Book Review: Urban Māori, The Second Great Migration, by Bradford Haami

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_urban_maori.jpgUrban Māori, The Second Great Migration describes how over a short time, many Māori moved from iwi homelands to predominantly Pākehā urban spaces. It also examines the creation of new social structures to create a familiar space in this new environment. Haami’s work is unusual among New Zealand histories not only because it focuses solely on this migration, but also because it grounds each chapter of this history in personal and whānau experiences.

Haami details each phase of the journey from papakāinga (settlements on ancestral lands) to urban areas, the economic and social impact for the migrants, the response of towns and cities to their new residents, and the reaction from government and mana whenua iwi. By illustrating each phase of this move with whānau memories, Haami transforms this history from a faceless, passive response to unstoppable historic forces into a conscious decision in the lives of whānau and individuals. Unlike a more distant approach, these stories also show the long-term outcomes of this decision for individuals and whānau, their descendants and their new communities.

These stories help the reader understand that migrants did not necessarily leave in despair and ruin, although the book recognises a reduced land and resource base and a lack of work were important drivers especially at the early stages. The personal accounts reveal that for many, the departure was a promising and hopeful time, and others were relieved to leave behind oppressive belief and social structures, such as the restrictions of tapu or local kehua (spirits).

Their stories of the towns and cities where they arrived evoke a New Zealand difficult to imagine now. A New Zealand where some Māori learnt English on the factory line, where recent arrivals gathered eels and store Māori delicacies like kānga pirau (fermented corn) and kina in the streams of central Auckland, where the streets were lined not with the million-dollar villas of today, but decrepit relics of the city’s Victorian past.

In the early days of this migration, relatives living in these crumbling houses welcomed new arrivals to the city. While the former poverty of Central Auckland is well-known, the stories of those who lived there are not. Despite the dire conditions, Urban Māori reveals that this area was home to a supportive (if tightly-packed) Māori community, torn apart when these inner-city suburbs were demolished. Their residents made a further migration south to the new suburbs of Ōtara and Māngere, poorly designed and lacking the community of Central Auckland, or State houses where Māori families were “pepper-potted” amongst Pākehā to ensure assimilation, as long as they met Pākehā norms.

The book highlights the strong networks built by each wave of newcomers, from the trailblazers who later helped their relatives to find work and their feet in the city, to later initiatives such as the Māori hostels that recreated a whānau environment for young Māori women and men. The newcomers began to forge familiar spaces in these mostly Pākehā cities, and many well-known leaders rose from their ranks. Even so, the pull of the identities they had left behind, the idea of someday returning home and the lack of a true tūrangawaewae meant a reluctance to symbolically cutting ties with ancestral homelands by gestures such as burial in their new homes. Haami tells of improvised returns to papakāinga, with tūpāpaku (bodies) returning to marae for tangi sat at the back of a bus for lack of any other means of return “back-home”.

Urban Māori traces the emergence of urban interpretations of traditional Māori forms of organisation and socialisation. Haami documents the creation of community and cultural groups, the first discussions about urban marae and their meaning in an urban setting, new expressions of traditional authority structures such as Māori wardens, and new expressions of whānau, including workplaces, neighbourhoods, church groups, political or cultural groups, or even gangs. Through the memories of their founding members, the reader learns how these diverse expressions reflected a search by Māori for a way to live as Māori in a new place.

The book is also a study of the political and economic circumstances that were the dramatic backdrop to individual and whanau experiences, including economic upheaval and shifts in the State’s approach to Māori from paternalism, including housing schemes and trade training to ease the transition into the cities, to the free market and the end of many stable and well-paid local manufacturing jobs. While Urban Māori describes the well-known shock of these reforms and the social devastation that followed, the voices it contains also tell of how whānau were able to recover thanks to the tightening strands of the new support networks they had been weaving.

Neoliberalism also brought devolution of some government functions to Māori, especially iwi. Haami describes how “retribalisation” galvanised nascent urban Māori authorities to ensure urban Māori (who lived away from their iwi and were now the majority of Māori) were not left out of the new economic and power structures being forged. This was the spark for the political awakening of urban Māori and recognition by State and traditional iwi.

By linking historical events with personal and whānau experience, Urban Māori describes not only the rise of these authorities, but the impact of a strong, urban Māori voice on the lives of whānau who had made cities their homes for generations, who no longer knew their iwi or felt alienated when they returned to their grandparents’ papakāinga. It describes how new organisations such as Te Whānau o Waipareira (the West Auckland Urban Māori Authority) cared for those most left behind by the removal of government support structures, providing a path out of the dire circumstances that shocked the country in films and books, but that were otherwise ignored.

This is the strength of a history where individuals and whānau reflect on their own stories: we know the statistics, but now we also learn what it was like to live as one of these statistics, to be welcomed into a new whānau, and to build new lives with this support from what might otherwise merely seem to be a corporate service provider. The book traces the emergence of something new, not an iwi or a corporation, not a cultural centre, but a new expression of the urban fabric, its people and their way of living as Māori. This new voice has also made this new world a more Māori place, since, as Haami’s study shows, much of the bicultural landscape we take for granted today is thanks to the work of urban Māori. These new expressions of Māori community are also absorbing non- Māori and becoming a central part of the wider urban community.

Haami likens the situation of urban Māori to that of the first arrivals to Aotearoa, and the adaption of their customs to a strange new environment, while holding tight to the iti oneone i kapua mai Hawaiki, grain of sand from Hawaiki. Weaving together his study of political and economic context with an understanding of its impact on whānau and individual life paths, Haami maps a path to carry this grain of sand forward, where urban Māori know and connect to their iwi roots, but also to their urban tūrangawaewae, and move forward confident in their urban identity.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Urban Māori, The Second Great Migration
by Bradford Haami
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506285

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