A Maori academic has been slammed for saying that the colonisation of New Zealand resulted in a holocaust for his people.
Keri Opai, a Taranaki-based language teacher, told a Radio New Zealand discussion that Maori had been through some "awful stuff that really does break down to a holocaust".
He cited the pillaging of Parihaka - where 1600 troops burned houses after being greeted by singing children - as a damning episode, and said many New Zealanders did not realise the extent of the devastation.
There was no direct comparison to the Nazi Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed.
But Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman said calling what happened a holocaust was ignorant and improper.
"It tries to elevate Maori grievances by associating with the Holocaust, and I find it very hard to draw a comparison between the European colonisation of New Zealand and plain genocide," he said.
Firstly, the definition of a holocaust is, roughly speaking, thus: destruction or slaughter on a mass scale. According to the article above, the Maori population fell by over 40% and, as nearly everyone knows, the Maori race was brought near extinction through a combination of war, disease and state sponsored discrimination and depravation. Certainly, this amounts to “a holocaust” in a loose sense of the word. However, I see Goodman’s point. In ordinary usage, the term Holocaust refers to the systematic slaughter of over 6 million Jews. I agree that it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw a link between European colonisation of New Zealand and the Shoah (the Holocaust).
Goodman goes on to say that Keri Opai was “trivialising” the Holocaust. I think this is plain wrong. Opai was taking what you could probably say is the dictionary meaning and applying it to the New Zealand context. Certainly, using the term is hyperbolic, but what’s wrong with that? Hyperbole is a effective language tool.
It’s interesting to note Goodman has revised his statement. Imperator Fish points to the original statement:
It is totally unacceptable for anyone to attempt associating European colonisation of New Zealand with the Holocaust. This is not the first time that Maori have trivialised the Holocaust by trying to associate it with their own perceived grievances. There is absolutely no valid comparison between the settlement of the country and the organised, state sponsored, genocide that was the Holocaust. As a language lecturer Mr Opai is obviously totally ignorant of world history; as an “academic” he should know better. His words are extremely offensive to the Jewish and other communities that were the target of the Shoah.
This is insulting. It’s good to see that Goodman revised his comments, but I reckon he still holds these anti-Maori sentiments. I take particular offence with his description of “perceived grievances” – as if Maori grievances aren’t real – also note how “settlement” is used as opposed to colonisation. Settlement is a neutral word and doesn’t carry the negative implications of colonisation.
Anyway, to my mind, what ever way you look at it this is a non-story.