Volltext: Anthropos, 90.1995

Anthropos 90.1995: 1-16 
Redefining Ideology in Time 
Maori Crossroads between a Timeless Past and a New Future 
Toon van Meijl 
Abstract. - In this article it is argued that a broadening of 
classic notions of ideology as false consciousness does not 
necessarily have to take place at the expense of the concept’s 
critical connotations if ideology is conceived of as a generative 
and dynamic dimension of social practice, the multiple values 
of which are continuously being manipulated to serve political 
and other strategic interests. The value of the theoretical ap 
proach advocated in this article will be demonstrated by means 
of an ethnographic analysis of the “reinvention” of tradition 
among the New Zealand Maori and its political and ideological 
goal of justifying demands for Maori self-determination in the 
future. For the Maori the past serves as a symbol of survival and 
continuity, but with the aim of discontinuing and transforming 
their present predicament through the implementation of tribal 
development programmes. The paradoxical coexistence of a 
discourse of tradition and a discourse of development may be 
resolved in terms of their common ideological matrix. [New 
Zealand, Maori, ideology, signs, politics of tradition] 
Toon van Meijl holds a B. A. (Hons.) and an M. A. (Hons.) 
from the University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and a Ph. D. 
from the Australian National University. He conducted field 
work among the Tainui Maori people in New Zealand from 
October 1982 until August 1983, and from September 1987 
until December 1988. At present he is holding a postdoctoral 
research fellowship of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts 
and Sciences, while he is also Academic Secretary of the Centre 
for Pacific Studies. - Publications: cf. References Cited. 
Over the past two decades the New Zealand Maori 
people have revived, if not “reinvented,” many 
dimensions of their traditional culture, particularly 
its expressive aspects, such as language, ceremo 
nies, crafts, songs, and dances, but also forms of 
political organization. At the same time, the in 
digenous people of New Zealand have launched 
large-scale development programmes in order to 
improve their living standards and, ultimately, to 
attain in the future statistical equality with the 
dominant population of European New Zealanders. 
New Zealanders of European origin often argue 
that Maori traditions constitute an insurmountable 
impediment to the modern goal of development. In 
consequence, it is widely believed in New Zealand 
that Maori people have to make a choice between 
their - primitive - past and a - civilized - future, 
but although Maori concerns with both the past and 
the future might initially seem paradoxical, Maori 
discourses of tradition cannot be seen in isolation 
of Maori discourses of development. 
After a decade of scholarship on the “politics 
of tradition” in the Pacific (e.g., Keesing and Ton- 
kinson 1982; Linnekin and Poyer 1990; Jolly and 
Thomas 1992; White and Lindstrom 1993; van der 
Grijp and van Meijl 1993; Otto 1994), the political 
implications of the revitalization and reconstruc 
tion of Maori traditions have become obvious: 
traditional culture is particularly reconstituted in 
order to justify growing demands for autonomous 
Maori development programmes and, ultimately, 
for the recognition of Maori sovereignty (van Meijl 
1990). The main aim of Maori aspirations to Maori 
self-determination is to regain in the future the 
political, economic, and cultural autonomy which 
the indigenous people of New Zealand lost in the 
course of colonial history. The strategy for achiev 
ing an independent future, however, is justified 
as well as outlined in terms of Maori traditions. 
This is undoubtedly the result of Maori encapsu 
lation within the New Zealand liberal-democratic 
nation-state, which forces Maori people to vali 
date their pursuit of sovereignty in a culturally 
specific manner. Since the sharing of a common 
colonial past plays an important role in uniting 
Maori people from different tribal backgrounds 
vis-à-vis their European counterparts, the desire 
to manage their attempts to reacquire control of 
their own destiny is substantiated by means of a 
discourse of tradition. 
Interestingly, the relationship between the fu 
ture-oriented discourse of development and the 
past-oriented discourse of tradition is rather am 
biguous and evokes at least two paradoxes. Firstly, 
the need for an independent path into the future is 
justified on the basis of a different past, but views 
of the desired future state are largely based on the 
present condition of the European population of 
New Zealand, the only difference being control in


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