• What Does It Mean to Be A New Zealander?

    When, in 1962, as a 23 year-old, I boarded the Northern Star to sail to Britain where I was to study as a Rhodes Scholar for a post-graduate law degree at Balliol College, Oxford, I took with me an LP (yes, we had those funny bits of vinyl in those days). It was a recording of the St Joseph’s Maori Girls Choir, singing Maori love songs and starring their lead singer Wiki Baker.

    Over the next few years, as I completed my degree and stayed on in the UK for a decade or three, I was surprised to discover that nothing made me feel more homesick, or more like a New Zealander, than listening to those beautifully sung Maori melodies. The only comparable emotional charge came from watching the All Blacks do the haka.

    I had a similar rush of affection for my homeland a few days ago, in the midst of the media coverage of the terrible events in Christchurch. The television news was showing a gathering of London-based Kiwis who were seeking comfort from each other at that dark time; I wasn’t really watching but I suddenly heard the strains of E Papa Waiari and Whakaaria Mai being sung.

    I was suddenly transported to be there with them – my compatriots – and once again I realised that the music had powerfully stirred me and I was again struck by the fact that it was Maori music that had reinforced for me my sense of my own identity. I recall being similarly moved by the performance of E Papa Waiari by Fiji at the One Love Concert in Tauranga in 2018, when the crowd joined in and would not let the music end.

    These experiences lead me to reflect on my cultural heritage and on what makes me a New Zealander. I am of mixed Scottish, Welsh and English descent and proud of it. My forefathers came to New Zealand in the very earliest days of European settlement. But I realise that I am, today, not just a Brit who has been transplanted 12,000 miles away. I am proudly from the Pacific and I am the product of a unique cultural environment. I feel that I understand and share the concepts of both tangata and whenua.

    My heritage is a doubly rich one, drawing not only on my British antecedents but also on the cultural environment into which I was born and in which I grew up and still live. Although, as far as I know, I have no Maori blood, I feel that, perhaps through osmosis, I have a special response to Maori culture – that I am a man of my time and place. It is that unique cultural hinterland that makes us Kiwis different.

    I would like to think that other pakeha New Zealanders may feel similarly. We are all entitled to feel that we are building something unique here in Aotearoa/New Zealand; we are not talking about integrating two cultures (that would do justice to neither of them), but recognising the debt that is owed by each to the other. The acknowledgement of that debt can, in my experience, produce a sense of enrichment and an aid to identifying exactly who we are.

    At a moment in our history when we are compelled to ask ourselves who we are, and how we should respond to those of different cultures in our midst, we should not only reinforce our commitment to welcoming diversity and treating each other with respect, whatever our cultural, ethnic and religious identities, but we should also think a little more deeply as to the answer we should give when we are asked “Who are you?” And “what is the future for New Zealand?”

    My answer is that a New Zealand identity should illustrate the truth of the Maori whakatauki or proverb, that “with your basket and my basket, the people will prosper” and that “we are all in the same canoe”.

    Bryan Gould
    19 March 2019