Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ernest Renan and Waitangi Day

A few thoughts on Kiwi Nationhood, inspired by the day.

A guy called Ernest Renan once wrote that the process of forging a Nation is as much (if not more so) about the people of that nation coming together to forget as it is about shared memory. He was writing about the French nationalistic experience, and given my Great Grandfather's country is comprised of an eclectic (and occasionally quite volatile) combination of previous conquering peoples, faiths and languages ... for them, he had a point. There would be no France if every Frenchman cleaved to his ancestral identity and *remembered* just which of his neighbour's ancestors had conquered the region and deposed his own. Why, you'd get Northern Ireland! [Or, incidentally, that period of Breton-Fascist co-operation, wherein my Breton co-ethnees won a brief quasi-independent state and the right to speak, teach, and live their own language ... by collaborating with the Nazis against the unitary French ideal]

For New Zealand, it is a bit different. The average New Zealand European has probably forgotten much of what his ancestors did to Maori - or even to other NZ Europeans; and probably thinks still less again to what was done to those other early migrant groups like the original NZ Chinese.

But for many Maori, and some Europeans, this is not so. We remember what happened (occasionally through interesting lenses) ... and if we do not remember, then we endeavour to learn.

This, to my mind, is where we differ as a people from Renan's Frenchmen.
We have not come together to forget ... particularly in recent decades.

Instead, we have done quite the contrary. We have come together ... to first remember, and then (and arguably more importantly), to Overlook.
(i.e. to hold the Memory, and yet quite pointedly focus on the positives of our relationship and its future; while only occasionally bringing up the negatives of the past - which, while present, are not allowed to become overwhelming, except when a point is being made)

Renan also wrote that the process of nationhood was something akin to a "daily referendum" - that is to say, a process by which the people of said nation continually affirm both their relationship with the nation, as well as its shared communal existence.

This pretty much seems to be the modern spirit of Waitangi. Shared overlooking (rather than forgetting) of some of our past; and (hopefully) shared rememberance of both the promise of our future.

And most importantly, a dual reminder of the knowledge that our nationhood is still very much a work in progress - which can only continue to be forged through conscientious and shared effort by *all* our peoples.

1 comment: