His First Ball by Witi Ihimaera
Text type: Short story
The short text ‘His First Ball’ by Witi Ihimaera focuses on the differences between people living in different circumstances and from different cultures. In specific it is based on Tuta Wharepapa, a maori factory worker, and the upper class people of New Zealand at the Government house ball.
I empathized with the character of Tuta at the beginning of the text because none of his family, friends or colleagues had any faith in him what so ever and did not believe that he possibly could have been chosen for this ball and had to hear it from Government House first hand to believe it. I found this quite sad as it showed that clearly all of them did not believe in Tuta’s ability one bit, even his mother who is the one who mocks him about his invitation to the ball the most, “‘You? Go to Government House? You don’t even know how to bow!’ And she laughed and laughed so much at the idea that Tuta couldn’t take it.” I think the intention of the author putting this in the text was to portray Tuta as a strong person because he did not let his family and what other people think of him put him down. However it also showed me how much pressure parents, family and friends can make on people and how it can very easily affect people if they let it.
I liked the contrast that Ihimaera put into this story and it personally made the whole idea and message of the story easier for me to understand. The beginning of the story is all about Tuta trying to learn how to fit in with the upper class white people, “Not only did his appearance have to be radically altered, but his manners had to be brushed up also”. His family was so hung up on trying to make him fit into another culture, that clearly he is not a part of and never will be, when they should have instead been proud of who Tatu is and let him honestly represent their Maori culture, rather than trying to hide it. This made me think about how overpowering white Europeans have become in New Zealand and I think this story illustrates how it must feel for maoris living here. I would never enjoy being made to feel like you have to change to suit a culture that is not your own just to fit in. The contrasting aspect of this comes at the end of the text when rather than Tatu trying to fit in and be someone who he is not, he decides “if you couldn’t join them, then yes, he could beat them if he wanted to. Not by giving in to them but by being strong enough to stand up to them. Dance, but using his own steps. Listen, also, not to the music of the band but to the music in his head.” I think this was a very powerful moment in the text because it shows how you can overcome the pressure and expectations that family, friends and society put on you. It showed me that all it takes is as little as one conversation with the right person, in this case Joyce, to make this click in your brain that it is okay to be true to yourself even if others are different. In a way this reminds me of high school and how everyone is always stressing so much about trying to fit in and be like everyone else. I know I have definitely done this many times. But there are always people who stand up for themselves and aren’t afraid to be who they are and don’t let any others tell them otherwise. I admire these people who are exactly the same as Tatu and I can definitely relate to the story in this way. I think the way that Witi Ihimaera crafted this idea in the text by using the contrasting beginning and end gave the idea even more emphasis and power because it leaves the reader thinking about it and remembering it.
Overall I would definitely recommend this text especially for students in high school and people of all cultures because as well as being an entertaining story and fun to read, it also opened up my eyes to the diversity we have in New Zealand, how we are dealing with it and how it feels for the minority cultures such as Maoris like Tatu.