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Tribal identity versus pan-Māori identity

This chapter outlines two perspectives on identity for Māori.

For some commentators, tribal (iwi) identity overrides Māori identity. For Tūhoe leader John Rangihau (1992), being Māori is unconditionally dependent on his history as a Tūhoe person rather than being a Māori person. He says:

It seems to me there is no such thing as Māoritanga because Māoritanga is an all-inclusive term which embraces all Māori. Each tribe has its own history. And it’s not a history that can be shared among others. How can I share with the history of Ngāti Porou, of Te Arawa, of Waikato? Because I am not of those people. I am a Tūhoe person and all I can share in is Tūhoe history. (Rangihau, 1992, p190).

Mahana Walsh talks about the importance of being Ngāi Tahu.

It means everything to me, it colours all my thoughts. It affects all my actions, it affects my wairua – who I am and where I fit into the community and the society. It has probably always affected me, from my earliest times. Being Ngāi Tahu has meant that I’ve known I’ve had a special place which we call the marae, our own church – that was the focal point, the marae and the church, the focal point for who I am. My identity is wrapped up in there. If those places did not exist I would feel totally bereft. (O’Regan, 2001, p165).

In contemporary New Zealand, some Māori living in traditional iwi territories might identify with Māori ancestry but not affiliate to any tribal structure, either due to lack of whakapapa knowledge or disconnection from the traditional family structures. Again, affiliation to either identity (as Māori or as iwi member) might be transient and can be expressed differently depending on circumstances. Pearson (1990), Linnekin (1990), and O’Regan (2001) suggest the coexistence of pan-Māori identity and tribal identity is legitimate; that is, they can live side-by-side.

Because these broader identities are often a political response they do not necessarily mean the demise of the composite identities that comprise it. Instead they may develop and crystallise when it is politically advantageous to do so, and alternatively they may fade away when the need or the pressure no longer exists. (Linnekin, 1990, p168–169).

Another response to boundary maintenance that is open to ethnic groups who exist as one of multiple numbers of ethnic groups in a society is the adoption of a larger identity over that of their traditional ethnic identity. In this instance, groups who share a common goal or who have experienced similar oppression may unite in order to provide a strengthening of the collective in the face of the power culture; the identity which results is called a pan-identity. Examples of pan-identities include American Indians, Canadian Indians and Māori, all of which are broad ethnic categories which encompass a range of separate tribal identities. (O’Regan, 2001, p103).

A Māori identity does not replace iwi and hapū identities, but eventually becomes a meaningful, wider social construct that both accommodates and is in tension with more particularistic and traditional lines of affiliation (Pearson, 1990).

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