Shawn Potwardowski

Shawn Potwardowski

Journal Entry #2

Life, Death, and the Peculiar Afterlife of Culture

Where does a culture come from? Sometimes it’s out of survival, sometimes it’s for art and expression’s sake. One thing is for sure though, and that is that cultures hit a peak, they die, and then they somehow lurk around like fog in a cemetery.

New Zealand strikes up an especially interesting case of this serenade that is called the life cycle of culture. The Maori people, the indigenous group who first landed in New Zealand, practiced some of the most identifiable and unique traditions I’ve ever witnessed, from extreme violence in hand to hand combat, music and art. This stronghold of rich culture however seemed no match for the British who came to the island several hundred years later. After excruciating dilemmas for years, in the 1900’s, Maori culture had seemed to stoop to its lowest popularity and support level in history.

After the British realized the true shame of ridding the country of Maori culture, steps were made to start its reintroduction back into the population. With Maori language, traditions and lifestyle being a large part of Kiwi schooling, as we saw at Mahurangi College, the culture seems to be receiving much needed attention and a revival, or so it seems in the superficial sense.

I had the privilege of asking an individual in Aukland about his opinion on the mass immigration coming to New Zealand for its majestic promises of landscapes thrill. Coming from a Maori background, it seemed he had a genuine angle on the matter, and expressed a note of fear and worry as the nature of the Maori culture could seemingly be crushed under the influence of new tech Asian and western lifestyles of the modern age. With this in mind, I had an interesting conversation with one of Aukland’s white youth about the same topic. He expressed a different view, one where instead of diluting the culture with immigration, there is actually a chance for the Maori culture to expand and flourish with the influx of immigrants, as those individuals who move to New Zealand will actually be the vessels for which the culture spreads through word of mouth, social media and other forms of dispersion.

From these conversations I began to dwell on the idea of what a culture ends up being after years of development and extinction. For the purpose of this argument let’s look at the culture of Venice, Italy. A location that is visited by near 20 million people per year, this city boats some of the most identifiable culture on the planet with gondolas, food and shops that meet the specs of touring travelers. But the question is this: among the people who rent our hotels and vacation homes and who come for weekend excursion, where are the actual people of Venice? There are none. You may find the owner of a restaurant who has lineage in Venice, or a jewelry shop owner who lives there. But how many pure-bred Venice originals still walk around the streets? The fact is that the entire culture of Venice may rest in the hands of a hundred or so people who are actually alive, but their job is made easy because the modern day can preserve the culture without Michael Angelo being here to assure that it still has its place in society.

The same may be found with the precious and delicate Maori Culture. Although the people are slowly dwindling in number and the pure bred Maori may be going extinct, in no way will the culture and its legacy fall to the indifference of time. With this day and age of spreading word via social media and an influx of people who use it, the Maori culture I believe has secured its position in the Culture Hall of Fame. So as far as the Maori people being scared that the culture itself will be trampled? I think it’s a little bit overkill. However, another issue arises when we talk about what actually will come of the people who are of Maori descent. From my talks with the local school kids, I’ve come to realize the true state of the average Maori life: its hard work and low reward. Due to the inability to get a proper college education early in the 20th century, these ill-equipped Maori led to future generations with less and less chance of following a higher educative path, and thus these millennials are ending up in gangs and unemployed.

For this, saving the image and living condition of the current Maori is an extremely daunting task that may not be solved my own lifetime. The odds are for these discrepancies to be worked out, years of protests, retreats, and demonstrations will have to be made, much like the civil rights movement in the United States, and New Zealand just might not be at that point in their development yet. But as long as people remain rather friendly in their welcoming to immigrants and only saying what they mean behind closed doors, the status quo has no reason to change for now; for better or worse in the eyes of the Maori.

Journal Entry #3

The Mob

The first thing you might think of when you ponder the phrase “the mob” is a group of men in shaded grey suits with slicked back hair throwing body bags into a trunk of the Cadillac. With this common impression of the term, it’s easy to see how it could gain such a negative connotation. But today we’ll soon focus on a much different version of mob mentality: one demonstrated by the Student Volunteer Army of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Primarily, let’s look at how powerful mob mentality is by putting thoughts into action. People have compared New Zealand’s racial issues between immigrants and the Maori with the struggles of African- Americans  in the United States, but I think a more relevant situation would be the persecution of the Native Americans in the 1700’s and 1800’s by white men.

In those days, there was no uniting across the tribes in America to offer a large resistance to the overtaking of the Native American Culture.  There certainly was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to unite people and accelerate a movement. The tribes of America were dealt with by settlers and colonists independently making them much easier to squash. Within half a decade of when the United States was created, the Natives were essentially slaves and prisoners in their own homes. The difference between the natives of New Zealand and America was that there was a uniting faction, in which the Maori tribes held a meeting, despite the heavily warring populations and banded together in a pseudo mob mentality once the idea of joining together to fight caught on. This resulted in stalemate with the British instead of a mere obliteration as seen in America.

More recently, there has been evident mob formation in the incidents in Ferguson, Missouri as well as marches by specific groups in response to President Trump’s Election. Further, we are on the brink of a gun law movement which could very well overturn the Bill of Rights if a proper mob mentality is brewed. These groups resulted in mob formation in consequence to nearly the same criteria: a residual feeling that needed a voice, a mechanism to start it, and masses of individuals to amplify the cause.

Today, as reported by the students from Mahurangi College, there is a growing epidemic of mob mentality negatively pointed at New Zealand police officers, coming from a situation where ethnic people are accusing police officers of pulling them over solely because for their race, and posting videos of it on social media in a negative light. Of course, this soon snowballed in the expressional environment that is social media, and the trend began of filming police officers doing basically anything in their daily routine and accusing them of racial bias, resulting in a terrible image for New Zealand police. With these more negative types of mob mentality being relatively popular, we turn to a change in tone.

In 2010 and 2011, Christchurch experienced two earthquakes that would result in the momentary crippling of the city in population and in industry. In the midst of despair, a crack of unexpected hope emerged in the quick and eager response from a group of college students who would eventually be named the Student Volunteer Army. Day in and day out the group of thousands of students helped to remove debris, clean liquefaction, and rebuild houses, showing the commitment and passion for their city. The Student Volunteer Army still exist as a major student group, encompassing nearly 2700 students, who are still tackling local and national disaster issues along with many other smaller community projects.

This student response leads us to the question of how mob mentality may have affected or helped the city in this time. For the purpose of the Student Volunteer Army, the ingredients needed to start a movement are all there. This seems to be the first accelerator of mob mentality; a common goal that everyone has in the back of their minds. According to the students, the timing of the earthquakes was perfect, as the students had the energy to start the new school year and were able to funnel that energy into the movement. The next factor was the mechanism with which the movement is started, which in this case was facilitated by the close-knit community that Christchurch seems to radiate. With the original action created by Sam Johnson, the voice of thousands could be heard. With no shortage of societal issues and natural disasters, this club is just as strong as it was seven years ago.

Now let’s turn to the future of mob mentality, specifically racially. New Zealand is certainly one of the younger countries in the world and is still feeling out its own equilibrium. Yet, as we look at the neighborhoods of New Zealand growing more and more polar, and the Maori growing more and more threatened by incoming immigration, I think the history of rebellion is foretelling. Just as we’ve seen in Ferguson, there will come a time when all the minds of the natives in New Zealand will join in thought and a single action of violence may result in the largest backlash the country has seen since it’s bloody beginnings. We can only guess what kind of mob mentality the spiritual and passionate Maori can generate to portray their racial expression and how the government accommodates their beloved historical roots will certainly be told with time.

Journal Entry #4

Capital Collision

A few days ago, we reached our final destination of the trip, Wellington, New Zealand. Yet it wasn’t until I looked at our itinerary and remembered that Wellington is in fact the capital city of New Zealand. I had been so caught up in the hipster streets and restaurants that I really didn’t take time to view the city from the perspective that this is the political capital of the country, and the manner of the city certainly did not scream the proud and boastful ego that I’m accustomed to when I strolled the National Mall in Washington D.C. .

Instead, I witnessed not a capital city, but a city that the housed the capital. While the diversity of Wellington certainly seems to be the most blended in food culture, race and vacationer culture, it lacks the prowess that comes from a culturally united and proud nation. And although the streets aren’t lined with monuments and memorials and there aren’t tours abound with politicians interlaced, it seems that Wellington does serve as the geographical and racial center of the country. Cultures mix, young people are about and the hipster lifestyle of expressionism is prevalent, and the capital city presents a much more lax and casual demeanor.

I asked the students of Victoria University about what they thought defined the general New Zealand citizen. Their response echoed this much more careless and relaxed population by nature, and when I asked them where that mentality originated, they concluded it was a result of the fantastical aura that surrounds New Zealand from movies and the nature of its island existence. People come here to vacation, it’s away from any other mainland, and therefore people just assumed it was a reserve away from other realities and historically assumed a much more relaxed attitude in common life and judicial law.

This mentality essentially rivals the ethics that were introduced into the United States, ever since the near beginnings of the country. Traditionally, the ideals of America have reflected an atmosphere where one can make themselves from the ground up with individualistic hard work and labor, and Washington D.C. all but amplifies these ideals by celebrating its uniqueness with monuments, brandishing handfuls of museums and showing army presence with pride around the city.

As I reflect on the past few weeks that I’ve spent in New Zealand, it becomes more and more apparent to me that America and New Zealand population, although may differ in some cultural and historical details, are not much different from each other. Our roots come in origin are near the same, social and racial struggles mirror, and when it comes to the people there is generally a blend of almost every ethnicity and culture in the world. When I asked the students at Victoria University their favorite places to get Kiwi food, all of them responded with different restaurants that served all different sorts of styles; Thai, Chinese, Mexican and even Burger King. This just exemplifies how the spreading of ideas and culture is being made more and more accessible, and more cities like the capital city of Wellington and even Washington D.C. will soon in the future display not many old cultures, but one new culture that exercises all the traditions that people bring to the countries those capital cities represent.

With this, I can sign off by saying that the people of any region are what make the culture. Most of these cities we have visited seem to have the same tourist attractions and restaurants, but the opinions of the people, how they react to diversity and how they express themselves are truly what make the community.