sunfish

New Zealand

kia ora! I’m a 17 year old who is in love with the sea. also I write on occasion :)
they/them

Message from Writer

I love all things writing, but most especially: poetry that makes your lungs feel like like they're going to explode, short stories that crack open your brain and change your worldview, science fiction that is awfully hopeful and terribly prophetic, and anything by Terry Pratchett and Ursula Le Guin. Recommendations welcome!

Our Relationship with Colonisation, Both Historically and Today

January 18, 2021

The rabbits came many grandparents ago...

It’s not often you discover a picture book as haunting as The Rabbits, written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan. With a total of just 228 words, this masterpiece paints a vivid picture of colonisation in terms that my eight year old sister could understand, combined with language and illustrations which create an emotional connection for the reader between the book and their own experience. The arrival of the rabbits, as explorers and scientists, with their ‘new food and other animals’, followed by an explosion of settlers reshaping the land, and the continued fight against the indigenous people who lived there first, is a tale that my country’s foundations are built on, and one that strikes a chord with my identity as Pākehā in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This book brings life to the saying ‘A picture tells a thousand words’. The emotion conveyed through the artistic detail, such as an introduced species eating a small native lizard, a colourful flower poking up between the monochrome buildings, or the indigenous people being tied up by the rabbits, leads to hours spent studying a single page, and turns a handful of words into a heartbreaking tragedy. The earthy, grounding colours used in the beginning slowly drop away into a harsh, unforgiving landscape, where the land is ‘bare and brown’, and there is no life and growth. Sometimes, illustrations in a book can be jarring when put alongside the text, but this is not so in the case of The Rabbits. Tan’s beautifully crafted paintings perfectly complement Marsden’s haunting words, creating a picture book that is more meaningful than its individual parts.

As a descendant of settlers in a land that does not belong to us, my relationship with the place I was born and raised is a fragile one. Being New Zealand European (Pākehā), I will never truly know the pain that Māori, the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, experience from living in a society that was not designed to suit them. I live on stolen land. The Rabbits does not shy away from the suffering that colonisation causes indigenous people, and asks the reader to acknowledge that this suffering is ongoing. ‘They chopped down our trees, scared away our friends, and stole our children.’ Reading this through Pākehā eyes, it forced me to confront the existing trauma that my ancestors caused, and dared me to do better. Every day, I drive along roads built by Māori prisoners unfairly incarcerated 100 years ago. Today, our prison population is over 50% Māori, even though Māori people make up 15% of our population. The same problems exist, simply disguised under a pile of bureaucratic statistics.

While this book was specifically written about the colonisation of Australia, it tells a universal tale which shares common elements of the colonisation of New Zealand and many other places. Colonialism, imperialism, and nationalism are all concepts that many people in the modern world must grapple with, whether you and your ancestors were and are institutionally and socially discriminated against, or if the system you live in is designed to benefit you based on your ethnicity. This especially applies to rangatahi, because young people today are often extremely aware of the racism inherent in their society at a time in their life when they are exploring their identity. A book such as The Rabbits is pivotal in a young person’s journey to realise what privilege they hold and where that privilege comes from in the modern world. However, it is important to remember that, as with many works of literature, it is a stepping stone in a persons journey of growth, and it provides a simplistic view of colonialism without delving too far into the nuances of the situation. Keeping this in mind, I would recommend this work of art to anyone and everyone, not despite it being a picture book, but because it is a picture book, with an emotional message that connects to the experience of many people in the world today. It holds the attention of tamariki, helps young adults to connect the land they live on to their history and own identity, and is a source of growth for each and every one of us.

 

Print

See History
  • January 18, 2021 - 7:43pm (Now Viewing)

Login or Signup to provide a comment.