Convergence Culture, Māori-Style: The Browning-Up of New Zealand?

October 20, 2011
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There’s been a flurry of mob-flash haka (traditional Māori dances often associated with vitality and challenge) in Aotearoa New Zealand since the Rugby World Cup (RWC) began in early September. Rugby, identity, and politics all blend fluidly in this small South Pacific nation. From July through September 1981, exactly thirty years in advance of the 2011 World Cup, a three-month rugby tour of Aotearoa New Zealand by the South African Springboks brought hundreds of thousands of anti-apartheid protesters into the streets, where they clashed, sometimes violently, with police sworn to ensure that each match should proceed as scheduled. This eruption of protests is widely understood to have sparked a modern Māori cultural and political renaissance. Today, the full-blown emergence and multi-platform expansion of Māori media may be pushing that renaissance to new heights, and although one of the most widely recognized of all haka has long been performed by the All Blacks, Aotearoa New Zealand’s national rugby team, before each match, there’s something different about the haka that have recently erupted in more ordinary, everyday spaces such as street corners and shopping malls.

Thirty years ago the Springboks tour created the conditions of possibility for sharpened discussion and debate among New Zealanders about forms of pervasive but mostly unacknowledged (in mainstream discourse) racism. The predominant mythologies of the Pakeha (European-descended) majority, which cast New Zealand race relations in Panglossian terms, were ruptured in ways that would facilitate important advances in Māori struggles for cultural rights and the redress of historical grievances concerning land and resource privation stretching back nearly a century and a half. Moreover, the intensification of transnational affective alliances between Māori and Black South Africans contributed to a Māori sense of justified anger and growing political will, while Pakeha protestors’ concerns for the plight of racially subordinated peoples half a world away lent enhanced moral leverage to Māori demands for racial justice closer to home.

Half a decade after the watershed moment of the 1981 Springboks tour, Aotearoa New Zealand was in the grip of full-scale economic neoliberalization that included substantial privatization of public media operations. Meanwhile, a Māori communicators’ association, Te Manu Aute, was forming to advance the cause of Māori broadcasting on the basis of rights and entitlements enshrined in the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840 by the British Crown and some 500 Māori chiefs. It would take almost 20 years of struggle against various political opponents and enemies (particularly on the right), but the first of two Māori Television Service (MTS) channels went to air in 2004, followed by the appearance five years later of a multiplatform strategy, a webcast-capable website and Maori Television’s YouTube channel.

Further iterations of the political struggles to establish a stable and sustainable Māori television service ensued when, in 2009, a successful initial bid by the indigenous broadcaster for exclusive rights to deliver the national sport’s premier global event, inflected with Māori trappings and linguistic elements, spurred a backlash that ultimately resulted in a negotiated deal under which broadcasting rights to all major 2011 RWC games are shared with non-indigenous media outfits. This deal thus partially circumvented the complex implications for Pakeha imaginaries of a situation characterized by prohibitive indigenous control over the presentation of iconic national sporting images and narratives in post-colonial Aotearoa New Zealand. Nevertheless, there is something both remarkable and heartening about the transmediated and multi-platformed emergence of everyday haka at sites such as street corners and shopping malls, and their recirculation via YouTube, Facebook, and nightly newscasts.  While it is clear that “convergence culture” is, as some contributors to the current issue of Cultural Studies caution, a site where key forces of neoliberalism can gain purchase, it seems also to be the case that in this corner of the globe participatory cultures of media convergence have something to contribute to the reconfiguration of how we both imagine and interact with the spaces and places of our everyday lives.


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2 Responses to “ Convergence Culture, Māori-Style: The Browning-Up of New Zealand? ”

  1. Jonathan Gray on October 23, 2011 at 10:12 AM
  2. Sara Chopp on October 28, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    Maori Conflicts Within and Outside of the Group

    The All Blacks performance of the haka is definitely representative of the Maori as a convergence culture. Through the popularity of rugby and the success of the All Blacks, this has inspired flash mobs to perform the haka in public places, and it has also inspired fans to do the haka on the top of a sky tower to express their support. As discussed, videos of this tribal dance have been circulating the Internet via blogs, YouTube, Facebook, etc., allowing for an increase in audience participation and support globally, which can do nothing short of provide the team with inspiration. I believe that the enormous amount of support and collectivism displayed by these acts of unity coincide with the events that are occurring in New Zealand as of late.


    Currently, the Maori make up about twenty percent of the New Zealand population. The regional council is voting on whether to reserve two Hamilton City Council seats strictly for Maori, in order to strengthen their representation and participation, which is currently nonexistent. Sixty percent of citizens, including some Maori, were against the idea. The main opposition is that “everybody in New Zealand should have the same opportunity and that opportunity should not be divided between race, creed or color,” (Ihaka, 2011), and they shouldn’t receive any special treatment. The ones who are for this idea believe that this is a necessary and strong step forward for the Maori.

    There is also much debate going on about the judicial system because fifty-one percent of the prison population in New Zealand is Maori. Some believe that there is discrimination against the Maori because Police are three times more likely to arrest and prosecute them than any other ethnic group. Others believe this is merely because Maori commit crimes at a much higher rate. “There are societal attitudes and prejudices about Maori and crime,” (Sharples, 2011). The Maori prison population reinforces these prejudices, and integrates imprisonment into the norm of the Maori community. There are suggestions that the judicial system is in need of reform in order to break this cycle. The opposition believes that by saying discriminatory actions are being taken against the Maori, the victim mentality and feeling of entitlement are being reinforced in the minds of the Maori.

    The differences in opinion among the Maori are representative of the holistic/individualistic divide in their culture with the emergence of new generations. Some Maori believe that individuals are responsible for their own positions in life, not all Maori are the same, that it is their responsibility to work hard and get an education in order to move forward in life, and the government and the police should not be blamed. Others feel that the middle class is simplifying the complex problem of Maori prejudice and discrimination.

    The Treaty of Waitangi was basically an agreement that Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell, and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects. So once again Europe decided they wanted something and they took it. In this case it was Maori’s New Zealand. The British invade Maori land, and make them agree to sell their things in order to keep their rights, in order to protect their commercial interests. So the British simply gave the Maori the choice to accept money and higher status from the Europeans taking over to avoid the slaughtering of indigenous people on invaded land like other groups centuries prior.

    Were the current Maori protests inspired by protests all over the globe like they were in the 1970s? The poor, underrepresented, minority group standing up to “the man” for equality and justice. Can the haka performed by the All Blacks inspire the Maori’s ego individualistic and relational collectivistic values to work together and strengthen among this culture, allowing for individuals to take pride in their culture and responsibility for themselves in order to benefit the group as a whole?

    The media, spanning from the local news in New Zealand to the All Blacks global representation, reinforces views and ideas about the Maori and reintegrates negativity back into New Zealand society by not representing the whole culture. With lack of representation in government, high imprisonment rates, and high poverty levels, how are the Maori to break these prejudices and cycles without reform in the government and judicial system? Also, if the Maori expect to “brown-up” New Zealand and achieve racial justice, they need to place less focus on commercialism, and more focus on public media and increasing their participation as individuals and as a society.

    George, G., (2011). New Zealand Herald. Inbox lifts lid on how Maori see ‘victim’ label.
    Retrieved October 28, 2011 from
    George, G., (2011). New Zealand Herald. Victim mentality keeps Maori on the back foot.
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    Glynn, K., (2011). University of Wisconsin – Madison. Convergence culture, Maori-style: The
    browning up of New Zealand. Retrieved October 28, 2011 from
    Ihaka, J., (2011). New Zealand Herald. Regional council votes in Maori seats but city against.
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    Preston, N., (2011). New Zealand Herald. Iwi push for Maori seats on council. Retrieved
    October 28, 2011 from
    Sharples, P., (2011). New Zealand Herald. Tackle prejudice in justice system. Retrieved October
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    ‘The Treaty in brief’, URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 16-Jun-2011