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Gen. Debate: Flavell 'Bridging Cultural Spheres'

General Debate

'Bridging Cultural Spheres' : Te Ururoa Flavell; Member for Waiariki

Over the last month, the nation has been engrossed in debates which at its very heart, demonstrate the significance of the relationship between tangata whenua and other New Zealanders.

Debates which Dr Paul Tapsell, director Maori at Auckland Museum, welcomed as expressing the maturity of the nation.

In his article in yesterday’s paper, he reflected on the value of debating and reviewing cultural practices, as a means of bridging ‘cultural spheres’.

The Maori Party has eagerly accepted that challenge; to immerse ourselves in the ongoing debate towards nationhood; we need to have the dialogue, to listen, to grow and to learn.

The debates over the culture of gift giving in Samoa known as lafo; the tikanga of utu or reciprocity associated with koha; indeed the notions of altruism and social obligation found in European practices of gifting; have opened up the korero. What we have are notions of tikanga Samoa, tikanga Maori, tikanga Pakeha.

They followed an experience of unprecedented cultural learning, represented at the tangihanga of the late Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu.

I have taken time to reflect myself on an opinion piece by Dr Ranginui Walker, writing about another tangihanga within the Tainui confederation of tribes, some fifteen years ago, in 1991. Dr Walker described the tangi of one of New Zealand’s most gifted entertainers, Billy T James, in terms such as ‘the clash between two cultures’; ‘ the cultural divide between Maori and Pakeha”; or “the media hype about the event by ignorant, monocultural commentators only served to inflame the situation between Maori and Pakeha”.
What a huge contrast.

What was it that has made the nation willing to learn now at the time of the passing of Te Arikinui? What were the prevailing factors, that created the atmosphere of openness, which paved the way for future understanding?

There has been much written about the manaakitanga of the host, Tainui waka; people have been so overwhelmed and amazed at the organizational detail that they showed to the nation, Maori and Pakeha, the many ethnic groups of Aotearoa and from overseas.
Their huge generosity to their manuhiri (their visitors), their visitors in opening up their tikanga, their marae to the nation has been appreciated by many. But the funny thing, is that this sort of manaakitanga is expressed on marae throughout the motu but technology has enabled this to be seen “in real time” rather than from archival footage.

But there are many other aspects to tangihanga which make the experience so unique. As one example, one of the most special moments for myself, is if I have the privilege of digging the final plot, the resting site for the deceased. It is nothing for me to jump in the hole, to feel that sense of connection, that appreciation of being so closely involved; the very last time you are to see that person. Some whanau members find the process of digging the grave and getting on the end of the shovel to bury their loved one, a very therapeutic process.

In our hapu, the qualification to perform this final ritual is not one linked to the NZQA unit standards in ‘grave digging using machinery’; or ‘grave collapse consolidation’.

The qualification we have acquired is through whakapapa; the overlapping layers of connection, built on genealogy.

Mr Speaker, as a nation, we must never lose sight of the value that can be gained, through opening our eyes to different ways of being.

In the Maori Party, we have been interested in the values that Pakeha may bring to the process of death and dying; the rules of engagement that determine how relationships develop.

I have reflected on the research of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and her work “On Death and Dying”, an analysis of the process of grieving. This is an example for me of Tikanga Pakeha associated with death. I wondered what my tikanga Maori regarding death has in common with tikanga Pakeha and what was different.

Kubler-Ross identified five areas including denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think that the difference lies in the manner of expression, the rituals, the processes of recounting history and further affirming the nature of the relationships between peoples. These things are inherent in the practices of tikanga Maori.

We do need to understand the norms and values of other cultures, before relationships can be developed. The recent discussions generated from the tangihanga for Dame Te Atairangikaahu has opened the door. The challenge for us is to continue the dialogue as a nation.

The Maori Party relishes the opportunity to learn from each other, to nurture our relationships. I am confident that te Ao Maori will continue to share as we deem appropriate. We have much to share.

Concepts such as tangihanga, manaakitanga; koha; lafo, gifting; are integral to our ongoing relationship with each other.

Moving to a point of even being willing to understand the cultural norms of others is an important step in itself. Moving on from that will allow us to consider the bigger picture, our relationship as treaty partners, willing to work together, in the best interests on our nation, yet acknowledging our uniqueness.


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