Welcome to the sub-blog “Indigenous Literature from New Zealand”

Nau mai, haere mai!

Here, you will find various kinds of contributions – ranging from short literary analyses to response papers and reviews – focussing on different sorts of ‘texts’ – including short stories, lyrics, novels, and poems. All blog posts were written by HHU students who attended the Bachelor course “Indigenous Literature from New Zealand – Roots and Routes” (winter term 2021/22; taught by Leonie John).

The contributors come from different fields of study (English and American Studies, Transcultural Studies, Media and Cultural Studies) and most of them didn’t have any prior experience with blog writing, so this was a challenging but (hopefully) also rewarding process. The results are well worth reading!

Have fun browsing and digesting their attentive commentaries on Māori literature.

Cargo (2017): Australian Horror and Aboriginal Culture

by Robin Burger

Cargo is a 2017 Australian Netflix original horror film based on a 2013 short film of the same name. However, it is debatable whether it really can be described as horror since while it is certainly a “zombie movie”, it shifts away from typical horror film elements in favour of emotional storytelling, making it more of a drama film set in a horror environment rather than a brutal, gory zombie horror film, similarly to The Cured, an Irish “zombie drama” from the same year.

The film is set in rural Australia during a zombie virus pandemic where infected people completely turn 48 hours after being bitten, which is what happens to Kay and later on her husband Andy who is bitten by her. Together with their baby daughter Rosie Andy now tries to find people to take care of and raise Rosie when he turns, and soon teams up with Thoomi, a young Aboriginal girl who was kidnapped and caged by a man named Vic who uses healthy humans as bait for zombies. Thoomi’s father has already turned when she and Andy first meet and she hopes to find the “Clever Man” – a shaman who she believes could cure her father, whom she tries hiding from the rest of her community since they would most likely kill him.

The exact origin of the virus is unknown, however there is quite a plausible theory as to how it started spreading; there are numerous references to a company collecting natural gas via fracking on native Aboriginal land which is opposed by the Aboriginal community as shown by their flag at a fracking station which has “Frack off!” written on it as well as the Clever Man talking about how man was poisoning the Earth, making man sick as well, so it does seem likely that the virus originated in the gas and then spread through the air, or perhaps it is more symbolic as humans, being part of nature, poison themselves while poisoning it.

It is also noteworthy that the word “zombie” is not used in the movie, putting it in the same category as the American TV show The Walking Dead in which the concept of zombies is not known to the characters, implying both are set in a universe in which media using that word simply does not exist.

The 2013 short film of the same name has a similar storyline, but it does not feature any Aboriginal characters, while the 2017 version has a remarkable extent of Aboriginal representation as shown by Thoomi and her community who are hunters fighting against zombies – as some of the only humans successful in fending them off. During the film there are multiple scenes depicting Aboriginal customs, such as putting on white face paint to keep away ghosts and hitting one’s head with a stone after a tragic incident, believing that the heartache would stop as well once the physical pain stops. There is also a scene in which Thoomi teaches Andy Aboriginal words, after calling him “gubba” (“white fella”), which is actually a quite commonly used term in Australia, dating back to the colonial period when English convicts would call each other “guv’ner” (governor), which Aboriginal Australians picked up and turned into “gubba”, referring to white people. The film also briefly depicts an instance of racism when Vic follows Thoomi who was just freed by Andy, calling her a “black bitch” as they are hiding from him, and while “gubba” is not at all a derogatory term for whites, Thoomi’s way of using the word might indicate bad experiences she or her people have had with white people in the past (perhaps also related to the fracking taking place on native Aboriginal ground), which would also explain her initially slightly frightened reaction to Andy.

Cargo manages to fuse a classic horror movie trope with an emotional story and criticism of society, while depicting real issues Aboriginal Australians have to face in modern day Australia.

Adding to the Aboriginal representation, the film is dedicated to Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, an Aboriginal Australian singer who passed away shortly before it was released.

“The Fall of the Jade Sword” (2017) and the History of Asian Australians

by Lisa-Marie Richter, Adesua Atamah, Ben Königsfeld, Kathleen Reiswich

We have recently read the short story “The Fall of the Jade Sword” by Stephanie Lai and two of its central topics have caught our attention. The hero addressed in the short story is named Jade Sword and we were interested in the Jade Sword as a physical object rather than just as a superhero’s name. Furthermore we were wondering how Asian immigration is represented in the story and why as it is addressed several times. In fact, the author Stephanie Lai is Chinese Australian, which makes the inclusion of Asian immigration to Australia in her story an even more intriguing subject for analysis.

The Jade Sword

In ancient China, jade was considered the most precious stone due to its symbolism of purity and moral integrity. This stone was famous for its persistence and magical properties, and was engraved and polished into several objects from jewelry to desk ornaments. Jade was first used around 6000 BCE, and green was the preferred color for a long time. However, in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, there was a fashion for white jade with a brown tinge, and again in the 1st century BCE, when a pure white jade became available from Central Asia as a result of the Han Dynasty’s expansion in 206 BCE – 220 CE.

We think that the name of the hero fits very well because the hero carries “children to safety, […] [stops] robbers in their tracks, [… ] [and rescues] the crew of an airship as it tangled on one of the new Skyscrapers in Melbourne” (“The Fall of the Jade Sword” 125) and those action fit the characteristics of a Jade Stone. The hero can be considered as persistent and pure and is always there when somebody is in need.

Asian Immigration

“We are in a different country,” she says,”and there are always new advances to make. What kind of warrior would you be if you were to stop here, where you are? There is no room for us here if we cannot adapt.“

(“The Fall of the Jade Sword” 133)

The characters in the story are constantly trying to adapt to the Australian culture and we can conclude that immigration is a main topic in Jade Sword. They think that if they cannot adapt properly, they are in the wrong place. Asian-born people currently make up roughly 12% of the population, however this varies greatly across the country. Queensland and Tasmania have the greatest shares of Australian-born people, whereas Sydney and Melbourne are Australia’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Depending on the migratory stream via which they came, Asia-origin migrants fell into two types, each with a very distinct settling experience.

They have primarily arrived from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and India. Humanitarian and family reunion migrants have generally been low-skilled and non-English speaking with the exception of nations such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and some have endured high and continuing rates of unemployment and welfare reliance. They have primarily migrated from Vietnam, the Philippines, and, in recent years, Mainland China.

The whole story is built around characters with Chinese roots. Starting with the names such as “Mok-Seung” or “Can Sin-Man”. What we considered very interesting were the different versions of the news. In the story there were two types of news addressed. On the one hand the Australian news and on the other hand the Chinese Broadsheet and they depicted the same topic but from different viewpoints. They show how differently the (early) Chinese Australian community is perceived by different groups.