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Maori and the Race Relations Act 1971

When Bruce Stirling, Wally Penetito and I put together The Treaty of Waitangi Companion: Maori and Pakeha from Tasman to Today(AUP) back in 2010 some material never made the final text, simply for reasons of space. The Race Relations Act 1971, passed into law on 17 December 1971, was one such topic. What follows is our unedited entry on this (compiled by Bruce):

The Race Relations Bill was introduced with some reluctance, with a view to implementing the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, signed by the government five years earlier. In its original form it was intended not so much to protect Māori from the racism they had long endured but to eliminate the Maori Affairs Department and all other special Maori agencies, furthering the goals of existing assimilation policies. That was how the government perceived its obligations to the UN, but Nga Tamatoa and the older leaders of the New Zealand Maori Council lobbied the government to shift …

History, Literature and the AUP Anthology

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It hasn’t even been officially launched yet, but already the AUP Anthology of New Zealand Literature is generating considerable controversy. Critics reckon Maori, South Islanders and other minority groups are underrepresented, while graduates of the Manhire school, among others, are supposedly overrepresented. For Bookman Beattie, the most surprising omission is Michael King. Paula Green has noted the less than adequate coverage of New Zealand historians generally: no Judith Binney, James Belich, Anne Salmond or Claudia Orange. Keith Sinclair does get a look in, but only as a poet. Apirana Ngata is here, but not Ranginui Walker.
I doubt that even the editors would suggest they have provided anything like representative coverage of non-fiction New Zealand history writing. But that got me thinking about the relationship between history and literature. If the former is a subset of the latter, then surely it is entitled to fair representation in works such as this; if it is not, then why i…

Flying the Flag: The Maiki Hill Flagstaff, Kororareka

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Hone Heke was a man of his word. He had promised the governor he would put up a new flagstaff on Maiki Hill after felling the old one in July 1844. But that didn’t mean he wouldn’t chop it down again if necessary. And again, and again. Down she came. For the fourth time. It was March 1845.


Pandemonium ensued. A smoker dropped ash on some kegs of gunpowder, causing the whole magazine to blow. Heke had no truck with the settlers. His warriors even helped some of them flee town. But now it was too late to go back. It was a question of mana.
Kororareka. The Hell-hole of the Pacific, they reckoned. Today it is refined, posh Russell. But the past lingers everywhere. It’s like a living museum.
The British never did re-erect their flagstaff. Maori did it instead, in 1858. They had made their point. The flagstaff would be a token of reconciliation, not a symbol of sovereignty. They called it ‘Te Whakakotahitanga’, the binding together. The government preferred to see it as a sign of submission. N…

The Invasion of Parihaka, 5 November 1881: An Eyewitness Account

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On 5 November 1881 Native Minister John Bryce led 1600 Armed Constabulary into the South Taranaki settlement of Parihaka, arresting leaders Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi. Over the following weeks the remaining residents were forcibly dispersed and the settlement destroyed. The ‘crime’ of the people of Parihaka had been to peacefully resist the confiscation of their lands.

Over the years, these events have been described — and the enormous injustice that occurred — exposed in a number of secondary works. These include George Rusden’s 1883 History of New Zealand, Dick Scott’s influential account Ask That Mountain (1975), Hazel Riseborough’s Days of Darkness (1989), and Rachel Buchanan’s The Parihaka Album (2010).

Yet our knowledge of these events would be much the poorer were it not for the actions of two journalists, Samuel Crombie-Brown (or Croumbie-Brown in some versions) and a Mr Humphries, who both, defying Bryce’s extraordinary efforts to prevent any reporters from being pr…

Indigenous Agency versus Enforced Assimilation: The Role of Maori Committees in the Nineteenth Century

Satirical analyses of New Zealand culture and society have often poked fun at the fondness of New Zealanders for forming and joining committees. As Austin Mitchell wrote in 1972, ‘[g]ive them a problem and they’ll set up a committee’. And although it is rarely mentioned in such contexts, Maori were early and fervent converts to this apparent national trait. Their problem was a big one: how to find a place for themselves in the colonial era following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 that did not involve being entirely subsumed by this new order. At stake was the very survival of Maori society itself.
Over the years I have written extensively on the history of Maori komiti (committees), and related runanga (tribal councils), exploring the legacy of efforts on the part of nineteenth-century Maori to establish new institutions of self-government in the colonial context. My first book Agents of Autonomy: Maori Committees in the Nineteenth Century, published by Huia in 1998, was…

Crime and Punishment: Early Maori and Aboriginal Views on British Justice

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Different cultures and societies tend to view their own institutions and customs as natural, normal and value free. Take our legal system. Although this emerged from a particular historical and legal context, being based on English common law, it is often seen as a neutral framework for dispensing justice. Whether that is the case today is for others to say (Moana Jackson, for one, would argue that the New Zealand legal system is not value free). My focus here is instead on some fascinating evidence regarding how Maori and Australian Aboriginal peoples viewed British notions of justice in the early contact period.

What I find interesting is that, at a time in the early nineteenth century when many British believed themselves responsible for bringing enlightenment and liberty to ‘primitive’ native peoples, many of the targets of their supposed benevolence were capable of powerful critiques of what was being offered them. Maori exposed to the British judicial system at Sydney or elsewh…

Book Review: Alison Jones and Kuni Jenkins, "Words Between Us — He Korero: First Maori-Pakeha Conversations on Paper", Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2011

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Alison Jones and Kuni Jenkins, Words Between Us — He Korero: First Maori-Pakeha Conversations on Paper, Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2011
Words Between Us was published late in 2011, just as the final touches were being put to my own The Meeting Place: Maori and Pakeha Encounters, 1642-1840. That was too late to even note the publication of this new work. It is only now, therefore, that I have had an opportunity to read the Jones and Jenkins book. I’m pleased I have done so. Some books can be a chore to read. This is not one of them.


The story of early Maori engagement with writing is told with considerable skill. Examining several copybooks in which Maori boys learned to write at one of the missionary schools in the 1820s set the authors off on a journey to discover how Maori first encountered writing and what it might have been like ‘to take up a European technology that, by some obscure power, seemed to be able to speak in the language of the local people’ (p 3). They do so by way of…