Culture Politics Psychology

Monarchy: symbol of belonging – and not-belonging

I have been thinking a lot recently about identity and belonging – two distinct but overlapping concepts.

We are social animals. Evolution has wired deep into our DNA a sense that our survival depends on being part of a group – a tribe, family, nation, culture. Non Western cultures emphasise belonging more than individual identity. Māori writer Owen Eastwood describes the way this is expressed in his culture as whakapapa (pronounced far-ka-pa-pa). As a child searching for his identity in the years following the death of his Māori father, he received a letter from the office of his Māori tribe with the heading “You belong” and including a detailed genealogy tracing every ancestor back through grandparents, great-grandparents back to Paikea – the whale rider – a mythical ancestor who had come from the spiritual homelands of Hawaiki across the ocean to the islands the Māori now call home. This heritage, he was told, is his whakapapa, and it includes not only the names but the stories of those ancestors. And embedded in those stories are the values which describe what it is to be Māori.