Contested Visions of History in Aotearoa New Zealand Literature: Witi Ihimaera's The Matriarch

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2004
Authors
Romaine, Suzanne
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University of Hawai'i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
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Competing visions of the past constitute contested historical ground in Aotearoa New Zealand. The novel as a genre constitutes a strategic site in constructing national identity. This article illustrates how Witi Ihimaera’s historical novel The Matriarch (1986) presents a new vision that seeks to displace Päkehä discourse from its privileged position in articulating the country’s history and national identity. This transformation from outsider to insider perspective is part of a much wider movement throughout the Pacific and beyond. As a narrative that validates a Mäori version of nationhood, Ihimaera’s novel can lay a strong claim to be the novel of modern Aotearoa New Zealand. Nevertheless, the novel has received mixed reaction among both Mäori and non-Mäori commentators, especially within influential critical literary circles. These reactions constitute another sort of contested ground as they raise issues concerning notions of history, literature, truth, and fiction, and the relationships among them.
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Aotearoa, New Zealand, Witi Ihimaera, Pacific literature, nationhood, identity, narration
Citation
Romaine, S. 2004. Contested Visions of History in Aotearoa New Zealand Literature: Witi Ihimaera's The Matriarch. The Contemporary Pacific 16 (1): 31-57.
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