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Study Reveals Suprises at Otara Market


Study finds Otara market not dominated by Maori and Pacific Islanders

The perception that the Otara market is dominated by Maori and Pacific Islanders is not necessarily true according to University of Auckland student, Ruth Talo.

Ruth has been studying the changes that have occurred at South Auckland's Otara Market over the past ten years as a participant in the Faculty of Science summer scholarship programme.

Entitled "Evolving Ethnoscapes and Representations of Pacific Islanders at the Otara Market", the study has built on previous research undertaken by another Geography student in 1994.

"Some changes are more evident than others. For example, the market has grown in size from 275 stalls in 1994 to 346 stalls today," says Ruth.

"But what I found most interesting was that in 1994 stall holders were mostly Pakeha and Pacific Islanders, and now Asians are the predominant group. In fact the Asian stall holders have doubled from 24 percent in 1994 to 48 percent today."

She partly attributes the growth in Asian stall holders to the steady rise in the Chinese population in Manukau City.

Otara Market is now really multicultural, but Ruth says the market continues to have a Pacific atmosphere and is often promoted as a Pacific market. She says this is due to the island-style music which usually plays at the market, the customers, who are mostly Pacific Islanders, and the Pacific products that are sold.

"Pacific Islanders mostly sell their cultural products, while Asian stallholders tend to sell fruit and vegetables, and global consumer products like clothes and jewellery. Some even sell Pacific Island products like taro, green bananas and corned beef."

There are differences among the Pacific Island stallholders as well.

"Older Pacific Islanders tend to sell traditional items like tapa cloth, while the younger ones sell more contemporary products with a Pacific influence like T-shirts with political statements."

Ruth's research shows that younger Pacific Islanders are trying to forge their own identity and have taken phrases with negative connotations and adopted them as positive names.

"For example 'dawn raid', which was associated with immigration officials raiding houses and sending Pacific islanders back to their home countries, has been adopted as the name of the South Auckland music and clothing company 'Dawnraid'."

"There are also differences in what people from the different islands sell, for example tapa cloth is mainly sold by Tongans, while hats and tivaevae (quilts) are usually sold by Cook Islanders."

Ruth, who is in the final semester of a bachelor's degree majoring in Geography, joined more than 60 students who were awarded summer scholarships by the University's Faculty of Science for the 2003-2004 break.

"The great thing about this scholarship was being able to work in a practical environment and do research in an area that not only helps my current studies but also helps to lay the foundation for future research.

"It has been interesting meeting and talking with the stall holders and observing the public. In particular, I've enjoyed learning more about my culture," says the 21-year-old of Maori and Samoan descent.

Ruth says her degree studies helped her in her research.

"As part of the degree I learnt how to write research reports, interviewing skills and how to be a better observer. I also had great supervisors who have a good understanding of Pacific cultures."

While Ruth's summer scholarship officially ended in mid-March, she says more questions have come from the research that will need to be explored, and she hopes to look at them in future as part of a Masters degree.

Ruth's supervisors Dr Ward Friesen and Lyndsay Blue, from the School of Geography and Environmental Science, suggest that stall holders may be mobile and sell their products from various markets around Auckland on different days of the week.

"Pacific Islanders and Asians have a tradition of markets and the stalls may not be simply for the money," says Dr Friesen.

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