The struggle Beth Heke goes through to find strength in herself, is much like the Maori struggle to regain their culture. Beth, through an abusive relationship with her husband, Jake, finds her way back to the island she grew up on and her traditional Maori family. The Maori were in New Zealand for many years before British missionaries came there and took most of their own culture away from them. It could be argued that the struggle with an abusive husband is unlike the struggle with colonists and a colonial government. Beth, as a Maori and an abused wife, was doubly colonized.
She had no one to support her leaving Jake. She left her culture, and accepted an abusive relationship. The Maori, however, fought as a large group. They formed “rebel groups” and even named a king of a rebel group to head their battle with British missionaries and colonists. On the surface, it would appear they are dissimilar experiences. On the surface. That is why I will dig deeper.
The only decisions Jake Heke made involved himself. He decided to drink, fight, and ignore his children and wife. He decided to beat his wife into submission.The morning after a particularly terrible beating, Beth tells her daughter, Grace, “such is a woman’s lot. ” She says this in reference to the terrible things a husband does, proving that she has been colonized as a woman. To be colonized is to have lost part of your identity to someone or something different from you.
Jake’s tribal ancestors were a poor, low-level tribe. Beth’s were royalty. Beth left her title of princess when she left with Jake.
According to Pionair Adventure’s history of New Zealand,”[New Zealand] remained largely uncolonized until the early 1800’s.England’s Captain James Cook, who first visited the Maori in 1769, opened the door to European (chiefly British) settlement. Western contact led to a decline in the Maori population, due to the introduction of diseases and modern weapons in tribal warfare. ” Much like Jake’s treatment of his wife, the Maori were brutalized. Even though they fought back for some time, eventually they gave in to colonization and began simply to each other again to hold onto their traditions.
Beth constantly struggled within herself. Throughout the film she says things in defiance to Jake, then she shrinks away awaiting his reaction.Sometimes he is okay with what she says; sometimes he beats her until she can’t speak. She never knows which is coming and always looks like a frightened kitten when she says or does anything that conflicts with Jake’s opinion. Jake abuses his wife mentally by playing with her mind. It does not seem intentional since he is always drunk. His reactions vary greatly and this makes Beth afraid of saying anything.
Jake tells her a number of times during the film that she doesn’t know when to shut her mouth. He implies that if she knew what and when she said things that would make him mad, she could avoid being beaten.The Maori struggled within themselves throughout colonization. Their struggle was also whether to fight a power that seemed impossible to beat or to try to keep their traditions and “shrink away” waiting for the British reaction. The Maori, too, were mentally abused. The British carried out this abuse.
According to Metege, during the nineteenth century, British missionaries and the colonial government in New Zealand adopted a policy of assimilation of Maoris into European culture. They discouraged the use of Maori language and belief systems.