Thursday, May 26, 2016

But weren't the Neanderthals here first?

[I'm thinking about setting up an award for the most ludicrous of the many ludicrous claims that are regularly made about the early history of Aotearoa/New Zealand. My award would be modelled on the annual Golden Raspberry ceremony, which honours the worst films made in Hollywood, and on the Darwin Awards, which are given to individuals who engage in particularly foolish acts, like diving down manholes and sharing sandwiches with tigers. 

Martin Doutre's theory that Celts discovered New Zealand five thousand years ago and built observatories all over our hills would certainly feature in the shortlist for my award; so would Gavin Menzies' belief that Maori are the descendants of the Melanesian slaves of Chinese seafarers. But an inveterate commenter at the left-wing blog The Standard who uses the nom de plume VTO might well pip both Doutre and Menzies. 

Here's an exchange I had last weekend with VTO, who was upset by my discussion of Moriori history, and my suggestion that the coming Treaty settlement with Moriori should feature funding for a public education campaign about Moriori and their relations over the years with this country's other peoples. Come forth, VTO, and claim your prize...]

VTO:

[You want a] sustained public education programme teaching what? There is a huge amount yet to be discovered, let alone be certain enough to begin an “education programme”. The blind leading the blind. Pre-maori (pre-1300’s approx.) New Zealand is fascinating in its mystic unknowns and old tales...
SH:
Michael King’s Moriori: a people rediscovered is a good lengthier introduction to this subject. I’d be wary about people telling tales of ancient lost civilisations in NZ. They tend to lack training in anything but conspiracy theories.
And you think the ancestors of Maori got here in the fourteenth century? There are dozens of radiocarbon results for artefacts and sites older than that. Wairau Bar was inhabited in the twelfth century, at least.
VTO:
It will be interesting to see what history and archaeology discovers in the next 100 years. 
I am picking multiple peoples from much further back. I pick this for most of the last parts of the planet to supposedly be inhabited, not just our islands...Assuming we have full and complete knowledge today in 2016 is, well, just silly. See previous history scholars and their past findings cf todays knowledge, in evidence. Unfortunately though this area of our history gets all tied up in today’s politics to see anything clearly. As you highlight.
SH:
What’s silly is to assert that because everything about the past isn’t known nothing can be said about the past. We know, thanks to the work of dozens of scholars, that Moriori were a Polynesian people closely related but distinct from Maori, that they lived in isolation for centuries on the Chathams, that they evolved, over time, an egalitarian and pacifist culture, that they were invaded in 1835, and that the stories created about them by nineteenth century Pakeha and still widely believed by Pakeha are false.
The absence of artefacts and skeletons under the tephra from the Taupo eruptions and the analysis of ancient pollen spores suggests that humans were not living in New Zealand in any numbers more than a thousand years ago. If the conspiracy theorists were right and an ancient civilisation existed here then we’d expect to find all sorts of stuff under the tephra, as well as evidence from pollen spores and other sources of the presence of rats and the clearance of forests in ancient times. 

VTO:
“Conspiracy theorists” and “ancient civilisations” are terms not conducive to considered thought and debate, but merely rhetoric designed to denigrate. Let’s put those terms to one side.
Sure, evidence is thin on the ground – but as I said, this is a very young science, especially in NZ. There is some evidence, as you note. As more time passes and more digs completed then more will become apparent.
Tell me I am curious – what is your view of Maori history which itself tells of various and numerous people already living here when they arrived?
SH:
In my experience the proponents of claims that non-Polynesians settled New Zealand thousands of years ago are all motivated at least in part by a far right political agenda, engage in conspiracy theories to try to account for the lack of evidence for their claims, and lack any training in a relevant discipline. In a piece for the Scoop Review of Books I tried to show the neo-Nazi connections of the most high profile proponents of ancient civilisations theory.
There have been thousands of digs around NZ, extensive analysis of environmental evidence like spollen spores, tests of human and rat DNA, and no evidence at all has been found for a pre-Polynesian civilisation. There simply isn’t anything under the tephra left by even the most recent Taupo eruption, which means that humans simply couldn’t have been here thousands of years ago in any numbers.
What’s interesting is the desire of so many Pakeha to believe in something for which we have no evidence.
There is no single Maori oral history: each iwi has multiple versions of its past, and each is more akin to the oral epics of ancient Greece than to what we understand as history today. Just as we wouldn’t take Homer’s talk of sirens and a cyclops literally, so we shouldn’t take legends of taniwha, fairy folk, hairy men of the bush, kehua, and so on literally.
In my own research I’ve found that even in the twentieth century memories of events got tangled and confused in just a few years.
VTO:
I don’t get it – you suggest Maori history should be discounted yet use Moriori history in support of a view...how does that work? 
Also this “What’s interesting is the desire of so many Pakeha to believe in something for which we have no evidence. ” – that is not interesting at all. That smacks of the “politics of today” confusing the picture, as mentioned before. Plays no part except in the minds of those with vested interests. Not interested.
Unfortunately I don’t have the time to bat back and forth today. However, when it comes to tales of “fairy folk, tall people, fair-skinned people etc” you do realise those same tales exist in other parts of the globe yes? You don’t think there might be something to them? Like perhaps there were other people around? An earlier species of human out of Africa perhaps? Such as the red deer cave people perhaps?
When do you imagine the last Neanderthal died? When did the last mammoth die? This entire area of human history is so very far from certain. It is fascinating. It is also in the very very close past (last mammoth died about 3,000 years ago, and I would suggest the last Neanderthals were around that time too… like yesterday, leading to the legends of yetis and the like). Do you know if Neanderthals ever made it to New Zealand? Or those other species of human? 
SH:
I beg to differ, VTO: I think the attitude you represent is interesting, because in my experience it is widespread amongst Pakeha.
You haven’t spent much time thinking about the history of these islands’ Polynesian inhabitants and their ancestors in the tropical Pacific, but you have a very strong desire to believe in an ancient civilisation that is extremely unlikely to have existed here. You combine, in other words, a lack of interest in the real history of this part of the world with a fascination with a fantasy history. I think that this combination of incuriosity and fantastic yearning is a symptom of the fact that many Pakeha still don’t feel entirely at home down here in New Zealand. It reflects an unease that some of our finest poets and artists diagnose.
You complain that I 'suggest Maori history should be discounted yet use Moriori history in support of a view’. I’ve been talking about the understanding of the history of Moriori that has been built up out of hard evidence – artefacts excavated, words analysed, skeletons studied, old texts recovered and interpreted and so on – not about old legends taken at face value. Legends about ancient events have to be taken very carefully, especially when they are full of supernatural events.
If you want to use the various legends of iwi as evidence for a pre-Maori civilisation, because some of these legends include stories of pale-skinned fairy folk and hairy men of the bush, then you’ve got to explain why you’re not also using the taniwha and so on. But even if you want to press the scattered traditions of fairy folk into service as evidence for ancient pale-skinned settlers of these islands, you run into the absence of harder evidence for such settlers. There’s nothing under the tephra.
And you think there was a wave of white-skinned people, or possibly Neanderthals, that came out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago and had the aquatechnology to spread all the way to NZ, when the Europeans couldn’t even get to the Azores until less than a thousand years ago, and that these ancient settlers left no trace of their coming except some Maori folk tales about fairies who hid in the bush and played flutes? I guess you could work taniwha into that theory, and claim that the fairies rode them across the ocean to these islands.
The last Neanderthals died out about thirty thousand years ago at the bottom of the Iberian peninsula; the last mammoth died about four thousand years ago on Wrangel Island. Archaeology is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?  
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Moriori history and Treaty politics: four myths

Yesterday's episode of TV One News included a report from the Chatham Islands, where Treaty Negotiations minister Chris Finlayson has been meeting with Moriori. 

The Moriori are the indigenous people of the Chathams, which they call Rekohu, and their leaders have been trying to hammer out a Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Finlayson and the Crown. Back in the late '90s Moriori appeared before the Waitangi Tribunal, and talked about how their homeland had been invaded and enslaved by two Maori tribes in 1835, and how the New Zealand government had later allowed those same tribes to gain legal title to the land they had stolen from Moriori. In 2001 the Tribunal published its Rekohu Report, which backed many of the arguments Moriori had made. 


Chris Finlayson is also negotiating with Ngati Mutunga o Wharekauri, a group descended from one of the two iwi that invaded Rekohu in 1835. 


Last night's news report from the Chathams has prompted a long, ill-tempered, and often ill-informed debate on facebook, where many commenters have ridiculed the notion that the Crown should sign a settlement with Moriori. 


Here are four misconceptions that I noticed recurring during the debate on facebook. 


1. Who attacked and enslaved the Moriori?


The first misconception is that all Maori were somehow responsible for invading Rekohu and enslaving the Moriori


Only two small iwi from northern Taranaki, Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama, invaded Rekohu in 1835. These iwi rejected Moriori offers of peace and partnership, defiled Moriori sacred sites, massacred hundreds of men, women, and children, and made the remnant of the Moriori population into slaves. The genocide that began in 1835 was recorded by both Pakeha residents of the Chathams and by Moriori, and it was proudly remembered by the members of Ngati Mutunga who appeared before Chatham Islands sessions of the Native Land Court in 1868, 1870, and 1872. Believing that their conquest of the Chathams gave them mana whenua over the islands, the iwi's elders described their killing and enslavement of Moriori in some detail before the court. 


In the first decades of the nineteenth century iwi were regularly at war, as the muskets and cash brought by Europeans destabilised Aotearoa. The invaders of Rekohu had themselves been forced out of their homelands, and taken refuge on Somes Island in Wellington harbour. They were not acting on behalf of any Maori government or any other pan-iwi organisation. (It was in the 1840s and '50s, in response to pressure from Pakeha settlers and land speculators, that the concept of a pan-Maori identity developed. In the 1858 Waikato chief Potatau Te Wherowhero became the first Maori king.)


2. Are Moriori just Maori with a funny name? 


The second misconception is that Moriori are Maori. 


Many Maori commenters on facebook have insisted that Moriori are nothing more than an iwi of Aotearoa. Tama Rua claimed that the language and culture of Moriori are 'almost identical' to that of Maori. Gerald Patena claimed bluntly that 'Moriori are Maori'. 


Many of the Maori who want to claim that Moriori are merely an iwi are reacting to a myth that was created a century ago by the amateur scholars Elsdon Best and Percy Smith. After misinterpreting some Maori oral history, Best and Smith decided that both the Moriori of the Chatham Islands and the Tuhoe were the remnants of a Melanesian people who had lived all over New Zealand for centuries, then been driven into the Ureweras and out to the remote Chathams by the ancestors of the Maori. Best and Smith's theory was destroyed by HD Skinner, New Zealand first professional anthropologist, who visited the Chathams after World War One and discovered skeletal, linguistic, and cultural evidence to show that the Moriori were a Polynesian people closely related to Maori. Skinner's findings have been confirmed and extended by later generations of scholars. 


Unfortunately, many Pakeha still hold to the old myth of the Moriori as a pre-Maori people. New Zealanders exasperated by the persistence of the myth sometimes create their own falsehood, by claiming Moriori are not only Polynesians but a tribe of Maori. 


It is true that Moriori, as a Polynesian people, are related by blood and language to Maori. But Moriori are not Maori and they do not claim to be Maori, as a look at the publications of the Hokotehi Trust, the organisation that represents them, will very quickly show. Moriori claim that they arrived on Rekohu about a thousand years ago from an island or islands in tropical Eastern Polynesia, then travelled to mainland New Zealand, where they intermarried and traded with Maori, before becoming isolated on the Chathams. Some scholars prefer to think that Moriori are descendants of very early Maori from the Cook Strait region who got blown to the Chathams and were isolated there. 


Whatever the truth about the exact origins of the ancestors of the Moriori, there is no doubt that during centuries of isolation the people of Rekohu developed a culture very different to that of their fellow Polynesians in Aotearoa. Moriori called themselves tchakat henu, not tangata whenua; the gorgeous, freeflowing artworks Moriori made on trees and rocks lacked the hei tiki motif and the complex patterning of classical Maori carving; Moriori lived without the complicated social hierarchies of Maori; Moriori became pacifists while Maori became expert in warfare. 


It is reasonable, then, to say that Moriori and Maori belong to the same extended family, but that they are different peoples: the two indigenous peoples of our country. If Maori are the tangata whenua of Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu, then Moriori are the tchakat henu of Rekohu. 


In recent decades, faced by a Moriori cultural renaissance and by Moriori Treaty claims, Ngati Mutunga and their allies have tried to claim that Moriori are no longer a distinct people, but have instead assimilated to Maori. Such rhetoric reminds me of the way redneck Pakeha often insist that Maori are no longer a distinct people but simply New Zealanders. 


The assimilationist argument is wrong when it is made by Pakeha against Maori, and wrong when it is made by Ngati Mutunga and their supporters against Moriori.


3. How did early European visitors to the Chathams treat Moriori? 


The third misconception is that Europeans did not commit atrocities against Moriori in the nineteenth century. 


Few of the Pakeha who talk about the evil deeds of Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama know that the Moriori population had already declined by about a third during the decades between the 'discovery' of Rekohu by Europeans in 1791 and the invasion of 1835. Parties of sealers and whalers often landed on the Chathams in the early nineteenth century, and eventually established settlements. Although some of them established friendly relations with Moriori, others killed and raped islanders. All of them spread diseases to which Moriori had no immunity. 


In the decades after Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama massacred Moriori, Europeans harvested hundreds of skeletons from the beaches of the Chathams. Skeletons and skulls were sold to collectors and museums in Europe, and thousands of Moriori teeth ended up in the surgeries of European dentists, where they were attached to European mouths. 


4. Why should the Crown be responsible for Moriori suffering? 


The fourth misconception is that the Crown has no responsibility for the suffering of Moriori, because that suffering was caused only by Maori, and occurred before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. 


Many of the Pakeha who make this argument also insist that by signing the Treaty in 1840 Maori accepted that British law would prevail over all of New Zealand. If they hold such a view, then they logically should consider that the British Crown had an obligation to protect the legal rights of the Moriori. For twenty-two years after the signing of the Treaty, the Moriori remained enslaved in their homeland. The British annexed the Chathams to New Zealand in 1842, but did little or nothing to assert Moriori rights. They neither intervened to free Moriori from their Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama captors, nor tried to stop the harvesting of Moriori skeletons by European graverobbers


It was not only in the Chathams that the Crown showed itself indifferent to Moriori suffering: in the 1840s a group of Ngati Mutunga and their Moriori slaves emigrated to the Auckland Islands, where they lived close to Hardwicke, a British colony that boasted several hundred inhabitants and a magistrate. No attempt was made  to free the Moriori slaves brought to the Auckland Islands. 


Even after the freeing of the Moriori, the Crown continued to act against the interests of Rekohu's indigenous people. In 1868, 1870, and 1872 the Crown organised Native Land Court sessions on the Chathams to decide who should have title to the archipelago. As I noted earlier, Ngati Mutunga elders spoke at length to the court, describing how they had conquered the Chathams and enslaved its people, and claiming that these deeds gave them ownership of the islands. The Crown agreed, giving 97% of disputed lands on the Chathams to Maori and only 3% to Moriori. It is this injustice, in particular, that Moriori are hoping to undo in the settlement they are now negotiating with the Crown.


[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Killing pigs

Pigs Sacrificed in the Name of Christ was the first Tevita Latu painting I saw, and I'm delighted to discover that it was recently reproduced in an American arts magazine called Fusion.

In 2013 I found Latu's painting hanging in Langafonua, the ramshackle arts and crafts shop on Nuku'alofa's ramshackle main street, where its energy and mystery suddenly made the dolphins and ngatu that Tongans carve and paint for tourists look enervated and empty. I was fascinated by the contrast between Tevita's puaka and the men who are about to feast on the animals. The pigs are huge, and even in death they look powerful and somehow dignified. The men holding them look ugly and insignificant by comparison. Tevita had decorated the pigs with motifs from traditional Tongan art, but left his humans with grey, unadorned flesh. 

When I got to meet Latu at the Seleka Club, the kava shack decorated with psychedelic colours where he and his mates drank and painted, I asked him about the meaning of the work. Was he, I wondered, counterposing the majesty and dignity of the slaughtered puaka with the seediness of the men who would eat them? Did he lament the way that the puaka, a creature that had been the ceremonial and conceptual centre of many traditional cultures of the Pacific, and could only be consumed after august rituals, had become, in the commercialised twenty-first century, simply a tasty snack, like a Big Mac or piece of KFC?

Tevita Latu smiled, and said he didn't mind if I interpreted his painting like that. He'd intended it, though, as a sort of intra-Christian polemic. He disapproved of the greed and vulgarity of some of Tonga's churches, and the nice cars and huge guts that the ministers of these churches increasingly boasted. Too many Tongan Christians were using their 'Otua as an excuse for conspicuous consumption, and the feasts that accompanied many church events had become grotesquely protracted and expensive. You can see Pigs Sacrificed in the Name of Christ and other works by Tevita Latu and his fellow Seleka Cub member Taniela Potelo at the Fusion website.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Malo


Thanks to everybody who came to see me at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival. The talk I gave in the auditorium of the public art gallery was based on this blog post about the Great South Road's refugee history, but my words were complemented by Paul Janman, who discussed his recent return journey down the Great South Road to the fortress-town of Kihikihi and his efforts to photograph the relentlessly bombarded volcanic landscape of Wiri. Our fellow scholar of the road Ian Powell took these photographs of proceedings. Caroline Barron chaired the event, and put a picture of my struggle with powerpoint technology on instagram.

I had some marvellous conversations with audience members in the foyer of the gallery and on the boozy edge of Aotea Square. Some of the members of the audience had travelled from towns like Te Kauwhata and Huntly; a few had talked and drank with me and with Paul Janman on our walk up the Great South Road last December.

My interlocutors offered new research leads and new inspiration. During my talk I'd described the communist outlaws who hid their printing press in a South Auckland cave until it was discovered by two small boys; afterwards, in the gallery foyer, I met a woman who believes that those boys were her brothers.

Now that I've gotten Tonga and the festival out of the way, I'll be giving my lecturing tongue a rest for a while and getting on with some overdue essays and reviews, while keeping an eye on the road.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The gods of New York

My friend Visesio Siasau has steered his vaka from Tonga to New York City, where he has begun a six month residency at the International Studio and Curatorial Programme. The residency comes with the Wallace Award that Visesio won last year in Auckland. 
At a ceremony held at Pah Homestead to celebrate Visesio's win, an art lover asked him how he felt he would cope with life in New York. With crazed traffic and pharaonic architecture, the city must surely seem very distant from Visesio's hometown of Nuku'alofa, where pigs and dogs share the road with farting secondhand cars, and coconut trees grow higher than most buildings. Visesio explained, though, that he wasn't fazed by the prospect of spending half a year in the Big Apple. 'My people are great navigators' he said. 
Only a few days after arriving in New York Visesio has navigated his way to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where two of the very few ancient Tongan sculptures to survive the clubs and fires of Christianity are housed. Roger Neich tracked down these sculptures, and others like them, in a meticulous and tender 2007 essay with the sad and defiant title 'Tongan Goddesses: from Goddesses to Missionary Trophies to Masterpieces'. For a decade Visesio Siasau has been studying Neich's essay, and every other study of ancient Tongan sculpture he can find; now, thousands of miles from his homeland, he has been able to encounter the sacred art of his ancestors. Maia Nuku, a curator of the collection of 'Oceanic art' at the museum, helped Visesio find the objects. 

After visiting the goddesses at the Metropolitan Museum Siasau posted this statement on facebook:
Alas our 'OTUA TONGA-GOD you are confine and put away. You have been denied and removed from the space of humanity but not from our heart, blood and DNA, that simultaneously enhancing, to an object of fantasies. You play a major role as who we are as Tongan, and how we define our relateness to the world with our Tonganess you encoded and imbued.. Thank you Maia Nuku for this morning for enabling time for me to engage with our ancestor and allow me to dialogue with them, and about them. 
Visesio's partner Serene Tay, who is an artist and a curator in her own right, added this comment:
We've spent atleast a decade reading, referring to and loving these two Taonga -Tongan Goddesses, its like being hapu for 10 years and then the presence of the creation is revealed. #firstencounter x
Since they were imported to the northern hemisphere, the sculpted gods of Polynesia have inspired Picasso and Henry Moore and Brancusi. It is right that a Tongan artist should now have an audience with these extraordinary objects. 
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Saturday, May 07, 2016

The city of texts

I'm grateful to Sarah Ell for two articles in today's New Zealand Herald. Sarah's given my study of the Great South Road a plug, and allowed me to plug some of my favourite Auckland writers, like RAK Mason and Richard von Sturmer. Sarah tells Herald readers about the Great South Road's history as a route for imperial conquest, and talks about the Maori refugees, jobless swaggers and Arab migrants who walked and hawked down its muddy length in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 
It was exciting to talk with Sarah about her father Gordon's two volume psychogeographic study of New Zealand's ghost towns, which I used as a sort of travel guide in my twenties. In between asking me questions about South Auckland and the Waikato, Sarah remembered childhood expeditions down Babylon Coast Road and other routes into the ruins of the gum and goldfields of Northland and the Coromandel. 
Footnote: Congratulations to poet Grace Taylor, who was given the 2017 Auckland Mayoral Literary Award last Thursday night in a ceremony at the city's central library.

Before deputy mayor Penny Hulse handed congratulated Grace I gave a speech about - you guessed it - my study of the Great South Road, which earned me the inaugural Mayoral Literary Award last year. I explained how the award had encouraged New Zealanders who live along the Great South Road to open their doors to me and my collaborators Paul Janman and Ian Powell, and to share old stories and photographs and manuscripts with us.

I showed a film clip of the walk that Paul and I made up two hundred kilometres of the Great South Road last year: the audience chuckled when they saw me tripping over my feet in the berm-ditches of the Waikato.

I hope the mayoral award brings Grace Taylor many adventures.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Rest easy, Gregory


I was upset to read about Gregory Reynolds, who flew from Nu'u Sila to Tongatapu for a short holiday, went for a walk in the 'uta of the Hihifo peninsula, lost his way amidst the elephant grass and pandanus trees, and died just a few metres from his resort. Now Reynolds has been buried in Telekava, the fa'itoka on the western edge of Nuku'alofa where not only Tongans but palangi guests of Tonga have been laid to rest for more than a century.

Telekava borders the campus of my old employer the 'Atenisi Institute, and I would often walk through it on my way to give a lecture or drink kava. Many Tongans believe that the dead remain somehow alive in their graves, and can hear each other as well as the living (Barbara McGrath's meticulous and sometimes eerie essay 'A View from the Other Side: the Place of Spirits in the Tongan Social Field' tries to make this notion comprehensible to palangi), and I would sometimes see a widow or son talking excitedly at a mound of sand decorated with beer bottles, or at one of the glossy billboards many Tongans nowadays raise over the graves of their loved ones. I learned to say 'Kataki, fakamolemole' - 'please, excuse me' - as I walked through the kolo of the dead. I often gazed at the grave of Futa Helu, the philosopher and pro-democracy activist who founded 'Atenisi, and wondered whether he was entertaining or irritating his neighbours with monologues about Socrates or the failings of Tonga's monarchy.
In the northwestern corner of Telekava, close to a dirt road patrolled by puaka and kuli, the cemetery's palangi inhabitants are gathered. An early Chinese inhabitant of Nuku'alofa lies under an imitation pagoda; black marble pillars gnawed by moss and bombed by coconut trees announce the presence of missionaries from Yorkshire; and tourists and aid workers have their more modest memorials. I hope you're comfortable, Gregory. I'll visit you the next time I'm in Nuku'alofa.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]