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Cultural Revivals - Fourth World Revivals

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Perhaps the most dramatic and effective cultural revivals have been those of "Fourth World" populations, defined as indigenous peoples who hold the status of political and/or numerical minorities within the nation-states that encompass their ancestral territories. These groups include North American Indians, New Zealand Maori, Australian Aboriginal, Norwegian Sami, and many others. In these contexts, cultural revival appears as a logical response to histories of state-supported genocide, assimilation, and the disruption or prohibition of cultural practices. Where such state strategies attempted, usually deliberately, to erode ethnic allegiances that opposed state hegemony, cultural revival seeks to reconstruct these communities and networks as the first step in resistance to domination. It thus indirectly addresses the conditions of socioeconomic deprivation, prejudice, and lack of opportunity that have for these groups been the corollaries of colonization, by validating cultural identities devalued by dominant or colonial culture, and providing the basis for collective pride, unity, and action. The long-term sustainability of such initiatives, however, is frequently determined by existing institutional and governance structures, both within and outside the community in question.

An example of a successful Fourth World cultural revival is the case of New Zealand Maori. After the devastating losses of a century and a half of colonization, cultural assimilation, and urbanization, a "Maori renaissance," beginning in the 1970s, was centered around the fight for rights to land illegally taken during colonization and was inspired by independence movements in still-colonized territories and civil rights struggles in the United States. Early goals of this revival were the promotion of Maori language learning (spoken by less than one percentage point of the population in the 1970s) and the rehabilitation of knowledge of Maoritanga (Maori culture, custom, and identity), particularly among the youth of the community. In both of these matters, the Maori revival has been extremely effective, fostering Maori language use throughout the population and training a whole generation of Maori political leaders whose primary commitments are to their ethnic community and who understand themselves as acting in consonance with Maori priorities and customary protocol. Aided by the resilience and strength of tribal networks that survived the ravages of colonization, the united front presented by early protests forced a reconsideration of land-rights policy by the state, and subsequent restitution processes have led to the recognition of Maori cultural considerations as an integral element in national governance. While claims to authenticity were strategically important in legitimating the revival during its early stages, primordial arguments have given way with the securing of state recognition to a broad understanding that Maori culture is a living, inventive, and syncretic set of practices that provides a flexible basis for collective identity and action in changing conditions.

In contrast to these Fourth World examples, the rhetoric of cultural revival is rarely observed in postcolonial states where previously colonized ethnic groups have gained the power of self-governance, giving further credence to the theory that cultural revival is a tactic pursued predominantly by the politically marginal. In postcolonial states, culture-based claims are more likely to be suppressed in favor of the liberal individualist humanism that legitimates Western-style government, or alternatively, to be branded as divisive and backward.

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