Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Print Culture and the Collective Maori Consciousness

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Print Culture and the Collective Maori Consciousness

Article excerpt

Before Europeans arrived in Aotearoa, Maori did not comprehend of humanity except as beings physically and culturally the same as themselves. The word "maori" means normal, and tângata maori, "maori" people, meant normal human beings who shared a language and culture in common. The most important divisions within Maori society were tribal, based on genealogical links.1 The advent of Europeans complicated the Maori world-view that had to accommodate the concept of different peoples with different languages and cultures.2 Maori may well, on first sight, have considered the strange visitors of the late eighteenth century the pale-skinned supernatural being they called "Päkehakeha".3 This supernaturality, although not the differences, soon slipped away from Päkehä, although the term persisted for people of European descent. However, while the physical and cultural characteristics were sufficiently apparent for Maori to see themselves as culturally or racially different to Päkehä, they did not initially "imagine" themselves as a nation or people, but rather continued to tie identity to tribal groupings.4 The development of a Maori "national" or collective consciousness, always partial and mitigated by tribal identities, was a response to Päkehä settlement and colonialism in New Zealand and, as with emerging nationalisms in other societies, this was shaped by print culture, in particular newspapers.

This essay seeks to explicate the role of print culture in the growth of Maori identity in the nineteenth century. The impact of print on society has long been acknowledged, and indeed anticipated by the early Päkehä purveyors of printed material to Maori.5 Scholars globally have also recognized the transformative power of print.6 However, within New Zealand, academics have been less comfortable in imagining Maori as a "nation", and when Maori "nationalism" is acknowledged, have shied away from theorizing on its nature and origins.7 Within the Maori world loyalties and self-identification still lean heavily towards whänau, hapü and iwi, perhaps more so in the present due to the effect of the Waitangi Tribunal. It is outside, in the pragmatic struggle with the challenges of the Päkehä world, that a "Maori" self-identity has more relevance. As John Rangihau stated, 'My being Maori is absolutely dependent on my history as a Tuhoe person as against being a Maori person'.8 However, both the nature of colonialism and Maori aspirations possess a dynamism that affect their relationship with each other, and thus the ongoing forms of Maori self-identification.

Benedict Anderson, in Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, explicitly linked print, coupled with capitalism, as instrumental in the formation of forms of "national consciousness",9 and this essay utilizes relevant parts of his thesis as points of comparison in considering the relationship in nineteenth-century Maori society. Although there has been some critique of his concepts and model, Anderson may nevertheless have provided a 'systematic comparative approach [that] has made a contribution to our understanding that is quite independent of the validity of its specific conclusions'.10 Indeed his work has proved influential, with scholars still prepared to engage with his ideas.11 This essay does not seek to slavishly compare Maori society to all the various theoretical components of Anderson's model but to investigate the nature of Maori collective identity using several core elements of his thesis: first that nationalism developed as the importance of religion and monarchy decreased;12 second that the advent of capitalism, in particular one of its first manifestations, printing, facilitated the development of national identities.13 Capitalism increasingly required wider levels of literacy and education.14 Printing was eventually undertaken in vernacular languages, particularly after the Reformation, creating 'monoglot mass reading publics', reading, and increasingly speaking, the same language. …

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