Friday, 10 August 2007


I can't remember when it occurred to me that I didn't have a cultural background. There's the Maori culture, Aboriginal culture, Native American culture, Russian cultures — but what's the Pakeha (New Zealand European) culture? I couldn't think of anything that was culturally mine, and suddenly I felt a chasm of historical nothingness open up behind me.

I do have a culture, of course. Christianity.

It only occurred to me recently, how closely religion and culture are connected. It explains why so many indigenous cultures have been wiped out, in missionaries' zealous attempts to chase out ungodliness. It shows why Christians who come from a different culture, can have problems reconciling their faith with their intrinsic beliefs and systems.

I can't remember what brought it up, maybe the furor a little while ago about having a Maori Day. After all, Maori don't have a day that's specifically theirs.

That got me thinking about how Pakeha don't have a day that's specifically ours, either. Not that I particularly feel the need for one, to be fair. I've heard the argument that every holiday New Zealand has is a Pakeha holiday — Christmas, Easter, Labour Day, Waitangi Day, Anzac Day and so on. A couple of those are debatable. But all of them (except Waitangi Day) at least have English names.

I've wondered, since I stopped believing in God, if I should still celebrate days like Easter and Christmas. I do, of course. Even if I'm not exactly thanking Jehovah for the gift of his son, I don't see any reason not to have a fun family time and all give each other presents. I imagine very few people honestly believe in Christianity these days, but that doesn't stop almost everyone from celebrating what is still, in its essence, a Christian holiday. It's our culture.

I don't think you can ever completely separate religon from culture. You can stop practising a religion, and cut yourself off from your culture as well; but I don't think you can really adopt a religion without adopting at least some of its culture, or continue cultural observances while disassociating yourself from the related religion. Religion and culture are too intertwined.

And all this talk about culture got me thinking about cultural/historical background. Everyone else seems to have a history to be proud of.

What's my history? Englishmen and Scotsmen who came over to conquer an inoffensive land for the sake of their own greed.

I'm still proud of my history, though. I'm ashamed to think of the things those first Europeans did in New Zealand, those blood-shedding pioneers and overzealous missionaries, but it's not exactly something I can change now. And I am proud of how far the English got, their technological advances, their pioneering spirit. I'm proud to be descended from so many intelligent, courageous people.

Part of the reason I decided to major in history was to find out where I come from, what my roots are, what traditions and observances and changes my ancestors, way way back in the day, went through. I mentioned once to a fellow student on a contact course, that I was studying history "to see the wider picture of where I came from", and she eagerly recommended I take a paper on Maori history in the twentieth century. I smiled and murmured something noncommital, but I was thinking: I meant a much wider picture than that.

Maybe it was started by the hullabaloo a while back about whether or not Palmerston North should keep the cross on the top of the clock tower in the Square. In the end, the cross was knocked down during a storm (or stolen by Muslim vandals, depending on whom you listen to) and the City Council replaced it with a far uglier cross than before.

But people were protesting that the cross was offensive to people of other religions. Why not put up a Star of David, a pentacle, a crescent? Why elevate one religion over all others?

Yes, the cross is a Christian symbol. But my European heritage doesn't come with any cultural holidays or symbols that aren't Christian. To me, the cross on the clock tower isn't a symbol of Christianity lording it over all other religions — just a reminder of my Christian heritage.

My culture is Christian; my history leads from one of the world's greatest Empires; I'm proud of both. We get taught a lot about Maori history in New Zealand school, which is great. But I think it would have been nice to get some sense of pride in my own history, too.

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