Being Pakeha Now by Michael King

This book feels like a significant waypost on the journey of a country to understanding their identity. Reading it feels like a re-tracing of that journey for an individual. Michael King is trying to understand (through autobiography) what it is to be a Pakeha New Zealander: a non-Maori New Zealander – but to define this in a sense that is not merely negative, not defined by a lack, but in a positive sense. On the way the book raises uncomfortable questions about race relations in New Zealand, about our past Pakeha-Maori relations. King argues that Pakeha are distinctively New Zealanders (rather than Europeans or immigrants), that they are indigenous in some sense by their belonging and relationship to the land and country, while not denying that Maori – tangata whenua – have a privileged position as “first comers”. He also argues that there is a shared set of values that all New Zealanders, both Pakeha and Maori, have. A  realisation that came to him (as it does to many of us) as he returned from travelling overseas, best summed up in this passage (pp 178-9):

All this contributed to a conviction that New Zealanders, for all their faults, had virtues that were precious: an unwillingness to be intimidated by the new, the formidable, or class systems; trust in situations where there would otherwise be none; compassion for the underdog; a sense of responsibility for people in difficulty; not undertaking to do something without seeing it through…a lesser degree of racial prejudice (though not an absence) than that apparent in many other parts of the world…I also became more conscious of the value of my Maori associations – of what New Zealand would lose…if it were left solely with its Anglo-Saxon-Celtic heritage.

If you are interested in the history of New Zealand thought and identity, or are just trying to make sense of what being a Pakeha in the 21st century is all about, then this is a must read.


~ by Doug Newdick on November 15, 2009.

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