Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

'Pakeha-Style Biculturalism' and the Maori Writer

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

'Pakeha-Style Biculturalism' and the Maori Writer

Article excerpt

In turning his back in 2004 on what he described as the 'captivity' of 'Pakeha-style biculturalism', Witi Ihimaera offered us his latest registration of changes in the larger culture New Zealanders share.1 His decision late in 1975 to stop writing for ten years because his early work was 'tragically out of date' had registered the mounting Maori radicalism the Land March of that year only partially represented.2 His resumption of publication with The Matriarch (1986) responded to the questioning of his right to write by Maori radicals. Co-editorship of the Te Ao Marama series (1992-6) confirmed his political kaupapa, and the novel Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1995) marked the start of a gay kaupapa continued in The Uncle's Story (2000). Further eddies and crosscurrents can be seen elsewhere in his considerable body of publication. Turning his back on biculturalism 'Pakeha-style' may well come to be seen as a significant new part of this sequence, one that points to changes in the ways in which Maori artists write in English.

For in place of this discarded biculturalism, the writer nowtwice-reborn has come out for tino rangatiratanga, the evolution of what has been described as 'different cultures-"two treasures"-strong and independent'3 and thus the confirmation in the literary culture of a term that has acquired considerable historical and political weight since it was coined, to mean something like 'true ownership and control', in or before the devising of the Treaty of Waitangi. Furthermore, Ihimaera's new stance came at the start of what has been a remarkable project, the rewriting of The Whale Rider (1987) as an 'International Edition' (2003) and his earliest fiction Pounamu Pounamu (1972), Tangi (1973) and Whanau (1974) into Pounamu Pounamu (2003), Ihimaera: His Best Stories (2003), Whanau II (2004) and The Rape of Man (2005), in an 'Anniversary Collection' that celebrates thirty years of association with his publisher, Reed.

In this sequence, the first novel stands slightly apart. According to the author, the 'reworking' of The Whale Rider (1987) into The Whale Rider: International Edition (2003) 'honours the original edition and does not depart from the story'; there are, however, 'small and mainly linguistic changes',4 in fact amounting to over one hundred. Of these changes, almost all have the effect of removing words that might get in the way of a non-New Zealander: both Maori (so that 'whanau' becomes 'family'5 and 'te mea te mea' becomes 'yeah yeah te mea te mea'6) and English (so that the quintessentially Australasian 'mate' becomes the quintessentially North American 'buddy'7). '[D]ouble time at the Works', instantly recognisable to all New Zealanders of Ihimaera's age and more, becomes 'double time at work', instantly recognisable to anyone who speaks English anywhere;8 less translatable Kiwi phrases ('drown in the dip', 'sheepo' and 'dags'9) disappear completely, along-curiously-with references to Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Greta Garbo.10 Sic transit gloria mundi.

Its specific regionality bleached out, its 'New Zealandness' and 'Maoriness' processed for a northern hemisphere market, The International Edition of The Whale Rider is very obviously the book of the film of the book, written to make the most of the phenomenal success of Niki Caro's film Whale Rider (2003). But it is clear that the writing of the Anniversary Collection involves something very different, a revisiting that often yields writing that is darker, more difficult and powerful. Whanau II, for example, returns us to the essentially post-colonialist kaupapa Ihimaera expressed in the first volume of his anthology Te Ao Marama (1992), deepening and thickening Whanau I, exploring both the local history the earlier novel passes over lightly (so that the chapter on Waituhi expands by fifty percent, for example) and the characters he created then, giving them imaginative depth as well as a sense of social context that can be best summed up in the translation of Miriama Mahana's arthritis in the first novel into breast cancer, caused by smoking, in the second. …

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