Paul Moon condemns the Celtic New Zealand circle
Yet the fearless opponents of this massive conspiracy are happy to seize upon any scrap of serious research which they can distort into 'evidence' for their own views about pre-history. The contradictions of the pseudo-historians' attitude can lead to obvious absurdities, like Kerry Bolton's claim that the Pouakani Report of the Waitangi Tribunal - that hated organisation of Maori radicals and PC academics - somehow recognised the existence of a tribe of 'white tangata whenua' in the central North Island.
AUT University Professor of History Paul Moon has been the target of both the scorn and praise of the pseudo-historians. Back in 2004 Moon participated in a tortuous dialogue with Ross Baker, the leader of the One New Zealand Foundation and a close friend of Martin Doutre. Baker and Doutre have both been drivers of the white Land Rover which has for years now shadowed the official Treaty 2 U roadshow as it travels the country. Baker and Doutre want to convince New Zealanders that the so-called 'Littlewood Treaty' - an inaccurate copy of the Treaty of Waitangi made by an aide to Governor Hobson - ought to be the foundation of New Zealand law. They are excited by the 'Littlewood Treaty' because its references to 'New Zealanders' and 'the ordinary people of New Zealand' seems to them like a repudiation of all forms of biculturalism.
In his admirably even-tempered e mails to Baker, Paul Moon attempted to explain why the Littlewood Treaty has had and can have no legal significance. It would be a funny sort of Treaty, Moon observed, which was never signed by the parties whose will it purported to represent. Moon tried to dampen the enthusiasm of Baker and co for the document by pointing out that the term 'New Zealanders' was used to refer only to Maori in 1840. Predictably enough, Moon's interlocutor soon moved from historiography to the far more comfortable terrain of conspiracy theory. When Moon stopped replying to his e mails, Ross Baker blamed not his own inability to engage in rational debate, but the machinations of sinister, shadowy forces:
Remember, you contacted me first I am only putting forward the evidence you asked for in reply to your emails. You can either agree with it or disagree with it but to pull the plug now can only mean two things:
1. You have been warned off like others.
2. The evidence presented cannot be disputed.
Paul Moon appears to have redeemed himself in the eyes of the pseudo-historians with the publication last year of This Horrid Practice, his study of cannibalism in New Zealand. Moon's book presents a series of written accounts of Maori cannibalism from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and then presents a general theory of the extent and meaning of cannibalism in pre-contact Maori society.
Because of its sensitive subject matter, This Horrid Practice quickly received extensive publicity in the media, and prompted angry responses from people who must scarcely have had time to read the book. As a complaint about This Horrid Practice reached the Human Rights Commission, Moon compared his detractors to Nazi book-burners. I have read Moon's book, and I think it is deeply problematic. All of the written accounts of Maori cannibalism that Moon uses are necessarily drawn from the period of early contact between the tangata whenua of Aotearoa and outsiders - a period of massive social and cultural change. It is very hard to see how anyone can generalise events of this unique period in New Zealand history into a picture of pre-contact Maori society. The inter-iwi Musket Wars which were such a feature of the early nineteenth century, for instance, often involved large-scale slavery, killing and cannibalism, but these conflicts would not have been possible without the technology and the economic system brought to Aotearoa from outside. The need for potatoes and other foods in growing cities like Port Nicholson, Dunedin, Sydney, and even San Francisco and the need of Maori to get muskets to defend themselves meant that many iwi seized new lands and put large numbers of slaves to work growing food for export. The scale and ferocity of the Musket Wars have to be explained with reference to the new world that Maori were entering in the early nineteenth century.
Another problem in This Horrid Practice concerns Moon's extensive references to the fledgling science of epigenetics, which considers whether human genes might be able to acquire 'memories' of the experiences of their human bearers. The vast majority of biologists believe that the experiences of individual humans cannot find their way into the genetic code that is passed down the generations. A handful of scientists, though, believe that experiences - experiences of great trauma, for instance - can affect the genetic code of an individual, and so have consequences for generations descended from that person. One small team of researchers has been studying children of Holocaust survivors, in order to test this hypothesis.
In This Horrid Practice, Paul Moon makes the very bold assumption that experiences of trauma can be 'remembered' by our genes, and then the equally bold assumption that centuries of inter-iwi warfare had made Maori an inherently traumatised, brutalised people, to whom slaughter and cannibalism were as natural as breathing. Moon goes so far as to suggest that the colonisation of Maori was a blessing, because it ended a relentless cycle of trauma and slaughter.
It is not difficult to see why This Horrid Practice has excited the admiration of Martin Doutre and other anti-Maori bigots. When Doutre authored his rambling article on New Zealand's supposed Celtic pre-history for the Franklin E Local last year he paid tribute to Moon, and advised his readers to turn to This Horrid Practice for 'more information' about the Celtic New Zealand thesis. But the gloomy treatment of pre-contact Maori society in Moon's book cannot fairly be turned into an endorsement of Doutre's bizarre ideas about the past. In my critique of Doutre's article, I pointed out that Moon's book offered no support at all to the notion that white people were the tangata whenua of New Zealand. I suggested that Doutre and the Franklin E Local owed the Professor an apology.
My comments infuriated Mykeljon Winckel, the editor of Franklin E Local. Winckel insisted that Paul Moon had approved Doutre's reference to his book; he also warned me that Moon would soon contact me to ask for an apology for my misrepresentation of his views. I e mailed Moon to ask him whether he was indeed in Winckel's and Doutre's corner, and received a rather pained reply. Moon told me that he had already e mailed Winckel to tell him that he had no sympathy for the views being promoted in Franklin E Local, and that Winckel had assured him that the magazine was not attempting to present This Horrid Practice as an endorsement of Martin Doutre's strange theories. Moon was not keen on my suggestion that he make a public statement distancing himself from the Celtic New Zealand circle, so as to remove all confusion about his views. 'I had a long entanglement with the One New Zealand Foundation over the so-called Littlewood Treaty', he wrote, and 'now wish to have no further involvement in any of their manifestations'.
Moon appears to have reconsidered his position, though, after the ridiculously indulgent treatment of Martin Doutre in the New Zealand Herald last week. Wayne Thompson's article on Doutre's attempt to save a set of 'Celtic' boulders from road-builders in Silverdale prompted an immediate and strong response from a number of quarters. One of the most eloquent critics of the Herald's decision to present Doutre as a credible 'researcher' was University of Auckland philosopher Matthew Dentith, who managed to get this letter into the paper last Thursday. The very next day the Herald's letters page included this epistle from Professor Paul Moon:
Your correspondent Matthew Dentith is right to be concerned about suggestions of a pre-Maori Celtic culture in New Zealand.
Unfortunately, the energetic promotion of these manifestly flawed theories has seen their currency grow and an increasing number of people preapred to accept them.
Martin Doutre, who has annointed himself as the chief proponent of these theories, does not adhere to standard historical techniques in his writings, and has only been able to reach his conclusions after turning his back on a vast quantity of reliable literature that would discredit his views.
Starved of the oxygen of publicity, the pre-Maori Celtic theory should soon be extinguished or, at the very least, confined to the lunatic fringe of history. Until then, a degree of vigilance - of the sort exercised by Mr Dentith - is the best antidote.
Professor Paul Moon,
Although I think This Horrid Practice is a very flawed book, I can't agree with anyone who wants to complain about Paul Moon to the Human Rights Commission, or keep his tome out of universities. Unlike Martin Doutre or Kerry Bolton, Paul Moon is a serious scholar. Moon does not falsify his source material, or misrepresent the views of other scholars, or accuse his critics of participating in a vast conspiracy, or use his work to promote racism. This Horrid Practice can be part of a rational dialogue about our past in a way that the likes of Ancient Celtic New Zealand or 1421 cannot. I hope that Paul Moon's letter to the Herald has cleared the way for a more serious, if not more sympathetic, discussion of his views about cannibalism.