Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The white headhunters

The repatriation of a Maori head from a French museum has made the news this week, and prompted a few negative comments on the internet. At the New Zealand Conservative blog, for instance, the return of the head has been slated as an exercise in hypocrisy, because it involves a denial of the barbaric nature of Maori culture, as well as a denial of the enlightened culture of the people who colonised Aotearoa:

Another disembodied head is coming home and will be accorded due all honor and ceremony, honor and ceremony the erstwhile owner was not accorded in life. Who was he? Well maybe the boffins at Te Papa will be able to ascertain that, probably not.
Was he an important man whose head was taken as a trophy by some neighboring tribe? Or was he some unfortunate slave tattooed then killed so his head could be traded for whiskey, blankets and muskets?

Whatever the truth - even if discovered, the true blackness of the world that the head's owner inhabited will not be discussed nor the truth that it was Europeans for all their sins that put an end to the horrors of that were an everyday reality of that unfortunate man's existence.


Nobody seems to know how the mummified and tattooed head found its way into a museum in Rouen, the town in Normandy with the cathedral that so obsessed Monet, but the details of the trade in heads in nineteenth century New Zealand are clear. Warriors of many iwi had a longstanding tradition of desecrating the bodies of their enemies - the famous Nga Puhi warlord Hongi Hika, for instance, liked to rip out the eyes of rangatira he killed in battle - and many of them also liked to keep the heads of defeated enemies as trophies. In traditional Maori society, though, the heads of enemies were never tattooed. A tattoo was a sign of mana, and the heads of enemies were preserved so as to be deprived of all mana.

In the early nineteenth century the acquisition of muskets, first by Nga Puhi and later by other iwi, changed the nature of Maori warfare and the structure of Maori society. Iwi were suddenly fighting large-scale battles and, if they were successful in these battles, taking vast numbers of slaves. Warfare and slavery had existed in pre-contact Maori society, but they had tended to be relatively small-scale, because in a subsistence economy there was little economic incentive for the capture of swathes of territory and huge numbers of enemies.

In the nineteenth century, though, iwi were suddenly part of a cash economy, and needed to acquire muskets and other goods from Europeans in large numbers. Slaves were put to work growing potatoes and other cash crops on captured land, so that guns could be bought and conquests defended. Women were traded with sealers and whalers for guns and cash. And the heads of some unlucky slaves were soon being tattooed, beheaded, mummified, and sold to European collectors, ethnographers, and biologists. Ironically enough, the sale of tattooed heads helped to destroy the practice of male tattooing in many iwi: the moko had once been a status symbol, but it came to be associated with slaves, and many young men of high rank no longer desired it.

Despite what certain bloggers might say, the trade in tattooed heads can't easily be associated with the whole of Maori culture and history. Like large-scale warfare and mass slavery, the head trade was a feature of Maori society for a few decades in the early nineteenth century, when that society was being violently transformed by contact with European technology and a cash economy. Given how it was a response to European demand, we could use the head trade to condemn Pakeha as easily as Maori culture.

The complicated historical context for the trade in Maori heads has been discussed by a number of scholars - Michael King, for instance, deals with it in his introduction to Moko, the famous collection of photographs of tattooed Maori women by Marti Friedlander. What is less often discussed amongst historians, let alone the general public, is the way in which Europeans participated in the 'headhunting' culture of the Melanesian part of the Pacific during the nineteenth century.

The preservation and display of the heads of defeated enemies was a traditional feature of many Melanesian societies. Leaders gained prestige as they accumulated mummified heads, and some were prepared to acquire heads through trade as well as battle.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Europeans began to visit the island groups they named the New Hebrides and the Solomons in search of sandalwood, which was valued for its fragrance and the oil it produced, tortoise shells, which were popular curios in Europe, and labourers, who were needed to help establish sugar and cotton plantations in Queensland and Fiji. Some islanders willingly traded sandalwood and tortoise shells with European ships, and volunteered to work as indentured labourers in the white man's plantations; other refused, and found themselves robbed and kidnapped at the point of a gun. The term 'blackbirding' was soon being used to describe the depopulation of Pacific islands.

In the 1860s the American Civil War put the cotton farms of that country's southern states out of business, and led settler-farmers in Queensland and Fiji to try to pick up the slack. Huge profits were made as the farmers, many of whom had emigrated from the Confederate states and brought their white supremacist beliefs with them, used thousands of blackbirded islanders to work on their plantations for little or no return.

Eventually Polynesia as well as Melanesia was targetted by blackbirders: in 1862 and 1863 twenty-two different islands were raided by ships determined to supply wealthy Peruvians with domestic servants and plantation workers. Easter Island lost two-thirds of its population to the blackbirders and the diseases they brought. (I've blogged about my visits to Tonga's wonderful 'Eua Island, which was a haven for some of the survivors of blackbirding.)

New Zealand was continuously and intimately involved in both the blackbirding trade and the theft of natural resources from Pacific islanders. 'Bully' Hayes, the most notorious of all the blackbirders, was born in America but frequently used New Zealand as his base of operations. Hayes boasted openly of his 'adventures' cruising the tropics seizing slaves and raping women and girls, but he was never molested by New Zealand authorities, even after he sailed out of Lyttleton in 1869 and kidnapped one hundred and fifty Niueans to sell to cotton farmers on Fiji.

Many New Zealand captains and crewmen joined in the pillaging of the Pacific. In December 1869 the British consul in Fiji made a list of eighteen vessels involved in the local blackbirding trade; ten of them were owned and crewed by Kiwis. As more and more ships began to raid Melanesia, and sandalwood, tortoise shells and slaves became scarcer, Europeans discovered a macabre new way to acquire the goods they craved. They began to remove and preserve the heads of islanders, and to trade these heads with chiefs who could supply tortoise shells or sandalwood or large numbers of slaves. Melanesians began to differentiate between 'catch catch ships', which seized workers for the plantations in Queensland and Fiji, and the 'kill kill ships' which came headhunting.

By the late 1860s the Anglican Melanesian Mission had launched a campaign against European depredations in Melanesia, and the letters and journals of Coley Patteson, the head of the Mission and the first Bishop of Melanesia, are filled with accounts of the raids of both 'catch catch' and 'kill kill' ships. In a message written late in 1870 Patteson relayed news of a 'kill kill' raid which two of his own staff had witnessed on one of the Florida (nowadays Nggela) Islands group in the Solomons. Five of Patteson's Melanesian converts had taken a canoe out to a vessel named the Water Lily, intending to trade with its crew. At first the ship's crew had appeared friendly, but soon one of them had leapt into the canoe, capsizing it, and others had begun beating the islanders with oars. One islander escaped, but not before he had seen his four friends beheaded with tomahawks. Their heads were taken aboard the Water Lily; their bodies were thrown to the sharks.

In 1870 the British government made a belated and ineffectual move against blackbirding, by sending the HMS Basilisk to the Pacific to investigate the trade. The Basilisk's captain was John Moresby, the navigator whose name was given to what is now the capital of Papua New Guinea. Calling at the Melanesian Mission headquarters on Norfolk Island, where many natives of the Solomons and the New Hebrides were being trained as priests, Moresby was greeted with stories of atrocities committed by white headhunters. In the account of his journey published a few years later, Moresby remembered that:

One lad from the Solomon group told me, with truth in his face, that he had seen his own brother's head cut off by white men belonging to a schooner that ran down his canoe...Another...had seen five islanders beheaded by the crew of a brig...The heads of the murdered men were doubtless to be used in bartering for slaves or sandalwood, with chiefs who rate their greatness by the number of skulls they possess. It is difficult to believe such atrocities were common - but the evidence compels belief.

The bloggers at New Zealand Conservative would have us believe that the trade in heads was a symptom of the barbarism of the indigenous people of the Pacific, and that it disappeared after the intervention of the more civilised peoples of Europe, but this view is based upon ideology, not upon the complexities of the historical record. In New Zealand the demand of European markets led to the tattooing and sale of heads; in the Florida Islands and other parts of Melanesia, white headhunters removed, preserved and traded the heads of natives, many of whom were Christians. A minority of whites, like Coley Patteson, joined the many Melanesians who fought blackbirding and the trade in heads; a minority of indigenes supported the practice. As I've noted before on this blog, it is always foolish to try to make history into a morality play, especially when the role of hero or villain in the play is assigned to something as diverse and discontinuous as a culture or people.

36 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

so europeans put an end to the horrors of the trade in skulls...after first partaking of and encouraging the trade for decades!

hey...why don't the asses at nzcon also salute the heroic role whites played in ending the african slave trade?

12:56 am  
Blogger baruk said...

bit of a tangent:

i don't quite understand the horror we seem to have towards head-hunting as it was practiced. surely the 'problem' was the killing of people? i don't see how headhunter societies were any more (or less) murderous than non-headhunter societies!

7:34 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At least Conservative New Zealand is sticking up for WHITE people and WHITE CIVILISATION against the tide of multiculturalism.

Like Kyle Chapman and Right-Wing Resistance.

Long live WHITE POWER.

7:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://tumeke.blogspot.com/
2011/05/ugly-white-supremacists-
to-march-up.html

9:44 am  
Blogger pollywog said...

Nice one Maps...perhaps you could be moved to blog about this revival of another polynesian custom and the worthy cause they are supporting.

http://pollywannacracka.blogspot.com/2011/04/things-we-do-for-love.html

:)

11:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for the lost of a true bruder in the movement of ours. It even saddens me more that the shooter that killed this man may be the son.

For a child who is only ten years old, and should be in bed sleeping at such a time (4:00AM), to awaken and then procure a firearm and then shoot his father to death, seems to me that there must have been something going on that both frightened and angered the little kid enough for him to shoot his father. If that is the scenario, then perhaps this Hall wasn't the person who many here seem to think he was. This was not a "martyr" scenario, it was something much darker and sadder. For a child to kill their parent is not a simplistic thing to do. I believe that the child feared either for itself, or perhaps another family member to take such an action against his father. I'm going to hold my judgement over this, until more facts come out.

2:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS Internet wizzards should not engage in speculation such as the boy shot im becuase of abuse or this or that. We DO NOT KNOW.

One thing is certain, a 0 yar old shoul not have had acces to loaded firearm.

2:53 pm  
Anonymous wade said...

Only in the NSM would you find bullshit like this happening:


"Jeff Hall, a notorious white supremacist, was shot and killed in his Riverside, Calif., home early Sunday morning. Authorities believe it was an “intentional act” and his 10-year-old son is the likely assailant.

2:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ofifcial government of the Confederate States of America today
http://csagov.org/

3:50 pm  
Blogger Mad Bush Farm said...

Interesting post Scott. Good to see the head returned to New Zealand where it belongs. I'm wondering how the French guy got his maulers on it - but after reading your post. I think I can guess.

My kids said it should be buried and not stuck in a museum. They had a look at the photo - think it grossed them out a bit.

7:59 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Mad Bush Farm - where an iwi or hapu can identify a mokamokai/toimoko, the remains are buried. Back to the land they came from, where they should've remained.

Not to be censorious in any way but - your kids should know what human dead look like. Bet they've seen other animal dead?

8:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right-wing thugs using racist language forced Hone to move his meeting tonight at Auckland university, after university authorities caved in and cancelled his invitation.

A bad sign for the future.

11:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey what ahppened to all the comments in this thread?

1:27 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I'm really sorry about all the missing comments: they just disappeared! And some people have been trying to make comments in vain. It really is disappointing: a lof of the fun of blogging comes from making a post and seeing the response. I think blogger, like my ageing body, is beginning to malfunction!

2:30 pm  
Blogger Sherry said...

Trying yet again to post a comment here. Re: previous comment on Impressment (of 17th-18th centuries) I'm wondering which social classes were targetted and even which racial groups. Could give new meaning to The Pogues title 'Rum, Sodomy and the Lash'.

7:27 pm  
Blogger Sherry said...

PS http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressment

7:29 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - Blogger was down for technical maintenance for certain days.

This was an interesting and informative post again.

History defies a total knowing, and it is a mistake to over-simplify history.

10:18 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Thanks for that info Richard. My apologies again to Keri, Mad Bush Farm and the others who made in'erestin' comments and saw them airbrushed - hopefully you all realise I'm not involved in some grand conspiracy to doctor opinion!

4:22 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Bill Direen wanted to pass this message on, but was blocked from posting it:

Hi Scott. I still can't access Blogger. I just wanted to point out that perhaps blackbirding stemmed from the pressgang activities, a long-standing activity in British naval and marine-faring circles since the 17th century. "One of the largest impressment operations occurred in the spring of 1757 in New York City, then still under British colonial rule. Three thousand British soldiers cordoned off the city, and plucked clean the taverns and other sailors' gathering places. "All kinds of tradesmen and Negroes" were hauled in, nearly eight hundred in all.[7] Four hundred of these were "retained in the service."" Quoted from WIKI http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressment


I believe that Cook's ships had on board men who were press-ganged (if that is the right term). It had a basis in law, used to justify a practice that, at its most heinous, one might call "whitebirding"!


Cheers,

b.

4:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More anti-white lies.

9:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS Bill Direen is a PRIZE KNOB

9:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'PS Bill Direen is a PRIZE KNOB'

FFS

11:02 pm  
Anonymous Edward said...

"more anti-white lies" lol, anons are awesome.

Good post Maps. It's quite interesting the weight different people associate with these remains. I'm not sure how many times I've been told that they're the lynchpin to Celtic glory for example. I think it's good that these remains have been returned, the repatriation of indigenous dead is a post-colonial phenomena which is occuring with ever-increasing numbers around the globe. The Brits and French have a terrible track record for it too, so it's good to see the tides finally changing. To me, holding and viewing remains in such a way is not really much better than the cranks of this country would like to do. It is a shame that NZ conservative has taken a no-knowledge approach to commenting on this. I'm always staggered by the audacity of people to believe they hold sufficient knowledge to comment on things they've no knowledge of.

9:42 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes it's good you leave all the various comments on (I suppose barring some that would be illegal or extremely offensive). Given we don't want to be too "politically correct."

The White Racists are trying to whip up anti-Asian and anti-Maori etc feeling Maps. They have been stirring up prejudice and hate against Chinese, Polynesians, Indians, Maori and others. There is to be a big anti-Racist march against these fascists in few days. See Face Book.

These National Front Nazis should be suppressed. They are dangerous and obnoxious.

3:33 pm  
Anonymous Edward said...

Is this the rednecks from ChCh Richard?

11:15 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Edward - yes. I cant find the link I on Face Book now - I have trouble finding anything there it just seems lie a vast, slightly mad, visual noise to me!

But the leader is a really ugly fat guy.

6:22 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I see someone damaged some or the dendritic sculptures. I saw the publicity for them and that was my first thought, right wingers or vandals, or just some maniac(s) would damage them. And it happened.

6:25 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Damage to Rekohu dendroglyphs is truly sad - and a monument to really squatty wee minds who should now toddle off into midnight & never return-

I mean, seriously, what kind of sick fuqwit (aside from your inevitable hepped-up stupid adolescent male) actually can see any point in this kind of vandalism?

7:29 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Damage to Rekohu dendroglyphs is truly sad - and a monument to really squatty wee minds who should now toddle off into midnight & never return-

I mean, seriously, what kind of sick fuqwit (aside from your inevitable hepped-up stupid adolescent male) actually can see any point in this kind of vandalism?

7:31 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I don't think this is mindless vandalism, Keri: I think it is a faction of Ngati Mutunga striking back at Moriori. You'd need to be a determined local to commit that sort of vandalism, and by all accounts - including the accounts of Michael King and the Waitangi Tribunal - a certain number of Ngati Mutunga just haven't reconciled themselves to the Moriori renaissance.

11:59 pm  
Anonymous Keri H said...

Maps - while I agree with you, I also think there are enough visitors - who may have links with earlier invaders- who are likely to have committed these crimes. Not necessarily Kati Muhaka - just hepped up
white power fuqwitz-

tkank you again for having a wonderfully civilised site-

10:10 pm  
Anonymous jh said...

Ed’s F.E Manning the Pakeha Maori (your man on the spot)

"With reference to the knowing remarks of the pakeha who accosted me on the hill on the state of the head market, I am bound to remark that my friend Mr. — never speculated in this “article;” but the skippers of many of the page 59 colonial trading schooners were always ready to deal with a man who had “a real good head,” and used to commission such men as my companion of the morning to “pick up heads” for them. It is a positive fact that some time after this the head of a live man was sold and paid for beforehand, and afterwards honestly delivered “as per agreement.”
The scoundrel slave who had the conscience to run away with his own head after the trouble and expense had been gone to to tattoo it to make it more valuable, is no fiction either. Even in “the good old times” people would sometimes be found to behave in the most dishonest manner. But there are good and bad to be found in all times and places."
http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-ManPake-c3.html

8:00 pm  
Anonymous jh said...

"Warfare and slavery had existed in pre-contact Maori society, but they had tended to be relatively small-scale, because in a subsistence economy there was little economic incentive for the capture of swathes of territory and huge numbers of enemies. "
.....
there was an incentive to capture kumara fields and capture labour.

8:06 pm  
Anonymous jh said...

Like large-scale warfare and mass slavery, *the head trade was a feature of Maori society for a few decades in the early nineteenth century*, when that society was being violently transformed by contact with European technology and a cash economy. Given how it was a response to European demand, we could use the head trade to condemn Pakeha as easily as Maori culture.
......
references?

8:19 pm  
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