In the wake of the horrific Christchurch shooting, as Australia obsessed over Egg Boy and lobbied for sitting senators to be booted out, New Zealanders united in mourning. They poured out in support of the country’s Muslim community, with moving candlelit vigils, church doors open to those who couldn’t attend mosques, and a surge in donations to recovery efforts. PM Jacinda Ardern immediately made moves to see assault weapons removed from the streets, and even had gun owners willingly hand in their unnecessary arms.
But once again, it was the young that took everyone’s breath away. In a show of unity and compassion, students from various schools gathered to mourn two kids killed in the massacre through the Māori ritual of haka. If you’ve never seen a haka before, it’s similar to the warrior chant the All Blacks use to challenge their opponents. It’s also used at times of great importance, be they achievements, arrivals or funerals. And in the context of the vigils over the Christchurch dead, it’s an astonishingly powerful gesture, especially when more kids join in and raise the damn roof off the building.
This small group of kids started an impromptu haka in tribute to two of their peers slain in the Christchurch shooting. Soon they were joined by scores of fellow students to form a deafening chorus. pic.twitter.com/Zmh7I5LQxG
— SBS News (@SBSNews) March 18, 2019
For those of us across the ditch, it should be a sobering reminder of where we stand in relation to our own First Nations people. Do you remember those high school classes where we learned Aboriginal language, their ritual dance moves and the importance of performing them to signify significant moments? Nah, me neither. Probably because there weren’t any. For the most part, our understanding of Aboriginal cultures is loose at best, and hardly comes close to the integration of the Māori into New Zealand’s national identity.
It’s easy to say from the outside, as any Māori will tell you their role in Kiwi life is far from perfect. But it’s only in the last few years have Australians embraced the idea of a Welcome To Country at major events, and even then with protest. (I’d put a link here but the only ones I found are super racist, so yeah, nah.) It’s also rarely done as it’s supposed to be done: by a local elder in their native tongue. It’s more of a box tick to score political points than a truly engaged ritual. Meanwhile, the New Zealand national anthem is sung in English and Māori. Kinda seems like they’ve got us beat, hands down.
Can you imagine what it would have been like to know Gadigal words as a child? To have the stories of the Dreamtime lull you to sleep? To have an understanding of the oldest living culture in the world, to whom Australia is home, and who we now know were far more advanced than we’ve ever acknowledged? Instead, we were (at least in my experience) educated in the history of Catholicism in early colonial Australia – perhaps the definition of a yawnfest.
A powerful Haka has been performed in Surfers Paradise to pay tribute to the victims of the Christchurch Terror Attack. “To the Muslim community here on the Gold Coast and in Australia, please don’t feel threatened and continue your ways.” @7NewsGoldCoast @7NewsBrisbane pic.twitter.com/OEVj56rmsi
— Carly Madsen (@Carly_Madsen) March 17, 2019
I had those Dreamtime stories in picture books in my house. I knew about the Rainbow Serpent and how the animals got their colours. That was all before I moved to Sydney, where I learned the racial slurs, the brutal “jokes” at Aboriginal expense; saw the bootleg dot paintings lining the walls of Paddy’s Market stalls. I was lucky enough to grow up in the presence of Koori and Māori families, and at their regular gatherings, my mum would freak out whenever us kids ran off to play. She was quickly reassured by the Māori women there, who told here, “Relax, they’re our kids now, too.”
This is the incredible attitude I now see reflected in the proud students of Christchurch, rallying their community in a time of crisis and showing them the most profound sign of respect available to their culture. If I lived there, or my family were suffering, I’d know exactly how much that would mean. I’d feel the pride and the fury and the deep well of compassion they offered up. As it stands, we can just barely glimpse it for ourselves as post-colonial Aussies.
The focus now, rightly, should be on the families of the Muslims killed in the Christchurch mosques right now, and ending the division in Australian culture that led to this white supremacist terrorist taking so many lives. But it pays for us to take stock of how New Zealand mourns, and how they celebrate the root of their culture through the elevation of the Māori people. There is unappreciated strength and heart in Australia’s First Nations people, and until we can elevate them and their cultural touchstones to parity with those of colonised Australia, we’ll keep producing white supremacists who feel that Australia is their country and no one else’s.
We salute the Christchurch kids. They’re an inspiration to their community; and if we’re sensible, they can inspire us, too.
Your best chance to touch base with living Aboriginal culture is Yabun Festival, a live music, food and culture fest held annually on Invasion Day (January 26) at Victoria Park, Darlington.