Monday July 16, 2018

If Gods can be gay, why can’t we? Maori author Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to Maoris in New Zealand

Ihimaera's book 'Nights in the Gardens of Spain', a semi-autobiographical work about a married father of two daughters coming out, was turned into a movie

4
//
226
Witi Ihimaera. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Republish
Reprint

– by Preetha Nair

Sept 04, 2016: Aboriginal, litterateur, and rebel, Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to the Maoris in New Zealand. The first published novelist in Maori literature, the 72-year-old has several novels, short stories and recognitions to his credit.

September Aboriginal, litterateur, and rebel, Witi Ihimaera is a moving force in giving voice to the Maoris in New Zealand. The first published novelist in Maori literature, the 72-year-old has several novels, short stories and recognitions to his credit.

His works were a harbinger of change to the Maoris, says Ihimaera who questioned in his works.

Ihimaera’s book ‘Nights in the Gardens of Spain’, a semi-autobiographical work about a married father of two daughters coming out, was turned into a movie.

The author, who also worked as a diplomat at the New ZealandMinistry of Foreign Affairs, spoke to IANS on the sidelines of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival held in Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan.

Maori People. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Maori People. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Excerpts from the interview:

Q) You were the first published novelist in Maori literature. How important is it to tell stories of the marginalised?

A) It is important to tell the story of the Maori in a world of huge voices and political entities. We are a minority, and also one among the many indigenous communities around the world. Our story will help give voice to other indigenous people whether they live in India, or North America or in South East Asia. We all have the same stories of colonisation.

Q) Did you face resistance from the West?

A) My life was always about resistance. We were denied educational opportunities and there was institutional racism. Our land has been taken away and I have seen my grandmothers struggling for land to farm. The consequence of our fight through literature and other means was that our land was returned after 30 years. The government is providing better housing and education for the Maoris now. There is a better understanding of Maori culture now and my work is a part of New Zealand’s curriculum.

Q) You came out of the closet in 1984 and have dealt with sexuality in your writings. How was it received?

A) One has to be brave when dealing with issues like rape and homosexuality. There is authentication of sexual identity in mythology that has been denied by the West. Europeans look towards Gods in Greek mythology who can shapeshift and make love with women, men and animals just like some Hindu gods. Why can’t we accept homosexuality in the way our mythology explains it? I operate in a Maori value system and don’t care what people say.

Witi Ihimaera memorial plaque in Dunedin. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Witi Ihimaera memorial plaque in Dunedin. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Q) In your memoir, you have written about being abused as a child. How difficult was it to write about it and what was the reaction?

A) I always adopt an organic approach to writing, looking at it culturally and socially. I wanted to address the issue of child abuse. My work has always been a shock to many. The Maori community is now largely Christian and it was difficult for them to acknowledge it. I am accustomed to shift the universe a little. That’s my theory of change. Each one of us has the power to change the system.

Q) Who’s your favourite Indian author?

A) It should be Arundhati Roy. She is an intellectual and erudite woman.

(IANS)

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2016 NewsGram

  • Arya Sharan

    Homosexuality is not abnormal it is just our choice of sexuality and the sooner we understand this, the better it is. Art and literature are the best means to spread awareness about such issues.

  • Arya Sharan

    Homosexuality is not abnormal, it is just a choice of sexuality by an individual and the sooner we realize this the better it is for mankind. Art and literature is probably the best way to spread awareness about issues like this.

  • Arya Sharan

    Homosexuality is not a sin and art and literature is the best away to create awareness regarding such issues.

  • Anubhuti Gupta

    this article is a great read. To get to know an author who has been through so much.

SHARE
  • Arya Sharan

    Homosexuality is not abnormal it is just our choice of sexuality and the sooner we understand this, the better it is. Art and literature are the best means to spread awareness about such issues.

  • Arya Sharan

    Homosexuality is not abnormal, it is just a choice of sexuality by an individual and the sooner we realize this the better it is for mankind. Art and literature is probably the best way to spread awareness about issues like this.

  • Arya Sharan

    Homosexuality is not a sin and art and literature is the best away to create awareness regarding such issues.

  • Anubhuti Gupta

    this article is a great read. To get to know an author who has been through so much.

Next Story

Why should we talk about Race?

Dr Kumar Mahabir, an anthropologist, brings out the topic of discrimination

0
Race has always been a big deal whenever its been spoken about around the globe.
Race has always been a big deal whenever its been spoken about around the globe. Pic by Dr. Munish Raizada taken at the Race exhibition at Chicago History Museum. November 2017
-By Dr Kumar Mahabir
Even academics like me who often view certain topics through the lens of race sometimes
receive negative attention and judgement. Some people feel that speaking or writing
rationally about race is counter-productive and even racist.
Indo-Caribbean people (Indians), in particular, tend to receive condemnation when they
examine topics on the basis of race. Indian victims are often criticised for reporting
discrimination.
On the other hand, Afro-Caribbeans (Africans) receive either indifference or praise when they discuss race. For example, the following comment by a black calypsonian, published in a Trinidad national newspaper, drew praises: “In the midst of black consciousness in the 1970s, Bro Superior told black people ‘No matter where yuh born, Yuh still African’” (Guardian Nov 12, 2017).
Discussing race objectively with empirical data and statistical evidence is not racist. Racism
is the belief that another race of people is inferior. This attitude results in discrimination,
antagonism and domination individually, politically, economically and otherwise.
Race, ethnicity, class, sex, religion, nationality, geography, etc. are valid, legitimate and
appropriate social categories of difference in examining historical and contemporary issues.
Why should someone who talks objectively about race be criticised as a racist? Should we
also condemn someone who uses sex as a mode of inquiry as being sexist? To do so would be ignorant, biased and unfair.
In a recent public broadcast, the Prime Minister of multi-racial Trinidad and Tobago (T&T)
advised some citizens “not to see race in everything we do” (Express Sept 22, 2017). This ill- informed statement was made in relation to the mixed responses he received when he
appealed to citizens to open their homes to displaced Dominican refugees who were devastated by Hurricane Maria.
On the contrary, people should be encouraged to “see race” as well as sex (gender), class, nationality, geography and types of social identity. Studying race can reveal differences in the form of disparities, disadvantages, inequalities, power and privilege which have structured human life in the past and present. To overlook race would be to ignore the elephant in the room.
Criminologist and social psychologist Dr Ramesh Deosaran wrote a book entitled Inequality,
Crime & Education in Trinidad and Tobago: Removing the Masks (2016). He found that there was a toxic relationship among race, class, gender, family and geography, resulting in African students performing the worst in the education system.
Deosaran wrote: “Wittingly or unwittingly, the education system, to a large extent, becomes a racially segregated system. And with academic achievement also stratified by race” (page 163). His data showed that while 47% of African students went to university three years after secondary school, as much as 72% of Indians did so, and 49% of the Mixed group also attended.
Prospective students of Whitman College in the USA are encouraged to enrol in its Race and Ethnic Studies programme. They are told that “ideas about race and ethnicity have been central at many points in world history and remain salient today, whether we talk about ethnic pride or ethnic cleansing, about multicultural diversity or racial discrimination.”
Race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably. However, race refers to biological features (bone structure, facial features, hair texture, skin colour, etc.) and ethnicity denotes cultural traits (history, customs, religion, family-type, values, music, food, etc.).
In the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) CSEC Social Studies syllabus, Section A
(Individual, Family and Society) comprises of a content section that explains characteristics
of the population. These characteristics include age, sex, occupation, religion and ethnicity. In the CXC CAPE Sociology syllabus under Unit 1, Module 3, Social Stratification is
conceptualised according to status mobility, gender, class, colour, caste, race and ethnicity.
The topic of race and ethnicity is studied not only in sociology but also in history,
anthropology, cultural studies, visual culture, media, literature, communication, law, health,
human rights, gender, political science, economics, geography, public policy, international
relations, social psychology, etc.
In a research paper entitled “Understanding race and crime in Trinidad and Tobago,”
criminologist Dr Randy Seepersad (2017) found that most of the murderers, victims, accused and prisoners are Africans. His disaggregated data demonstrated that most of the violent crimes are committed by blacks against blacks.
In 2011, former National Security Minister John Sandy said, “We must recognise that it is
people looking like me who are being murdered, mothers like my mother, God rest her soul, who are out there weeping more than any other race” (Express Sep 3, 2011).
Race has always been a major factor in voting in all general elections in T&T. This form of
ethnic polarisation has been well documented by pollsters such as SARA, NACTA, ANSA
McAl and H.H.B. & Associates Ltd. Most Africans and Mixed persons support the PNM
while most Indians vote for the PP/UNC.
 
Dr. Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books. He lives in Trinidad.