May 17, 2010

AWRF 2010 - Friday May 14: Best of Both Worlds

Jeffrey Paparoa Holman’s book Best of Both Worlds about the historic relationship, 115 years ago, between the Tūhoe chief Tutakangahau and the self-taught anthropologist Elsdon Best was published this year. Holman appeared at AWRF 2010 in an event with Hemana Waaka (Ngai Tūhoe) which was described in the Festival programme as a talk “about the place of these two men in Tūhoe history”.  Teri Ta’ala, who selects the material for Auckland City Libraries’ Maori, biography and history collections, was in the audience, and to her that was just the starting point. Here's her story:
When my father took a trip down the Whanganui awa in the early 60’s he stayed with a tohunga known as old man Pokiha.  When old man Pokiha relinquished a few gems of Maori knowledge to him, my father questioned why he was giving this knowledge to him, a Pākehā?  Pokiha told him “Better to fill a bucket with holes than none at all.”

Like my Dad, Jeffrey Holman, author of ‘Best of both worlds’, is Pākehā and like my Dad felt that his identity and that of Pākehā in general is intertwined with and inseparable from Māori. Like old man Pohika, Tutakangahau, Tūhoe ariki and Best’s informant for the book ‘The children of the mist’, was passing on te mātauranga o Tūhoe in a hope to record the history and knowledge of Tūhoe.

Tūhoe had endured years of the Crown’s scorched earth policy when Best turned up in the Ureweras.  The onslaught of colonialism was eroding Māori ways of being and knowing. Holman’s book juxtaposes Best and Tutakangahau as anthropologist and informant, Māori and Pākehā, noble savage and colonialist.  In doing so, it cannot escape the wider story of New Zealand’s colonial past and more specifically Tūhoe’s struggle to maintain te mana motuhake o Tūhoe, a struggle that we see playing out in national media today.

I think the discussion would have benefitted more had the issue of ownership and kaitiakitanga been raised (whether in relation to the current situation over the Ureweras or Best’s ownership of te matauranga o Tūhoe). While Holman and Hemana seemed comfortable with Best’s role as ‘salvage anthropologist’ and while Tutakangahau’s intentions to preserve the ways of Tūhoe are clear, it is difficult for me to be comfortable with Best’s role as ‘frontier intellectual’. Let us not forget Best helped to clear out Parihaka as part of the armed constabulary. Or the role of anthropologists in general who are the scourge of indigenous people, often getting things wrong (Margaret Mead’s ‘Coming of age in Samoa’ for example) or receiving all the credit, as Best has with ‘The children of the mist’ (it’s his name on the book, not Tutakangahau’s).

Without doubt, Aotearoa’s identity is all the more richer for the research(?) of frontier intellectuals like Best and I am grateful for Māori such as Tutakangahau for having the foresight to have matauranga Māori recorded. Nevertheless, issues over the ownership of Maori cultural/intellectual property continue to be debated and Māori continue to negotiate the tricky trail between accessibility, ownership and kaitiakitanga.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30


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