We Know Our Stories

A reader sent me this infuriating item. It’s all too familiar, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating.

But now scientists want to step around the mythology and tell a different story, using the DNA of Maori and other indigenous people to work out how prehistoric humans spread around the world from the “true” home of Homo sapiens, Africa. Many Maori do not want to hear that story…As soon as the scheme was announced in April, indigenous groups began objecting, and none more loudly than Maori. We already know where we came from, thanks very much, they said, and what’s in it for indigenous people? What is the point of challenging generations of oral history and spiritual belief?

What is the point? Finding out what really happened as opposed to the story. It’s not written in stone anywhere that a story is invariably or necessarily preferable to a more accurate account.

Indigenous people already have their own answers, says Tongan educator Dr Linita Manu’atu, a senior lecturer at Auckland University of Technology.
“Stop dominating us. If they flip over to this side of the world, [they will see] we have our own ways of understanding the world. We can do our research in our own ways, and contribute that knowledge to the world,” Manu’atu says. “For Tongans, we were created in Tonga. We have gods, our own gods, which we created the same as the people of Israel. We have our own stories, but we are being told they’re not good enough.”

Says Tongan educator? She has a funny idea of education. Yeah, I know how I got where I am, too: Daffy Duck bought me at Reasonably Honest Dave’s for five cents and a plug of tobacco. That’s my story and better nobody tell me it’s not good enough, especially not some jumped-up geneticist. See? I’m an educator.

Australian Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell agrees. “We didn’t come from anywhere. We know that our Dreamtime stories tell us we were always here, in Australia. Can this be twisted to say we came from Africa and therefore we have fewer rights to our country than white people?”

No, it can only be twisted to say you came from Africa and therefore you have more rights to your country than white people. That makes just as much sense.

Marae worker and caregiver Mere Kepa, also a researcher at Auckland University, doesn’t buy Genographic’s stated hope of improving global understanding of indigenous concerns. “Just because you know you’re related to each other, is that going to stop the Queensland police belting the shit out of Aborigines?” Kepa asks. “This is scientific imperialism. As an academic I’m not opposed to learning, but I’m tired and exhausted of learning from Western scientists that I’m sad, bad and mad and so are all my whanau and hapu and iwi.”

As an academic Kepa is not opposed to learning?? Well you could have fooled me! That sure looks like opposition to learning to me. Blind, stubborn, stupid, ill-informed, catch-phrasey, trendy, dopy, grab-any-complaint-that-comes-to-mindy, head-in-the-sand opposition to learning.

But they’re not all absurd, I’m happy to say. (Postmodernism is everywhere – it’s like mildew. It just creeps in.

Maori Aucklander Mike Stevens, an anthropologist and iwi consultant who is on the board of Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, is happy to volunteer for the project and says many Maori do not accept all oral traditions as literal truth anyway…”But I think it is something that can advance our knowledge. It needn’t destroy our faith.”…More knowledge is always empowering, says Manuka Henare, associate dean of Maori and Pacific Development at Auckland University’s business school…”If you give people the knowledge and understanding, you will find Maori people are as open-minded about these things as any others.”

Good, let’s hope someone gets busy doing that, so that the cries of scientific imperialism can fade away.

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