A Place to Stand: Exploring Connections Between Immigrant Experience, Whakapapa and Creative Writing.

Bradley, Anne
Mountfort, Paul
Harvey, Siobhan
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

“A Place to Stand: Exploring connections between immigrant experience, whakapapa and creative writing” is a doctoral thesis in creative writing which comprises a critical (exegesis) and creative (fiction writing) component. The exegesis discusses the themes of colonisation, immigrant experience, identity and grief, and reflects on the transformative potential of connecting with whakapapa for an immigrant author. The creative component consists of a work of literary fiction titled Waiotapu (sacred waters) which explores these themes through the imagined experiences of the protagonist, a French immigrant to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Our globalised world is characterised by transience. Narratives of displacement collide and mingle. Colonisation, war, and economic migration continue to uproot individuals, families and communities, disrupting connections with beloved people and places. I find myself part of one such narrative: a migrant, separated from my homeland. Unsettled. An outsider living in a land colonised by my ancestors. A shameful history from which I inherit unearned advantage, despite my status as an immigrant.

Decades of research spans important global themes of immigration, associated socio-political issues, and the impact of colonisation on First Nation peoples. A growing body of literature also explores pākehā engagement with te ao Māori (the Māori world or worldview), however this is written by kaituhi pākehā (European authors) who were born in Aotearoa New Zealand and have an accompanying sense of belonging as tangata tiriti, despite being members of the settler community. There is little on the impact engagement with indigenous culture has on new pākehā immigrants. This is the focus of this study, which is unique in drawing together the themes of immigrant experience, whakapapa and creative writing, contributing to the field of narrative theory.

I applied principles of narrative research to explore the impact of my engagement with te ao Māori as a result of my immigration to Aotearoa New Zealand, in the context of transcultural creative writing. My hypothesis was that engagement with te ao Māori, particularly whakapapa (ancestral connections to people and places) could provide me with a metaphorical tūrangawaewae, a place to stand, as an immigrant author with a mixed-up sense of identity and uncertain voice. I found that, while interrogating my own whakapapa did have a profound influence on my sense of identity and voice as an author, an unexpected outcome was the discovery that writing itself can be a tūrangawaewae that provides a space to return to and a sense of belonging; a place to stand.

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