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Maori Diaspora Spirituality, global indigeneity and the construction of academia

Graham Harvey (Open University)
A paper presented at The 2001 Conference in London.

Academia’s complicity in the construction of colonialist and consumerist modernity has made one merely contingent metaphor seem natural, while obscuring another metaphor with greater explanatory power. The metaphor of the supermarket may expose one dynamic that is pervasive in the globalised world of modernity: consumerist choice. But (super)markets serve a much more global, far more pervasive and - arguably - more interesting dynamic: sociability. Shopping is rarely an end in itself. Consumerism is not final. Food and goods are taken or sent home to aid or continue the construction and maintenance of family, kinship, and friendship. Academia is also a mode of relationship, certainly one serviced by choices of ‘goods’. However, the valuation of individuality and interiority combine in the valuation of the kind of knowledge that is sourced in curiosity and consumed individually. Research is classically presented as conducted by individuals (individualists) among - but attempting distance from - communities. It is disseminated (a metaphor of relationship contaminated by patriarchal and heterosexist notions of sexuality) within books and thoughts. This knowledge is offered for consumption by a community of students, i.e. those not yet fully individuated as full scholars: their curiosity is being trained towards the garnering of more ideas. Modernist academia maintains these processes and ideological position by constructing an indigenous alterity of community. Here ‘knowledge’ is shared, performed and given out by groups.

This rant is as partial as the positions it proposes to critique. In fact, its aim is to alert us (myself as much as my audience) that we act together. Academia has always been relational. Its individual knowledges and individuating processes have always served wider communities. Its research has always engaged with communities who have necessarily found a place in the web of relationships for the lone academic visitor whose curiosity makes them seem eccentric everywhere but in their own writing.
Exploration of the metaphors by which we live, and which we purvey, should encourage us to challenge the now commonplace idea that religions exist in a marketplace. Whether that putative market is global or local is not the big issue, but rather one that obscures a larger metaphor. When people shop it is usually to service sociability. Religions are the sociability rather than the service. The dynamic by which people affiliate themselves and (sometimes) decide which religion to join, participate with, contribute to, disseminate and so on, is more ‘family’ than supermarket consumer or ‘seeker’. For the researcher, religion is encountered more as guest-host relationships than as market-shopper consumption.
This may also sound alien to the title. However, it is intended to demonstrate that the processes of affinity, kinship and guesthood, that are central to Maori spirituality - in diaspora as much as ‘at home’ - are not dissimilar to process commonplace in academia too. It is only that we do not always see what we are embedded in. So, let me offer for consideration a brief case-study. Alternatively, allow me to play my role as guest here by sharing news of neighbours who inhabit, not a market, but a meeting place.

Maori diasporas

Maori are the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand. They identify themselves as such in the self-designation tangata whenua. This is applicable not only to Maori as the collective of all indigenes of that place in pre-colonial times, but more centrally (and traditionally) to local communities in particular locations. Such particularities are (still) identified in relation to local mountains and rivers as well as to the long-term dwelling in that place of ancestral relations. In oratory and greeting such locative markers (geography and genealogy) are foundational. For example, the following phrase might introduce a speaker from Ruatoria on North Island’s East Coast:

Ko Hikurangi te maunga,
ko Waiapu te awa,
ko Ngati Porou te iwi.

Hikurangi is the mountain,
Waiapu the river,
Ngati Porou the tribe, iwi.

When this is followed by the recitation of ancestral names, hearers realise (not only in their thoughts, but also in their responsive greetings) their relationships.

But not all Maori live in rural, tribal homelands. (Not that such locations escape the forces of colonial modernity.) Many live in diaspora. Some have migrated from ancestral places to become urban, dwellers in New Zealand’s cities. Others have migrated further for employment, education and experience. This is in many respects an economic diaspora rather than one rooted in oppression. However, it is important to note that travel is nothing new to Maori: their ancestors migrated from elsewhere, and they maintained connections of various kinds by movement among the islands. The boundedness of indigeneity is a trope academia uses to construct itself and its alterity (simultaneously). This extends not only into discussion of geographical boundedness (indigeneity fixed in one place), but also to debates about cultural change in which indigeneity’s boundedness is contrasted with ‘syncretism’. However, in Charlie Thompson’s (2001) eloquent metaphor, ‘border’s bleed’ - even ‘secure borders’ can be crossed by at least some of those who try, but their movement re-enacts the less bloodied crossing of place that has long maintained and serviced relationships by, e.g., trade and marriage. Beyond the geography, indigenous peoples also ‘travel’ in the sense that ‘tradition’ is not about a fixation with, or in, the past but about the continuous unfolding of new possibilities.

Maori journeys have extended their dwelling places throughout the world. During the twentieth century Maori moved with the Maori Battalion to serve kin and king in the World Wars. Many deaths establish places of significance for kin who survive them, places that are visited still. But my interest and involvement (to combine metaphors!) is in two diasporic communities of a happier kind. I have found friends and hosts among Maori in Alice Springs and in London. The latter only is the subject of reflections here.

Ngati Ranana and Matariki

It is hard to estimate how many Maori live and work in London now. Probably hundreds, maybe more. There are at least second generation Maori living in Britain, some indeed born as British citizens. But most Maori here are visitors, here to travel/explore and, more commonly, to work for a while. Again, usually the product of their labour services their ability to participate more fully in relationships, rather than enacting consumption only.

            In weekly gatherings one group of Maori, Ngati Ranana (London’s community), meet in central London. Most often they meet to practice for cultural performances - songs, some accompanied by posture and movement. (One part of their repertoire is available on the CD that accompanies Ralls-MacLeod and Harvey 2001.) But their meetings engage them in moments the protocols of which are recognisable to any visitor (let alone host) on marae ‘at home’ (see Harvey 2000). Another group, Matariki, some of whom are also members of Ngati Ranana, also act as a performance group, meeting regularly to practice and perform. (See their website at http://www.matariki.co.uk). Both groups, and other Maori and guests, also meet up at least once a year at Hinemihi, a Maori meeting house, wharenui, rebuilt in the grounds of Clandon House near Guildford.

Matariki performing in front of Hinemihi
(photo: Graham Harvey, 2000).

Ngati Ranana’s Kohanga Reo performing with poi
(photo: Graham Harvey, 2000).

Hosts and Guests

Academic discourses of Western engagement with indigenous people are often couched in the colonising language of appropriation. The common accusation of appropriation made against New Agers (e.g. Johnson 1995) might have force, but sometimes it demonstrates academia’s inability to see that it projects its own faults (see Smith 1999). However, there are other ways of meeting together.

Ngati Ranana’s weekly sessions in London’s Embassy attract not only Maori participants but also a number of pakeha (other-than-Maori, generally European) participants on a regular basis. Also, in addition to the regular members, there are often visitors. Indeed, were Ngati Ranana to be elsewhere on a particular Wednesday night, someone would be around in case visitors arrived. Some visitors are Maori just arriving from Aotearoa New Zealand, others are passing through London on holiday. Sometimes an official of the High Commission visits. And sometimes academic and media researchers visit. All of this is facilitated not as consumerist spectacle, but in the protocols that form and maintain relationships, especially those of hosts and guests.

Similar protocols obtain at annual gatherings at Hinemihi. In fact, just as ‘at home’ at a particular marae and its associated wharenui, they recognise (and further establish) the priority of the local hosts. That is, usually such spaces/places are living members of particular local kinship groups. They are ancestors of the local humans who might receive visitors and host or confront them. At Hinemihi now the marae space is not demarcated from the grass lawns of Clandon House. But those who know, know. Similarly, in the Embassy in London, regulars know which room is treated differently from other rooms - e.g. it is only entered after the removal of shoes. Those who do not yet know the protocols are expected to follow and learn by doing. Someone will always suggest the removal of shoes, the putting aside of burdens, attentive silence or whatever the moment and place require. More than that is learnt from the familiarity of more intimate introductions and longer acquaintance. It is, of course, important both for these occasions and for the argument of this paper that Hinemihi, for all that she is a long way from her original home, remains an honoured ancestor. It is equally important that the Embassy is New Zealand territory and therefore subject to the ramifications of the Treaty of Waitangi (see Orange 1987, and Brookfield 1999).

An excellent guide to the customs and protocols of marae is provided by Hiwi and Pat Tauroa (1986), which might well be expanded by reference to information in Cleve Barlow’s (1991) invaluable discussion of ‘key concepts in Maori culture’, and imaginatively encountered in the true-to-life fiction of Patricia Grace (e.g. 1986, 26-30). For the purpose of this paper, the following brief notes about some highlights of what normally happens must suffice.
The visitor (myself for example) approaches the open space of the marae proper respectfully and waits with other visitors. As one or more elder women call in welcome. Even a first time visitor will probably sense that the welcome is to more than those seen and immediately evident. The welcome calls visitors forward into the space (full of potential and seething with possibilities). Even if only one person appears to step forward, a community shifts, our ancestors are always present with (or in or as) us. This is not a question of belief, private thoughts or desires. It is a fact to be acknowledged that each person is one form of the presence of all that the ancestors did and bequeathed. Rugby fans will recognise one common element of encounters between locals and visitors: the haka. This is not a ‘war dance’ as it is sometimes portrayed, but it is certainly a posture song. It makes a powerful point: that I have so far misrepresented the event. It is not as ‘visitors’ that strangers come to marae. How could this be true when locality and ancestry are so central to Maori self-identity and sovereignty? How could it be true when places and settlement in them - i.e. colonialism, invasion and such violence - underlies so much of the relationship between indigenous people and others? (Note that it is a relationship.) Even when it is Maori who are encountering Maori there is still something less innocuous or more fraught than hosts greeting mere visitors. The encounter is between locals and strangers. On the one hand are those who belong and know the land and the ancestors, whose right to stand here derives from all manner of relating ‘in specific and palpable ways, to the expressive earth’ (as David Abram puts it, 1996, 139, - though he speaks of being bound). On the other are those who might be enemies. The protocol thus provides for the possibility of conflict. The haka might say, ‘if you want to fight, we honour your bravery, and we are ready for you’. It ends with an offering that determines all that should happen next. (The offering is not forced into the potential recipient’s hands but placed in front of them so they may chose to receive or to reject.) To accept the gift is to accept guesthood. To reject is to maintain an oppositional relationship and offer confrontation.
For guests, the next steps take them forward to engage in making and hearing speeches in which relationships are created or enhanced. Some discover mutual ancestors and thus closer kinship and thus responsibilities and rights. Greater intimacy follows as hosts invite guests to hongi, sharing breathe together while pressing noses. Entry into the wharenui is an even greater intimacy, made evident for example by the carved teeth and vaginas on most wharenui doors (Harvey 2000). Another intimacy is the eating together that later takes place in a neighbouring wharekai, food house (dining room), although the dynamics of such acts are mediated by tapu regulations (see Mataira 2000). In the past, those who chose to be enemies were also confronted by the possibility that instead of eating with local people, one group might eat or be eaten by the other. I have yet to witness what would happen today if potential guests/enemies chose to enact enemy-hood instead of guesthood.
The above summarises some of what is standard in such encounters. It is necessarily brief, but might obscure or, at least, not reveal much that is important. Nonetheless, my purpose here is to note that things are a little different in Britain. Ngati Ranana meet on one floor of a building that has many purposes other than the making of guests. The group practice for future performances in the same room in which they will receive guests. But at least it is New Zealand, legally. Even at Hinemihi, Maori cultural groups and their guests have to negotiate very different power dynamics and geographies than those ‘at home’. Meanwhile, it is interesting to consider who is local and who is guest when Maori greet Europeans in London or Guildford. If nothing else, these events are multifaceted and multi-layered.
There is, however, much more. Even if I was not there, and no other entirely European person was there, Maori diversity would already have made changes. Not all Maori in Ngati Ranana are from the same iwi, tribe back home. Certainly they are not all of one whanau, family (even when we note that ‘family’ refers to the wide kinship collective which the Western term ‘extended’ implies is unnatural over against what we might otherwise call the ‘diminished’ kind predominating in modernity). But, while they are Ngati Ranana, they are whanau, they construct themselves weekly and annually as kin. Ancestors may be more than local, and Maori may be global, but here they find and/or create new intimacies. And as family they can receive guests, manuhiri, even academic ones. Some of this is familiar to Maori in New Zealand too, e.g. those who are forming ‘urban iwi’ uniting Maori from beyond ‘this place’ and attempting not only to build community but also to be recognised as having rights under ‘the Treaty’ (of Waitangi).
Again I have neglected an important detail. That is, many Maori have pakeha, European (often British) ancestors. Some, indeed, look entirely Anglo-Saxon. Should I then revise my opposition to the supermarket metaphor? Should I not withdraw my rant? Not so. Because although members of Ngati Ranana may choose to identify as Maori (when they could immerse that ancestry in the kind of forgetting endemic among most Anglo-Saxons and some ‘Celts’), the process is more one of sociability than of consumerism. Certainly globalisation is evident in all of this: indigenous diaspora, tourism and labour; the contested meeting of ancestrally different people; the construction of embassies and the reconstruction of Maori meeting houses; and so on. But people only visit the global supermarket. They build and maintain identity and relationships in houses: homes or meeting places.
Two final thoughts arise that are important for me as a researcher among indigenous people. Firstly, that the sovereignty of my hosts challenges the assertion that their spirituality is inauthentic just because it is different to that of their more remote ancestors. Ngati Ranana are not engaging in nostalgic role playing when they adapt the protocols of marae to a room in an embassy on the opposite side of the globe to their turangawaewae, standing places. Their European visitors are not (necessarily) appropriating from them when they perform haka and poi songs. They are all continuing what their ancestors began: the encounter between people who might find that even if ancestry separates them, place and time unite them. (Even if things were different, their sovereignty is the only permission they need to do what they do - that and their relationships with ancestors and places.)
Secondly, it has become evident to me that all research is relational, but there are plenty of bad relationships. Indigenous people have frequently gained nothing, but lost much, by hosting researchers. (In many places it is too late for anthropologists to reinvent themselves, people are refusing to hide the TV and play that game.) Meanwhile, Religious Studies scholars have been debating methodologies for research. Within the straightjacket of Western dualism we have been seeking ways to research without going native. We have tried ‘participant observation’ and found that it gets difficult because sometimes we want to observe when our hosts expect participation, and sometimes the pleasure of participation leads to disapproval by our ‘scientific ancestors’ (to refer to Jim Cox’s excellent book, 1998) or peers.
In addition to considerable gratitude to te whanau, Ngati Ranana, I am grateful to friendly academic peers including many of those cited, and also Dale Stover for an insightful, post-colonial approach to Sun Dancing (2001), and Martin Wood who introduced me to Ngati Ranana. I therefore hope that some of these thoughts might contribute to better relationships as research (and vice versa). The protocols of Maori marae deliberately construct relationships and therefore relational identities. Unfettered by dualism, indigenous people share the knowledge that ‘a piece of one always exists in the other’ (see Turner 2001) and that observers are always participants. Most vitally, there is a position that is neither that of the ‘native’ nor that of the (allegedly objective) ‘observer’, i.e. that of guest. Guests are never ‘native’ but neither are they ever so distant. Their experience and participation are necessary to all  performance/ritual. It is, in the end, not only that academia constructs indigeneity, but that indigenous people have been busy reconstructing researchers. The guest relationships in which each of us engages with others are specific and particular. They demand consideration of local and specific matters and protocols far beyond this generalised encouragement to be respectful guests and, thereby, better researchers.


Abram, David. 1996. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. New York: Vintage Books.

Barlow, C. 1991. Tikanga Whakaaro: Key concepts in Maori Culture. Auckland: Oxford University Press.

Brookfield, F.M. (Jock). 1999. Waitangi and Indigenous Rights: Revolution, Law and Legitimation. Auckland: Auckland University Press.

Cox, James L. 1998. Rational Ancestors: Scientific Rationality and African Indigenous Religions. Cardiff: Cardiff Academic Press.

Grace, Patricia. 1987. Potiki. London: Women’s Press.

Harvey, Graham. 2000. ‘Art Works in Aotearoa’ in Indigenous Religions: a Companion, London / New York: Cassell. pp. 155-72.

Johnson, Paul C. 1995. “Shamanism from Ecuador to Chicago: A Case Study in New Age Ritual Appropriation”. Religion 25: 163-78

Mataira, Peter. 2000. ‘Mana and Tapu: Sacred Knowledge, Sacred Boundaries’ in Graham Harvey (ed.) Indigenous Religions: a Companion, London / New York: Cassell. pp. 99-112.

Orange, Claudia. 1987. The Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books.

Ralls-MacLeod, Karen, and Graham Harvey (eds). 2001. Indigenous Religious Musics. Aldershot: Ashgate. Including CD.

Smith, Linda T. 1999. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, Otago: University of Otago Press, and London: Zed Books.

Stover, Dale. 2001. ‘Postcolonial Sun Dancing at Wakpamni Lake’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69.4. pages not yet set!

Tauroa, H. and Tauroa, P. 1986. Te Marae: a Guide to Customs & Protocol. Auckland: Reed.

Thompson, Charles D. 2001. Maya Identities and the Violence of Place: Borders Bleed, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Turner, David. 2001. ‘From Here into Eternity: Power and Transcendence in Australian Aboriginal Music’ in Karen Ralls MacLeod and Graham Harvey (eds). Indigenous Religious Musics. Aldershot: Ashgate. pp. 35-55.


The Spiritual Supermarket: Religious Pluralism in the 21st Century

April 19-22, 2001

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