21 June 2022
The Universal Language of Culture
Maraea Rihari talks with researcher Dr Rand Hazou about his life and mahi, and his passion for human rights.
On whakapapa: “Our family story has a woman’s name, which is really unusual for the Middle East. The legend goes that my ancestor was a travelling merchant, and he was waylaid by robbers in the northern parts of Iraq. A Christian lady found him and took him back to a little chapel and nursed him back to health. And so, this traveller who happened to be Muslim, he woke up and he saw this wonderful lady taking care of him. Her name was Hazou and he fell in love. And to show his appreciation, he took her name. And that’s how we’ve got quite a feminine family name that’s very unusual in the Middle East.”
On being Palestinian: “Even though my mum is Pākehā, we always identified as being Palestinian. I don’t know if that was necessarily a conscious decision that my parents made, whether they must have talked about something. I know that we talked a lot about Arabic because even though we were born and grew up in Jordan, my mother tongue is English, and we spoke English at home. Sometimes, that would frustrate my dad. I know it did because we had arguments and discussions about it. He wanted our Arabic proficiency to come first before English, but that was our mother tongue. In terms of how we identify; we always grew up identifying as Palestinian.”
For Dr Hazou, being Palestinian meant having some affinity with other indigenous struggles. “The narrative that connects us (New Zealanders and Palestinians) is settler colonialism. And so the reason why my heart feels so connected to – I guess the struggle of Māoridom – is because I can see it unfolding in my homeland. Here, we’re trying to undo the legacies of colonialism, but right at the moment, for me, my political stance is that Israel is a settler colonial state, and so we’re seeing colonialism being rolled out at the moment, and it’s impacting severely on my people.”
His work in prisons, through theatre, has taught him a lot about honesty, generosity, strength, and playfulness. I’m not necessarily going in there to teach that. I get that from them,” says Dr Hazou. “That’s what inspires me.”
Human rights is a focus in his mahi, especially the legal framework that upholds this essential part of our world. “It’s a good reminder to us outside the prison bars of our commitments to things like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” says Dr Hazou. “Do we believe that all humans deserve a similar set of rights, regardless of whether they are black, gay, locked up, members of a gang? Do we agree with those principles or do we not? Because some people think, ‘Oh, if you’re locked up in prison, that’s it, you no longer become human.’ Well, I disagree. The arts in prison and creative work in prison is a reminder to us about our humanity and our commitments to things like universal rights. It ends up being about us a lot of the time. I think we think about that work as being about our capacity to be generous to them. My experience is that they teach us, they remind us a lot of the time about how generous you could be. How with nothing, with very limited access to opportunities, you can still tackle something with all your heart.”
Read Dr Hazou’s full story below.
Contact Dr Hazou here.
View Dr Hazou’s research here:
Thank you to writer Maraea Rihari for her mahi, and to Dr Hazou for sharing his story.
The Universal Language of Culture
An Interview with Dr Rand Hazou
By Maraea Rihari
I met with Dr Rand Hazou on an overcast, humid Friday afternoon. He tells me that he is starting a full immersion Level 5 Te Reo Māori course that evening, and he admits to feeling a little nervous at the prospect. The struggling tauira in me empathises and like any learner of te reo Māori, I immediately default to giving him a pep talk, even though his pronunciation of te reo Māori is flawless; despite the fact that his biography reads like an overachiever in the creative fields: Recipient of the Massey University Strategic Research Excellence Fund, (2020); the Massey University Research Fund (MURF) Grant, (2014); the Cultural Leadership Development Grant, (2011); the Strategic Innovation Fund, (2013).
But what I really want to know is the whakapapa of his name. “Like any other tribal cultures, like we have here in Āotearoa, most Māori names have a meaning or pēpēhā. Our family story has a woman’s name, which is really unusual for the Middle East. The legend goes that my ancestor was a travelling merchant, and he was waylaid by robbers in the northern parts of Iraq. A Christian lady found him and took him back to a little chapel and nursed him back to health. And so this traveler who happened to be Muslim, he woke up and he saw this wonderful lady taking care of him. Her name was Hazou and he fell in love. And to show his appreciation, he took her name. And that’s how we’ve got quite a feminine family name that’s very unusual in the Middle East. And it’s a type of silver jewellery which is also really interesting, because I’ve always been really interested in silver. I love silver jewellery. And then I think when I was a teenager, my dad said: ‘Well, you know, maybe we were silversmiths in the ancient times.’ And I was like: ‘Oh, that really makes sense too.”
Rand’s parents met while they were working for the Jordanian Royal family: “So she was employed as a nanny; a caretaker for the current King Abdullah, who back then was obviously a baby toddler. And my dad just happened to be working for the royal family as well.. He was a media adviser, and they met through a mutual friend of theirs.”
Rand’s father had worked for the BBC World Service: “In Cyprus, my dad got a job with the BBC and went to London and started being an announcer of news in Arabic for the World Service. And in the interim, while my dad was living in London, my grandfather’s family moved back to Jordan. So this is quite common for a lot of Palestinian refugees that fled and then ended up in neighboring Arab countries waiting for the hostilities to resolve themselves so that they could go home. So the majority of people living in Jordan are Palestinian refugees; they just ended up like others, living there. That’s where I was eventually born and grew up. My dad came back to Jordan because he wanted to make a documentary about the old city of Jerusalem. He had this kind of premonition that things were changing and that some of the old aspects of the city were being lost.”
The Marae of the Middle East,
Rand’s childhood home was a regular destination for Kiwi and Australian travellers through the Middle East: “I think it’s in our national character, not only New Zealand, but Australia as well: we love to travel. And certainly it was the same with my mum. She’s always been interested in meeting other people, interested in food and culture; that’s what I think drew her to the Middle East. But then because she was part of the medical fraternity, any Kiwi or Aussie nurse or doctor that was travelling to the Middle East would get our address and phone number and would end up at our house at some point. So I’ve got memories of walking over bodies camped on our living room floor to get to the breakfast table in the morning, like a marae. It was like that a lot of my childhood because there were all these travellers coming through the Middle East and they would stop off in Jordan. It was a different time then, there was always conflict, but certainly there seemed to be a lot of people coming through at that time.”
“Even though my mum is Pākehā, we always identified as being Palestinian. I don’t know if that was necessarily a conscious decision that my parents made, whether they must have talked about something. I know that we talked a lot about Arabic because even though we were born and grew up in Jordan, my mother tongue is English, and we spoke English at home. Sometimes, that would frustrate my dad. I know it did because we had arguments and discussions about it. He wanted our Arabic proficiency to come first before English, but that was our mother tongue. In terms of how we identify; we always grew up identifying as Palestinian.”
“So I speak Arabic and I can read it and I can write it, but my written proficiency is quite bad. When I was younger, even though we spoke English at home, I had all my friends, we all spoke Arabic outside the house. And then it wasn’t until I went to high school and I did the International Baccalaureate program. They’ve got it here in New Zealand as well, where everything is taught in English. And then on top of that, I went to University in Australia. All my critical terms, concepts, that’s all in English as well. What I tend to do now when I’m involved with discussions with Palestinian colleagues is they speak in Arabic and I speak in English and we can understand each other perfectly. They usually can understand everything that I’m saying in English. I can understand everything they’re saying in Arabic. It’s just a lot more comfortable for me to speak in English because it’s my mother tongue and all the critical concepts I’ve got and the language is all in English as well.”
“The Narrative that Connects Us is Settler Colonialism.”
“Being a Palestinian, that meant having some affinity with other indigenous struggles, we really identified with the South African experience. We didn’t really talk about Māori struggles a lot around the table. In fact, we didn’t really have much of a connection to Āotearoa, at all. Occasionally we would see my grandmother – once every few years maybe – but we didn’t come out to New Zealand at all during my childhood. We were disconnected from our family and the politics going on here.”
“The narrative that connects us (New Zealanders and Palestinians) is settler colonialism. And so the reason why my heart feels so connected to – I guess the struggle of Māoridom – is because I can see it unfolding in my homeland. Here, we’re trying to undo the legacies of colonialism, but right at the moment, for me, my political stance is that Israel is a settler colonial state, and so we’re seeing colonialism being rolled out at the moment, and it’s impacting severely on my people.”
In 2015, there were widespread calls to raise the refugee quota in New Zealand. Marama Fox, the then co-leader of the Māori Party, called for New Zealand’s refugee policy to be shaped by manaakitanga. “Hospitality is really important, I mean in the sense of how I think manaakitanga can sometimes be understood within te āo Māori. It’s not just about providing hospitality, right? It’s not just about meeting the material needs of someone as a host. It’s not just about providing food and water, but trying to somehow enhance the dignity of others.”
“I should acknowledge my colleague and friend, Dr Krushil Watene (Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrakei) who is a Māori philosopher at Massey University. She’s been a really great friend to me and someone I can go to to ask questions and kōrero with. Krushil talks about manaaki as being a principle of justice – about enhancing the dignity of others. And I really like that definition.”
“In terms of theatre, in 2018, I wrote an essay (Hazou, 2018) about how manaakitanga helped shape refugee theatre. It was informed, first of all, about our obligations to refugees because we’re a signatory to the refugee convention. I did a survey of theatre in New Zealand that engaged with the refugee experience. I tried to drill down to a couple of case studies. And then I talked to some theatre makers about it, for example, Red Leap, which is a theatre company based here in Tāmaki Makaurau.”
“They did a show some years ago now. It was a show based on a graphic novel by a Vietnamese-Australian graphic artist. It explored the experience of being a refugee, and it was about a man who was trying to reconnect with his family and being in a really strange world. When I asked that company about manaakitanga, they said, well, they had talked a lot about that. But in the end, they talked about it in terms of an obligation to the stories that they were dealing with that informs their practice and also as an obligation, a relationship with the audience. I thought that was interesting – to think about manaaki as a principal in theatre practice, especially if you’re dealing in the kind of theatre that is trying to bring about social change. If you’re dealing with different communities and stories, there’s a kind of manaaki that comes into how you engage with those stories and how you use them to create theatre or to engage a wider public, but also it can be a dynamic of your ethical relationship with the audience and how you have a responsibility to them as guests that come into the theatre to witness something, how it might inform how you engage with them.”
“I think there needs to be a lot more development about how manaakitanga can be applied in these other contexts. But it was just for me trying to think about, I guess, ethical obligations and what that means. And I thought manaaki at the time was a really good concept to ground those ideas in. That’s a cool obligation.”
“In the same way, I think, to be Palestinian, is to understand how important hospitality is. And that’s because under occupation, a lot of the times Israel might close off roads or borders and people are stuck. ‘Oh, you’re stuck? You’re staying with us tonight, you’re having breakfast, you’re having dinner, whatever.’ So hospitality is obviously a feature of Middle Eastern cultures anyway, but I think it’s really important to Palestinians.”
“I try and model that for my kids because I want them to understand that it’s a really important part of our cultural heritage as Palestinians. The other side of that, though, is also that we have a history of dispossession. We have a history of not feeling like we belong. This is what characterises the Palestinian experience more than anything. I don’t want to pass that onto my kids. And I’ve made a real decision to make sure that they understand where they come from, that they’re connected to aspects of their culture. But I want them to feel that they are citizens of Āotearoa and that they can enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else living here. And that’s because all the time growing up in Jordan, even though I had Jordanian citizenship, I knew I wasn’t from that place. My homeland was just over there, over the valley. And the constant feeling I had was not belonging. I don’t want to pass that onto my kids. That is what being Palestinian means; it’s not belonging because the majority of us are refugees scattered around the world.”
“These Are My People.”
Rand had the opportunity to study in Australia or New Zealand because of his dual nationality. He decided to follow his brother to university in Australia: “I sort of asked him, ‘Well, what’s Brisbane like?’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s clean, it’s pretty quiet.” And I thought that sounded good. I had a great time and met some really amazing people, made some really fast friendships.”
“I moved down to Melbourne about 2000 and suddenly felt so much more comfortable because I was going on a tram up Sydney Road, and there was an Italian couple next to me. There was a Vietnamese family here. There was a Greek couple having an argument behind me. There were Arabic Street signs, and there was a real cultural mix. And it was like, ‘These are my people!’ It felt really good.”
“My engagement with indigenous politics was really informed by my experience in Australia; the fact that hardly anyone engages with Aboriginal politics there in the mainstream. I was there at a time when the government issued its apology to the stolen generations, when they tried to have constitutional reform, when they’re still talking about the need for a treaty with First Nations. So I really noticed how even with the average of connections that I made there, that the majority of people just weren’t engaging. So it’s really refreshing coming here to Āotearoa. And I can compare now because I lived in Australia for 19 years and I’ve lived here for about nine years now. I’ve got a good sense of how much the treaty has meant in terms of the kind of dignity, the kind of mana that people have, and the kind of presence that they have in Australia.”
“That whole thing in Australia of Terra Nullius, being able to call this ancient land empty, as if the people and the cultures that live there didn’t mean anything. That’s when they became invisibilized, and you can still trace it in ongoing government policy; it’s very paternalistic. I’ve certainly noticed a big difference, and that’s why I’m a big supporter of a treaty in Australia. I think there needs to be some kind of acknowledgement and honouring and bring it to some kind of playing field where people can actually start engaging with each other, because it’s not like that at the moment.”
“I Never Thought of Myself as an Academic.”
The path of academia wasn’t originally a set course for Dr Hazou: “I never thought of myself as an academic. I still don’t, really. When I finished university in Australia, I worked for a while, and then I took off around the country for a year, travelling. When I got back to Melbourne, I decided I wanted to work on my own theatre practice. I wanted to create a production, but I didn’t have any money. I was pretty skint. And theatre …requires resources. Generally you need access to venues, to other actors or maybe to some lighting. And I didn’t have any of those resources. So that’s why I ended up going back to University. I worked on a production exploring my dad’s experience as a correspondent, and the university really loved that show – they offered me a scholarship to do a PhD. So it’s weird I came back to university to get practical. I ended up taking this route and becoming a kind of academic, I guess, a researcher. As much as I enjoy it, I still don’t feel very much like an academic, even though I’m a senior lecturer. I still try to use my position at university to do creative projects and work with different communities. That’s the stuff that gives me a lot of inspiration.”
Theatre for Social Change.
Augusto Boal, the founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, stated: “We are all actors. Being a citizen does not mean living in the world, it is changing it.” (Boal, 2009, p1). Theatre for Social Change is a framework that encourages both audience and actors to participate in the work, pose solutions to societal problems, and thus change society. “There is this long tradition in the west of socially engaged kinds of theatre, and it stretches back to people like Bertolt Brecht, who is a German theatre maker and thinker. His idea was that theatre, rather than just being a mirror that reflects society, should be more like a hammer to change society. So he gave us a kind of aesthetic and an approach that tried to constantly remind audiences that this isn’t the kind of theatre that is disconnected from you, the audience. Generally in Brechtian theatre, the house lights are on all the time. You can see the cast on stage getting dressed in costumes before they come on.”
“You can usually see the back mechanics of the theatre, people flying in stuff. His idea was to constantly remind the audience that this theatre thing that you’re seeing, this artwork, is a construction. Just like real life, just as the construction can be changed and manipulated, so too can real life. He wanted people to go away from the theatre thinking about social problems and thinking about intervening in them. I’m schooled in that tradition of theatre that tries to engage people to think about social problems, or it can be just at the basic level of community; some communities facing particular problems or a marginalised community that we don’t hear their stories very often. Theatres use it as a tool to provide a platform; to explore, engage as a way of finding solutions with the hope of bringing about longer term social change. So that’s the kind of theatre that I’m interested in.”
“It’s a Basic Human Right.”
In 2017, Dr Hazou and David Diamond, a leading practitioner of theatre that promotes social change, ran a two-day workshop with a group of prisoners from Paremoremo prison. (Massey University, 2017). The men explored issues such as gossip, intimidation and safety with fellow prisoners and staff; privacy and respect between prisoners and corrections officers, and isolation and mental health challenges.
“I’m not an expert in prison theatre. I was just called to work in that space. And as a result, we kept going back. So we’ve done three or four projects over the past couple of years which have all come to a close because of Covid, of course. But it’s interesting – when I’ve worked with that community, the people that have worked out there, they’ve taught me a lot about honesty and generosity and strength and playfulness. I’m not necessarily going in there to teach that. I get that from them. That’s what inspires me.”
“There’s a lot of principles in the practice of not doing any harm, to create a safe space to encourage through a sense of play, doing lots of different interesting exercises together to get to a place where we feel we can share things and then to find ways of engaging with that material. So, for example, the Forum Theatre workshops that we did, the stories that we ended up with, came through a long series of exercises.Someone might have offered this sense of being targeted by prison staff for extra scrutiny because of gang affiliations, but maybe in the end it was given over to someone else to workshop so that there’s a bit of safety created for that person so that they don’t feel like they’re necessarily being traumatised by reenacting some of that experience. There’s ways that the theatre develops to ensure that people keep feeling safe so they’re not constantly made to feel overly vulnerable. The whole idea with this stuff is to empower a community so that they feel a sense of dignity and mana and self worth.”
“A lot of the time, the management, when we’ve approached them, they want to think about theatre as a kind of utility, as an end to something to make better prisoners, citizens and workers. They want to think about it in those lines. Whereas I think what we’ve been trying to do is say, access to culture and arts is a right – it’s a human right. As much as I believe that there are therapeutic outcomes for theatre, as much as I believe that it can improve communication skills, team working skills, all those things are important, but I think we should be supporting theatre or arts in prison because it’s a basic human right.”
“It’s a good reminder to us outside the prison bars of our commitments to things like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Do we believe that all humans deserve a similar set of rights, regardless of whether they are black, gay, locked up, members of a gang? Do we agree with those principles or do we not? Because some people think, ‘Oh, if you’re locked up in prison, that’s it, you no longer become human.’ Well, I disagree. The arts in prison and creative work in prison is a reminder to us about our humanity and our commitments to things like universal rights. It ends up being about us a lot of the time. I think we think about that work as being about our capacity to be generous to them. My experience is that they teach us, they remind us a lot of the time about how generous you could be. How with nothing, with very limited access to opportunities, you can still tackle something with all your heart.”
Hazou, R. T. (2018). Performing manaaki and New Zealand refugee theatre. Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 23(2), 228–241. https://doi.org/10.1080/13569783.2018.1440203
Theatre workshop ‘Outside the box’ for prisoners. (2017, June 29). Massy University of New Zealand: About News. Retrieved April 15, 2022, from https://www.massey.ac.nz/about-massey/news/article.cfm?mnarticle_uuid=0C88A13A-3218-4476-AE85-F1184C0117F5
Boal, A. World Theatre Day Message, Geneva, Switzerland, March 27, 2009.