Saturday, October 18, 2008


Yesterday, during a wonderful training session in Maoritanga, a claim was made that Maori believe in the God of Jesus Christ and the gods of the sea and the forest (as 'departmental gods'). Some discussion - inevitably - resulted. We did not conclude the discussion but promised ourselves that it would continue at a future date.

For readers new to these things, the subject of God, gods, and the understanding them framed within a Maori understanding (rather than a 'Western theological understanding') is 'Atuatanga'.

Here I make no attempt to resolve such discussion but to share some observations which came to my mind during the discussion we held yesterday.

(1) We cannot properly engage in such discussion if we approach solely from a Western perspective (which is entirely against concepts of 'gods' existing as realities alongside 'God'). We need first to get inside the mind of Maoritanga, not least to understand the 'theology' of Maori religion which first received the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

(2) We should be scrupulously fair: if we are minded to critique ideas about 'departmental gods', are we self-critical of our Western world-view? We do not think, for example, in terms of 'the god of the sea' but we have ways of talking about 'the sea' or 'nature' (or, indeed, 'Nature') which imply at least a personification of aspects of nature or nature itself (e.g. 'the sea can be cruel' or 'nature has a way of asserting itself when abused by humanity').

(3) Why do we still call the days of the week after Norse gods?!

(4) To what extent are '-isms' such as 'nationalism', 'capitalism', and 'consumerism' our gods? Similarly 'success', 'luck' and forms of 'fate' ('it was just meant to be')? To be sure, when challenged about such idolatry we seek to reform ourselves, but sometimes we run out of steam ... and go out to buy a new TV!


Anonymous said...

Peter, when did 'the Maoris' become anarthrous 'Maori' (with or without macron)? Sounds a little precious when speaking English (which has limitless capacity to absorb non-English words and English them).
Nobody speaks about 'Inca' or 'Quichua'...
Anyway, I find it hard to believe that *any Maori (or Maoris) today seriously believe in minor deities in the polytheistic manner of old classical European paganism. This is a PC affectation. Do we have to airbrush from history and mention of the pre-European Maori practices of inter-tribal slavery and cannibalism? Weren't these also 'Maoritanga'?
As for days of the week, well the Roman gods prevailed in Latin Europe, but I doubt anyone really thinks we're worshiping Wotan, Mars, Thor etc, anymore than postexilic Jews worshiped Tammuz. At least the Latins recall the Sabbath (sabado) and the Lord's Day (domingo, dimanche).

Peter Carrell said...

I may be speaking wrongly re 'Maori' but I am a native speaker of NewZild English, which reserves the right to be different from other forms of English! (Does anyone else say 'yous guys' like we do?)

Do Maori Christians believe in 'minor deities in the polytheistic manner of old classical European paganism'? That is precisely the question which is unanswered, or, at least, not clearly answered in the life of our church at this time.

As for airbrushing cannibalism from the record: intriguing you should mention that because at the same event something was said which I did not fully understand but which seemed like an airbrushing!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I can speak NewZild too! 'Ashy gun. Bedtime yadger air Cadiz nit?'
'yous guys' is also found among the Irish (pardon: Eireann); maybe that's the origin.
I'm still intrigued about anarthrous unpluralized 'Maori', which I think of as a relative neologism in NewZild English. Sounds terribly monolithic and corporatist to me.
Also, I have a dislike for prescriptivist language police (as in Maori place name pronunciation).
As for airbrushing the past, we all do that until the past is too distant to bother us. Were my ancestors cattle-stealing slavers? Probably. But PC advocates - like Jenny Te Paa? - have to conjure up a romantic fiction a la Rousseau about some egalitarian, socialist eco-paradise spoiled by the rapine and pillage of white men ...
All nonsense, of course, but since when has truth mattered in politics? The simple fact is, the Maoris/Maori were a stone age, pre-literate Polynesian ethnic entity, similar to other Polynesians to the north but dispersed on a colder and larger land mass, who were suddenly confronted by a powerful and sophisticated western civilization. Their subsequent history, both joys and travails, is entirely understandable in these colonial and anthropological terms. The history of pre-literate peoples who hadn't learnt to work metals is very similar: either they remained hunter-gatherers on the decreasing margins, or they encounter very rapid cultural change.
But to try to 'repristinate' a bogus version of pre-European Maori religion is just nonsense playacting, blasphemy for believers in the one God, and an insult to the first generations of Maori Christians who turned from idols to the living God.