Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What might be the Australian equivalent of the Haka?

Haka is used throughout New Zealand by many, not only Māori, to demonstrate their collective thoughts. There is a haka for each of the Services, as well as the Defence Force. Units with the NZ Army have their own haka. This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their Unit haka, powerfully.

Now this is a video clip of Prince Harry visiting New Zealand. Further comments follow the clip.

Regular readers will know that I am part Kiwi. I take great pride in that part. My New Zealand family has been involved in Māori studies and Māori advancement for almost one hundred years. I take pride in that. It has influenced me for much of my life and does so now.

One of the difficulties we have in Australia is that we have no equivalent of the Haka. In New Zealand, if you are a Pākehā, you can and should take part in the Haka because you are a Kiwi. You are not excluded. It is a national thing. An affirmation of common identity dating back to New Zealand's Māori past. In Australia, we treat Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal as separate domains. If you are non-Aboriginal, you do not belong in the Aboriginal domain except, sometimes, as an invited guest or, more often, as an observer of something like a smoking ceremony.

Australia and New Zealand are, of course, very different. They are now and were prior to European settlement. In New Zealand, I think that we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Māori connection will be an integral element of New Zealand life in one hundred years time. We cannot say the same thing in Australia for the Aboriginal connection. We just don't share enough, we have no common ceremonies, there is no way of admitting non-Aboriginal Australians into elements of Aboriginal life that might create shared ceremonial bonds.

I accept that this is a sweeping statement yet, when I look at the Haka, I feel that it is true.


My Observations said...

I thought that Hakas are typically performed before a fight. It seemed to me that such a Haka was performed in the first of the videos. I find it very powerful and uplifting, the most beautiful farewell of a fallen comrades and a promise to go on with the fight. Thank you very much for bringing it up. It moved me.

Anonymous said...

In New Zealand, I think that we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Māori connection will be an integral element of New Zealand life in one hundred years time. We cannot say the same thing in Australia for the Aboriginal connection.

So, 60,000+ years of culture can be dismissed on the basis of a couple of YouTube clips?

I don't agree with your NZ presumption of certainty, although I hope it is so for their sake; and I don't agree with your dismissal of Australian culture.

(And exactly why need there be 'an equivalent'? Who wrote that rule? I bet it was the product of a well-meaning but ignorant committee)


Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, AC. It had that affect on me too.

I wasn't dismissive of Aboriginal history or culture, kvd. I spend far too much time writing about it, trying to bring that past alive, to do that. Let me ask you a question in return. As, I think, a non-Aboriginal Australian, what are the elements in Aboriginal culture past or present that you share and would regard as part of your own heritage as an Australian?

2 tanners said...

I tend to agree with you Jim, although personally I find the haka a needlessly confronting act, perhaps a piece of culture that could be left behind when a hangi could be celebrated.

I perhaps ascribe the difference to the lack of a 'Treaty of Waitangi' equivalent.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I was unable to respond last night from my bed with an iPad; tanners remarked recently that he found the present iteration of blogger's robot verification unworkable, and I agree. Perhaps you might report that to blogger as one of their blog authors?

I dunno about 'elements of Aboriginal culture' that I consider part of my own heritage, but I do very much admire the various schools of art (I'm sitting here looking at seven works on my walls, with a stack of another 8 which I regularly hang in rotation) and I admire what I would term the respect for elders, the seemingly close family ties, and the 'working with' country as opposedd to reshaping it with a Victa, and a couple of English elms and oaks.

I find it hard to imagine a similar situation with Prince H. in Australia; but I repeat that I'm wondering why that in itself is considered either good or bad, or indicative of the possible continuation of either Aboriginal or Maori culture? I say that with admiration of both; like you my father was NZ born, his family having arrived from Scotland in the 1870's. And also like you I continue to admire Maori contribution to NZ life, culture, sport, you name it - but not by way of comparison with Aboriginal culture. To be honest I cannot see the basis for any such comparison, or why such comparison is necessary or even helpful?

Looking around the world there is a huge array of 'native' cultures which are resilient in the face of cultural (mis)appropriation, and I don't see why, after some 60,000+ years our Aboriginal Australians should be particularly prone to eventual irrelevance; certainly not on the basis of one particular facet of their culture being absorbed and, rightly, celebrated by the wider community, as with the Haka.

In the last 20 years or so we have incorporated the Aboriginal 'welcome to country' into many of our public gatherings. This might have been an equivalent, but it seems now, watching it take place that the wider community does not hold it in the regard, or with the significance, granted by Aboriginals. But is that 'their' fault, or 'ours'?


Anonymous said...

Rabbiting on too much as usual, so I forgot to mention one of the saddest, and most recent, examples of 'our' regard of Aboriginal culture: Mr Abbott's dismissal of the attachment to country as a 'lifestyle choice'.

What chance have we got, when that is the attitude of our current PM?


Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. I absolutely agree with you on attachment to country. I would also agree that there are elements in Aboriginal culture and lore that could/should be incorporated into broader Australian culture. You have identified some of them.

Just re-summarising my concern, there is a bifurcation in Australia that goes back a long time, has increased in recent years, that essentially places Aboriginal culture in a ghetto. Both sides bear responsibility.

Take art an an example. I was early attracted to Aboriginal art, saw it as Aboriginal but also part of my own heritage as an Australian. It became part of my own visual imagery. And then came a movement that said that Aboriginal art was uniquely and specially attached to the Aborigines. That is obviously true at one level. But the way that it was phrased seemed, at least to me, to say that you, Jim, as a non-Aboriginal person do not have a right to claim that art as part of your own heritage. That is appropriation. You mustn't do it. That places Aboriginal art in a ghetto.

Welcome to country or smoking ceremonies are important, a link between Australia now and the Aboriginal past, but they have become ritualised. Of itself, there is nothing wrong with ritual. The Haka is a ritual. There are equivalent Māori welcomes. But the meaning always isn't clear, despite the efforts of Aboriginal elders to explain it.

In my own way, I have tried to address the issue by making elements of Aboriginal history more accessible to Aboriginal an non-Aboriginal people alike, but I do despair at the constant emphasis on distinction between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal space.

Anonymous said...

Total agreement, and now understanding, from me. kvd

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, kvd, although its still leaves partly open the question of what to promote.