Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 13. 1964.
"Washday" Fuss Unseemly..
"Washday" Fuss Unseemly...
The Trouble caused by the withdrawal of the Education Department booklet, "Washday at the Pa" was most disagreeable. Disagreeable for the Maoris, the authoress, the Minister of Education, the Publications Division of the Education Department, and the public.
The booklet was prepared by a young Dutch lady, Miss Ans Westra. Containing some outstanding photography, the booklet showed a Maori family in poor surroundings but full of happiness and joie de vivre. Miss Westra claims that she wanted to portray this happiness, and the cherished values shown by the family.
Unfortunately an unseemly squabble ensued when the booklet fell into the hands of the Maori Women's Welfare League, who expressed indignation at the image it portrayed of Maori women. They heaped scorn on the idea that desirable human values came through and pointed to the scruffy hair shown in some of the photos as being derogatory.
A member of the Maori Women's Welfare League, Mrs. R. Sage, accused Miss Westra of being so ignorant of Maori customs as to photograph children violating tapu laws. The particular photograph shows some children near prepared food. In an interview, Miss Westra indicated that the family had not known of the existence of the particular law.
The emotion of those Maoris who pressed for the withdrawal of the book can be appreciated as just personal feelings, but not as just cause for pressuring the Minister.
They have a valid objection, it appears, in the name of the book. It is giving the impression that the conditions portrayed in the book are the conditions in all pas. Miss Westra noted in our interview that she did not wish to do this—but by mistake she has. The name Pa is broader than just family. However, a note qualifying the meaning of the word is made on the first page.
But none of these objections were adequate to warrant the withdrawal of the book. Even if the photos show something other than desired Western values, it is all balanced against the supreme values of love and happiness, which the Maori has to offer, and the Western world has room to accommodate. If it is argued that the book is reinforcing a stereotype view of the Maori, then the answer must be—maybe, but it is a stereotype being shown in context, being shown contrasted against cherished values! The child who sees the two together will appreciate the Maori more than if he saw the stereotype alone. Surely this is a better educational approach?
The actual steps taken by Mr. Kinsella in withdrawing the book were unsatisfactory. He, who openly admits that he liked the book, thus indicates his rejection of all the justifiable claims the Maori women may have had and in so doing emphasises its real value. He excused the withdrawal by claiming that the family concerned had been teased, and that it would create undesirable racial tensions.
A more appropriate response would have been: "The book offended the sensibilities of a particular group with its realism. As this group concerns the political managers in the National party, pacifying measures were required." The peculiar comment in the National Party monthly Freedom tends to bear this out. It was: "Withdrawal of the Education Department's booklet 'Washday at the Pa.' is a timely reminder of the dangers of exhibiting dirty linen in public."
To state that the book would cause impressionable school children, for whom it was intended, to indulge in racial discrimination is a sufficiently serious assertion to warrant more explanation than the minister gave in his bald assertion. What educational psychology does he base his assertion on?
This booklet shows the children happy like us, gay and enthused with living' to the other children. It shows someone who can get pleasure out of watching Mum cooking and Dad shearing.
For protagonists of the withdrawal to argue that the untidy surroundings should have been shown balanced with more orderly surroundings is outrageous, when one considers all the other trashy literature glamourising the Maori which is distributed, with scant regard for presenting a balanced image.
Take a look, as I did at the selection in your bookshop of publications on the Maori, and try to find one that reflects true Maoridom in transition more effectively.
Some argue that the book, if badly presented in the classroom, would do harm. It so happens that teachers are provided to present material correctly, and if we are to commence providing correcting influences for all our bad teachers, then we will be fully occupied.
A further undesirable precedent set by the incident was that of political interference in educational matters. The minister has clearly uttered a political judgement on an educational issue, displaying a lack of confidence in his department which he would have done better to restrain himself from. Such measures, if repeated, could have the most unfortunate repercussions for the principles which keep the civil service free from political bias, and the right of experts to determine in an expert way what is best for the community.
One cannot help wondering, in retrospect, whether the Maori women would have served their interests better by refraining from indulging in their unseemly display of emotion, which has left an impression of them as being a group of emotional immoderates.
In retrospect, one also wonders why such a booklet, if really considered offensive, should have got past the authorities in the first place.
The most notable point of all arising from the dispute, is the lesson it gives in Maori-pakeha relationships. Namely, that we are not quite sure where we are going. Having the best of intentions, having built up an aura of racial harmony we let the pressures swing us where they will, honing that success will flow our way. . . .