- Being Māori in the City: Indigenous Everyday Life in Auckland by Natacha Gagné
With nearly thirty thousand Māori living in Auckland and little ethnography conducted on Auckland’s urban Māori, Natacha Gagné’s full-length study is long overdue. This earnest [End Page 300] work explores Māori identity politics, kin relationships, and social history and provides readers with an up-close-and-personal account of some of the everyday experiences of Māori city dwellers. Drawing on classic anthropological texts by eminent New Zealand scholars such as Joan Metge, Anne Salmond, Jeff Sissons, Erik Schwimmer, and the late Hugh Kawharu, Gagné weaves together a study that is representative of a portion of Auckland’s Māori. At the center of her discussion is the whānau (extended family), a sociopolitical descent group that she defines with care and precision. The strength of her scholarship here comes from her inclusion and understanding of an array of fundamental Māori concepts including aroha (unconditional love, 150–153); mana (authority, 151–154); manaakitanga (hospitality, 152–153); and whanaungatanga (inclusive kinship ethic, 150–151). Gagné draws on these concepts to elucidate nuanced notions of “comfort” for Māori residing in the city. In many ways her representation of comfort is equivalent to a sense of retreat and safety. She makes the argument that to survive the demands and urgency of urban life, Māori find refuge in their homes and draw on understandings of aroha, mana, manaakitanga, and whanaungatanga to replicate customary Māori environments in the city.
Indicative of her conventional anthropological training, Gagné’s task is to try and make sense of the Māori world that she has entered. In general, her story is a detailed and sensitive account of a working-class extended Māori family living in West Auckland. West Auckland is a locality with a sizable percentage of Māori residents. Conveying both the hardships and positive aspects of her participants’ daily life, the work is rich with ethno-graphic narrative. A central argument of the volume is that a number of urban Māori think of their Auckland homes as marae, or at least that their homes are “like marae.”
At the outset we should commend Gagné for pursuing a study that takes place inside the private domain of the Māori home. No doubt her fieldwork would have thrown up a number of challenges, given that over the past twenty-five years Māori have in general been reluctant to engage in more intimate and familial research projects with local and foreign anthropologists. The question remains, though, as to whether many Māori living in Auckland think of their homes as marae. Gagné’s work acknowledges that marae in Aotearoa/New Zealand serve a number of purposes for Māori. In accordance with Māori scholar Ranginui Walker, she puts forward that marae are places that symbolize group unity and are regarded as the final refuge in Aotearoa/New Zealand where Māori can maintain their cultural traditions. My own view of marae is that they are collectively owned spaces that bind people together and to a specific place through their association of shared ancestors. And this is where Gagné’s work loses some currency for me. In comparison, living in a house (or home) in Auckland does not require the same type of enduring commitment and duty as a communal marae. This might also be said of the commitment and obligations to other members living in the home if the basis of [End Page 301] their residing together is mainly to share the household expenses, housework, and child care. While the inhabitants of a home may have significant kin relationships and obligations to one another, it is arguable whether they would have the same obligations and relationship to the house structure that they are residing in, especially if the house is...