Statement | Are we willing to call New Zealand Aotearoa?

Are we willing to call New Zealand ‘Aotearoa’, its original Maori name? Artist Hohepa Thompson, aka Hori, traveled to Zeeland two weeks ago to ask us this question. A question that probably comes as a surprise to most Dutch people.

Hori arrived in Zeeland on Saturday 30 July before dawn. A day and a half earlier he had taken a flight to London in Auckland. Once there, he hired a car and took the ferry to Calais with his cameraman. The beach at Vlissingen was his destination. He put a plaque on one of the many poles on the beach: “To the people of Zeeland, I give you back the name New Zealand, the name of our country is Aotearoa.” A television crew captured his action for New Zealand television.

What was that again? How is it possible that the Maori country is named after Zeeland, wasn’t it the English that colonized the country? The Maori are the original inhabitants of New Zealand and are a minority in their own country. Descendants of European settlers are still the most dominant group. Like Australia and the United States, New Zealand is a colonial occupation. However, it was the Dutch VOC captain Abel Tasman who was the first European to arrive in Aotearoa in 1642, after which the VOC board decided to name the area after the province of Zeeland. This name was retained by the later British settlers.

As a result of the British appropriation of other peoples’ land, Maori language and culture have long been suppressed and dismissed as inferior. In recent decades, that has changed. Maori culture is again experienced as something positive. While it used to be punished, it is now almost hip to speak a few words of Maori. Of the national rugby team, the All blackthe traditional Maori dance haka has become known worldwide as an expression of a proud culture.

Petitions for and against

This renewed focus does not mean that the problems of racism and exclusion have been resolved. New Zealand is and will be a colony. This is evident from the existence of Hobson’s promise, a pro-colonial lobby group founded in 2016, disturbed by the various initiatives and schemes that combat discrimination against Maori. Last year they started the petitionNew Zealand, NOT Aotearoa‘, which has now been signed by almost 59,000 people.

In June last year, another petition made headlines calling for the name to be changed to Aotearoa. The petition was organized by Te Pāti Maori, the political party that defends Maori interests. It was signed by as many as 70,000 people, and the result is now being seriously investigated by a parliamentary committee.

The artist Hori decided to create a campaign in this context. He had large banners printed that read:Should we call Abel Aotearoa now?” – the word Abel refers to the VOC captain. He placed the banners on a trailer and in the past month drove from the northernmost tip of New Zealand to the far south, about 3,000 kilometers. He reports this on social media.

Hori went to Vlissingen but also made a stop in the Zealand village of Krabbendijke and then traveled to Rotterdam, Leiden and Amsterdam. Everywhere he hangs posters with a picture of Tasman and the question whether we are prepared to use the name ‘Aotearoa’. A QR code leads to the website ‘Hori’s Promise‘ where he addresses us Dutch directly.

Also read this column: Maori culture connects in times of crisis

Abel Tasman praised

With his project, Hori criticizes the arrogance of European colonizing nations that renamed entire areas as if people did not already live there. To give back a colonial name, as it does now, shows us the absurdity of this tradition. Colonial doctrines, now centuries old, have made normal what is not normal.

Here it is a genocidal man like Jan Pieterszoon Coen who stands on a pedestal and after whom street names and bridges are named. In New Zealand, it is Abel Tasman who is hailed and hailed as the ‘discoverer’ of the country. Both were employed by the murderous VOC, the greatest corporation that ever existed. With his action, Hori saws the chair legs, so to speak, of our democratic, civilized society, based on myths of brave sea heroes.

It slowly dawns on us that the naval heroes were not heroes. But it is clearly more difficult for us to recognize colonialism nowadays. There is also something easy about condemning past actions. We can distance ourselves from that as if we have nothing to do with it and it’s all over. But colonialism is not history, Aotearoa is a current occupied country and New Zealand a colonial name as the Dutch East Indies was a colonial name.

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