Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Compulsion is the problem

I have been reading a history of Maori and alcohol which is a rather sad story. In the broader scheme of things alcohol drives many of society's problems, but Maori are disproportionately affected. It is easy to see why prohibitionists have tried with varying degrees of effort and success, at different times, to attain alcohol-free communities. For instance Sir Apirana Ngata managed to impose prohibition on Ngati Porou/ East Coast tribes for a period in order that they would have the money to repay the govt mortgages which he had secured for them. But the ban could not be imposed permanently. Prohibition ultimately leads to more problems. Here is a quote that reminded me of this;

I'd rather that England should be free than that England should be compulsorily sober. With freedom we might in the end attain sobriety, but in the other alternative we should eventually lose both freedom and sobriety.

— W.C. Magee, Archbishop of York, "Sermon at Peterborough," [1868]

And this is the haka performed by the Ngati Porou men who opposed the ban;

Ee...Apirana Ngata, you're the man
making changes to the laws
in Wellington!

Show your laws to me!
Let's have a look at those documents!

The Prime Minister was
standing in our midst!

Your destructive laws are over-riding
the traditional customs
of the community right here.

A load of humbug is what we have!
Council by-laws are what we have!
Prohibition is what we have!

I want to be able to go to the pub
To buy a drink at night!
You bloody bugger!
Son of a slave!

Give your laws to us so we can analyse them!
And sort all this out!

3 comments:

Mark.V. said...

Europeans have had several thousand years exposure to alcohol. Most other ethnic groups, including Maori, have not. Which is why they are disproportionately adversely affected by alcohol.

With that in mind it would be sensible for Maori leaders to encourage Maori to lay off alcohol as it is a white man's invention and harmful to Maori.

Can't see it happening though.

Lindsay said...

Plenty of Europeans are crap drinkers too. I wonder why Hone Harawira sees tobacco as the great evil over alcohol? In respect of prohibition he is the latterday Ngata.

Brian Smaller said...

Well, I personally have only had 45 years of exposure to alcohol (assuming I was aware of what it was from the moment I was born).

I think that Mark V's suggestion in inherently paternalistic. How about Maori being left alone to acknowledge for themselves that drinking too much (or smoking or eating fatty foods etc) is bad for them and making their own decisions to modify behaviour. Individual responsibility.

And for the record, I very much doubt that alcohol is a "white man's invention". The ancient Egyptians drank like fish, as did just about every settled culture since we came down from the trees.