After reading Being Pakeha Now: Reflections and Recollections of a White Native I found it quite amazing that up until a few years ago I had no real conception of who Michael King is – or rather was, given his unexpected and rather untimely death in a freak motoring accident in March 2004. Apparently, his car veered of a straight road on SH 2 in the Waikato, hit a tree and caught fire. Speed wasn’t a contributing factor so the accident is rather mysterious. In any case, this book, Being Pakeha Now is arguably King’s most significant work.
Again, this is a book I think everyone should read and I’ve already bought and given away one extra copy… You should read it because the issue that King is exploring is of central importance to 21st Century New Zealand: What does it mean to be a non-Maori New Zealander? There are other worldview-ish questions that connect with this. Questions that perhaps lurk beneath our ideas
King is in no way trying to displace Maori identities and history. Quite the opposite… In fact, if there was ever a kind of intellectual Sir Edmond Hillary it would be Michael King. He has endured controversy and earned praise from both Maori and Pakeha and climbed some rather formidable mountains in his efforts to encourage the recording and writing down of accurate Maori histories. King’s basic here can be captured in the following quote which is reproduced on the cover of the book:
‘Pakeha New Zealanders who are committed to this land and its people are no less “indigenous” than Maori.’
King recognises and respects the place of Maori in New Zealand, and argues that Pakeha too belong inescapably to this country and in fact have no other. They (we) have become a second indigenous culture, that of Pakeha New Zealanders.
This is not some philosophical treatise or turgid history. It’s a personal memoir in which King uses his own life’s Journey to explore this idea of what it means to be Pakeha now. It’s also as close as we’ll ever get to an autobiography. Basically, it’s the story of being born into an Irish Catholic family and growing up around Paremata and later Auckland. It’s also the story of a childhood, youth, and adulthood filled with mentors and heroes and I find myself embarassed at how few of these famous people I really know anything about. At times funny and tragic, it’s a history of New Zealand that’s accessible and inclusive…
There’s lots of a great content, but here are a couple of favourite quotes I earmarked:
‘The study of history has bequeathed me with another conviction, one that is somewhat at variance with the manner in which my early education – particularly my religious education – was carried out. It is the belief that truth must be sought through the media of unfettered investigation and open disputation according to the model of the Open Society as characterised by Carl Popper among others (‘a society whose members may openly criticise the institutions and the structures of power without fear of reprisal; where education is distinct from propaganda; where freedoms of thought, action and belief are allowed the greatest possible extent’).
‘For me, then, to be Pakeha on the cusp of the twenty-first century is not to be European; it is not to be an alien or a stranger in my own country. It is to be a non-Maori New Zealander who is aware of and proud of my antecendents, but who identifies as intimately with this land, as intensively and as strongly, as anybody Maori. It is to be, as I have already argued, another kind of indigenous New Zealander.’