Friday, October 16, 2009

New Zealand Challenge Wrap-Up

I'm pretty impressed with myself because I've finished my first ever challenge! And I finished it EARLY, too. Maree at Just add books... is hosting this very laid-back and thus thoroughly appealing challenge in honor of New Zealand Book Month. I read and reviewed Potiki, by Patricia Grace here, and I also watched the film Once Were Warriors.

Gosh, what a depressing movie! It was one of those movies that is very powerful in a disturbing way. The movie is based on a book, and revolves around a Maori woman, Beth, who is in an abusive marriage and is trying very hard to keep her family together. However, her husband drinks too much, her eldest son is joining a street gang, her middle son gets in trouble with the law, and she hardly has time for her youngest two. The only child who is really a spark of light in this dreary life is her daughter, Grace, who is quiet and shy and writes stories in her notebook. The movie really highlights the love-hate relationship between Beth and her husband, and her fierce determination to protect her children from his violent outbursts. It doesn't make anything easy; there are some horrific scenes, and it can be very, very painful to watch. But it was a deeply moving portrayal of a family struggling to get by, and of a culture that is trying so hard to stay proud, but is drowning.

Really, every time I see a movie or read a book or visit a country in which native people were displaced by others- in the US, New Zealand, Australia, Africa, and countless other regions around the world- I just feel an aching sadness for those cultures. They never recover. Often, the people descend into alcoholism or gambling addiction or some other vice because there is nowhere to go. They have no home, as it was taken away from them. They can't pursue their traditional vocations. The culture that lasted so many generations was almost erased, if not by people dying out, then by the "white man's burden" of instilling European cultural ideals. And now, most of these people live in out-of-the-way places on reservations or somewhere where they can't really be seen or heard. And so people forget about them, or ignore them, or wonder why they don't assimilate properly into the dominant culture. This movie really highlights this situation. Beth knows that her husband is bad news, and that her children are in trouble. She knows that they will always struggle between two worlds and how to be proud of their heritage while also surviving in a world in which they are second-rate citizens. It's a deeply sensitive film that doesn't give you any answers or resolutions- it just presents the situation as it is, and asks you to notice.

Here's a scene in the movie where one of the characters is trying to impart the pride of Maori culture into young boys in juvenile detention through teaching them how to do the famed Haka dance.


  1. I am not one for depressing movies, but then again the whale rider had those things too. I really should watch this movie

  2. Yay for finishing your challenge! I had never heard of this movie, and agree that it sounds a sad, but it seems like it imparted a very important message to it's viewers. I also find it sad the way that various ethnic groups have been displaced throughout history. I don't think it's right that they should be absorbed by the predominating cultures of the area. When something like this happens, there is just so much lost, from languages and religions to traditions and territories. Very interesting and insightful post.

  3. Good for you Aarti! I should have signed up for this challenge.

    At the Vancouver International Film festival, I saw the documentary film, This Way of Life from New Zealand. It was outstanding!!


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