The Queen’s complex and lengthy funeral reminds me of the long journey away from feudalism and the fact that we never quite put it to rest as a political and social system. It seems there is no mausoleum big enough.
It is of course nonsense that because someone is born into a particular family that they have characteristics which make them suitable for leading positions in society. At its zenith it was considered an act of God, hence the divine right of kings (and occasionally queens) to have autocratic power. Economically, for those on the next level (the lords etc), land ownership was involved because it brought with it indentured labour in the form of serfs and bonded peasants. Along with that ownership came civil and legal positions which often brought financial reward. Once again this was justified by birth and a natural right to leadership.
With the advent of capitalism and the merchant, manufacturing and service classes, entrepreneurialism and subsequent wealth in the form of capital rather than land, acquired in a lifetime and not being attached to birth, confused things. But often marriage into the aristocracy or buying a feudal estate from a bankrupt lord brought a pretence of birth right and the blessing of religion.
The nonsense of birth right has been whittled away, yet remains resilient, for capitalism produces little graciousness or formal pageantry. So royal families have persevered and continue to impress – celebrities don’t quite make the grade of princesses when it comes to ribbon cutting. And there are feudal values of service, obedience and faith which contrast with capitalist values of ambition, greed, individualism and consumerism.
And of course, birth right is at the heart of indigenous cultures. But once an indigenous people become a nation, the concept of nation and nationality comes onto the agenda. For example, Samoan nationality exists both through birth, but also through citizenship via marriage or naturalisation after a period of residency, so that being a Samoan citizen is not totally dependent on birth.
Māori nationality doesn’t exist in the same way, for there is no Māori nation. If one is not born Māori you can’t be Māori. You can’t ‘become’ Māori through marriage or residency. There would seem to be an issue here with the treaty, in that it is not a partnership between two sovereign nations, and to become a sovereign nation means giving up the primacy of whakapapa. So, what is the legality? A partnership between a sovereign nation and the iwi leaders who have feudal rights over areas of land. But then co-governance at a combined level over issues and resources which involve all citizens obviously does create some controversy, as we are finding.
Complex issues, able to be pondered on during an eight hour wait to file past the Queen’s coffin. Except prime ministers don’t have to wait, can jump the queue with the aid of a curtsy. Although the Saudi king is dodgy so maybe he won’t be allowed. But that’s another issue. What if the bloodline produces some dodgy characters unfit to rule? We’d need to go back to the beginning of the queue to have the time to ponder that one. And why not get rid of the whole concept of birth right? Pension off the royal family? They don’t even need a pension, they’ve got enough money and lots of castles – 700 rooms in Buckingham Palace, plenty of space for the homeless.
Will this never end might become the motto as we shuffle forward?