The Maori in the City

Keri Hulme and Laurelyn Douglas, Brown University '91

From a telephone interview with Keri Hulme conducted by Laurelyn Douglas.

KH: The difficult thing is that in New Zealand, an awful lot of people have been brought up in a very damaged and damaging way. And I'm not sure that there is either the will or the room for that to be healed. Within Maoridom, for instance, there's a whole generation -- not all of them obviously, I'm speaking here particularly and thinking as far as my cousins -- have been brought up wholly in the city, have no Maori contact, or only very little, and have no contact with -- oh, it sounds so pompous to say it -- but their rural origins and the roots of Maoridom. And those people are alienated in several ways. I've got a lot of cousins who are unemployed and basically unemployable who are becoming bloody dangerous people in their own way because all they've got is the dole and drink and you know, the hell with thinking about tomorrow because tomorrow is going to be exactly the same. And to hell with thinking about the past because that hasn't worked as far as they're concerned. I don't know. New Zealand to me is an absolutely wonderful place but we're in some pretty dodgy times at the moment.

LD: Do you think that there is anything in particular that could help those problems? I suppose what I'm getting at is what role art or creativity can actually play in real life as well as in the lives of fictional characters. I mean, in some respects your own book has been seen as something that people could identify with and as a landmard to be used as a means of self-reflection -- yet there seem to be so many incredible problems facing everyone.

KH: Yeah, that's true. If I were simplistic I would say that the one element of hope in The Bone People is not actually the odd commensual family unit that Kerewin and Joe find together at the end. It's actually the rediscovery or the reactivation of the Mauri of New Zealand. There isn't such a beast, incidentally. That's a piece of fantastic extrapolation off the concept of Mauriora.

LD: You're talking more in reference to Joe's discovery of the . . .

KH: Well, what the old guardian is guarding, yes. One of the ways that I think New Zealand society -- both major elements of it, Maori and Pakeha -- have been sidetracked is to an almost exclusive concentration on material goods. I mean, there's good reasons for this, not least the things that shape the society I grew up in, for instance, which was a combination of a generation that went through the great depression and the second world war. But, you know there's a hell of a lot of New Zealanders who are very very good -- I maintain that we're probably the best people in the world at this, all of us, Maori and Pakeha -- at having masks. And if you take the masks away, there's buggerall inside, and to my feeling, it's because there's been this enormous outpouring of energy to make sure that we had all of the goodies. Of course, now we haven't. And there's not a lot for people to stand on.

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Last Modified: 15 March, 2002