Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s ideas about history are shaped by three things:
- She is Maori. The British took most of the Maori’s land in New Zealand in the 1800s and then destroyed much of their culture when they found them “in need of” Western education, medicine and religion.
- Edward Said’s idea of Orientalism – that the West’s scholarly knowledge of the Arab world is not neutral and objective but is shaped by Western imperialism.
- Frantz Fanon’s idea of decolonization – that those under Western rule must not only free their countries but their minds too. Western imperialism is not merely of the gun but also of the schoolbook.
Her Western education informed her that the Maori were savages who lived at the edge of the map. It taught her loyalty to the flag of a Western power. The “I”, “we” and “our” in books meant white people, not her. The Maori were mostly left out. When they appeared they were misrepresented – they barely seemed like Maori. She could not bear to read Western anthropological works about her own people.
She found that Western history:
- Serves Western imperialism: it is by and for Westerners – yet it believes in its own innocence.
- Dehumanizes non-Westerners, seeing them as not fully human, as not being able to think and speak for themselves.
- Thinks in either-or binaries – dichotomous thinking.
- Is patriarchal, valuing the actions of a few top men – leaving out the history of women and common people (but this is changing).
- Privileges writing, valuing written accounts by Westerners over non-Western “oral traditions” (not even called history by Westerners).
- Sees history in terms of a stage model of Western progress.
Westerners are interested in how the Maori were before whites arrived, like they belong in a museum, but not in how the Maori are now, not in the history that got them there.
Maori need history, research and theory:
- to understand their past and present, like any other people.
- to decolonize their minds, to undo the brainwashing of Western imperialism.
Waiting for a “better” Western history will not do it: Westerners do not have their interests at heart. Instead the Maori have to come up with their own theories, do their own research and write their own histories.
Of course, it is not just the Maori who find themselves in this position. So do all people whom Smith terms indigenous: those dispossessed by Western imperialism, torn from their land, language and culture. This means not just the native people of New Zealand, Australia and the Americas, but the Africans and Asians the West brought to the Americas as slaves and labourers.
Just as Fanon and Said helped her to understand history as a Maori, so indigenous thinkers and historians can help each other understand the past and present they have in common.
- dichotomous thinking
- The history of black history
- Cheikh Anta Diop
- What “world” history has taught me – an exercise inspired by Smith and Loewen
- Native Americans in Western thought
- Books banned from Tucson classrooms – when Mexican American teachers tried to take control of how history was taught