looking backward to move forward

with a wet and cold afternoon to spend in wellington, we headed for “te papa”, the highly touted shiny new national museum. much of the most important exhibits centred on the role and history of the maori people here in new zealand. i found it extraordinarily moving for a number of different reasons. because the story of the maori people is both alike and unlike the story of indigenous people everywhere. alike, in that as with the native americans, australian aboriginals, paraguayan guarani, and other native tribes the world over, the shameful story has a hauntingly familiar refrain: europeans arrive, europeans exploit, europeans steal, europeans destroy. decimate land, customs, lineage, independence. strong and proud peoples reduced to whatever menial status the white man sees fit to allow.

lather, rinse, repeat.

but unlike the similarities in other colonised nations, the maori story has a very different outcome. because the maori have managed, in spite of the overwhelming odds, to rise above the tragedy of history and change the ending by commanding respect and retribution. in spite of having their rights and lands stripped from them, they have persevered and reclaimed their dignity. they demanded acknowledgement in a way other native peoples have been unable to. there is nowadays, a resurgence in maori pride. thier language is an official language of the country. their traditional ways and customs are being invested in and preserved. their remaining lands have been restored to rightful ownership. and perhaps most importantly, in 1998, they received a long overdue, unreserved and abject apology from the government for their gross dereliction of duty. this alone sets the maori history apart.

and you feel the impact this has had. while history cannot be undone, and wrongs cannot be righted… pride and heritage can be preserved and protected. and, in fact, recalimed by a nation as an integral part of its national identity – for *all* kiwis. collective ownership which ensures future collective responsibility. maybe that’s what other countries are so afraid of. it’s easier to pretend it never happened.

but it’s an impressive testament to the future of a nation when it is both humble enough to look backward, and strong enough to look forward. a lesson that more could learn from. a hope that others might follow.

2 Responses to “looking backward to move forward”

  1. Anglofille
    August 12th, 2006 06:12

    If you’re in Wellington, don’t miss the Katherine Mansfield house! It’s wonderful. :)

  2. Jen
    August 13th, 2006 04:00

    dang – we only had a day, and have now moved to the south island… next time!

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