Zero tolerance for racism

AMONG the many messages and outpourings of sympathy seen at the site of the Christchurch massacre one reads: Welcome all to Aotearoa! Many will wonder what Aotearoa is. More so what has it got to do with one of the most heinous crimes against peace-loving New Zealand?

Aotearoa was reportedly used for “New Zealand” as late as 1878. Two decades later it was claimed to mean New Zealand in a writing entitled The Long White Cloud Ao-tea-roa. In other words, it is a “native” name before the first Europeans (Dutch) sailed to the island in the mid-16th century, and renamed the place even though they did not set foot on its shores. Initially called Staten Landt, it was later changed to Nova Zeelandia after a Dutch province of Zeeland.

Two centuries later, British explorer James Cook claimed it for Great Britain, and by the late 1700s the first migrant colonial settlement began with an anglicised version of the name. It took root as a British colony when the migrant population swelled. Today about 75% of New Zealand’s citizens are European.

Lest we forget, the land was already inhabited some 400 years earlier. Aotearoa in the Maori language means the “Land of the long white cloud”. Tradition has it that white cloud was first sighted by the early Maori navigators as they approached the land mass around the 10th century. The cry “he ao! he ao!” (meaning “a cloud, a cloud”!) was allegedly rendered later to “Aotea-roa” and remains today. Though this may not be the last word about it, the message is clear – the Maori people are an integral part of the country’s history, although today, they comprise only about 15% of the population. The rest are from various migrant stocks, with a smaller percentage from mixed marriages.

That said, the pre-colonial days were not any easy. The timeline of Maori battles fought against the “white” (supremacist) immigrants is there to remind us as to how things were then. Many lives were lost in battles like that of Hingakaka (ca. 1790s) between the two Maori armies of the southern alliance and those of the Tainui alliance. It was reputed as “the largest battle ever fought on New Zealand soil”. The name Hingakaka (the fall of parrots) is said to be a testimony to this. Between 1807 and 1845, a series of three thousand or more battles and raids were said to be fought in New Zealand, thanks to the advances of the muskets, after which the name Musket Wars was derived. This went on into the post-colonial period taking on other migrants as well largely non-whites as they appeared on the Aotearoa scene.

However, the push backs are no longer from the Maoris as such, but more so the former migrants, who became the dominant population after slowly but surely establishing their presence above the native Maori in almost all spheres of life under the long white cloud. This time it is not the musket, but modern sophisticated weapons readily available that took 50 innocent lives in almost one go – taking about just 36 minutes – involving a single gunman from Down Under suspected to be linked to “British extremists” (historically).

Police said five guns were used in the attacks: two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns, and a lever action firearm recovered from the scene. The murderer who allegedly wrote a 73-page “manifesto” entitled The Great Replacement – Towards a new society. We march ever forward – apparently is still not satisfied over the “replacement” that took place when Aoteaora became New Zealand! And the natives were subdued. The accused is now the architect of New Zealand’s worst act of terrorism, outdoing his forefathers in the Maori battles of yesteryears.

It was not even a battle, but a cowardly act of shooting in the back victims standing in prayer. The ages of the victims ranged from two to more than 60. Some 30 were hospitalised with more than 10 in intensive care; seven operating theatres were reportedly in use as many required multiple surgeries due to the close range random assaults.

All considered, Aotearoa may still have a silver lining to the long white cloud in the Maori-land led by a leader who is determined to make a difference. Its prime minister started doing so when she unequivocally announced that the country’s gun law will be amended (in contrast to the United States on the same issue). Jacinda Ardern, who wore a headscarf while visiting the victims’ families, spoke with compassion that was clear for the world to see. “Let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism. Ever,” she told grieving families. “We cannot know your grief, but we can walk with you at every stage.”

Again on hate messages and images of violence: “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these (social media) platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published.” Our leaders will do well to reflect on her words of compassion as it resonates closely to our cases as well.

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: