When asked where I call home I automatically reply New Zealand. In response, I receive betrayed, shocked looks from grandparents who assume that after fourteen years of living the ‘Kiwi’ childhood I would still call South Africa home. Upon reflection, I have realised that I no longer associate myself with South Africa – I am a New Zealander and am proud to be one. Language, it appears, was key in differentiating me as a foreigner, as well as integrating me into the majority. Seated at the peeling picnic tables of Pillans Point Primary School I distinctly remember children asking me to say words. They would laugh at my strange accent and I enjoyed all the attention. I also recall the day I missed out on the school swimming day because I didn’t bring my ‘togs’ purely because I hadn’t the faintest idea what exactly a ‘togs’ was. Later, I began making the conscious effort to pronounce words the way the others did. It felt unnatural and awkward but I was no longer out of place, no longer different. In giving up my South African accent and slang, I distanced myself from South African culture. There is a definite link between language and culture. Prior to the 1980’s, Te Reo Maori was suppressed in schools in an attempt to integrate Maori children into European lifestyle. The Maori Women’s Welfare League argued that suppressing the language put Maori children at risk of “growing up in ignorance to their people” (Harris and Williams 409). Language structures the way we think and by silencing one’s language you are suppressing their culture – something which enabled me to become more ‘Kiwi’, but resulted in a loss of cultural identity for Maori.
Harris, Aroha, and Melissa Matutina Williams. “Maori Affairs.” Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History. New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books, 2012. 1945-1970. Print.
Lelei, Andy. You Make Me Nobody. 1999, oil on canvas. Pacific Art: Persistence, Change, and Meaning. Honolulu: U of Hawaiʻi, 2002. 410. Print.