Re: once were warriors and maori totem poles

Adrian Tanner (atanner@MORGAN.UCS.MUN.CA)
Mon, 3 Apr 1995 19:41:39 -0230

On Wed, 29 Mar 1995, Daniel A. Foss wrote:

> Go see Once Were Warriors, a New Zealand first film by a Maori director
[stuff deleted]
> There's a scene, set on a tribal reserve, where there's a shot of a totem
> pole. I've been led to believe that Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest
> carved totem poles, which this Maori totem pole greatly resembles. Nobody
> will convince me that Polynesians or Native Americans rowed in either direction
> to perpetrate cultural diffusion.
[more deletion]
> Daniel A. Foss

On the other hand, Levi Strauss' "Split Representation in the Arts of Asia
and America" bears rereading, since it offers a non-diffusionist approach
to this issue. Admittedly, some of your other examples cannot be
subsumed so neatly within this structural kind of logic, but rather than
surcomming to the temptation to say its all a symbolic hodge-podge anyway,
we can still ask in each case 'what are the circumstances which have lead
to either (1) the appearence of a fortuitous parrelelism, or (2) to the
realization by members of one cultural tradition that they can fruitfully
incorporate the production of an entirly foreign cultural tradition into
their own and still remain consistent to the developing corpus of cultural

I think Sam Gill, in 'Mother Earth', seems to be saying that part of the
answer in that particular case came from an aperception of the specific
cultural tradition (i.e. European) to whom the artistic product (in this
case, oratory) was, in the first instance, being addressed. But it had the
added advantage of being a rhetorical device for which there was no
adequate answer, a form of communication which uses ritualization, in
Maurice Bloch's sense, to protect itself from any counter or debate.

This perspective is consistent with the idea that at any one time a
particular culture only actually articulates a relatively small portion of
all of the culturally-accpetable artistic products, that is, ones that are
entailed in the underlying 'form' (I hestitate to say 'rules', for fear of
being misunderstood) of aesthetic production.

Adrian Tanner, Memorial University, St John's, Newfoundland. Tel (709) 737 8868 Fax (709) 737 8686