Revitalising Maori-Malay world relations
By Dr. A. Murad Merican
April 8, 2014
CHIEF Matutaera Te Nana Clendon, president of the Maori Malay Polynesian Society Inc, while sending me off at Auckland Airport recently, reminded that the past is our future. I retorted “you know what time is”.
He resonated with an approving smile. We both know what that implies.
For the duration that I was in Waitangi and Auckland attending the Second International Maori Melayu Polynesian Conference late last month, I encountered a consciousness in the Maoris — a heightened manifestation of ethnicity and identity. There was the presence of a transnational relations beyond Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand.
It was resisting the Pakeha — the Maori label for the Europeans — the other White Man.
The 80-year-old Chief Matu perhaps represents that consciousness — for, unbeknown to him then, he has been to his tanah air (homeland) more than 50 years ago defending Malaysia against the communists.
Many like him who first landed in Malaya/Malaysia as New Zealand servicemen in the 1960s later realised that it was a journey to the past, linking them to their origins in the Malay archipelago.
The Maoris, 600,000 of them, forming 15 per cent of New Zealand’s population, are part of the Malay world stretching from Madagascar to Rapanui (Easter islands) and from Hawaii to Aotearoa. They belong to the Austronesian linguistic group with some 371 million souls — a large market as an economic community as I reminded the conference during the resolution session.
Western writers described the Maoris, as the “Vikings of the Orient”. But the Atlantic, as the Maori responded, was just a pond compared with the Pacific.
In presenting my paper later in the day titled “Early European/Pakeha Discourses on Melayu-Polynesian Identity”, I initially reflected that the meeting between the peoples of Southeast Asia and the Maori at the conference strongly signified a counter-narrative to mainstream Eurocentric view of the world.
There was a predominant manifestation of reasserting and re-establishing indigenous and endogenous views of the world and oneself from the discussions and papers presented.
It evoked Kupe, the earliest explorer who discovered Aotearoa in the 10th century. Later, a participant from Manahiki, an island in the Cook Islands (named after Captain James Cook) fairly located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, whose inhabitants are a close kin of the Maoris, suggested dropping the name “Cook” to the group of islands.
Kupe was there first.
The second conference was themed “Strengthening Cultural, Educational, Trade and Tourism Networks among the Melayu-Polynesian Ancestral Nations”.
While there was a sense of urgency in translating the many resolutions, I cannot help but assume the continuous relevance of the theme from the first conference, held in Seremban, Negri Sembilan in July of 2012, which was “Reestablishing and Revitalising Melayu-Polynesian Cultural Grounds and Global Relations”.
Three significant resolutions, among others, were the establishment of the Melayu-Maori-Polynesian Chamber of Commerce Business Council, and a university based in Auckland tentatively named as the Nusa Melayu-Polynesia International University. The other was revising history — resonating the oft repeated phrase in the conference — “The past is our future”.
In my paper, I articulated that for us to know ourselves, our identity and origins, we also have to know how we were constructed by others over the centuries. We have to internalise ourselves from within, we have to represent ourselves, and be conscious of our own voice and expressions of our being. I revisited two works relevant and much critical to the discourse.
One was Syed Hussein Alatas’ Myth of the Lazy Native: A Study of the Image of the Malays, Filipinos and Javanese from the 16th to the 20th Century and its Function in the Ideology of Colonial Capitalism published in 1977; and the other Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples by Maori educationist and scholar Linda Tuhiwai Smith, published 22 years later in 1999.
While Syed Hussein adopts the sociology and philosophy of colonialism in the Asian setting and the concept of ideology as the system within which the representation of identity operates, Tuhiwai Smith holds no reservations on the Pakeha.
She advocated for a rewriting and rerighting “our position in history.” Writing history and theory are key sites in which Western research of the indigenous world have come together.
“Research” is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism. According to Tuhiwai Smith, it is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world’s vocabulary.
History and theory evoke emotions. Being Maori was also ridiculed and condemned in academic and popular discourses.
In the Maori, we see outside of ourselves, that the production of knowledge is not always direct and neutral process. Even identifying ourselves as the Melayu-Polynesian rumpun (cluster) is not value free.
A pertinent example is the text of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The Maori language text was signed by 45 rangatira (leaders) on Feb 6. No rangatira had signed the English language text.
There are some five versions of the Treaty in English, which, according to the Maoris, have conflicting translations and interpretations that are still being debated today.
The coloniser and the colonised, in Frantz Fanon’s words “…know each other well” — perhaps much too close for comfort.
See also Maori TV clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSFumZsmbJ4
Patron of the World Melayu-Polynesian Organisation, His Highness Prince – Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz (left) – more popularly known as Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz, the son of Sultan, Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan (Malaysia), Tuanku Muhriz ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir. Part of the Malaysian group with the Hon. Minister of Maori Affairs, Peter Sharples (3rd from left).
Concurrent sessions: Toyer Farrath meeting the first arrivals, Prof Dato Nik Hassan Shuhaimi (Malaysia), Rawson Wright (Chairman of Taitokerau Forests Ltd, New Zealand) and presenter Mohd Yusof Abdullah (Director of Negeri Terengganau Museum, Malaysia).
Expat, Toyer Farrath, delivering his paper on Globalisation and Multiculturalism: Working together on strengths, not Differences
Toyer Farrath and Nuruniesah Farrath with Prof Dato Kamarudin Kachar (Malaysia), President of The World Melayu-Polynesia Organisation.
Toyer Farrath with the Maori members of the Maori-Malay-Polynesian Society – organisers of the The 2nd International Maori-Melayu-Polynesian Ancestral Nations Conference (Waitangi, New Zealand).
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