Science, technology, and Maori

By Mike Kay, Workers Party

The ACT party receives little support from the actual capitalist class, therefore we argue that opposing Act (on the basis that they appear to be the worst of the bunch) should not be a key focus of activity for working class and radical activists. But their latest advert alleging “Maori privilege” has shone a light on some of the racist attitudes still lingering in New Zealand society.

John Ansell

ACT’s Marketing director John Ansell, quit his job with the comment: “These guys (Maori) have gone from the Stone Age to the Space Age in 150 years and haven’t said thanks. That’s the nature of the thing. In Maori world, if one tribe conquers another you eat the guys’ eyeballs. The Brits were pretty civilised by that standard.”

It’s hard to know where to begin with a comment like that. The British ruling class built an empire from the profits of the slave trade on which the sun never set and the blood never dried. That they called civilisation. Meanwhile Maori, along with many other indigenous people, have long been painted as cannibalistic savages. The academic Paul Moon’s recent book alleges that cannibalism in traditional Maori society was a common practice. However, the science tells a different story. Ian Barber of Otago University’s Department of Anthropology stated: “I’m not a cannibalism denier. I think there’s good traditional and historical evidence for a limited form of cannibalism. But what we don’t find in the archaeological record is clear or unequivocal evidence of any kind of widespread or comprehensive cannibalism that would involve the consumption and preparation of significant amounts of human flesh.” (NZ Listener 26/2/11)

But the idea that Maori should be grateful for “Pakeha technology” is probably the most commonplace, and not just amongst rednecks.

Recalling his discussions with his mate Aussie Huata, Dun Mihaka wrote in 1989: “The phenomena of science and technology are not, contrary to popular belief, the sole preserve of the Pakeha, or anyone else for that matter. Rather, it is the cumulative effect of the most advanced ideas that all mankind has gathered from the beginning of time… all peoples, without exception, contribute to it… The two ways by which we all do this, is by way of the hand or by way of the head. In some cases many did both. In other words you either contribute to it by way of the intellect or you contribute to it by way of your labour power. The example I regularly used to illustrate this point was the case of the work that Te Whiti o Rongomai, and his pacifist land rights followers from Taranaki did on the Otago Peninsular. I would say that while I did not dispute the fact that the engineering plan for the road running from Anderson’s Bay out to the Kaik arrived on the same ship that brought the whiteman, the pox, the bible, modern science and technology… the labour-power, the blood, sweat and tears so to speak, that made that engineering plan into a reality was to work of Maori slave labour. I have still to meet someone who, using this method of reasoning, has been able to effectively refute this statement of fact.”

Mihaka thus used the scientific method of historical materialism to reveal that the way in which new technology is introduced into other societies is shaped by class forces. This is in contrast to the Pakeha world/ Maori world division that both the rednecks and some Maori nationalists subscribe to. The recent formation of the Mana movement is an opportunity for a class analysis of the position of Maori to be put back on the agenda.

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