Sheep of Coconuts? Pacific People Being Courted by a Wolf in Blue

It’s election year and just as soon as Prime Minister John Key announced the date New Zealand will go to the polls. the politicking has inadvertently begun. I’m a little indifferent to what is happening in the New Zealand media at the moment. Political polls has National (the incumbents) quite a distance ahead of Labour and it seems very likely that we will be forced to endure another 3 year term of a deep blue National led government. To be completely honest though, I’ve observed a clear bias in reporting at the moment by the New Zealand media. It seems the majority of commentators are prepared to spell the doom and gloom of the left wing bloc some 5 months out from the election. But if there’s anything that we can take from the 2011 election, aside from the complete indifference of nearly a million eligible voters; is the fact that the media often has it horribly wrong. Just ask WInston Peters and the slew of MPs he brought into the house against all expectations in 2011.

It is to this end that I wish to place this blog entry. Recently it has emerged that a certain group of Pacific conservatives have officially jumped ship to National. It is widely known that the Pacific community has long been a stronghold of Labour and in 2005 helped to deliver Labour from the depths of potential defeat in the major electoral seats of the 3 Ms in South Auckland. Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa.

In a TV3 news article the reporter (Tova O’Brien) claimed that:

“Labour’s election stronghold of Pacific Island voters in south Auckland is under attack – and worse still, the enemy is coming from within.

An influential group have shifted their allegiance to the right and are now campaigning for National.”

Cue raised eyebrow. The reporter goes on to quote this influential group who is apparently represented by a person I have never heard of before in my life.

Reverend Daniel Purcell-Lokeni’s family have ticked red in Mangere for more than three decades. He’s now a National Party member, citing Labour’s role in decriminalising prostitution, the anti-smacking law and same-sex marriage as reasons for his swing.”


The plot somehow thickens, or to use a Samoan reference, the koko has become fefeke!! 

It seems that indeed the left-bloc is under threat in its own heartland! Shock Horror!

But then the article becomes laughable. A quote from another community leader / Labour mutineer:

Chief Setu Mu’a was once a Labour activist, but he now campaigns for National in Manukau East. “The people that I lead, they will follow the leader, as the song goes,” he says”

Here’s where this article has gone pear shaped. This snippet has committed the ultimate sin in research. It has drawn grand conclusions from the narrowest of sample sizes. Unfortunately this type of flawed reporting is not uncommon for New Zealand. In a country with such a stable political landscape it can be hard for reporters to find something that relates to politics that whets the public’s appetite for drama. Often gossip and innuendo are the order of the day. But this is dishonest, it is irresponsible reporting and it characterizes an entire community as a bunch of sheep. Basically we’re a herd of coconuts capable of being sheepishly groomed for a political outcome by its religious and community leaders.

Don’t assume things, like the ubiquitously quoted phrase goes, Assuming things makes an ass out of you and me. In this case it’s made an ass out of my community.

Let me quickly debunk some of the grossly exaggerated claims made by this article.

1st: The Pacific community is extremely diverse. There are many different ethnic groups that exist within the term Pasifika. We share common ancestral links, but we still maintain individual identity. When it comes to matters of cultural heritage, there are conservatives within each block, however the degree to which these individual ethnic groups are predisposed to being influenced by conservative thinking depends largely on the extent at which the group has experienced integration to New Zealand society. For example, the Samoan community is much larger than the other communities, they also have a longer history of being in New Zealand and means that there is greater chance for divergence from conservative views due to the process of assimilation. Making a generalization like this is dangerous.

2nd. Large sections of the Pacific community actually support ideas of marriage equality. This is evidenced by the increasing number of LGBTQ Pasifika groups and community service providers that offer support to marginalised sexual minorities. Their work maybe at trying to change stereotypes within the community, but what is important here is that most of these groups are founded by or are delivered by people from Pasifika backgrounds. Why is this important then? Because it shows that there is diversity of opinion and a changing mindset within the community itself. This may not translate straight away to support, but this does mean the community is shifting its focus. What about legalisation of prostitution? Well there is a large portion of sex workers in New Zealand that identify themselves as Pasifika in ethnic identity.

3rd. Pasifika LGBTQ youth are among the loudest and most prominent communities within the sexual minority itself. At the recent Pride Festival in Auckland the winning float was in fact designed and put together by the Pasifika LGBTQ youth. The Pasifika LGBTQ youth have organised successful events in the community that raises awareness of their issues and presence. Moreover, Polynesian cultures already accept notions of the 3rd gender, in Samoan it is known as fa’afafeine, in Tongan Fakaleiti and so on in other cultures. Again this does not translate directly to support but it does translate to awareness and presence. This is vital for understanding why conservatives don’t necessarily have the hold over the Pacific vote as has been argued in the 3 news article and by the ‘community leaders’ themselves.

4th The Pacific demographic is the most youthful of all populations. Why is this important? Because all the academic research shows that the demographic most pre-disposed to support Marriage Equality, and also most likely to support progressive notions of legislation is the younger generation. So before you go on about how we all listen to our parents, all good island kids do, just remember how we have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates of all the demographics in New Zealand. Any Samoan or Pacific Island parent in New Zealand can attest to the difficulty there is in getting your children to do what you want to do. And guess what? All of the Pacific youth are beginning to come of age and more and more of us are becoming eligible to vote.

5th. The 3 news article assumes that we only vote on social conscience issues. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As Pacific peoples who sit at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, a large proportion of our community are more concerned about survival, providing adequate food and clothing for our children, ensuring we can find support for adequate housing. Of all the communities that have been hit hardest by National’s war on beneficiaries and its lack of action on child poverty, ours have borne the disproportionate brunt of inequality. It would be foolish to think that a large chunk of Pacific people would simply jump ship and support a government that has done so little to advance the cause of our society’s most vulnerable.

6th The significance of Religion within the community is falling. In line with international trends, the significance of religion is beginning to decline. Although census results still places Pacific Islanders at large as Christian in their affiliation, the significance of our religious alliances on our political choices is sharply declining. This is an intuitive claim, I suspect that if more research was done in to the outward conformity of Pacific youth, as opposed to the internalized expression in their decision making processes, there would be a completely different picture being painted. I myself identify as a Christian, but I would be a fool to let my religious conviction, (as flimsy as it maybe) to dictate the running of a secular government.

I could go on and on and on. But the point is this. We are not coconut sheep, we cannot be placed all in one category, and the truth is it is obvious that a divide is beginning to emerge between the youth and the so called ‘community leaders’. Respect of our elders is paramount in our culture, but another complicating factor is that Pacific culture is often boxed as an internal community structure, therefore in the running of New Zealand society, a completely different parameter of decision making processes take over.

National may try to woo the Pacific voter, but if it thinks it’s going to succeed then it needs to do more than just play to socially internalized false prejudices to sway the sea of Red that exists in my neighbourhood.

I guess I shouldn’t be too concerned then. After all Ms Obrien in her article concludes with the telling statement:

“These are just the views of three community leaders in south Auckland, they say more and more are coming to their view.”

For every 3 ‘community leaders’ you can pledge ma’am, I’ll see your bet and raise you double. Because at an election, everyone’s vote counts as a single entity. Doesn’t matter if you’re a chief, priest, rabbi, homosexual, or even Pacific Islander. We all have one vote. And mine as well as theirs carry the same value.

Link to the 3News Article:



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