Once Were Warriors
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Once Were Warriors is a funereal presentation of the Maori in New Zealand who struggled to live in the cities, away from their people and customs. Centered on the Heke family, the film presents the harsh, gritty events that nearly destroy the family but renew their Maori spirit. Beth Heke, the mother of five children, was by her own admission the “special one” of her Maori tribe. When she married an outsider, Jake, who had descended from slaves, the tribe warned her that she would be back after everything went wrong and she had suffered greatly at the hand of her choice for a husband.
Film viewers see violent arguments between Jake and Beth Heke, usually arising out of his drunkenness and his inability to manage his anger. Jake’s behavior was marked by the following:
He opened their home to his drunken friends while his children tried to sleep upstairs. One of his friends raped his thirteen-year-old daughter, who out of despair then hanged herself. The eldest son joined a street gang who, in their particular way of making up their faces and wearing their hair, probably resembled their ancient tribal predecessors.
Beth’s teenaged son, Mac, got in trouble with the law and was sent to social welfare, where under the tutelage of a Maori social worker, slowly began to regain knowledge and practice of his Maori tribe. The younger children were pawns in the family, growing up in chaos, violence and the fierce love of their mother, who could not protect them.
Disintegration of the family is a viable social issue that faces ethnic groups who have been forced to assimilate into other more dominant cultures. In the case of the Maori, as portrayed in this film, not all the Maori chose to live directly in the society of the white culture. For example, many of Beth’s relatives chose to stay with their people and continue with their tribal traditions and maintain their tribal support system. Mac’s social worker was an example of a Maori who had integrated into the social system of ‘white’ New Zealand society, but used his tribal knowledge to survive and teach others to do the same. This one man exemplified how it was possible to create a bridge between the two cultures; because he was successful at bridging the cultures, he was successful at using his knowledge to help wayward boys to create that bridge.