Sunday, August 21, 2005

Appendices, little toes, Maori and Pakeha.

A bit more on the evolution stuff. I remembered this morning that some forty years ago, when I was in London at the Opera Centre, one of the singing students pronounced to another in my hearing that eventually we would lose the little toe and the appendix entirely, the latter because obviously we had no use for it at all, since it could be whipped out at the drop of a hat, and the little toe because we really didn’t need that extra one.

I think he may have been wrong on both counts, although I don’t personally have any proof. But I’d like to know if anyone has ever done any research on whether it makes a difference to lose your appendix: are you prone to other kinds of illnesses that those who manage to hang onto their appendices aren’t? Does it affect your immunity in any way? Is it like losing your gall bladder, where afterwards there’s less resistance to certain foods, especially fatty ones?
As for the little toe, I can remember when I was working in the State Insurance office here in Dunedin in the years before the London discussion that one of the older staff had a missing big toe. I have in mind that he’d lost it by having a train run over it, but that sounds a bit improbable now. Anyway, he limped enough for it to be a nuisance, as a result of this loss. That may have been that more than the toe had gone, but it stuck in my mind when I heard this other conversation. The young man in question, an American, full of the latest opinions, may have been right – perhaps we don’t really need that little toe. Yet I’ve always found even the little toe improves your balance in situations where you’re kind of hanging on by your toes. I suspect it has more purpose than he, with his half-baked evolutionary ideas, realised.

I’ve been reading more of Patrick Snedden’s book, Pakeha and the Treaty. It’s certainly a book to make you stop and think about your racist attitudes, not because he attacks Pakeha people particularly, but because of his gentle approach to making us see that more good has come out of The Waitangi Tribunal and its negotiations, and that we are all, Maori and Pakeha, better off because of the efforts that have been made to right past wrongs. One of his biggest criticisms is aimed at the media which tends to sensationalise all Maori issues and stories, and seldom digs into the past to see why things have come to a head. And of course they also make huge play with cases where fraud and misuse of funds occur when Maori are involved, as in the Donna Awatere trial. Such cases may be justified in getting the exposure they receive, but thinking back to the Wanganui Moutua Gardens sit-in, I don’t remember understanding anything of what was going on – or being given much of a chance to understand by the media. We heard about the violence – which was actually a minimal part of the sit-in – but nothing about the co-operation and hard work, nor about the grandmothers and great-grandmothers who came along and stayed there for days on end, in conditions that were hardly ideal for older people, or the way in which everyone who came, Maori and Pakeha, were fed by a team of volunteers who worked to no apparent roster. Anyway, it’s been a valuable read, and is most important at this time when the National Party seems to be trying to move away from Treaty negotiations and get all that stuff out of the Pakeha’s hair…

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