka Mate haka

The settlement legislation will also record the authorship and significance of the haka Ka Mate to Ngāti Toa and the Crown will work with Ngāti Toa to address their concerns with the haka in a way that balances their rights with those of the wider public.

The Crown does not expect that redress will result in royalties for the use of Ka Mate or provide Ngāti Toa with a veto on the performance of Ka Mate. Ngāti Toa’s primary objective is to prevent the misappropriation and culturally inappropriate use of the Ka Mate haka.

This stops well short of even the weakest copyright protection. It implies a subset of moral rights, and explicitly enjoins exercise of economic rights. The entire line of argument is therefore completely discredited, and if anything, Ngāti Toa Rangatira are faced with a hard task of staking a claim in any way other than the symbolic. If they choose – and there’s the big question nobody is asking.

Colonising Mātauranga Māori

Suppose Ngāti Toa Rangatira had been offered exclusive, authorial economic and moral rights to Ka Mate. Should they accept? Ultimately, of course, this is a matter of utility for that iwi, and them alone – but let me sketch a few of the issues in play. First, and most obviously, the adoption of Tau Iwi systems of knowledge ownership for mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) is a dangerous business. Those who have legitimate entitlement to the mātauranga might be prevented from exercising it by colonial IP laws; more importantly, the nature of the mātauranga itself is impacted upon by its presence within a framework, and the degree of codification and specification that requires. As M A Hemi said regarding the use of Māori terms in the Resource Management Act,

Māori concepts when treated in isolation are incapable of proper function and development. In fact, any concept when divorced from its cultural base is subject to dysfunction and cultural reinterpretation or hi-jack. (Quoted in Mason Durie, Te Mana, Te Kāwanatanga, p33.)

Nevertheless, there can be great utility in protecting these things by colonial means, in order to prevent their exploitation by colonial systems. This is the foundation for the WAI 262 claim, to my knowledge the longest-running and most complex claim ever brought to the Waitangi Tribunal, with enormous precedent value. And why shouldn’t they see any tangible economic benefits from their mātauranga now, given that for generations it has been exploited and co-opted and adapted without their consent or input, and to great commercial gain?

The question is a live one – ka ora.

L