Dr. Vincent O’Malley on Culture

I came across this wonderful quote from Dr. Vincent O’Malley today in a summary of evidence that he has prepared for the Te Paparahi O Te Raki Waitangi Tribunal District Inquiry. There is an ongoing debate over the role and continued usage of custom within indigenous societies, primarily between those who believe that custom should be restricted to that exercised at the time of first contact between indigenous people’s and Europeans, and those who argue that custom is a fluid body of law that can, and should, be modified to adapt to a changing world. Custom, or culture, according to Dr. O’Malley, is something which in Māori society underwent adaptation to the new experience of the British:

Rather than existing in an abstract paradigm, culture is created in the meeting of people’s, just as Māori and Pākehā were products of the meeting of Aotearoa and Europe. This was perhaps less a process of ‘Other-ing’, as Edward Said famously argued, than of ‘Us-ing’. Māori, for example, became more conscious of distinct elements of their own society through increasing contact with Europe and began to re-evaluate cultural principles as a consequence, reassertion some aspects of this even more strongly and modifying or abandoning others.

Source: Dr. Vincent O’Malley, “Summary of ‘The Nature and Extent of Contact and Adaption in Northland. 1769 – 1849.”

I like this quote for two reasons: First, the acknowledgement that culture is a fluid system, capable of adaptation; and, second, that just as Māori culture was influenced by Pākehā culture, so too has Pākehā culture been influenced and, to some extent, created by Māori culture. No, the situation is not ideal, but Pākehā New Zealand has adopted more elements of Māori culture than they would care to admit.

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