Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Multiple Identifications and the Dialogical Self: Urban Maori Youngsters and the Cultural renaissance./Identifications Multiples et Soi Dialogique : Les Jeunes Maoris Urbains et la Renaissance Culturelle

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Multiple Identifications and the Dialogical Self: Urban Maori Youngsters and the Cultural renaissance./Identifications Multiples et Soi Dialogique : Les Jeunes Maoris Urbains et la Renaissance Culturelle

Article excerpt

  A single consciousness is contradictio in adjecto. Consciousness is in
  essence multiple. Pluralia tantum.
  Mikhail Bakhtin (1984 [1929]: 228)
  [W]ho am I to tell a people ... how they are to practise being and
  reflecting themselves?
  Alan Duff (1993: 47)

In 1988 I conducted ethnographic field research in a Maori community in New Zealand, where I met Theresa, a Maori woman, who was then 26 years of age and mother of four children. Her husband had become unemployed and therefore she felt she also had to look for a job. She had no previous working experience, nor did she have any qualifications. Hence she enrolled for a computer course at a Maori training centre for school dropouts.

The training centre which Theresa attended was different from other training centres in New Zealand because of its location on a marae, a traditional ceremonial centre. Marae protocol (kawa) prescribes everyone present on a marae to take part in ceremonies when visitors arrive, during meetings, funerals, and other transitional rituals. The curriculum of the training centre therefore included a compulsory module for all trainees that focused on the performance of Maori ceremonies, the teaching of Maorilanguage, and elementary skills in Maori 'culture', colloquially defined in an expressive manner and limited to ceremonial speech-making, singing, and dancing. The teaching of Maori language, 'culture', and traditions was necessary since few trainees had the skills to participate in marae ceremonies. Underlying the 'cultural' component of training courses, however, was also an assumption that marae practices are emblematic for a Maori identity. When you are unable to join in, you are not considered a genuine Maori.

But Theresa, and many of her fellow trainees, experienced great difficulties with this model for a Maori identity. She felt she would never be able to learn the Maori language, which would also make it difficult for her to take part in Maori ceremonies. The marae model for a Maori identity made her realize that she was not a 'real' Maori or a 'good' Maori, as the local idiom goes. She told me that at the training centre she had come to realize that she was 'only Maori because I have got a dark skin'. Initially she did make an effort to conform to the prototype of a Maori identity conveyed on the marae by participating seriously in the language and 'culture' classes, but soon she reached the inevitable conclusion that for her the ideal of a 'real Maori' was unattainable: 'being Maori doesn't come from my heart'.

Being Maori for her meant something entirely different: 'living in a tin shack and being poor'. Until she enrolled at the training centre, she had never visited a marae, even though she had lived less than a kilo metre away from one. The marae location of the training centre confronted her therefore with the paradox of the marae model for a Maori identity that she did not dispute, but to which she felt little personal connection. Her sense of self as Maori was rooted predominantly in the feeling of being an outcast in New Zealand society, something she shared with many other Maori people. The experience of not being able to identify in terms of the model for a Maori identity that was dominant on the marae was therefore alienating and also painful. In this article I seek to examine the mediation between these two different models for a Maori identity, and the dialogue between them within the self of mainly urban Maori youngsters whose participation in a marae-based Maori training centre made them realize that they belonged neither in European domains nor in typical Maori domains of New Zealand society.

Culture and identity in Maori society

The constitution of cultural identities is a topical issue in contemporary Maori society. Over the past twenty-five years a cultural renaissance has taken place which aims primarily at restoring Maori sovereignty over the lives of Maori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand (e. …

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