Should 'kupapa' be a swear word?
I understand that the word 'kupapa' was first used to describe Maori who supported the Crown in the series of 'New Zealand Wars' which began in the 1840s and lasted until the early 1870s. Maori fought on the side of Pakeha in virtually every one of the wars, and in some of the conflicts - the guerilla war against Te Kooti, for example - the great majority of government forces were brown-skinned.
Sometimes an entire iwi took the side of the government - Ngati Porou, for example, was an indefatigable ally of Wellington in the fight against Te Kooti. In other instances, though, tribes were divided over which side to support, and different hapu could wind up fighting each other. Most of the Waikato peoples took the side of King Tawhiao when his rohe was invaded by thousands of British and colonial troops in July 1863, but a few of them sided with the invaders.
Sometimes the same warriors fought for and against the Crown at different stages of the New Zealand Wars. Te Kooti, for example, began his military career as part of a pro-Crown army besieging the pa of Waerenga a hika, near modern-day Gisborne, where a force of 'hauhaus' had holed up. After being falsely accused of spying for the rebels and suffering deportation to the Chatham Islands, though, Te Kooti launched his own war of rebellion against the government in Wellington.
In the late twentieth century, the word 'kupapa' began to be used on the left to describe any Maori who was deemed to have a subservient relationship with the government, or with any Pakeha-dominated organisation opposed to the interests of Maori. The Maori cops deployed against anti-Springbok demonstrations in 1981 were sometimes called 'kupapa' by the protesters they fought; Donna Awatere was dubbed a 'kupapa Maori' when she joined the newly-minted Act Party in the mid-'90s; and now Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia, who sit at the table with Tories and have voted for budgets which cut taxes or the rich and slashed spending on community education, are being branded with the k-word.
I yield to no one in my opposition to the alliance Sharples and Turia have made with National, and I certainly have no problem with them being pilloried at The Standard. I wonder, though, whether there is not something misguided about the use of 'kupapa' as an insult.
The implication behind the derogatory use of 'kupapa' seems to be that Maori who supported the Crown during the wars of the nineteenth century were and are contemptible. The hundreds of Te Arawa and Ngati Porou fighters who hunted Te Kooti through the hinterland of the Te Maui a Ika, the warriors who defended the settler town of W(h)anganui in the battle of Moutoua, the great Nga Puhi rangatira Waka Nene, who fought Hone Heke in the Flagstaff War of the 1840s: all of them must have been deluded, or treacherous, or both, if they can be compared to the likes of Awatere and the Maori cops who fought the Patu Squad in 1981.
Few people on the left would dispute the assertion that the New Zealand Wars were exercises in imperialism, and that the victories Crown forces won on battelefields like Rangiriri and Nga Tapa led to the separation of many iwi from their land and to the cultural and political marginalisation of all Maori. But do the consequences of the New Zealand Wars mean that we can condemn those Maori who chose to fight for the Crown? To take such a position is to lose all sense of historical perspective, and to deny the rationality and agency of kupapa iwi and hapu. It also means ignoring the work some of New Zealand's most distinguished historians have done in recent decades.
Many late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Pakeha historians liked to counterpose the 'loyal' or 'friendly' kupapa Maori to those 'fanatical' or 'barbarous' iwi which supported 'rebels' like Tawhiao and Te Kooti. In his splenetic biography of Te Kooti, WH Ross presents the war with the prophet as a manichean struggle between civilisation, in the form of the Crown and its 'loyal' Ngati Porou and Te Arawa subjects, and the brainwashed, bloodthirsty creed of 'hauhauism'. The pro-Crown Maori had seen the light, and wanted to become honourary Britons; Te Kooti's mob wanted to wallow in an evil pre-Christian past.
Later historians have shown more subtlety than Ross. In his book The New Zealand Wars and the TV series that followed it, Jamie Belich argued that different Maori groups took different sides in the conflicts for reasons related to Maori history and sociology. Belich pointed out that the decentralised nature of Maori society and a history of inter-iwi warfare meant that, in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, many iwi perceived other Maori, and not the European interlopers, as their most serious enemies. Although some iwi united against the coloniser, others saw a tactical alliance with the Crown as a way to recover lost land and mana. A few Maori groups sided with the Crown for economic reasons. The iwi who lived near the mouth of the Whanganui River, for example, were doing a good business trading with Pakeha, and didn't want to see the newcomers driven away by the attacks of iwi who lived upriver.
Some iwi showed considerable cunning in their dealings with the Crown. Ngati Porou, for instance, volunteered to fight against their ancient enemies in Tuhoe Country, who had given shelter to Te Kooti, but demanded that the Crown supply them with arms. After their campaign against Te Kooti, Ngati Porou refused to return their guns to the Pakeha, and told the government in Wellington that they would use the weapons against any outsiders who tried to acquire their land. Ngati Porou's tactics helped them hold onto much of their rohe.
There are interesting parallels between the manoeuvres of kupapa Maori and the decisions of other colonised peoples to make tactical alliances with their coloniser. During the English Civil War the nation of Cornwall, which still enjoyed a fair degree of autonomy from England, sided with Charles I against Cromwell's Roundheads. Charles I may have been an incompetent autocrat with grotesque and outdated ideas about his divine right to rule, but he was prepared to tolerate Cornwall's distinctive culture, and the ornate, strongly Celtic brand of Christianity practiced there. Cromwell, by contrast, sent his troops to trash the peninsula's 'idolatrous' churches. In nineteenth century India the Sikh people were recruited in large numbers to the colonial British security forces, and played an important role in repressing nationalist uprisings like the 'Indian Mutiny' of 1857. Although Sikhs can be seen in hindsight to have been fighting on the wrong side of history, their alliance with the coloniser was not the product of foolishness, or simple treachery. As a small religious and ethnic minority subject to persecution from both Hindus and Muslims, they chose to throw in their lot with an external power. We ought to be able to recognise that, like the Cornish and the Sikhs, kupapa Maori had rational reasons for siding with the Crown, and that they do not deserve to be treated with contempt.
It might be argued that, as a Pakeha, I have no business debating the meaning of the word 'kupapa'. I think, though, that Pakeha have a vested interest in the way that the kupapa Maori of the nineteenth century are viewed in the twenty-first century. If we can create an honourable place in New Zealand history for the kupapa Maori, by acknowledging that they had good reasons for making what was ultimately the wrong decision, then we might also be able to find a way of remembering the Pakeha settlers of the nineteenth century without either celebrating or condemning them. It is certainly true that, like the kupapa Maori, many of the soldier-settlers who fought in the New Zealand Wars came from places - Ireland, Highland Scotland, Cornwall, the miserable mill towns of nothern England - which were assailed by the same economic system which made enemies of Tawhiao and Te Kooti. For Highland Scots forced off their land by the enclosures and mill workers suffering subsistence wages, the decision to emigrate to a new country on the other side of the world was not hard to make.