Critical Commentary Maori to Pakeha

1 January 2017

The language techniques of tone, rhetorical question, repetition, analogy and Maori language are all used to clearly illustrate the authors feeling of anger and support the dominant themes throughout the poem. Stanza one explores the idea of separation between Maori and Pakeha through a tone that that is accusatory and suggests anger.

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The first few lines using a repetition of referring to Pakeha as “You” instantly creates an idea of separatism which is then understood as negative through the use of describing Pakeha as “Beak-nosed hairy-limbed narrow-footed”. All three of these adjectives have negative connotations instantly setting the tone for the poem. As the stanza progresses this negative attitude towards the Pakeha is reinforced, supporting the negative tone. Meanwhile trampling Persia/Or is it India, underfoot/With such care less feet” is an example of this, touching upon colonization, the sentence before this which reads “You singing/Some old English folksong” gives further meaning to the colonization and therefore, oppression. It is not just the land they are colonizing but their culture too, as singing is something which is heard and gets into the mind of the people, overriding all thoughts. Stanza’s two and three introduce the device of rhetorical question which are used for effect to add to the accusatory tone of the poem.

An example of this is “Where do you think you are going? ” used as the opening sentence of stanza two, which is the first rhetorical question used in the poem, and “Who do you think you are? ” used as the last line of stanza three. Supporting the critical tone of the poems, the rhetorical questions are used to illustrate to the reader the author’s feeling of contempt towards the Pakeha. The use of ‘think’ in both of these rhetorical questions is important as it is this word which gives the words surrounding it, and therefore the sentence, its accusatory tone. It turns a relatively evenly toned “Where are you going? and “Who are you” into a harsh sounding accusation, therefore adding to the negative tone.

Stanza two further demonstrates the idea of separatism through the use of the rhetoric technique, repetition. More specifically the repetition is regarding the colour of skin. For example “This is brown country, man/Brown on the inside/As well as the outside/Brown through and through/Even the music is brown” The effect that this has is that it emphasizes the author’s feelings towards the separatism, it shows that the author is for the separatism where she believes the Pakeha should leave them alone and have no right to be there.

The repetition of ‘colour’ and ‘brown’ also illustrate that being Maori is more than just a skin colour, they are “Brown through and through” meaning that their culture is all encompassing and the Pakeha aren’t just trying to collonise their land, “Can’t you see you’ve strayed/Into another colour zone? ” but also in a manner of speaking collonise their culture as well, which links into the idea of oppression. Analogy is also used throughout the poem to support/illustrate the poem’s dominant theme of separatism.

It is first shown in stanza one, “Milton directing your head/Donne pumping your heart” This is an analogy for the idea of oppression by Pakeha to Maori as both Milton and Donne were important poet’s and political figures in 17th century England. The idea that this portrays is that the Pakeha are all ruled by a unified thought that someone else has decided for them, following their ideas and instructions in a cult-like manner. As the poem progresses, the author starts to incorporate Maori language terms into the poem in order to illustrate resistance to the oppression.

For example, in the last stanza of the poem Maori words are used as follows “Give your mihi tonight/Korero mai/Till dawn breaks with a waiata. ” The following four lines give meaning to the use of Maori words “Meanwhile holding me gently/Firmly captive/Here, in the tight curve/of your alien arm” showing that even though the Pakeha are metaphorically holding the Maori “firmly captive…in the tight curve of your alien arm” which is representing oppression, the speaker is still doing all she can to resist, shown through the use of Maori language even though the poem is directed at English speakers.

This idea of resistance is the idea which the author ends the poem on, leaving the reader with the sense of the author fighting oppression and fighting for her Maori heritage. Tone, rhetorical question, repetition, analogy and Maori language are several language techniques that are effectively used throughout the poem “Maori to Pakeha” by J. C Sturm in order to support and illustrate the dominant themes of separatism and oppression.

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