Maori Culture, the Destructive Effect of European Colonization, and Keri Hulme's "Bone People"

Marissa Burgoyne (English 34 1993)

After the discovery of New Zealand for the second time by Captain Cook, the British came to colonize. With them they brought many of their own plants and animals, including rabbits, deer, opossum, willow, poplar, gorse, which they introduced into the environment without permission or fore-thought. The plants and animals flourished in the environment but only at the huge expense of the indigenous plants and animals.

The British have gone through the same process with the Maori people. They introduced, without forethought, firearms and alcohol to them, which, together with disease, served to kill over half of the population. Then, under the guise of religion and the great work of God, they taught the Maori doctrines that destroyed their religion, art, language, leaving them a void.

Kerewin and Joe in The Bone People suffer from this cultural void. They embraced the change whole heartedly but quickly learned that with ties of family, all that they know and believe in, gone, nothing remained. They lost their initiative and talents. "The lightning came. It blasted my family and it blasted my painting talent" (28). They were left alone with only alcohol as a friend. The lightning -- that is, the colonizers -- by destroying their beliefs, had, whether consciously or unconsciously, destroyed the people, too.

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