The Changing Face of Maori Life

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During the 1950s, Maori families were often large and lived in relatively loose-knit sub-tribes. In my family there were twelve children, and my mother and elder sisters and brothers “looked after" several others. My father's father married twice and had twenty-five children with his two wives.

Tribal gatherings were often held to discuss major issues or matters of concern brought up by elders or other influential members of the tribe. My generation was raised in an environment in which many of our elders spoke only the Maori language, and the stories they told us were part of the oral histories their elders had told them. The young ensured the elders were cared for, and in turn were given stories that could be carried forward to the following generations.

Living in rural areas meant my generation formed a close relationship with the natural world. We fished and gathered our food from the rivers, the sea and the land. Our traditional food supplies were abundant and the environment was unpolluted. The Maori system of passing knowledge from one generation to another by oral language, and teaching by demonstration and personal coaching, had sustained the survival of our people for centuries. It meant everyone had an important role in the tribe, and People were respected and listened to because of their Particular area of expertise.

Major changes occurred shortly after the Second world War. Many more Britons emigrated to New Zealand, strengthening the influence of British and world cultures on the New Zealand public and, subsequently, on the Maori people and their artists. Already the emerging giant of American culture had been experienced during the Second World War, when the United States responded to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's strong request to protect New Zealand from Japanese invasion. Tens of thousands of American soldiers were based in New

Zealand during that time, and they left behind a culture of American music, dance and fast food.

When the New Zealand troops returned home after the Second World War, they brought with them stories of different cultures, great works of art and another way of looking at the world. However, they also carried the burden and sadness of leaving behind large numbers of comrades who had died on the battlefields and been buried in foreign countries. These were powerful emotional times when society was changing, and these influences were felt strongly in New Zealand. Maori, like the rest of the world, moved into a massive phase of cultural evolution that lasted from 1945 into the 1950s and beyond.

In 1952, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England and won the hearts of older and newer generations of New Zealanders. Britain was affectionately referred to as "the home country". At the same time, the memories of the thousands of American soldiers made their mark, and when rock ‘n’ roll stormed through the United States it simultaneously swept New Zealand. When Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and later the Beatles became international stars, they also became stars in New Zealand.

In New Zealand, the latter part of the 1950s brought major migrations of young Maori men and women into the cities. Although that generation retained its tribal links, the children of these Maori, born into urbanization, had fewer ties to their tribal ancestors. Television, movies, radio, records and picture magazines bombarded our country with new and exciting images, and both urban and rural Maori were drawn away from tribal life. By the late 1960s, the Maori exodus to the cities had reached huge proportions and changes to the environment made traditional practices of gathering food from nature difficult. There had been a great increase in the number of factories, and chemical pollutants had been released into the sea. Dragnet fishing, in which trawlers tow huge nets that scoop up everything in their path, had destroyed large parts of the ocean floor and made it into a desert. In addition, commercial fishing had stripped coastal waters of the seafood previously available to families to sustain their day-to-day lives. These days, Maori have to purchase most of their seafood from supermarkets and other commercial outlets.