Articles, On Culture
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Arriving in ANZ

On my trips to Āpia from Narrm Melbourne on Air New Zealand, the plane often alights in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Sometimes I stay a few hours, other times, a few days. A few years ago, I was entertained by the Rugby World Cup-derived safety and promotional presentations. Similarly, the Lord of the Rings version when the film trilogy was first released was of interest. And then the novelty wore off.

As a Sāmoan Persian Australian artist, curator and citizen, language and its politics are significant to my practice and outlook. I’ve often looked to contemporary artistic and linguistic practices in Aotearoa New Zealand for what could be possible in Vanuatu, Kanaky New Caledonia, Sāmoa, and Australia where I currently live and work.

Kohanga reo, wānanga, bilingual Māori-English naming of government departments, arts institutions, Māori Television and Te Reo channels, the Treaty of Waitangi 1840 and the settlements process, strong Māori and Pacific representation and agency following sustained oppression and protest, are in our minds across te Moananui a Kiwa.

At some point, aggressive cultural homogenisation from United States-derived media took a much stronger hold here as in Australia. The Canadian French-English bilingual model I’d come to expect here wasn’t what I encountered. The extensive support offered to Peter Jackson’s film trilogies The Lord of the Rings, and more recently, The Hobbit, seems to belie the actual cultural return.

It was a shock to be faced with yet another safety and promotional presentation based on these trilogies. A temporary version celebrating the Rugby World Cup was welcome viewing at the time. What is perplexing is the permanency of the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit safety and promotional presentations in propagating a particularly strong case of cultural erasure.

Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti alike are rendered invisible in these representations of the newly claimed land, Middle Earth. Gone was the legacy of biculturalism, and nascent English-Māori-New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) multilingualism, instead replaced a Hollywoodian fantasy dystopia. This new form of cultural imperialism has been actively facilitated by local actors in this scenario.

Where are the in-flight, lounge and public presentations in reo Māori, NZSL and English? Where is the celebration and portrayal of today’s progressive, multicultural society? In my most recent flight, the entirety of Māori cultural presence was the ‘Kia ora’ and ‘Ka kite ano’ which bookended the announcements. Hardly bicultural when Māori, Pākehā and tau iwi histories are erased by ‘Middle Earth’ Hollywoodian posturing.

It is not unimaginable for signage, presentations and media advertisements to be multilingual Māori-NZSL-English here and overseas, as they are in many Pacific languages in local markets across the region. I would like to see a shift in public self-representation of Aotearoa New Zealand. The transparent text ‘Haere mai ki Tāmaki Makaurau’ in the arrivals lounge at the international airport could be in the same charcoal as ‘Welcome to Auckland’ on the carved wooden topographic map of the region. Histories could be gathered together for all our benefit.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world?

People! People! People!

Léuli Eshraghi


  1. Kia ora for your interesting observations, Léuli. Yet I’m wondering that the Canadian model you refer to (a French /English combination) is really just two colonial powers, is it not? There is no incorporation of First Nations in that mix, is there? Or am I uninformed?

  2. Kia ora John,

    Yes I am fully aware of the French and English languages being colonial in the Canadian context, and their lack of official backing to the many First Nations languages as co-official. Perhaps Inuktitut in the Nunavut Territory but that is more culturally homogenous than the provinces with majority migrant populations.

    It is one of the former British colonies so the link is stronger for Aotearoa New Zealand than say, one of the central South American countries. Quechua and Aymara amongst other indigenous languages are co-official with Spanish in theory in Bolivia. Bislama, French and English are co-official in theory in Vanuatu, but English and Bislama win out more and more. Perhaps a better model is reo Ma’ohi in Tahiti alongside French? I guess the point is we can create a model appropriate to Aotearoa’s particular cultural potential within and beyond the Moananui a Kiwa.


  3. Thanks for opening out the conversation like this, Léuli. Good to get a wider global context in order to examine the various possibilities. The specifics and examples.

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