Saturday, March 03, 2012

Book examines historic Maori-Chinese bonds

By Lincoln Tan
5:00 AM Tuesday Mar 25, 2008

Manying Ip says Maori-Chinese relationships are one of the least- documented pieces of New Zealand history. Photo / Martin Sykes
Manying Ip says Maori-Chinese relationships are one of the least- documented pieces of New Zealand history. Photo / Martin Sykes

The Chinese men wanted the Maori women for sex, and the women went to them for the money - but it was more than a commercial arrangement, because they did have a relationship - just not the conventional husband-and-wife type.

This little-known facet of New Zealand's history is revealed in a new book by University of Auckland academic Manying Ip.

The men, who were mostly market gardeners, had wives and children in China, she says, but they never saw their families, and had children with the Maori women who worked in their gardens.

And some Maori families encouraged their daughters to be with the Chinese because they were seen as "financially secure".

Maori-Chinese relationships were complicated, and are one of the least understood and documented pieces of New Zealand history, says Dr Ip.

Her book, Being Maori-Chinese, aims to give an insight into the complexities of this cross-cultural alliance.

"Maori-Chinese are hardly featured in mainstream New Zealand history, and strangely, it is a topic that has also been largely ignored by both Maori and Chinese historians here," said Dr Ip, an associate professor of Chinese at the Auckland University, explaining why she decided to investigate the topic for her book.

But the complexities, and sensitivities surrounding it could be reasons local historians have shied away from it.

One Maori elder at the Otaki campus of Te Wananga-o-Raukawa concluded that Professor Ip would get nowhere with her research, because Maori-Chinese would be very sensitive and would not share any in-depth information.

"Are you sure you want to pursue this study on Maori-Chinese relations? I don't think people will tell you much," he said in a letter to Professor Ip.

"Actually, between the Chinese and the Maori, often there weren't marriages as such. There were relationships, yes. After all, the Chinese men lived here without their women for years and years.

"But often the Maori girls wouldn't expect marriage ... I mean, those were very hard times. The girls did as they were told. More often than not, there's no marriage, not even long-term relationships"

But having Maori-Chinese friends, whom she met through her work as a community advocate, writer and someone devoted to fostering better race relations, gained Professor Ip the much-needed acceptance among the group to enable her to conduct the in-depth research that would form the basis of her book.

Today, the younger Maori-Chinese may be confident with their multiple roots and the cultural advantages they possess, but it was a very different story in the past, she said.

"Trying to establish a positive Maori-Chinese identity when both Maori and Chinese were considered undesirable was an ongoing struggle for each one of them," said Professor Ip, who described Maori and Chinese as marginalised communities in New Zealand.

"Sharing memories of one's past is never easy, but for the interviewees it is that much harder because their stories are not just about struggles against social discrimination, but often of family disapproval."

Over five years, she worked closely with seven Maori-Chinese families, whose stories are featured in the book.

"I guess this book is not just about who they are, but it would also help us with looking at who we are and what New Zealand society will become in the future," Professor Ip said.

Manying Ip was born in Guizhou, China, and raised in Hong Kong. She came to New Zealand in 1974 and gained an MA in Chinese literature and a PhD in history at Auckland University.

She has been a long-time researcher on Chinese New Zealanders and Asian immigrants.

Her other books include Aliens at My Table: Asians As New Zealanders See Them (2005), Unfolding History, Evolving Identity: Chinese in New Zealand (2003) and Home Away From Home: Life Stories of Chinese Women in New Zealand (1990).

Being Maori-Chinese is published by Auckland University Press and will be available in bookshops next month.
By Lincoln Tan | Email Lincoln
Related Tags

No comments: