Feb 26, 2021


Maori News & Indigenous Views

Down under: the influence – Herald Scotland

7 min read

One nation has the haka, a colourful Polynesian culture and a seemingly innate ability to thrive on the rugby pitch. The other hails from 11,000 miles away in northern Europe and rarely trouble the games great powers. At first glance you might struggle to see the bond between Maori and Scots but at a cultural centre in New Zealand, cloaks and kilts woven together are part of an attempt to marry the two cultures.

The mainstay of the exhibition in Porirua by weaver Roka Ngarimu-Cameron is made from traditional Maori fibres wool and a flax called harakeke but the cloak appears more suited to Inverness than the Pacific.

The display, Nga Kakahu (Change And Exchange), a collaboration with artist Jo Torr, is about far more than weaving. Torrs works are about marrying Polynesian and New Zealand cultures; for Ngarimu-Cameron, traditional indigenous methods combine with European technologies, showing the similarities between Maori cloaks and Scottish kilts. Above all, it is a look at how the seemingly disparate identities of Scots and Maori are more united than we may think.

As her surname suggests, this weaver comes from good stock: she is a Maori married to a native of Skye. One of the cloaks, Cameron Of Lochiel, represents my husband and his heritage, and Ive woven the harakeke fibres through the tartan so it connects our bloodlines and weaves the two cultures together, she says.

There are so many similarities within our genealogy our whakapapa. There are the histories, the loss of our native languages to English and many other things that bring us together.

Another of the artworks, Korowai, uses feathers from the kereru, a native pigeon, while other cloaks feature bark from the houhere tree, silk, kereru skin and cotton. Each cloak, she says, investigates an aspect of cultural exchange, revealing links and influences. Torr, working separately from Ngarimu-Cameron, also uses a Stewart-based tartan for one of her works, Hihima, made from wool and cotton.

Ngarimu-Cameron is a master weaver, teaching at the University of Otago besides Te Wananga o Aotearoa, a national university guided by Maori values. The art was handed down to her from her mother and she teaches it to her daughters and grand-daughters as well as Maori communities.

Doing my masters and fine arts, I was introduced to the Western loom. I then introduced Maori techniques and Maori fibres to the loom.

After being lost by colonisation along with many other aspects of their Polynesian culture weaving is making a comeback among Maori. The same is true of the language, te reo Maori, which all but disappeared. Without the language we lost most of our culture, says Ngarimu-Cameron, but it is back and it is growing. Im involved in the revival and keeping it alive, especially in the traditional arts. It is very important that te reo Maori stays alive for our children.

The cloaks are made for my people, and are connected by bloodlines. They are not kilts as such, but cloaks that use tartan. Tartan is an incredible pattern and is part of the way in which Scots are distinctive.

Billy T James, one of New Zealands top comedians, once noted the connection between the two races: Im half Scottish, half Maori. One half wants to get drunk, and the other doesnt want to pay for it.

The reality is that marriage and cultural association have been going on since the first settlers arrived in the early 19th century. They came for a variety of reasons land clearances or change in ownership, technological and industrial change, or the desire for a new life.

Some of the pakeha Europeans formed ties with the native people for trade, land access and knowledge. The first recorded Scottish immigrants settled in the North Island in the 1820s. Most Scots remained within their own kin, but an early settler, George Newton, began a family with a member of the Ngai Tahu Whanui iwi tribe and set up a community of both races in Stewart Island. This romantic encounter was not always how pakeha men ended up belonging to a tribe, however. Shipwreck survivors or prison escapees would be held against their will if they were familiar with European trading patterns or could offer vital information.

Later, a 19-year-old from Tiree, Donald McLean, began immersing himself in the Maori language and customs and became a chief negotiator in the purchase of land from indigenous people. This process between Europeans and native landowners led to rows and even outright deception to gain blocks of land. McLean, however, appears to have been sympathetic to the Maori and given respect by tribal leaders, although there was deep divisions between the British Crown and Ngati Apa following the sale of a large area of land in the North Island. The iwi believed they were only giving access to the territory, which led to the tribe suffering a great deal of poverty. Such differing views were at the heart of the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, and are a source of continuing disagreement and anger.

As more Scottish people came to New Zealand over subsequent decades, migrants married into iwi, and now well-known people such as Maori activist Ken Mair and singer-songwriters Donna Muir and Ariana Tikao claim a right to both cultures. Tikao is also an occasional member of Emeralds & Greenstone, a band from Christchurch who sing in English, te reo Maori, Gaelic and Irish Gaelic.

The egalitarian ideal of the Scottish education system was to provide compulsory, free primary learning in public schools, and New Zealands first public girls school was established in Dunedin in 1871 after a long campaign by Learmonth Dalrymple. Scots were also the driving force behind New Zealands first medical school, while in industry James Watties company helped to feed the nation, and John Lamb and Josiah Firth were among the first to set up flour mills in the country.

Eru Rerekura, a Maori news presenter on Radio New Zealand, believes there are many links between Scots and Maori. Rerekura, who can trace his roots through his father back to Aberdeenshire, says many Maori are proud of their Caledonian whakapapa. There are a number of similarities, he says. Many Maori can relate the Scottish clan system to their own tribal society. Maori are communal people and they take a lot of pride in their genealogy.

If a Maori person can claim a connection to a Scottish clan chief, thats the same as a Maori being able to trace their ancestry back to a rangatira, or tribal leader. Maori can also relate to how the Highland people lost their land in the Clearances.

The most recent census, carried out in 2006, revealed that out of a population of little more than four million about 29,000 were born in Scotland while another 15,000 identified themselves as Scottish.

It is in the South Island, in the appropriately rugged and hilly province of Otago, that links to Scotland are among the strongest. The main settlement, Ngarimu-Camerons hometown of Dunedin, is immensely proud of its ancestry, with street names recalling such places as Montrose and Dunbar. Theres a strong Celtic folk tradition heard in the pubs, and the Super 15 rugby team go by the name of the Highlanders. A statue of Robert Burns stands with his back to a kirk, but this isnt merely a memorial: one of the founding fathers of the city was the poets nephew, Thomas Burns.

Charles Kettle, the surveyor of Dunedin Dun Eideann being Gaelic for Edinburgh was instructed to emulate the characteristics of the Scottish capital, and created a Romantic design with grand buildings such as the railway station and the University of Otago.

On the Otago peninsula, near Dunedin, lies New Zealands foremost castle, although it has few rivals. Built by an Australian of Scottish descent, William Larnach, and based on a stronghold in Dalkeith, Larnach Castle is a mixture of Gothic Revival and Colonial styles, set amid 14 hectares, overlooking the peninsula and beyond.

Beyond Dunedin, in rural Otago and Southland and into parts of Canterbury, lie settlements such as Clutha, Methven, Mosgiel, Invercargill, Gore and Oban, besides landscape features such as the Grampians and the Water of Leith. The southern locals even speak with a Southland burr where the rolled Rs amuse all other Kiwis.

This is the territory of Highland games and piping societies, but the link is nationwide, the capital having its Wellington Scottish Athletics Club founded in 1915 by Walter Ballantyne, a Galashiels native by birth and Turakina, two hours north of the city, being settled by Gaelic speakers.

There is, though, a darker side to the Caledonian influence. In the early 19th century neurologists in Europe were keen to broaden their understanding of brains and skulls. This created a market for Maori heads, some of which ended up in Scotland. There was also an even more sinister element: heavily tattooed heads of Maori and Polynesians were made into works of art.

Now many of these human remains have returned home. The National Museum of Scotland handed back four heads to Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington and several years ago Aberdeen Universitys Marischal Museum repatriated nine tattooed heads, or toi moko.

The union between Scotland and New Zealand has been traumatic at times, but as Ngarimu-Cameron says: A marriage is about two people finding out about each other and discovering a mutual respect.

Getting there

Emirates Airlines (www.emirates.com) has return flights from Glasgow to Auckland via Dubai from 550. Visit. Most major car hire firms operate out of Auckland Airport (www.aucklandairport.co.nz).


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