Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sunday morning listening

I'll be appearing on National Radio's Ideas programme tomorrow morning just after eleven to talk about Holocaust denial, the Celtic New Zealand thesis and other antics of New Zealand's far right. There's an advertisement for the programme here, and this page has links to some of my investigations into the strange world of pseudohistory.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The mystery of the disappearing website

On Tuesday I discussed Rosanne Hawarden, the South African immigrant to New Zealand who has been campaigning against the reburial of ancient bones on Malborough's Wairau Bar. Hawarden believes that members of the Rangitane iwi, whose rohe includes Wairau Bar, have been conspiring with academics and museum curators to hide the fact that many of the bones being reburied belonged to a non-Polynesian people.

I suggested that Hawarden was almost certainly the creator of the Wairau Bar Mystery website, which castigated the reburial and accused the Rangitane of being 'thieves' for claiming ownership of the ancient bones. Although the Wairau Bar Mystery site had refused to identify its author, it was easy to note stylistic similarities between the prose on the site and the denunciations of the reburial that Hawarden had placed under her own name on discussion forums elsewhere in cyberspace. A visitor to this blog pointed out that the Wairau Bar Mystery was registered in the name of a 'Judy Neall' of Riccarton, but that name has never been associated with debates about New Zealand's prehistory, and a certain Rosanne Hawarden just happens to live in Riccarton.

Last night a commenter calling herself Sandy Lai Wing made an angry intervention in the discussion about Rosanne Hawarden's ideas. Sandy wondered whether I might be the same person as Keri Hulme, but I think it is rather more likely that she is the same person as Rosanne Hawarden. Sandy's prose certainly resembles Rosanne's - note, in particular, the way that periods go missing and sentences run into each other, as the writer gets more and more indignant - and the very involved (and quite irrelevant) details she gives of Rosanne's career and the ethnic makeup of the SINZASA group Rosanne leads also make me suspicious.

A few minutes after Sandy vented her frustrations, an anonymous comment appeared underneath the post I made a couple of weeks ago about Bill Keir's criticism of the Celtic New Zealand circle. This comment had all the hallmarks of the Rosanne Hawarden style, and it also recapitulated one of the most curious arguments on the Wairau Bay Mystery website:

There is plenty of evidence to show Maori (which is only a name used after whites appeared) were not first in New Zealand, however ignoring all that argument If Maori truly were first please provide evidence of how they sailed to South America and returned with kumara when not one canoe has ever been found with South American wood. No wooden boat could travel so far without being repaired. If Maori history so right and others so wrong I wonder why not one jot of evidence has ever been produced to prove they made such trips.

The author of the Wairau Bay site had claimed that the question of how and when the Polynesian ancestors of the Maori reached New Zealand was unresolved, because no physical remains of any of the waka that supposedly made the journey had been located. I find this line of argument odd, because it seems to imply that the remains of thousand-year old waka should be lying around New Zealand, and because it assumes that no other form of evidence can take the place of such remains. All of the archaeologists, botanists, and biologists who have been digging up camp sites, testing pollen spores to see when forests were first cleared, and carbon dating rat bones have evidently been wasting their time.

If we followed the logic of this strange argument, then we would have to reject the notion that the Aborigines settled Australia first, because no traces of the craft they used to cross the Timor Strait remain. We would have to abandon the idea that the Vikings discovered Iceland, or settled on Greenland, because none of the longboats which made those journeys have survived.

The idea that the Polynesians reached South America was once controversial, but in recent years researchers based in the University of Auckland have studied a series of bones discovered in Chilean caves, and found that they belonged to a Polynesian chicken. Their findings have been hailed around the world as very strong evidence for Polynesian journeys to South America. Not many archaeologists or historians have been worried by the absence of the waka that made those journeys. Of course, arguments that the ancestors of the Maori did not reach New Zealand first, and did not reach New Zealand on waka, suit Rosanne Hawarden's worldview rather well. As I noted on Tuesday, Hawarden is a follower of Gavin Menzies, the bestselling pseudo-historian who claims that Chinese sailors discovered New Zealand on their way back from Antarctica in the fifteenth century. Menzies has proclaimed that 'Maori don't exist', and that the ancestors of the people who call themselves Maori were Melanesian slaves who were being transported on a junk when they rebelled against their Chinese masters, took Chinese concubines as mates, and settled in New Zealand. No epic waka journeys were necessary.

This morning I typed the URL for the Wairau Bar Mystery onto my computer, so that I could take a closer look at the similarities between the arguments on the site and the comments which have been appearing here. Strangely enough, though, the Wairau Bay Mystery seems to have disappeared from cyberspace. Perhaps 'Judy Neall' decided that the site revealed a bit too much about its author.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rosanne Hawarden's balls-up

Wairau Bar is a windy, inhospitable place, but it has been the site of some of the most important archaeological discoveries in New Zealand history. The long strip of gravel at the mouth of Malborough's Wairau River was used as a campsite by some of the earliest inhabitants of New Zealand, who appreciated the way that it acted as a natural trap for the huge flightless moa.

Alerted by chance finds of the bones of moa and humans, archaeologists began to excavate Wairau Bar seventy years ago. Decades of digs uncovered enough skeletons and artefacts to provide a detailed picture of the life of the ancient 'moa hunters'. The moa was wiped out within a couple of centuries of the arrival of Polyniesians in New Zealand, so the remains of moa-hunting settlements are particularly prized by the scholars of this country's pre-history. The artefacts found at Wairau Bar confirm the antiquity of the site because, like the artefacts left by the tchakat henu of the Chatham Islands, they remind scholars of the material culture of ancient Eastern Polynesian, rather than the 'classical' Maori culture which developed in New Zealand in the centuries immediately preceding the arrival of Cook. Wairau Bar provided much of the raw material for important studies of New Zealand prehistory like Roger Duff's The Moa-Hunter Period of Maori Culture.

But the tangata whenua of Wairau Bar and its environs never felt comfortable with the excavation of such an important part of their rohe. Seventy years ago, their complaints went unheeded by archaeologists; in recent years, though, their voices have been heard, and last month a team of archaeologists, museum workers, and members of the Rangitane iwi reburied scores of ancient skeletons at Wairau Bar. According those who witnessed it, the reburial was an emotional affair, which helped to reconcile the Rangitane community with scholars of New Zealand's prehistory.

One person who has been unimpressed with the reburials at Wairau Bar is Rosanne Hawarden, an Afrikaaner who emigrated to New Zealand in the mid-90s and has since become the chairwoman of the South Island New Zealand Association of Southern Africans, a candidate for the right-wing Independent Voice coalition in Christchurch local body elections, and a self-proclaimed expert on New Zealand history. Although she has no academic training in any relevant field, Hawarden is convinced that much of what experts believe about this country's past is false. She has become a disciple of Gavin Menzies, the retired British naval officer who claims that fifteenth century Chinese 'discovered' much of the world, including New Zealand, and insists that Maori are the descendants of Melanesian slaves and Chinese prostitutes. As the leader of the grandly-titled '1421 Pacific Research Group', Hawarden asked to attend the reburial ceremony at Wairau Bar. Hawarden appears to believe that some of the bodies being reinterred at Wairau Bar might have been those of the Chinese sailors who were supposedly the first people to set foot on these shores.

When she was denied permission to attend the reburial, Hawarden began to bombard people associated with the operation with e mails, and to post denunciations of the enterprise on internet discussion sites. She appears to have established an entire website to publicise her views on the subject.

Hawarden seems to believe that the reburial is an elaborate conspiracy designed to obscure the truth about New Zealand's prehistory and cement the status of Rangitane as the tangata whenua of the area around Wairau Bar. If the true nature of the bones were revealed, then Rangitane's Treaty claim would be in jeopardy:

The need to rebury the bones has to be seen in the context of this claim. The question "where's the money" always produces interesting answers and when one realises that $79 million divided between 4000 people is at stake here, the light dawns. Destroying some priceless archaeology to invent some ancestors may seem worth the price to many.

Hawarden's claims are based on a misunderstanding of the concept of tangata whenua. Like their Kai Tahu cousins to the south of Malborough, Rangitane make no claim to be the descendants of the very first people to arrive in the South Island. They took ownership of Malborough hundreds of years ago, as a result of conquest and the assimilation of some groups of prior inhabitants, and have been recognised as tangata whenua because of their long history of residence there. As tanagata whenua, Rangitane are recognised as guardians of all of the ancient skeletons which are found within their rohe. Hawarden might disagree with this arrangement, but she cannot credibly argue that Rangitane's status as tangata whenua would be endangered if the skeletons found at Wairau Bar did not belong to their ancestors.

Hawarden seems to find the very idea of the reburial at Wairau Bar to be distasteful:

Like cannabalism, the practice of digging up the deceased and having their actual skeletal remains on view for social occasions/rituals should have ceased. These are cultural practices that are considered inappropriate in our modern society.

What comments like these overlook is the fact that Rangitane are only seeking to rebury the human remains that were taken without consent from their rohe. They are burying the skeletons that were dug up by outsiders, not digging up bones and reburying them for the sake of it. Would Hawarden prefer that the bones from Wairau Bar remained lying about in museum storage rooms?

The website Hawarden has set up about Waiaru Bar is full of false claims about basic features of Maori and Polynesian history. Hawarden defies decades of careful study when she asserts that there is 'no evidence' that the skeletons found at Wairau Bar are 'Polynesian'. What about the classically Polynesian features of the skeletons, and the Polynesian adzes and jewellery buried with them?

Suggesting that the people who were buried at Wairau Bar may have been 'Taiwanese, Chinese, Indonesian, South East Asian, or Hindu', Hawarden insists that 'DNA studies have shown some New Zealand Maori groups to have DNA similar to some Taiwanese people'. This culpably dishonest claim, which has often been made by Gavin Menzies himself, is an attempt to misrepresent the findings of the series of DNA tests that have established a connection between the Austronesian ancestors of the Polynesians and the (non-Chinese) indigenous people of Taiwan. Thanks to these tests, we now know that the people who eventually became Polynesians entered the Pacific region from the coast of southeast Asia around four thousand years ago. It is quite wrong to try to use the DNA trail which traces the Polynesians' ancestors back to Asia housands of years ago to suggest that Chinese fleets arrived in this country in the fifteenth century.

Lately this blog has been witness to Rosanne Hawarden's wrath. In the discussion thread under my post about the 'Celtic' boulders at Silverdale, Keri Hulme referred to the 'Menzies wingnuts' who believe that the South Island's famous Moeraki boulders 'are ballast or cannonballs'. Hawarden replied thus:

Keri, it is advisable to get your facts right before trashing others or you make a fool of yourself, as you have done here by showing your ignorance of nautical matters.

No one at 1421 has ever claimed that Moeraki boulders were ballast nor will they. No sailor worth his salt would use round stone balls as ballast as he would very quickly sink his ship as the ballast rolled to and fro.

Can you please apologise to us via this forum for your error and unnecessarily abusive language?

Rosanne Hawarden 1421 Pacific Research Group

Moeraki is a small settlement on the coastal road between Christchurch and Dunedin, and the unusual roundness and smoothness of the boulders on its beach has convinced many tourists to stop and snap a few photos. One of those tourists was Cedric Bell, a retired British oil engineer who visited New Zealand for a relaxing holiday a few years ago. Early on in his trip, Bell read Gavin Menzies' tome 1421 and became convinced that the South Island had been the site of a forgotten Chinese civilisation. After discovering an ancient Chinese fort during a picnic in Christchurch's botanical gardens, Bell circumnavigated Te Wai Pounamu, noticing the remains of over forty Chiense forts, ports, and towns en route. Bell's findings were reproduced in excruciating detail on Gavin Menzies' website.

At Moeraki Cedric Bell gathered a particularly rich haul of evidence: he examined the cliffs near the beach, and decided that they were full of the remains of an ancient junk. Speaking to an unfortunate journalist, Bell found an ingenious explanation for the fact that these 'remains' consisted of little more than mud and twigs:

Mr Bell told the Ashburton Guardian there was evidence that a huge tsunami had hit the coast of New Zealand about 1422. The tsunami had been caused by a meteorite, which was believed to have landed in the sea south of Stewart Island.

Mr Bell said he had...taken material from the outline of what he believed was the remains of a junk. The material had proved to be burned timber...“I believe the junk was on fire, due to the meteorite, and was swept ashore by the tsunami,” he said. The tsunami had actually created the cliffs at Wakanui and further along the Mid Canterbury coast, he added. “The coast was probably just low sandhills before that,” he said.
Both Cedric Bell and Gavin Menzies appear to have decided that the famous boulders on Moeraki beach were also connected to Chinese junks. The Moeraki stones make several appearances in a long list of pieces of 'evidence' for ancient Chinese contact with New Zealand posted at Menzies' site. The author of the list suggests that the balls on Moeraki beach were man-made 'counter-weights to the hoist-sails of junks'. One set of boulders 'arranged in a very straight line' were 'ballasts' for the junks.

When the Listener ran an article about Menzies and his followers, it talked to Rosanne Hawarden about her role as the man's chief advocate in New Zealand:

Christchurch resident Rosanne Hawarden was “hooked” after reading Menzies’s book and has run the country’s voluntary 1421 research group for the past 18 months.

Seeing 1421 as “an alternative and coming paradigm”, the self-described Sinophile concedes that her 20- to 30-strong group are “just at the beginning of definitively establishing the presence of the Chinese in New Zealand”. Among their “mountain of work” is investigating the Moeraki boulders as potential cannonballs, or weights for treasure-ships’ sails...

We might be charitable, and assume that Rosanne Hawarden had not read all of the claims on Gavin Menzies' website when she insisted that 'no one at 1421 has ever claimed the boulders at Moeraki were ballast'. Presumably she will now get in touch with Gavin and Cedric and demand the excision of the absurd claim about ballast stones from her movement's website. It is difficult, though, to fathom why Hawarden would be offended by the absurdity of the idea that the Moeraki boulders were ballast, when she can entertain the even more absurd notion that these enormous balls of solid rock might have been fired out of cannons mounted on a fifteenth century Chinese junk.

The connections between the pseudo-scholars of the 'Celtic New Zealand circle' and the far right are by now well-documented. Rosanne Hawarden's response to the Wairau Bar reburial and a number of her other public statements suggest that her pseudo-scholarship and her politics might also be connected. In a statement she issued to support for candidacy in Christchurch's 2007 local body elections, Hawarden talks about how happy she is to live in such a 'civilised' city, rather than in her old home, which is 'unravelling' due to 'crime, pollution, and corruption'. Hawarden says she 'fought' for democracy in South Africa, but laments that 'democracy is no guarantee of good governance'.

In an interview with The Press last year, Hawarden expressed her reservations about democracy in South Africa in a little more detail. Hawarden explained that many Afrikaaners were fleeing to New Zealand to escape the effects of black rule, and that if 'Zuma is elected President' then South Africa could well face 'a form of civil war'.

It is unclear exactly what unnerves Hawarden about Jacob Zuma and his African National Congress party, which led the opposition to apartheid, took power peacefully after the implosion of that system, and has pursued neo-liberal economic policies during its decade and a half in power. Zuma's ascension to the leadership of the ANC owes much to black dissatisfaction at the determinedly business-friendly policies of Mbeki and Mandela, but his programme of increased government intervention in the economy and increased social spending is hardly revolutionary.

Some of the links on the website of the organisation that Hawarden leads might offer a clue as to the cause of her unease with Jacob Zuma and the ANC. Under its list of 'South African Organisations', for instance, SINZASA links to the 'Rhodesian Embassy of Thailand', which appears to be the headquarters of a group of admirers of the white supremacist government which ruled the country now known as Zimbabwe in the 1960s and '70s. The Embassy's webpage includes a portrait of Ian Smith, the
virulently racist leader of Rhodesia, and claims that the black guerillas who fought against apartheid in Rhodesia were 'communists' and 'terrorists'. SINZASA claims that it devotes most of its work to helping new Afrikaaner immigrants settle into New Zealand society. It seems to me that the organisation's leader has some work of her own to do before she learns how to live in a bicultural nation like New Zealand.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

It's hikoi time again

It's not often that the New Zealand Herald calls on its readers to join a protest march organised and led by Maori. I was intrigued, then, when I saw that the last issue of The Aucklander, the Herald's semi-autonomous weekly community paper, devoted its entire frontpage to an advertisement for the hikoi that will take place tomorrow to demand that Maori be allowed to elect their own representatives to the new Auckland 'Supercity'.

Other community newspapers have echoed The Aucklander's endorsement of the hikoi. The mayors of Manukau, Waitakere, and the North Shore have been photographed together wearing T shirts advertising the event. Pakeha callers to talkback radio have claimed that they will be marching on Monday.

On the surface, at least, the enthusiasm of wide sections of the Pakeha community for the hikoi is a little hard to understand. In the past, Pakeha have often seen the Maori desire for their own electoral roll as an example of a sort of 'separatism' that is unecessary in a modern, enlightened society like New Zealand. If Maori needs and interests cannot be served by representatives elected by majority Pakeha electorates, then it follows that Maori must have different needs and interests to those of Pakeha.

The 2004 seabed and foreshore hikoi mobilised huge numbers of Maori, but only attracted relatively small contingents of Pakeha, many of whom were left-wing activists. If tomorrow's hikoi draws large numbers of Pakeha as well as Maori, then it will mark a departure from the pattern of the past.

I think we can explain the enthusiasm of many Pakeha for tomorrow's march by remembering that the proposed Supercity promises to have drastic effects on Pakeha as well as Maori.

For many New Zealanders, the neo-liberal policies pursued by successive governments in the 1980s and '90s remain a vivid and unpleasant memory. The privatisations, cuts in social services, and corporatisation of the public sector which characterised those years drove up unemployment and poverty levels and fractured communities in both the urban and rural parts of the country. The longevity of the Clark government elected in 1999 stemmed in large part from the freeze it applied to many neo-liberal policies, and the election of National last year was made possible by John Key's strenuous denials that the party was still wedded to neo-liberalism.

Key likes to present himself as a 'fresh face' untainted by the politics of the 90s, but his Cabinet is dominated by the men responsible for policies like market rentals for state housing, hospital charges, and benefit cuts. Key's Cabinet also contains Rodney Hide, the leader of a party which is only too happy to associate itself with the worst excesses of neo-liberalism. As Minister of Local Government, Hide has disregarded the proposals of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance, which spent millions of dollars and thousands of hours consulting with Aucklanders to find the best way to amalgamate their local governments.

In the best tradition of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, Hide is junking the findings of the Royal Commission and attempting to bulldoze through a hastily drawn up proposal that will see major cuts in spending and services. John Banks' recent prediction that forty percent of Council staff will lose their jobs as a result of the Supercity has only confirmed the worst fears of many Aucklanders.

If non-Maori outraged by Hide's autocratic and austere plan for Auckland are able to join tomorrow's hikoi in large numbers, then a powerful coalition could be formed.

If they are to act effectively against Hide's Supercity, though, the grassroots protesters will have to prevail over their self-appointed leaders. The Maori Party's MPs have identified themselves with opposition to the Supercity, but their coalition with National leaves them compromised. Mayors Brown, Harvey, and Williams are machine politicians whose opposition to the Supercity stems more from self-preservation than any genuine commitment to oppose neo-neo-liberalism in Tamaki Makaurau. Tomorrow's march is being organised by Iwi Have Influence (IHI), and the wider campaign against the Supercity is cohering around the Community Coalition for Auckland. Hopefully both groups will develop a mass membership and operate in a democratic manner, rather than as mouthpieces for career politicians.

IHI has produced a superb poster to advertise tomorrow's hikoi. The group's anonymous artist has based his or her design on the iconic photograph of Dame Whina Cooper and one of her mokopuna walking down the dusty road out of the far north settlement of Te Hapua on the first stage of the Great Land March of 1975. By setting the marchers against Auckland's skyline, the artist has asserted the unity of rural and urban Maori, and the continuity of the interests of rural iwi and tribes like Ngati Whatua, Ngati Paoa and Waiohua, who together constitute the tangata whenua of Tamaki Makaurau. In his 2007 Oedipus Rex exhibition Enquiries , Manu Scott presented a powerful revision of the famous 1975 photograph. Has Scott been freelancing for IHI?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Another Menzies mystery: what happened to those catalogues?

There has been no shortage of reaction to my post about A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy, the exhibition of paintings and sculptures inspired by Gavin Menzies that was held recently at the University of Auckland's Old Government House. Well over a thousand people have viewed the post, and more than thirty of them have commented on it. I've received e mails from a number of graduate students annoyed that a racist fabricator of documents has been celebrated inside their university. Skyler received a long message from a senior academic who was angry about the insult that the Menzies exhibition represented, and who was planning to lay a complaint about the matter. The New Zealand Archaeological Association linked approvingly to my post from its news page.

It seems that the only people who haven't commented on the Menzies exhibition are the artists and administrators responsible for it. After I put my post up, I e mailed Tim Biggs, the Manager of Old Government House, and suggested that he might let me leave copies of it near the exhibition, so as to balance the views of Menzies and his devotees Brill and Young. I never received a reply from Biggs, even though his job is supposed to involve dealing with enquiries about activities at Old Government House.

Neither painter Pauline Brill nor sculptor John Young has responded to the criticisms of their art on this blog, although Brill, at least, appears to have been following discussions of her work closely. According to my handy Extremetracking device, a University of Auckland computer used by a 'p.brill' visited this blog more than a dozen times on Monday the eleventh of May, and many more times in the week that followed. I suppose Brill might have been reading my posts on EP Thompson or the Land Wars.

When I visited A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy for the first time two weeks ago, I took away a copy of the catalogue which accompanied it. The document included rambling and sometimes incoherent statements from Brill and Young, as well as quotes from Graham Menzies' book 1421. The catalogue also included a list of the four members of the Gallery Governors' Committee, the body which decides which artists are allowed to mount exhibitions at Old Government House. Both Brill and Young are named as members of the Commitee. In my post on the exhibition, I quoted the statements from Brill and Young to show that they were admirers of Menzies who had little understanding of the different between pseudo-history and real scholarship. I also suggested that the presence of Brill and Young on the Gallery Governors' Committee cast doubt on the propriety of the decision to give them exhibition space at Old Government House.

I revisited A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy late last week, because I wanted to get some photos of Brill and Young's work before it disappeared from view. Although Young's sculptures and Brill's canvases remained on display, the piles of catalogues which had sat on the long table where Young's sculptures were strewn had vanished. I spoke to someone who had visited the exhibition earlier in the week; they also reported a total absence of catalogues.

It is possible, I suppose, that hordes of enthusiastic art fans might have flocked to Old Government House early last week, and carried off the hundreds of catalogues the university had produced as souvenirs of Brill and Young's exhibition. I find it more likely, though, that either Brill or Young or one of the other members of the Gallery Governors' Committee removed the catalogues after realising how unfortunate their contents were.

Whatever its cause, I can't see how the disappearance of the catalogues for A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy ameliorated the shortcomings of the exhibition. Without the advertisement for Menzies' thought which accompanied them, Young's sculptures and Brill's paintings make little or no sense: instead of being clumsy expressions of a bankrupt theory, they become merely clumsy depictions of sailing boats and assorted ephemeral objects. If the artists and administrators behind A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy have chosen to respond to criticism with a mixture of silence and self-censorship, then they have merely compounded the blunder they made in mounting the exhibition in the first place. Surely it would have been far more useful to acknowledge and engage with critics of the exhibition, by placing material which balanced Menzies' views alongside the catalogue?

A couple of anonymous commenters at this blog have disputed my claim that the work of Young and Brill lacks aesthetic as well as intellectual value. (I was intrigued when one of these commenters described Young's work as 'tasteful' - I didn't think that word was used outside of Antiques Roadshow and Home and Garden magazine.) I've reproduced a couple of photos of Young's sculptures and Brill's paintings (click to enlarge them) so that those of you who did not visit the exhibition can see them for yourselves. I apologise for the less-than-perfect quality of the photos - Skyler's camera has been behaving temperamentally for months, and I had problems adjusting its focus.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Is it time to revise Anzac Day?

Timepanner has responded to my recent post on the semi-secret Anzac history of Drury with some thoughts on the lacunae of Anzac Day:

I agree that the events around the Land Wars here on our own soil should have more significance (and, in my opinion, they do) than those on Gallipoli...The Land Wars are portraits and painted scenes in corners of museums, a piece of scrimshaw, the occasional diorama...

I've been kicking round the idea of starting a campaign to reform Anzac Day, so that it commemorates troops who served in New Zealand's Land Wars in the nineteenth century, as well as those who went overseas in the twentieth.

If we really want to remember and discuss the wars that shaped this country on Anzac Day, shouldn't we consider Hone Heke's war in the north in the 1840s, the Waikato War of 1863-63, the long-running Taranaki Wars, and the guerrilla war between Te Kooti and his colonial and kupapa adversaries that lasted from 1868 to 1872? There are already monuments associated with these conflicts scattered around New Zealand, but they seldom attract large numbers of visitors. They would make good locations for Anzac Day events.

An Anzac Day which remembered the complex and divisive conflicts of the nineteenth century would be far less susceptible to the sort of jingoism and historical revisionism that unscrupulous politicians promote. John Key's absurd claim that Gallipoli was a battle for freedom which forged a New Zealand national identity would founder against great rocks with names like Rangiriri and Orakau.

Back in the 1970s some young members of the Maori activist group Nga Tamatoa tried to leave wreaths for victims of the Land Wars beside Anzac monuments during dawn ceremonies; they were usually beaten up for their troubles. Today there is greater awareness of New Zealand's nineteenth century history, and of the consequences of the Land Wars for Maori. I don't think the argument that the Land Wars should be remembered on Anzac Day would be an impossibly hard one to make, especially given the fact that Anzac history begins in the Waikato. A well-organised campaign committee could use the media, the internet and public meetings to build support for its cause. Even if the RSA and the government aren't convinced, a campaign could still resonate quite widely and contribute to awareness of and debate about our past.

Tell me why I'm wrong.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why I'm joining Tamil protesters in Auckland today

I just walked down Queen Street, on a beautiful Monday morning, enjoying the late autumn sunshine and the red and orange tints of the exotic trees that grow on the edge of Myers Park. When I reached Aotea Square, I encountered a group of my fellow Aucklanders who couldn't enjoy the pleasant weather and surroundings. Ignored by shoppers and office workers on their lunch break, a few member of this city's Tamil community were unloading placards and flags from a van, in preparation for a demonstration. I stopped to talk to them, and the stories they told soon broke my tranquil mood.

Last night, in a tiny area in the far north of Sri Lanka, thousands of civilians were blown apart by artillery and rocket fire, as the Sri Lankan army launched a 'final offensive' against a small group of Tamil Tiger fighters surrounded by terrified refugees. The refugees have been trapped for weeks without adequate food, water, or medicine, and without access to international aid agencies. Despite the pleas of the United Nations and a series of foreign governments, Sri Lankan authorities have refused to call a ceasefire and allow the Tamil refugees to receive the aid they so desperately need.

The latest bombardment by the Sri Lankan government is particularly senseless, because the embattled Tamil Tigers have said that they are prepared to surrender to a third party like the UN, as long as the civilians surrounding them are allowed to flee to safety. Embarrassed by the continuing condemnations of its treatment of the Tamil civilians, the Sri Lankan government has now apparently decided to 'solve' the refugee crisis through mass murder.

I talked to one young man in Aotea Square who has had more than a dozen family members trapped by the fighting in northern Sri Lankan. He told me that last night's bombardment by the Sri Lankan army had killed two of his sisters, and that he feared that a third sister had also been killed. I told him how sorry I was about his loss, but the words felt hollow. I felt embarrassed by the lack of interest passers by were showing in the placards and flags the Tamil protesters were holding. I felt embarrassed by the lack of response by non-Tamil Kiwis to the many earlier protests against Sri Lankan attacks on Tamil civilians. What has happened, I wondered, to the New Zealand tradition of protesting against unjust wars and racist governments - the tradition that gave us the campaign against the Vietnam War, the anti-apartheid movement, and the large protests against the US invasion of Iraq? Why, I wondered, are Kiwis so oblivious to the suffering of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka?

I asked the man who lost two of his sisters last night how long he planned to protest against the new atrocities in Sri Lanka. 'I can't stop' he replied. 'We can't stop. Our people are dying by the thousand. We will stand on Queen Street, and then go up to TVNZ headquarters later in the day. For us there can be no normal life while this goes on.' I said goodbye to him, promising to visit the demonstration later in the day. As I walked back up Queen Street, I no longer noticed the sunshine, or the pretty trees on the edge of Myers Park. It's hard to feel happy when you know that other members of your community are having their family members blown apart by shells and rockets. I hope that more members of the Auckland community will join the protests today against the atrocities in northern Sri Lanka.

To contact the protest organisers e mail

For more information on this issue, visit the website of the New Zealand Tamil Society.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

From Gallipoli to Drury

Every Anzac Day New Zealand's television networks transmit images of a solemn dawn ceremony at Gallipoli, that miserable scrap of the Turkish coast where thousands of young Antipodeans perished in 1915 to satisfy the ego of an ambitious young politician named Winston Churchill. Gallipoli is almost always described as the birthplace of the Anzacs, and it is increasingly cited as the cradle of the New Zealand nation. The poor Turks must be confused.

If our television networks want to save a bit of dosh next Anzac Day, then they could always send their camera crews and show-pony presenters down the Great South Road to my hometown of Drury, where a modest memorial to the very first Anzacs stands in the yard of St Johns Church. Fifty-two years before the fiasco at Gallipoli, Australian volunteers fought alongside the British army and New Zealand colonial troops in the Waikato War, which ended in the exile of King Tawhiao and the confiscation of vast areas of rich farmland by the settler government in Auckland.

Drury was an important staging post for the armies moving down the Great South Road into the war zone, and the memorial in the churchyard at St Johns remembers seven members of the First Waikato Regiment who never came north again. The men were killed 'fighting against rebel natives' at Mauku, an armed settlement a few kilometres southwest of Drury, on the twenty-third of October 1863. They included Australian volunteers as well as New Zealanders. The ground around St Johns holds some of my own ancestors, who all seem to have died in their beds, rather than on battlefields. I visit the churchyard occasionally, and I've never seen a single wreath on the memorial to the very first Anzacs to die in battle.

In its 1994 Treaty of Waitangi settlement with Tainui, the New Zealand state acknowledged that the invasion of the Waikato and the subsequent land confiscations were gross injustices. No historian of note seems inclined to disagree with that judgement.

The Gallipoli campaign may have been quixotic and bloody, but it can nevertheless be made to appear a noble endeavour, in which Antipodean soldiers fought bravely to ameliorate the blunders of their British commanders, and in doing so formed new national identities. By contrast, the Waikato War saw bellicose and incompetent New Zealand politicians forcing a reluctant British army to participate in a squalid land grab. It is hard to see how the Australian participants in the war were motivated by anything except the desire for slices of the fertile farmland of the Waikato. Yet the Waikato War cannot be reduced to some black and white morality play. The invading army torched and looted Pakeha as well as Maori communities. Most Waikato Maori communities sided with Tawhiao, but a few, like the influential Tuakau-based Ngati Tipa group, worked with the invaders. Both Pakeha and Maori troops executed civilians.

The war of 1863 had far more influence on the shape of New Zealand society than the farce at Gallipoli. By eliminating the Kingdom Tawhiao had established south of the Bombay Hills, the government in Auckland cemented its claim to sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand. The still-widespread Maori belief that the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed them control over their own affairs was brutally dispelled. The conversion of much of the confiscated Waikato land from market gardens to sheep and beef farms changed the economic foundations of New Zealand. Many of the grievances created by the confiscations have still not been resolved.

It is perhaps not surprising that Drury fails to attracts teary-eyed war tourists and TV cameras on Anzac Day. Like all of New Zealand's nineteenth century Land Wars, the conflict in the Waikato resists the sort of sentimental celebration that television presenters and tour operators crave. It is the very importance of the Waikato War which guarantees that the conflict is ignored on Anzac Day. Drury may be only half an hour's drive south of Queen Street, but the backpackers and TV crews would find the journey to the little churchyard at St Johns far more demanding than the jaunt to Turkey, because it is a journey that would require them to think seriously about the real history of their country.

The following poem, which is included in the just-released 37th issue of brief, is part of my own clumsy efforts to think about the meaning of that memorial stone at Drury. I've added the odd hyperlink to earlier posts on this blog. If anyone wants a more detailed picture of Wiremu Tamihana, the great Waikato leader who helped to establish and guide the King movement, then they should consult the biography written by the late and much-lamented Evelyn Stokes.

To Wiremu Tamihana

'As General Cameron's army pushed further south, Tamihana named the Mangatawhiri River as the aukati of the Waikato Kingdom, and warned that if it were crossed then war would begin in earnest'

Friend, it does not matter when
you disappear: what matters is
the fact that
your absence
Your absence

I see you standing
beside the water,
tying your note
to a plum stone,
aiming your musket at the smoke
where a forest takes cover,
aiming your words at
a toi toi rocket aimed
out of the haze -
I see you
firing, across the Mangatwhiri,
that border narrow enough
for a geriatric general
to jump,
that river running faster than
a frightened horse.

This is Wiremu Tamihana writing.
Friends, do not cross
the aukati, or there will be fire
in the fern.

I see the wind unfurl
your letter, as it clings
to a toi toi’s hair:
I see Cameron’s sentry squint
at the strange words,
at your handsome
shambling script:
I see him throw your warning
into the fire.

Friend, the fern is already
is fire - to the north
the smoke is persistent
as river fog.
Twelve thousand soldiers
attack the bush -
fern is fire, toi toi
is fire, totara
are fire:

Kereopa’s wife
Kereopa’s children
will be fire,
at Rangiaowhia, in a few months,
a few fires'

Jump the aukati, friend,
and you will see -
every frond of fern burns
purposefully, like a page
from a heretic’s book.
Cameron’s army lays
the Great South Road
with ash, with mud,
with fistfuls of
shingle. Bishop Selwyn walks
behind, blessing
the wounded, disposing
of the dead with prayer,
Christianising the ashes
with oak saplings, lime seeds.

Friend, it does not matter when
this bank of fern, that stand
of totara
as long as the fact
of their absence
Set fire
to the fern, defend
the aukati, withdraw
through the smoke,
stand at Rangiriri,
fight to the last plum stone
at Orakau, watch
the British burn that church down
at Rangiaowhia:
the fact of your defeat
will remain,
a stubborn triumph.

Do not worry, friend,
about the future,
the years that last
too long.
Even when a dam is laid
like a trap
between two hills,
so that this river dwindles
to a creek,
even when the creek’s tributaries are misled
into fields of potatoes
and maize,
even when cattle are driven
to the creek to drink,
so that these banks crumble
like the terraces at Orakau,
even when an orchardist’s pipe lies
like a fat black eel
on the bed of the creek,
draining its water as efficiently as lime,
until the creek is only a
meandering ditch,
even when the creek is dug out
and rerouted
so that it runs straight
beside a new fenceline,
even when the ditch is filled with garbage
and tarred over,
so that the Mangatawhiri flows
through a new suburb’s blueprint -

your border, our aukati
will remain:
the fact of
its absence

Note: the refrain in this poem is borrowed from Gunnar Ekelof’s poem-cycle Emgion.

Looking good

Titus Books has a new frontpage.

Friday, May 15, 2009

'A grossly misleading jumble of fanciful inventions'

The reaction against the New Zealand Herald's decision to present Martin Doutre as a serious 'researcher' continues. This letter* appeared in yesterday's Herald:

Celtic Theory

Six years ago, I did my own survey of a site on Maunganui Bluff, north of Dargaville, where Martin Doutre claimed he foudn evidence of a 4000-year-old stone-circle astronomical observatory.

My measurements and map plotting identified clear examples of misrepresentation of what was on the ground. I concluded that one of his photos was faked and that his claims of astronomical precision were wrong.

The site comprises nothing more than a random configuration of large and small stones lying fairly much where the volcano dumped them 20 million years ago.

Mr Doutre's claimed network of ancient stone surveying sites is just a collection of rough chance alignments of mostly natural features. My detailed critique of his work was published in two articles in the
Auckland Astronomical Society Journal, July and August 2003.

His work is a grossly misleading jumble of fanciful inventions and fabrications dressed up to look like careful science, and has sucked in many impressionable people. It cannot be taken seriously.

Bill Keir,

Bill Keir is clearly no stranger to the nutcrushing business. Besides dealing to Doutre, he's also made what is perhaps the definitive critique of Ross Wiseman's claims that Phoenicians once inhabited New Zealand.

As Edward Ashby has pointed out in this comments thread, Martin Doutre has lashed out at his growing army of critics, presenting them as 'politically correct' pawns in some sort of sinister conspiracy. The man's Christmas card list must be getting fairly short.

*For some inaccessible reason, the letters to the editor that appear in the hardcopy Herald don't make it to the paper's website - I'm trying, then, to reproduce them here. I'm not the most assiduous reader of the Herald - I try to scan it in the local cafe, rather than coughing up a dollar eighty for the increasingly limited job listings and the increasingly cantankerous columnists - so I urge anybody who spots interesting letters I've missed to type them up and post them in the comment boxes of this blog.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


My introduction to Ted Jenner's new volume Writers in Residence and other captive fauna has been republished at the Scoop Review of Books.

Ted's book was launched along with David Lyndon Brown's Skin Hunger at Auckland's murky but merry Fordes Bar on May the first in front of an audience of about eighty. Under the ever-watchful eye of MC Jen Crawford I spoke about Writers in Residence, the marvellous Olwyn Stewart introduced Skin Hunger, and Ted and David both gave extended readings of their work. Titus sold around fifty volumes, a stern but relaxed Hamish Dewe nodded in approval after each reading, Michael Arnold looked suave, Richard Taylor remained perfectly sober, Bob Orr stayed drunk, Ted paid homage to Skyler's cover design skills, and Jack Ross sent a package of 'good vibes' from Matakana, where he was holed up giving his own reading. Here are a few rather shadowy photos (click and squint to enlarge them) from the evening.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Paul Moon condemns the Celtic New Zealand circle

I've commented elsewhere on this blog about the curiously ambivalent attitude that pseudo-historians like the members of the 'Celtic New Zealand' circle have toward serious scholars of the past. The likes of Martin Doutre and Kerry Bolton claim that a 'politically correct conspiracy' of academics, museum curators, and Department of Conservation archaeologists is working to suppress the truth about New Zealand's pre-history.

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,
AUT University

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.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gavin Menzies at Old Government House: should Auckland Uni be hosting an exhibition inspired by a racist crank?

The University of Auckland's Old Government House has for many decades been an important centre of intellectual and cultural exchange. As well as providing a common room for university staff, Old Government House has regularly hosted academic seminars, debates, and conferences. Work by important New Zealand artists like Toss Woollaston hangs permanently on the building's walls, and many fine artists have exhibited there.

Unfortunately, a new exhibition at Old Government House makes a mockery of the building's history as a venue for serious scholarship and quality art. Entitled A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy, the exhibition consists of a series of paintings and sculptures inspired by the theories of Gavin Menzies, a retired British naval captain who has in recent years won notoreity for claiming that fifteenth century Chinese sailors visited New Zealand and many of the other islands of the Pacific, as well as places as far afield as Iceland, the Azores, and Antarctica.

In their contributions to the catalogue for A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy, painter Pauline Brill and sculptor John Young repeatedly praise Gavin Menzies. Young claims that Menzies' ideas have 'power and strength', and Brill predicts that artefacts from Chinese voyages to New Zealand and other lands will 'emerge in due course'. Young has sculpted impressions of objects associated with Menzies' theories, like the 'Tamil bell' found in the interior of New Zealand in the nineteenth century. Brill has painted a Chinese junk sailing in New Zealand waters. Neither Brill nor Young has studied history or any comparable discipline at postgraduate level.

Not everyone shares Brill and Young's admiration for Gavin Menzies. In his books and in his public appearances, Menzies has made a string of claims about Pacific history which have offended many Polynesians. In 2006, for instance, Menzies visited New Zealand and gave a public lecture in which he claimed that 'Maori people don't exist'. According to Menzies, Maori are not a Polynesian people who reached New Zealand in waka, but rather the offspring of a group of Melanesian slaves who took over the Chinese junk that had been transporting them and raped a group of Chinese concubines who had also been travelling on the junk. When Maori members of his audience challenged his claims, Menzies told them that Maori oral history was 'just fantasy' and that New Zealand historians like Michael King 'don't understand history'. Menzies has also caused offence in Niue by claiming that the people of that nation are the descendants of Chinese, and that the Niuean and Chinese languages are 'practically one and the same'.

Menzies is deeply unpopular amongst academics who study the history of China and the cultures of the Pacific. Though Menzies' books have sold well, he has not received a single positive review in a refereed academic journal. Many reviewers have complained that Menzies deliberately distorts the historical record and the work of serious scholars in order to make his claims appear more credible than they are. The historian George Wade is taking legal action to try to get Menzies' volumes moved from the 'Non-fiction' to the 'Fiction' sections of British bookstores. A large number of scholars have banded together to set up the website, which is dedicated to countering Menzies' falsehoods.

It is easy to understand the anger that Menzies has caused amongst many people. The man has no training in history or any other academic discipline, and he does not understand a word of the Chinese language, yet he claims to know better than all the world's historians and Sinologists combined. Menzies' first book has the portentous title 1421: the Year China Discovered the World, yet it was written as a novel, and only recategorised as 'history' on the advice of its publishers. Menzies' work is characterised by amateurish blunders and clumsy attempts to distort the work of genuine scholars of Chinese and Pacific history. In 1421, for instance, Menzies reproduces a map which he claims was produced by Chinese sailors in the fifteenth century, and which includes locations like New Zealand and Antarctica. But the modern Chinese script used in the map was not created until after Mao's Communists came to power, in the middle of the twentieth century. Menzies' distortion of the work of serious researchers is exemplified by his references to the DNA tests undertaken in recent decades to help determine the origins of the Polynesian peoples. Tests by dozens of academics have confirmed the long-held view that the ancestors of the Polynesians entered the Pacific from the coast of southeast Asia four or five thousand years ago. In both his books and his speeches, Menzies tries to argue that DNA tests have proven his theory correct, because they show a distant connection between Polynesians and certain Asian peoples. But Menzies claims that the Polynesians are descended from fifteenth century Chinese, not peoples who lived on the coastal fringe of southeast Asia many thousands of years ago. Menzies is guilty of grossly distorting the findings of real scholars in an effort to give his ideas some sort of credibility.

In his desperation to prop up his strange interpretation of history, Menzies has turned to some very unpleasant ideas. One of the worst aspects of 1421 is Menzies' attempt to argue that the Maori legends of a patu paiarahere, or fairy folk, are actually based on memories of a light-skinned pre-Maori people. This claim was first made in the 1970s by Kerry Bolton, one of New Zealand's best-known neo-Nazis and the originator of the idea that a pale-skinned people occupied New Zealand before being dispossessed by Maori. Bolton has propagated the idea of a 'white tangata whenua' in a stream of books and articles, and it has been picked up by a new generation of far right activists, the best-known of whom is Martin Doutre, the author of Ancient Celtic New Zealand and a leader of the anti-Maori One New Zealand Foundation. For racists like Bolton and Doutre, the existence of a pale skinned pre-Maori people means that whites are the rightful owners of this country, and that documents like the Treaty of Waitangi are null and void.

Gavin Menzies takes the idea that the patu paiarehe were a light-skinned pre-Maori people and adapts it by claiming that the 'fairy folk' were in fact Chinese. In a passage which Pauline Brill and John Young quote in the catalogue for their exhibition, Menzies claims that:

They [the patupaiarehe] wore white garments and also differed from Maoris in having no tattoos and by carrying children in their arms. Some married Maori women. I believe this local legend to be true and the first non-Maori settlers in New Zealand were not European but Chinese. The word Patu paiarehe has another meaning, namely fairies.

In reality, the stories of patu paiarehe have always been regarded by Maori as legends, like stories of taniwha, and not as accounts of a distinct group of real people. In a criticism of the misuse of the patu paiarehe myth written last year, the distinguished Kai Tahu writer Keri Hulme pointed out that fair-skinned individuals were sometimes born into pre-colonisation Maori groups, but that they 'were part of us, Maori, normal people...[though] rare'. Hulme condemned the appropriation of Maori oral tradition by misinformed racists as 'abhorrent'.

The past is an almost infinitely complex phenomenon, and the ways that we understand it are continually changing. Disciplines like history and archaeology are exceptionally disputatious, as scholars test different interpretations against the evidence. Universities should be places where scholars come together to argue with and learn from one another. Certainly, no university should ever enforce a particular 'line' on the interpretation of history. Equally, though, universities should be bastions of rational thought and scholarly standards. Gavin Menzies' complete lack of understanding of scholarly method, his contempt for historical fact, and his destructive and libellous use of the work of serious scholars has earned him the contempt of historians and Sinologists around the world. It is wrong for the University of Auckland to host an exhibition and publish an exhibition catalogue which celebrate Menzies' racist pseudo-scholarship.

It might be argued that bad ideas can inspire good art, and that A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy might still have aesthetic value even if the theories of Gavin Menzies are worthless. But the exhibition fails on an artistic as well as intellectual level. Pauline Brill's paintings are very clumsy attempts at traditional portraits of sailing ships that show no awareness of any art movement of the last hundred years. Young's sculptures resemble the sloppily joined trinkets that are offered to tourists at second-rate market stalls. Neither Brill nor Young has any profile in the Auckland arts community. The fact that they are exhibiting at Old Government House seems to have more to do with the fact that they sit on the House's Gallery Committee than anything else. Even if the ideas that inspired it were wholly inoffensive, A Stirring Myth of Conspiracy would still be an embarrassment to the University of Auckland.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

'Celtic' boulders and unbalanced journalism: an Open Letter to the Herald's Wayne Thompson

Kia ora Wayne,

I am writing to you about your article titled 'Call to Save Hilltop Boulders', which appeared on page seven of the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday the sixth of May.

In this article you describe the opposition by Martin Doutre and Russell Ireland to the proposed destruction of a couple of boulders at Silverdale by a building team. You give extensive space to Doutre's and Ireland's view that the boulders are remnants of a massive structure built by an ancient white civilisation that existed in this country before the coming of the ancestors of the Maori.

I think that your article seriously misrepresents the nature of Doutre's and Ireland's views, and the status of their views amongst scholars of New Zealand history and prehistory. You give the impression that Doutre and Ireland are credible researchers into New Zealand's past, when in fact they are politically-motivated conspiracy theorists with no credibility in New Zealand's scholarly community.

The misrepresentations begin with the caption that is attached to the photograph of the boulders above your article. The caption says 'ENIGMA: Russell Ireland says the stones served a fair-skinned pre-Maori society as a calendar'. The word 'ENIGMA' gives the impression that the placement of the boulders is some sort of mystery which scholars are struggling to explain, when in fact their explanation presents no problem to any geologist.

You go on to describe the views of Martin Doutre and Russell Ireland at some length. You cite Doutre's book Ancient Celtic New Zealand, and paraphrase its claims that an advanced white civilisation constructed a vast system of open-air observatories not only in New Zealand but also in Costa Rica, Mexico, and Bosnia. You repeat Doutre's claim that the boulders at Silverdale are part of a set of ancient structures arranged across the Auckland region according to complex mathematical guidelines. You also echo Doutre's claim that Maori legends of a race of fairy folk, or patu paiareihe, are a record of ancient white residents of New Zealand.

You neglect to mention that Doutre has no qualifications in any of the many academic fields in which he claims expertise, that he has never presented a paper at an academic conference, that he has never published an article in a refereed journal, and that he had to pay for the publication of Ancient Celtic New Zealand, a book which received withering reviews by a series of serious scholars in refereed journals.

You do not mention that Doutre's belief that a massive, highly advanced civilisation existed thousands of years ago in New Zealand is unsupported by the archaeological record, which does not find vast cities or the burial grounds of ancient Celts deep beneath our soil. You fail to acknowledge that Doutre's claim that the piles of stones that lie around Auckland are connected by mathematical equations rests on his use of an infinitely variable measurement called the 'geomancer's mile' - a measurement which he himself invented. Nor do you notice that Doutre has failed to find any Maori support for his view that legends of the patu paiarehe are actually memories of Celts.

You are also silent about the obvious political agenda which lies behind the research of Doutre and other exponents of the 'Celtic New Zealand' thesis. Doutre is an outspoken member of the One New Zealand Foundation, a group which opposes the Treaty of Waitangi and all forms of biculturalism on the curious grounds that whites and not Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. Doutre's own website includes many articles which rail against a conspiracy by Maori and 'PC academics' to destroy New Zealand. Doutre consistenly presents critics of his arguments about New Zealand prehistory as tools of this sinister conspiracy.

Like many of his colleagues on the far right, Doutre is anti-semitic, as well as anti-Maori: he has written articles for neo-Nazi websites claiming that the 9/11 attacks were an 'inside job' involving Mossad, and he is an outspoken admirer of the notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, whom he believes to be the victim of a Jewish conspiracy.

Your article does not allow a single historian, archaeologist, or expert on Maori oral tradition to reply to the absurd claims of Doutre and Ireland. At the very end of your piece you briefly refer to the opinion of Bruce Hayward, who is one of New Zealand's most distinguished geologists. Hayward has no doubt that the boulders at Silverdale were created seventy million years ago on the sea floor, and reached their present location by natural means rather than through human intervention. You give fourteen sentences to the views of Doutre and Ireland, but only two to those of Hayward.

It is not as though it would have been hard for you to find information on the nature and status of the viewpoint which Doutre and Ireland advance. A quick google search ought to have pointed you in the direction of a number of refutations of Doutre's work, as well as to the man's own website, which is so filled with absurd claims and racist rhetoric that it is almost self-parodying.

A quick google would also have brought you to a long and revealing debate between Doutre and his critics at the Scoop Review of Books last year. During this debate, which saw Doutre confronted by archaeologists, a philosopher who specialises in conspiracy theory, a sociologist of knowledge, and an expert on Maori oral history, Doutre revealed the full extent of his anti-Maori and anti-Jewish prejudice. After insisting that the ancestors of Maori lacked the skill to make sea voyages, claiming that Maori taonga like hei tiki and wharenui were actually created by ancient whites, and repreatedly denying the Holocaust, Doutre lost all credibility with the many readers following the debate at the Scoop Review of Books.

Your unbalanced and misleading article is an insult to genuine scholars of New Zealand's past and to the real indigenous people of these islands.

Scott Hamilton

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Why I'd rather eat soup than burn Starbucks

I'm afraid that I didn't make it to Queen Street on International Workers Day to join the 'autonomous black bloc' advertised on indymedia by somebody named 'bro'. I didn't notice any reports of insurrection and burning Starbucks stores in Saturday's Herald, so I assume that the vast majority of the proletariat shared my lack of enthusiasm for bro's demand that they 'put on glad rags and raggy rags and bring a mask and converge behind the anarchist banners and flags at Britomart'.

I did manage to make it to a May Day lunch held by the Auckland branch of the Tertiary Education Union (that's their logo at the top of the post), where I devoured several types of delicious soup along with copious quantities of bread. I'm not actually a member of TEU, but I justified my scrounging by pointing out that I'd helped Skyler, who is a delegate, prepare some of the soup. (I'm the only one who cuts onions in our household; Skyler often tries the feat but, being a vegetarian, invariably finds herself feeling compassion for the vegetable and weeping uncontrollably).

The TEU was formed at the end of the last year by the fusion of the Association of University Staff and the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education. The union represents a wide range of occupations on campuses, and while I downed bowl after bowl of soup I overheard security guards and senior lecturers engaged in animated discussions about strategies for forthcoming negotiations with university bosses.

I know that the TEU wouldn't be sufficiently revolutionary for heroic insurrectionists like 'bro' or Jared Davidson, the anti-art activist who condemned universities as cesspits of bourgeois decadence in one of his recent raids on this blog, but I think that everyday, undramatic activities like making soup for your fellow union members and engaging in long-winded but democratic discussions are more in the spirit of May Day than the antics of hyperactivists like 'bro'.

It's the mundane work of building and strengthening unions that prepares the way for genuinely radical actions, like the recent spate of factory occupations by European workers fighting to hold on to their jobs in the face of global recession. Over at his blog Sit Down Man, You're a Bloody Tragedy, the brilliant Owen Hatherly has been celebrating the news that the workers at a string of plants owned by the auto parts company Visteon have won their demands for a vastly improved redundancy package after a series of protests that included occupations.

In France, which has a far stronger labour movement than Britain, workers have taken to detaining bosses who threaten them with reduandancy. The tactic has become so widespread that a consultancy form is now offering courses for executives on how to avoid being 'bossnapped'. Factory occupations and other militant forms of industrial action cannot be created by anonymous postings to indymedia by activists who like to wear masks; they have to be based in the solidarity of large groups of workers. May Day should be a time to salute all the delegates and grassroots union members who are doing the unspectacular but vital work of building that sort of solidarity.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Malawi, Manhire, Mugabe - Ted speaks out

If you missed last night's launch of Ted Jenner's Writers in Residence and other captive fauna and are keen to hear the old devil speak, then you can tune in to this interview at the Internet Archive.

Late last year, when Ted was still fiddling with Writers and Residence, Muzzlehatch and I dragged him out to Muzzlehatch's dacha in bushy West Auckland. The first part of the interview, which covered Ted's boyhood and apprenticeship at Otago University, has somehow been erased, but in the fifty minutes of tape left we manage to discuss subjects as various as the crimes of Plato, the parrallels between George Bush and certain ancient rulers, the poetry of Bill Manhire, the philosophy of Heraclitus, the catastrophe of AIDS in Africa, the idiocies of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, the economy of Malawi, and the problems of conducting land reform in post-colonial nations.