A small victory at Dargaville museum?
Here's the text of an e mail I received yesterday from Dargaville museum, along with my reply to it.
Dear Dr Hamilton
Thank you for your interest and consideration.
Our organization is run by volunteers, without whose help we would not be able to operate. We are not in the fortunate position to be able to employ professionals. We are not experts but do endeavour to be as accurate as we can and visits from a person such as yourself and the informed comments you make are appreciated. However we were disappointed that you did not approach the Museum manager for her verification of the volunteer's expressed opinions prior to posting your views on the internet.
The Pouto carving has been in the Museum's collection for 13 years and we had inherited the information with it from a previous administration.
Our Te Uri O Hau representative on the Museum Committee had already raised similar concerns as yours, pointing out that there was no empirical evidence to support the text.
The issue of labeling, provenance and display was to be discussed by the committee but was held in abeyance, due to several important prior commitments of the Te Uri O Hau representative. This matter will be on the agenda for the next meeting where your informed comments, which supports that of the Te Uri O Hau representative, will be taken into consideration as well as those of the Iwi on whose territory the item was found. We will address the issues raised in you e-mail.
Mr. Noel Hilliam was a past President and curator of the Museum. He is no longer involved in the running of, nor is he a spokesperson for the Museum. At no time has he been banned from the Museum or interfered in its "correspondence".
Mr. Hilliam's beliefs, opinions and theories on New Zealand pre-history are his own and are not endorsed in any way by the Museum's current administration.
In the meantime we have removed the information panel from the exhibit. We propose to seek guidance from National Services Te Paerangi Te Papa on the appropriate person or institution to seek provenance on the carving.
Kia ora Pene,
I congratulate Dargaville museum on its decision to remove the pou found at Pouto from display.
Whilst artefacts held at museums, especially artefacts as beautiful and rare as the pou, should be accessible to the public, they must be displayed appropriately, and accompanied by responsible interpretation. Your museum's display and interpretation of the pou were nothing short of an insult to Maori, and to all New Zealanders interested in the truth about their country's history. I hope that the museum will take the opportunity to apologise to Te Uri o Hau, who had to wait far too long for you to end the desecration of an object found within the boundaries of their rohe. It seems to me that, if it were not for the public criticism you have received over the last week from outsiders, Te Uri o Hau would still be waiting for its voice to be heard.
You attempt to excuse the desecration of the pou by pointing out that the museum does not employ 'professionals' and 'experts'. This excuse seems to me only to underline a basic problem with Dargaville museum's attitude to Maori culture and history. The museum offers a small display of pre-contact and nineteenth century Maori artefacts in the last room that visitors pass through, as they make their way through the building, but its many other spaces, which deal with subjects as different as farming, gum digging, shipwrecks, and sports, are almost completely devoid of Maori content.
It is as if you believe that Maori culture and history ended with colonisation, and that Maori culture and history therefore don't need to be understood by volunteers, and can be left to the occasional 'expert' to interpret (as Noel Hilliam's 'interpretation' of the pou has hopefully shown you, not every self-proclaimed expert is to be trusted). The 'us and them' attitude toward Maori that I experienced when I talked to one of your staff only reinforces my belief that your museum does not consider Maori history and culture as integral parts of most of the stories it tells.
The attitude of your museum reminds me of the approach that many books of local history written by amateur Pakeha researchers take to the past. All too often, such histories open with a brief chapter on life in a district before the arrival of Pakeha, and then forget about Maori and plunge in to stories about pioneer families, great sporting events, the impact of foreign wars, and so on.
The approach that I have been describing does a disservice to Pakeha, as well as Maori. In regions like the Kaipara, Pakeha culture and society have been shaped by constant interaction with the tangata whenua. Sometimes this interaction has been difficult, even violent; at other times it has been friendly and enriching. By excluding Maori from so much of the story it tells, your museum gives its visitors a one-sided version of the history of the Kaipara.
I'd like to offer a couple of examples of the one-sidedness I am complaining about. Your museum offers artefacts and interpretations in an attempt to describe the lives of some of the Pakeha pioneers in the Kaipara region. While the material you display and interpret is interesting, it lacks context, because it is not accompanied by a discussion of the role that Maori played in hosting Pakeha pioneers.
After suffering heavy losses at the hands of Nga Puhi warlord Hongi Hika's musket-armed forces in 1825, Te Uri o Hau were keen to attract Pakeha missionaries and settlers, because they believed that the Pakeha might ensure a supply of muskets and a measure of protection. A Methodist mission was established in the north Kaipara in 1836, and the farmers who began to arrive a decade or so afterwards were treated with generosity by Te Uri o Hau. The iwi did not join in the wars that broke out between Pakeha and Maori in other parts of the country in the 1860s. When a group of Waikato prisoners who had escaped from Kawau Island in 1865 travelled into the rohe of Te Uri o Hau and urged the locals to join them in a new war, their request was respectfully declined.
As more and more settlers arrived and land was taken in dodgy deals, many Te Uri o Hau came to feel that their goodwill had been betrayed. Nevertheless, the iwi played an important role in the success of the early Pakeha settlers of the Kaipara. The story of the settlers cannot be properly told without reference to the Maori who hosted them.
One of the most interesting parts of your museum attempts to tell the story of the Dalmatians who came to New Zealand in the first decades of the twentieth century. Although your presentation of the Dalmatians' story is full of artefacts and anecdotes, it suffers from a lack of attention to the rich history of interaction between the new arrivals from southern Europe and the tangata whenua of Aotearoa.
Like Maori in the early twentieth century, the Dalmatian immigrants comprised an impoverished minority which was prevented from participating in many parts of the economy. Because of a lack of alternatives, both Maori and Dalmatians were drawn to the hard and unglamorous work of gum digging in remote areas of Northland. Isolated from the rest of New Zealand society by poverty and racism, members of the two groups were soon forging friendships and intermarrying. In her book Tarara: the cultural politics of Croat and Maori identity in New Zealand Senka Bozik-Vrbancic celebrates the unique coming-together of southern European and Maori cultures in northern New Zealand. With its one-sided approach to history, though, your museum ignores the story of Dalmatian-Maori interaction. I am not asking the unpaid volunteer staff of your museum to become 'experts', in the sense that those trained at universities in fields like archaeology or biology or history are, within their particlar fields, experts. Even those 'experts' with university training in a particular field of inquiry will often require assistance when they deal with adjacent fields of inquiry. In the world of modern scholarship, no one can hope to be an expert on everything.
It would be unreasonable to expect your staff to be authorities on the finer points of historical interpretation or radiocarbon dating. It is, however, very reasonable to expect them to see Maori culture and history as living, dynamic things, not as remote, arcane subjects suitable only for the inquiries of 'experts'. The Maori story is inextricable from all the stories your museum tells. If your staff had even a basic interest in and appreciation of Maori culture and history then they would never have tolerated the obscene display and interpretation of the Pouto pou.