The healing of a nation

The healing of a nation

During a workshop at the Baptist Gathering, I listened to a young Maori talk about the pain of being a refugee in his own country and how his people had to journey with this pain for a long time. As I listened to him, I felt his pain and it brought deep sadness because what he said moved me. He spoke about being a product of his history and whakapapa (genealogy) and how it made him feel betrayed, hurt and let down by the Pakeha. His people’s history and whakapapa (genealogy) are intertwined  together thus enabling him to share in the pain of his ancestors. He asked the question “Why do I have to welcome you to a korero (conversation) when you have deceived and hurt my people over the last 170 years?”

As I listened to him, I was reminded of my own feelings when I went to Sri Lanka last year to attend my niece’s wedding, I felt a strange sense of coming home even though I have never lived in Sri Lanka. I was born in Sri Lanka but I spent most of my growing up years in Singapore. To have this feeling of Sri Lanka being home was a very strange experience for me. I spent time hanging with my whanau (family) and hearing their stories. I had this sensation of being at home with my family and whakapapa. We talked about the feeling of being a displaced people as we talked about life in the different countries we now lived. Even though my mum and dad left Sri Lanka by choice, other members of my clan are scattered around the world as a consequence of the racial conflict in Sri Lanka. As I listened to that young Maori, I knew what he was saying. I felt the pain of my own people who have had to be refugees in many countries in the world not by choice, but because they faced discrimination as the minority race in my country of birth.

I had another experience during the Gathering. I met an Indian who was a delegate and we got talking. When he realised I was a Sri Lankan Tamil, he started talking about the problems with the Tamils. I listened to him politely and then asked if he had spent a lot of time listening and trying to understand the challenges and pain the Tamils had to go through being a minority race. I found out that he hadn’t. I walked away wondering how many Pakehas had developed negative views of Maoris in the same way as this Indian.

This Gathering had challenged me deeply. I left the Gathering with a stronger determination to partner with Jesus in the broken cultural world of New Zealand. A question was burning in my spirit. What will it take for the nation of New Zealand to find healing and reconciliation from the past?  Over the years I have heard people comment to me that Maoris need to get over it and recognise that New Zealand is a whole new country now. We are no longer a  bicultural nation but multi-cultural. We need to assimilate people to the Kiwi way of life. When I ask what this Kiwi way of life is, I often find that it’s the way of life of White New Zealanders.

That young Maori opened my eyes to see a different picture of New Zealand. What if the Maori people are right? What if the Maoris are the tangata whenua (people of the land) and as generous hosts welcomed the Pakeha to share with them this great land of Aotearoa? What would the Kiwi way of life look like today if Maoris were treated as equal partners of  ‘Tiriti o Waitangi (Treaty of Waitangi)?

As I read various literature, I get the sense that the indigenous people used the terms ‘Maoris’ and ‘Pakehas’, not as a description of ethnicity but a description between the local indigenous people and the foreigners. When the British came to Aotearoa, the indigenous tribes called themselves Maoris, which meant ‘normal’ to distinguish themselves from the white foreigners (Pakehas) who had come to bring the gospel to them and to trade with them. As other foreigners came to New Zealand, the term ‘Pakeha’  took on a wider meaning to include all white people. (O’Connor, M. 1990. An Immigrant Nation. Auckland: Heineman Education.). 

However in 1985, King defined Pakeha as referring to non-Maori New Zealanders (King, M. 1985. Being Pakeha. Auckland: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd). So if the terms Maori and Pakeha are not ethnic descriptions but the way to identify historical origins of Maoris and non-Maoris, then New Zealand  should be a partnership between a ‘multiracial Pakeha people’ and ‘Tangata Maori’.

What does all this mean for me as a pastor and a migrant Kiwi?

1. It means the need to redefine the Pakeha culture.

Maybe it’s not about Maoris needing to accept the culture of modern New Zealand but  white New Zealanders recognising the term ‘Pakeha’  no longer refers to them but all non-Maoris. What does that mean? It means that it’s not about new foreigners assimilating into a white culture but it’s about the “Pakeha’ culture embraces the rich diversity that now exists amongst the non Maoris. The way I lead a church as an Asian pastor will be different from a white pastor and that’s okay. I see reaching a goal as a journey with many twists and bends and not just a ‘one way street’. Its Pakeha culture that needs to evolve and not the Maori culture.


2. It means a journey of listening to and understanding the two Treaty partners – The ‘multi cultural’ Pakehas and the ‘indigenous’ Maoris

As treaty Partners there needs to  be a mutual respect and rediscovery of what it means to be Pakeha and what it means to be Maori. Pakehas and Maoris in the 21st century are different from the Pakehas and Maoris of the 19th century.  I am not just talking about the cultural differences but the hurts and pain from the past have moulded both treaty partners. There needs to be a time of listening and seeking forgiveness and healing with a pledge that we will together honour the spirit of the treaty.


3. It means understanding what it means that in Christ there is no longer Maori and Pakeha but we are one in Christ.

God has been at work in this nation even before the founding of this nation. History has shown the impact the gospel has made on both the Maoris and the Pakehas. When we restore mutual love and respect, we can then move on as one people in Christ. This is what I long to see.  We cannot be one until we can listen to and understand each other. Only then can true unity in diversity take place. I will never think and act as a white person. A white person can never think and act as a Maori. A Maori can never think and act like someone from Africa. But when we can accept each other’s differences, recognise that we need each other, and being different is okay, we can truly see the gospel of Christ bringing together one people of God in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

One Comment on “The healing of a nation

  1. There is a dilemma connecting both Maori and non Maori people that is related to both being immigrant nations… the Maori tribes arrived in the islands in waves in canoes to different parts and established territories based on whether they could grow food. They often warred with each other and the last great war was shortly before Europeans arrived when the NorthernTe Rauparaha took over the Kaikoura tribal areas in the South in the 19C…. since then a peaceful invasion of people from all over the world have settled and like all immigrants hark back to their remembered way of living. In Britain at the moment, we are experiencing another wave of Eastern immigrants who seem to want to impose their culture on us, which includes their beliefs about clothing and insistence on loud hailing from high places of worship….plus the apparent desire to injure anyone who does not agree… the indigenous .population is beginning to be forced out and like the Maori they feel like refugees in their own country….. as must the early Celts when the Romans arrived, and the Saxons when the Normans invaded.
    Back in the 1980’s I was made an honorary member of Te Waitaha who were the first people to settle in the South Island… their legend as told by Barry Brailsford maintained that the tribe was created by peoples from different nations… white, brown and red… a rainbow people and they chose the God of the Rainbow as their guardian… you can read their history in Song of Waitaha…

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