The National Library of New Zealand recently decided to dispose of 600 000 books including prized first editions of English literature classics to make way for the growing New Zealand, Maori and Pacific collection.1
This may be a budget thing: ’a not enough space’ type of argument but I smell cancel culture and the identity politics creed that has been woodworming academica and bureaucracy for some years now.
The rationale that has become fashionable since black lives now matter, is that policies, laws and icons that stem from the past must be eradicated. This is because the colonists, rulers, inventors and developers of the most successful technological societies in modern history were almost exclusively European males; now invalidated by the lack of indigenous participation.
It is propounded that the general oppression and inability of most people of colour from Africa and the Pacific to get rich, get educated and successfully contribute to society is directly attributable to and caused by these white despots.
Hence the re-writing of history and the toppling of statues, renaming of roads and places with European names.
So how should we paint our past for future reference?
I know, let’s name places and roads and raise statues to historically famous and clever African and Pacifica people of colour!
We will need to look at historical records of these peoples. Oh! So we can only go back about 180 years which is about when the colonial oppressors taught these peoples how to write. They are now able to tell us how we misspelt the names of people and places, isn’t that nice?
Well, I am sure we can rely on their oral history…
Are there any great inventions of these societies? Well, since the Pyramids there’s been …maybe the iklwa, boomerang, trench warfare, shrunken heads and an app for hair inventions?
How about great leaders? Nelson Mandela of course, Hone Heke, the great Maori warchief, Shaka Zulu (a tad despotic, perhaps?), Nasser, Gaddafi, Nkrumah, Mobutu, Mugabe, Idi Amin (these two are a bit like Shaka?) – mind you, it’s likely the colonial oppressors oppressed leaders, that’s possibly why there are so few.
Whatever?! Just take a knee people, and bow to the inevitable, because otherwise you’ll be labelled a racist, misogynist, gay bashing, petal plucking redneck. Don’t worry about most of history – it is no longer relevant.
Wikipedia says: The burning of books has a long history as a tool that has been wielded … to suppress dissenting or heretical views that are believed to pose a threat to the prevailing order…(and) can become a significant component of cultural genocide.
Iconoclasm is a very basic and powerful political tool which demonstrates radical defiance of the commonly held norms of society – it is a challenge to the middle of the road look awayers and I-say-nothingers.
Herself and I had the honour recently to be invited to the Citizenship Ceremony of dear friends.
There is rare opportunity for the amorphous body of the State to impress upon its subjects the import and high value of being a citizen.
Australia like most former colonies has suppressed admiration for the pomp and ceremony practised by the colonial overlords of former years, but hides it under a veneer of mateship. State ceremonies should therefore be serious and memorable with an acceptable ritual, but men can wear shorts and women slacks and sandals.
So, on Australia Citizenship Day, as befits serious occasions, we arrived early at the Community Leisure Centre (that could have been a clue), to be greeted by a melee of smart fellow guests and citizens-to-be, under direction of slightly flustered bureaucrats, one of whom was a long serving town councillor.
It appears that nobody had told the local Kung-fu Klub that they could not have the hall for their practice that night and martial arts were in process. The sensei had growled at suggestions by the Councillor that a ceremony of State should have precedence – he explained to us in a whisper “they are very big men!”
So we had to make a plan as we were told Australians had always done – set up in a smaller hall and split the function into 2 sessions to abide by the Covid space limit of 35 people.
This was also under the faint anxiety induced by the need to ensure Safe Coronavirus Hygiene was observed and necessary tracking details were recorded as well as issue of all important documents for the Citizens- to- be.
There were not enough chairs to allow for all to be seated so attendees spread around the walls, all decorously looking solemn and anxiously trying to observe Covid safe distancing.
I was quite comfortable on the kitchen sink. When every seat was taken and safe spaces were diminishing dangerously, an explanation and apology was made by the Councillor who kept his cool, even as the walls were closing in…
As is fitting the elders of the land were acknowledged and the event proceeded.
The certificates were given out with only a minor confusion of some Singhs, and the two Oaths of Affirmation (a separate one for non-Believers) were completed with everyone invited to join in.
The old Councillor was so relieved that he despatched us all to tea and cake in the Karate Hall, only to be met with an outcry – we haven’t sung the Anthem!
Everyone was remarkably calm and accepting of this bureaucratic balls-up of a ceremony, waiting patiently for their certificate and posing sweetly for a photo with the old Councillor, clutching their gift of a spindly indigenous seedling and a Labor Party holdall.
The Guest of Honour, a state MP who made an inaudible speech, was soon forgotten and slunk away into a corner.
Everyone sung the Anthem with serious demeanour and then we were released.
It was an interesting batch of new citizens, mostly European but with some Filipinos, Middle Easterners, Chinese and Indians – all on their best behaviour to avoid losing the prize at the slightly vague finishing line.
They weren’t yet Australian enough to barrack at the bureaucrats for stuffing up what should be a smooth, sedate ritual reinforcing the competence and effectiveness of a modern State.
People seemed genuinely happy if somewhat bemused by the awkward shambles – it was almost heart-warming and definitely memorable in an unintended way.