Studies in the Making of the Maori: An Introduction

Jennifer Gin Lee '99 (English 27, Spring '97)

The Maori Jennifer Gin Lee

[These materials are taken from essays originally written for Antrolopogy, 121, Nations Within States, Brown University.]

It is very easy to look at the past and judge a people by what they used to be. It is very easy to look at the present and decide that the truth is all there at that moment. But this is not real. The Maoris of New Zealand are neither tattooed and superstitious men and women of many gods, nor are they mechanics, doctors, activists, gang members, or politicians. These are Pakeha definitions -- the incomplete, taken out of context perceptions of white Europeans. A Maori is all of these things and none of them, an intersection of worlds, a contradiction in terms. It is only natural that identity should be such a subjective thing. For instance, the Maori would argue that the essence of their identity is enduring and uniquely Maori, and I would agree, but at the same time their identity is also amorphous, highly mutable, and very indicative of the times. This paper is an attempt to look through the Maori perspective to determine the chief characteristics of their collective identity and recognize the motivation behind its modern day construction.

Postcolonial Overview Australia New Zealand