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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa


This section surveys the print cultures of many of the diverse non-Polynesian immigrant groups who have settled in New Zealand since the earliest days of European settlement. It also considers two of the languages of learning that have been brought to this country.

The approach taken has been dictated by the nature of the topic. Since expertise was to be found chiefly among those familiar with a particular language or family of languages, individual contributors were sought for those languages in which a significant print culture might exist in New Zealand. For most, but not all of the obvious candidates, separate studies have been obtained. These are, in the order of arrangement, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, French, Gaelic, Greek (ancient) and Latin, German, Polish, and Scandinavian languages. For various reasons, some language groups are not represented: African, Asian (other than Chinese), Hebrew, Indian and Middle Eastern. However, exclusion should not be taken as necessarily reflecting lack of importance within New Zealand.

Studies of immigration as distinct from print culture may be found in Stuart William Greif (ed.) Immigration and National Identity in New Zealand (1995). The National Ethnic Communities Directory, published by the Race Relations Office jointly with the Department of Internal Affairs, Ethnic Affairs Service, the most recent issue being for 1995-96, gives an indication of New Zealand's ethnic diversity. New Zealand International Migration: A Digest and Bibliography (eds. Trlin and Spoonley), Department of Sociology, Massey University, no.1 (1986), no.2 (1992), is also a useful source about immigrant groups.

The purpose of this survey is mainly to introduce readers to material available about the print cultures of languages other than English and Māori in New Zealand, and to indicate directions for further enquiry. The result should be a better understanding of New Zealanders whose cultures and traditions do not fit into the bicultural focus of the country.

This book will suggest answers to many questions. What physical forms has the print culture of languages other than English taken? What subjects does it cover? Where are the printed materials located? Is the material in public collections or in private hands? How much of it was printed and published in New Zealand, and how much imported? If it came from overseas, who brought it here, when, and why? Fruitful areas for further exploration will be revealed, such as the connection between print culture and the history of different religions.

The print culture of the many languages in question varies, as do the settlement histories of the immigrant groups themselves. The many forms assumed by the printed word: books, newsletters, songbooks, hymnbooks, mottoes etc., are not equally spread across all languages. The diversity is also in subject matter, and in how and when the printed materials arrived in New Zealand. Some groups, the French for example, have been in New Zealand since the days of earliest European settlement; others are comparatively recent arrivals. The printed materials surveyed are not only in libraries—our contributors on Scandinavian languages considered holdings in different libraries of books—but, to an extent hard to estimate, in the possession of individuals and societies scattered throughout the country.

Each immigrant group in New Zealand has its own distinctive print culture history. Many of these histories, particularly of recent immigrants from Asia and the Middle East, are not yet documented. For example, New Zealand's most recent settlers, Somali and Ethiopian refugees, have brought with them printed materials from refugee camps: songbooks written in Somali, Oromo and Amharic languages. The studies presented here may therefore fairly be described as pioneering, revealing for perhaps the first time efforts made by different groups to plant or transplant printed materials into a new country. Some of this material is interesting in itself; often it is more so for what it can be made to show about the lives of the people who produced it. It is perhaps significant, for instance, that some of it is religious—the Dutch newsletter De Schakel from 1951 is a good example.

However, there are also similarities in the fates of the print cultures of many of the immigrant groups, chiefly in the common struggle to survive. Learned languages have struggled, too, though for different reasons. Frequently only remnants remain: hymn cards with Latin text, mottoes in Latin, song books in Scots Gaelic and other languages; also the newsletters of the different immigrant groups which reflect the specific circumstances of their life in New Zealand.

Ironically, it may be noted that, at certain times in New Zealand's history, a considerable amount of racist and anti-racist printed material in English has been provoked by immigration: cartoons, pamphlets, newspaper and magazine articles and books. For example, in the 1930s, A.N. Field was a prolific writer and publisher of anti-Semitic material, such as Today's Greatest Problem, 1938.

Why have immigrant print cultures not flourished more in New Zealand? Why has more substantial material not been produced? There are various reasons. Over the years, immigration policy has favoured 'kin migration', that is, recurring immigration from the original source, usually Great Britain (McKinnon, 1996), and has excluded the non-British, especially racial minorities such as the Chinese, Indians and Jews. The Chinese, for example, who came as sojourners in the 1860s to work on the goldfields, were subject to a series of legislative acts preventing their permanent settlement and that of their wives and children. These and other discriminatory policies have resulted in the overwhelming majority of New Zealand's population being of British origin—until World War II 96% of non-Māori New Zealanders were of British extraction.

After World War II, more non-British immigration was permitted because there were not enough immigrants from the British Isles available to meet labour requirements. Immigrants from northern European countries were preferred because they were seen as similar to the British and therefore likely to assimilate more readily. Other groups also entered the country in small numbers from eastern and southern Europe and from Asia. Immigration restrictions against Chinese women and children were a little relaxed at this time, to allow the settlement of family units. However, non-British immigration was still modest, compared for example to post-war Australia. By 1961, foreign-born European residents who were not of British origin were less than 2% of the population; Asians and Pacific Islanders not born in New Zealand together accounted for less than 1% of the population (Brooking and Rabel in Greif, 1995).

In the early 1970s, immigration from the traditional source countries of Britain and the Commonwealth continued to be preferred, on the grounds that immigrants whose social and cultural heritage differed markedly from our own would tend to keep to themselves and be unwilling to assimilate. It is only since the Immigration Act 1987 that immigrants have been selected on the basis of their skills and personal qualities and not their ethnic or national origin. Since that time, immigrants from diverse countries—from Asia, the Middle East and Africa—have been settling in New Zealand in greater numbers.

Immigration policy favouring British immigrants has contributed to the fate of other languages' print cultures in a number of ways. Most importantly, it has meant that the non-British immigrant groups have simply been too small numerically to be able to maintain their own culture. In the 1870s, for example, Scandinavians were the most significant of the non-British groups, but they were never more than 1.25% of the population.

Groups were not only too small, they were scattered. For some groups, there was concentration in the first generation, then a tendency to scatter with later generations. Except for Pacific Islander groups, the small communities were not bolstered by continuing new arrivals. Another factor affecting some groups was unstable population: people came but did not stay to build up the strong community life than makes cultural maintenance possible. In the case of Jews, for example, if everyone who had come stayed, more viable communities might have been established. The fact that immigration policy discouraged family settlement also contributed to the difficulties many groups had in preserving a separate identity. Refusal to allow the entry of wives and children had serious impact on culture and language maintenance, women so often having primary responsibility for the transmission of culture to the next generation. Gender imbalance and the smallness and scattering of immigrant groups have led to high rates of marriage outside the immigrant community, bringing problems for cultural transmission to the next generation.

At the same time as immigration restrictions made it difficult to establish viable communities, the small groups of non-British settlers also faced strong pressures to assimilate. Only a small minority believed that the retention of the immigrants' culture could make a valuable contribution to the way of life of New Zealanders. 'We must make new Britishers: by procreation and by assimilation: by making suitable aliens into vectors of the British way of life that has still so much to give to the world' wrote R.A. Lochore in 1951, and his words aptly summarise attitudes throughout the period.

Immigrants and children of immigrants interviewed by the writer have recalled the pressures to give up their languages and other aspects of their former cultures after settling in New Zealand. Whatever the language spoken in the privacy of their own homes, the public language of all had to be English. Nor were other cultural differences welcomed by the New Zealanders with whom they came into contact (Ann Beaglehole, 1990).

Cultural minorities from the British Isles, the Irish, for example, felt similar pressures in relation to the majority Anglo Saxons. According to one of our contributors, 'anglophone cultural hegemony' affected Scots Gaelic in much the same way as Dutch or Hungarian or other immigrant minority languages were affected, all suffering a 'rapid demise within the space of one generation'.

Visibly different immigrant groups experienced particularly strong pressures. Public hostility towards Chinese and Indians encouraged them to keep a low profile. But all groups were affected by a social climate in which, among other difficulties, immigrants' voluntary organisations were treated with suspicion and seen as obstacles to assimilation (Trlin and Tolich in Greif, 1995).

Hostility and suspicion notwithstanding, ethnic associations did form to provide mutual support, particularly after World War II. From the 1950s, for example, Chinese language schools mushroomed, but did not continue to thrive. Seeing them as likely to hinder eventual assimilation, the government declined entry to Chinese teachers. Funding too was short.

Refugee settlers from South East Asia in the early 1980s faced severe obstacles in maintaining their languages and cultures. Refugees at that time were 'pepperpotted'—i.e. sent to live in widely separated provincial areas where they felt culturally and linguistically isolated. Assimilation was sometimes pursued spontaneously by the groups because they felt they need to belong to the mainstream to be successful. The consequences are, according to Man Hau Liev writing of cultural erosion in the Cambodian community, that 'the children appear to be strangers who have lost their ethnic cultural values and identity. They speak English at home with their siblings, and they reject their ethnic arts and songs' (Greif, 1995). Man Hau Liev has written of the struggle to try to maintain Cambodian culture: of the costs, the loneliness, the failures and the occasional successes, represented for instance by the publication of community newsletters.

The failure of many of the immigrant groups to develop a flourishing and lasting print culture can perhaps also be explained by the characteristics of some of the immigrants who came. Some of those who came tended to have predominantly oral cultures. They were willing and sometimes eager to assimilate as quickly as possible. The perceived ability of German and Scandinavian immigrants to fit into colonial British society and that of the Dutch into 1950s New Zealand was the reason for their recruitment in the first place. Jews who cared deeply about retaining their culture were less likely to come to New Zealand to settle; these preferred to stay in centres of larger Jewish population.

Future patterns may differ. The numbers of immigrants who have settled in New Zealand in the late 1980s and early 1990s may be large enough to enable cultural maintenance and cultural transmission to occur more easily than in the past. The new Asian wave of immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia appear less interested in keeping a low profile than earlier Chinese and Indian immigrant groups. By 1994, they had formed 62 associations in Auckland alone and started no fewer than nine Chinese free newspapers in Auckland (Manying Ip in Greif, 1995).

In 1990s New Zealand there is greater acceptance of cultural diversity than in previous decades, though there is also considerable anti-Asian or anti-immigrant sentiment. It remains uncertain whether one of the vital conditions for the growth of vibrant communities, for cultural maintenance and for the development of printed materials in languages other than English will be present, namely the opportunity for established immigrant communities to be replenished by more immigration in the years ahead.