They're just wee flags squeezed onto car windows. But they symbolise something much more than rugby and something I hope will out live the Rugby World Cup

When Governor William Hobson famously declared "He iwi tahi tatou" (We are all one people) to the rangatira who signed the Treaty of Waitangi, he left an awkward legacy. I imagine he meant well and all, perhaps as he saw it merely offering some noble words of colonial unity. But our history is littered with unhelpful attempts to make those words come true.

From the turn of the century when many – without urgent concern – assumed Maori to be dying race through the mid-20th century when Pakeha New Zealanders would confidently assert that this country had the best race relations in the world, the dominant mindset was, well, that there was only really one dominant mindset that would prevail here.

We would all become this single thing – a New Zealander. It was never clear exactly what that was; indeed, to try to express it was considered subversive, a bit poofterish and not really very New Zealand-ish at all.

You knew it when you saw it though. It was a bit humble and a bit decent and a bit irreverent and a bit rugged and a bit more bloody-minded. And more.

The conformity of the mid-20th century made it very hard to step outside that identity. It was just who we were meant to be. Like Hobson said.

One thing it certainly didn't involve was any tikanga. Or fancy ideas about kaitiakitanga or manaakitanga or that sort of stuff. That Treaty of Waitangi wasn't part of it either, except as something that happened ages ago.

Today, there's still a strong streak of this attitude running through the country, as seen in the reaction to Don Brash's Orewa speech. We're all the bloody same. No "special treatment" because no-one's different. Why can't everyone just be happy to be like me? Y'know?

We're all bloody New Zealanders, right?

Right. And wrong.

There's a lot that unites us in this country, and by no means do I mock the common threads of identity we share. There is something unique about the confluence of cultures, histories and geography in this country that adds up to a particular and precious New Zealand identity.

But there's something wonderful that's emerged in just the past few weeks, as people have embraced the Rugby World Cup.

We've become a two-flag nation. And no-one's angsting over it.

All over Auckland at least, cars are flying a New Zealand or All Blacks flag... plus one other. One side is true blue Kiwi. The other is Samoan. Or Welsh. Or American. Or South African. Or Fijian. Or Scottish. Or Irish – especially Irish. And so on and so on.

New Zealanders are discovering their other. People are showing off their non-kiwi bits.

And rather than have someone telling them that we're all the same, or that we all have to assimilate and share one world view, we're celebrating with a toot, a wave or a good old bit of banter.

Make no mistake, it's vital that we hang onto the ties that bind us, and rugby is part of that. Indeed, perhaps it's precisely because we're in this safe mental or cultural space created by rugby and because we're safe in the knowledge that we have a common meeting place – a rugby ground and 15 men in black – that we feel free to express our differences.

But right now it's OK to be a French New Zealander or a Tongan New Zealander or an English New Zealander. It's OK to confess a different world view or set of priorities. And this is a very good thing.

It's common in the US to describe yourself as an Irish American or a Polish American or, of course, an African American. But it's been resisted here as somehow dangerous and disloyal. Especially if you want to be a Maori New Zealander or a Pakeha New Zealander.

Look at the debates over the years about what we call ourselves on official forms, over the use of the word pakeha and over so-called "one law for all" issues. The common thread in all those political debates have been a fear of difference.

Now? Now we're celebrating those differences, even if it's in a small way. Those other flags on so many cars – and on the fences, and bedroom windows, and in the face paint – say 'I love this country, but I have other identities, other values as well'. The fact we're taking pride in that and enjoying all the different cultural expressions that brings shows a healthy level of maturity.

No, we can't en masse be as comfortable with the concept of being a Maori New Zealander as we can be with a Canadian New Zealander or Romanian New Zealander. Those others don't seek to share power, and so don't threaten our social order in the same way.

The idea of Maori being a bit different has political consequences that many still resent and reject.

But seeing those flags flying from cars as they zoom by gives me hope that we Pakeha can become more comfortable with other ways of being a New Zealander – be it a Chinese New Zealander or gay New Zealander or poor New Zealander. Or even a Maori New Zealander.

Those flags are a fluttering sign of change and maybe open the door just an inch further to new political possibilities.

My wish now is that we carry this two flag spirit beyond the Rugby World Cup and remember the joy of diverse worldviews and traditions coming together, so that yes we can be one as New Zealanders; but that we can still be many, as well.

Comments (3)

by Chris Webster on September 29, 2011
Chris Webster

Kia ora Tim:

In 2004 Dame Joan Metge in her 'Ropeworks - He Taura Whiri' speech cited Hobson's oft-quoted phrase 'he iwi tahi tatou'. '(http://www.firstfound.org.waitangiruarautau2004joanmetge.htm)

Dame Joan says Hobson was presumably coached by someone - probably Henry Williams and in turn  Colenso translated this into English as 'We are now one people'.

And in doing so overlooked he three subtle points:

1. the word 'iwi' means 'nation' as well as 'people'

2. if Hobson meant 'one people' he should have said 'he iwi kotahi; 'tahi without the prefix 'ko' means 'together';

3. the last word 'tatou' ceraintly means that first person plural 'we/us' - but it is a special form one without an equivalent in English.

Use of 'tatou' signals the fact that the 'we' in question comprises one or more groups.

This short sentence in Maori packs in a lot of meaning.  A fuller English translation would be: 'We two peoples together make a nation'.

'He iwi tahi tatou' still has application today but now we can give it a wider interepretation:

'We many people together make a nation'.

Dame Joan' says there are three elements that are essential to building our New Zealand nation:

Firstly the unique contribution of the Maori people, secondly the celebration of the ethnic diversity within our population and thirdly a sense of belonging to the land and to each other that is a strong national identity.

She uses the term 'Rope Works' in her title to empasise that nation-building, like rope-making, involves skill, co-operation and continuous hard work.

The Maori word 'taura' means 'rope' and 'whiri' means to 'plait'. Te taura whiri is 'a plaited rope' - a metaphor much loved by Maori orators.  They commonly use it to describe the way middle-sized descent groups - hapu - are plaited together in the iwi by common descent and the diplomatic skills of the rangatira.  They also apply it to any situation where disparate elements are combined in a unity.

And I'd like to suggest that Dame Joan's is perfect pitch for your rather delightful post.

A plaited cord is required to hoist a flag to a pole; to secure a flag to enable it to flutter outside of a moving vehicle, or from our homes or a building and to enable a people to be enveloped or to embrace the flag as a kahui (cloak) a cord is needed to  tie it to the shoulders of people!

Given Dame Joan's insight and the flag-fluttering nation Aotearoa New Zealand is today - maybe Curnow's dream 'to learn the trick of standing upright here' has now become a reality.

by Tim Watkin on September 30, 2011
Tim Watkin

Sorry to be slow to reply Chris. Wanted to say thanks for that really interesting comment. That's a great interpretation of Hobson's line. It'd be geat if he did mean 'we two peoples...'

Curnow's line is one of my favourites - one of the great dreams of New Zealand becoming fully itself. The winds are strong down here so I don't think we're there yet. 

by Brad Spiers on January 26, 2012
Brad Spiers

Perhaps a critique? (why do i feel like that itself is a 'four-letter word'? That is not my intention..anyway.)

I would like to point to a difference in Rangatiratanga and Kawanatanga and their apparent (yet misleading) translations. Usually Rangatira is taken to mean something like King or sovereign authority and Kawanatanga as a lowly governor something like a mayor.

However, upon perusing theological/modern thought (not antagonistic) in its protestant mode we find that Rangatiratanga would be a more close fit to, variously: 'the sacred, ultimate concern, value, good, god and the good life', while Kawanatanga would more closely fit government in the political realm or the secular (the realm of shared experience a.k.a. 'this world'. Why am i bring this up?

Well we must remember Tuwhare's statement that 'our whare walls were made of punga and that it is hard enough to image shelves on the walls let alone books on those shelves'. It was the gift of the WORD by missionaries who gave maori a written language, but not only did maori gain a written language - that language was derived from maori oral usage (otherwise the missionaries could not have comm-unicated with Maori). When Maori heard the story of Pilate (Matthew) there came the telling lines of 'give unto caesar that which is caesars and to the other that which is the others'. The thinking behind this is that God or the Sacred or Value has ownership or makes demands on that which is its property (and you cannot say 'NO' - story of abraham) and that the 'leftover' or the secular (shared) should be given unto Caesar as that is Caesars because Caesar governs as Kawana and as such has Kawanatanga over the secular space that politics occupies. The Rangatira or God cannot be negated nor argued with nor can those, whose ear the Rangatira has, be persuaded from listening and acting/obeying the Rangatira or God or Value or Sacred.

Now back to Tuwhare. The other side of the word is poets. They subvert the original word to literally make 'words'. As such no matter what we say or do, there will always be a remainder that we cannot take into account, except perhaps by accounting or 're-counting that which cannot be equated (as it is a REMAINDER). Its is a bit like 'pie' i.e. 3.1415.......ad nausium....this is what happens if you brake the circle or totality (crossing the circle – called dia-meter is just a little little bit less than 1/3 of the circles totality) ....it cannot be equated but must be figured at some-point as just a continual remainder that will always remain unchanged as remainder - that is its status or its definition is that of a remainder or of non-equatableness. Something is always leftover in trying to return to the whole circle, we come up slightly short.

We have a remarkable thing here in this country. However, it is deeply misguided to claim two people politically (seperately) as this would be to cause a 'war' (combativeness) amongst the Rangatira's that are brought to bear (bare) on the polis or the city or civics, because civics is about acting polite (from polis) and is enforced by the police (from polis). As McCahon might comment: 'we must hold back beauty (value, Rangatiratanga, sacred) from vanishing away'. Real-ising (bring into the real) the sacred or the Rangatiratanga would complete it which is impossible. The Socratic 'REAL' cannot be made 'reality'. Remember that it was Ranganui who was split from mother earth by THEIR DESCENDANTS. To Realise Ranganui in this would would be to undo or to fail in our role to hold back the beauty so that we may past it to generation and beyond. We have been given the task to hold the gap open.

In the polis we come together flags and all and that is fantastic. But of course no-one with a flag is trying to claim their flag as THE FLAG for all peoples everywhere at all times (i.e. in all history), I flag because the others also flag. That is to say that to wave your flag is an admission of difference and this difference is shared by the others in their difference. Humans share the attribute of difference.

Indeed, prior to 'contact' maori would mean what we mean today as 'human' i.e. all equally equal in our differentiationality. That is to say Maori meant ordinary people and not a 'nation', as Chris points out (above). So what i'm getting at is why not a Ngati Toa flag and a Ngai Tahu flag etc etc. There are also mutliple dialectics within Maori itself i.e. wha-ka-pa-pa is also f-uck-a-pa-pa (phonetically speaking).

Let us embrace our difference and the difference is properly OURS. I mean that as humans we 'beg to differ'. 

We must not become: 

Blinded by the light, 
revved up like a deuce, 
another runner in the night...
(Manfred Mann)

Re Curnow: 'the eyes of children flicker round (complete) this tomb under the sky lights, wonder at the huge egg found in a thousand pieces (hapu) BUT pieced together with LESS patience than the Bones (hegelian spirit) that dug in time (Kiekegaard) deep shelter against ocean weather. Not I Some Child......etc'

Response to: bspiers@gmail.com or bspiers.com

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