Showing posts from October, 2012

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

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…