Thursday, November 29, 2012

From Peria to Hobbiton


In the countryside near Matamata the remains of an old village can be found. The inhabitants of this village lived peacefully, growing crops in the fields near their cosy homes. But their lives were changed by an army of invaders.

The old village I've been describing isn't Hobbiton, the fragment of JRR Tolkien's Shire that Peter Jackson has constructed near Matamata and used in his adaptions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It is true that, in the world Tolkien named Middle Earth, the Shire is a peaceable agricultural society which is invaded and conquered by the evil forces of Sauron and his ally Saruman. But there is another, real-life village which stood one hundred and fifty years ago near the site of Hobbiton. It was called Peria, and it was established by Wiremu Tamihana, the Ngati Haua and Tainui chief who helped build the Maori King Movement.

Tamihana, who was also known as William Thompson, was one of a generation of Maori leaders who tried to blend the technology, religion, and cash economy which Pakeha had brought to Aotearoa with traditional Polynesian culture. Tamihana and his people planted new crops like wheat on their land, and built flour mills beside their streams, but they retained collective ownership of much of their property. They exported their surplus food to Pakeha colonists in Auckland on a fleet of schooners, but distributed the proceeds from these sales according to traditional customs and hierarchies.

Tamihana had founded Peria in 1846 to show that it was possible to fuse the best of the Maori and European worlds. The village was named after Berea, an ancient city which stood on the slopes of Mount Olympus. A meeting house sat in the centre of Peria, ringed by whare belonging to the different kin groups of Ngati Haua. Tamihana was literate in Maori and English, and his settlement featured a large school and boarding houses for two hundred pupils. John Gorst, a lawyer, writer, and aide to the colonial government in Auckland, visited Peria in 1856 and was impressed:

It was beautifully situated on a number of gentle eminences; on the summit of every hill were located Whares...each surrounded by its own little plantation of wheat, maize, kumara and potatoes...A Maori-built church crowned one height, the ancient burial place another...Thompson's own house, nestling in a grove of peach trees, stood on an eminence...On an adjacent hill stood a post office, from which Thompson despatched letters to all the Maori villages. In the valley below the village, a stream turned a little flour mill, where the dusky farmers ground their wheat...Every morning and evening a bell called this simple, orderly, religious people to prayers. I never saw a more charming instance of simply idyllic life...

Other Tainui chiefs set up their own modern settlements, and scores of flour mills were established across the iwi's territory.

In 1863 war came to the Waikato. After the Maori King Tawhiao refused to accept the authority of Queen Victoria and open his land for large-scale settlement, a British army marched down the Great South Road from Auckland, crossed the Mangatawhiri Stream, which flows into the Waikato River near Mercer and had been treated as the boundary between Maori and Pakeha territory, and attacked a series of pa. Some of the young men of Ngati Haua journeyed north, across the Maungakawa Ranges and along the Waikato River, and joined Tawhiao's army. Tamihana tried fruitlessly to negotiate a ceasefire, sending unanswered letters north to Auckland.
The invasion of the Waikato was commanded by Duncan Cameron, an old and melancholy general who doubted the justice of the orders he received from the colonial government in Auckland. John Gorst was also dubious about the war. In his 1864 book The Maori King he argued that by sending troops across the Mangatawhiri he and his colleagues had 'destroyed whatever reputation we had for benevolence or justice'.

Cameron was unable to control his soldiers, who drank, burnt, and looted enthusiastically as they advanced south through the Waikato. Even settler enclaves in the region, like the little town of Raglan, were ravaged, and after the war the New Zealand parliament was forced to establish a commission to award compensation to loyal householders and farmers who had lost their livelihoods at the hands of boozed-up troops.
The Waikato War ended at Orakau pa, south of Te Awamutu, where after days of near-continuous fighting Maori forces ran out of bullets, and began to fire peach stones at the larger British army. When the peach stones had run out Tawhiao's fighters and their families fled over the Puniu River into the region of mountains, forests, and caves that would become known as the King Country. For nearly two decades thousands of Waikato Maori lived in exile in kainga like Te Kuiti and Taumaranui.

Instead of retreating south with Tawhiao, Wiremu Tamihana led his hapu northeast to Maungatautari, the sprawling mountain that overlooked the Waikato River, where an ancient forest pa offered them temporary sanctuary from the invaders. When their enemies threatened to encircle Maungatautari, Tamihana's people escaped across the rapids of the Waikato by night in small boats.

Peria lay close to the edge of a vast tract of land confiscated by the victors of the Waikato War. Tamihana died in 1866 and, nearly destitute and under pressure from Pakeha settlers, including the wheat baron Josiah Firth, a faction of Ngati Haua sold the land the village stood on for a very low price. Peria was evacuated by its former inhabitants.
A year or so ago my wife and I went looking for Peria. We unfolded a map, and noticed the name of Wiremu Tamihana's old village beside a dot just west of Matamata. We drove across low hills towards the dot, and found a small reserve with a couple of old fruit trees - survivors of the orchards of Peria? - beside a row of large ugly new houses. There was no sign or plaque to commemorate Tamihana's remarkable social experiment.

We drove into Matamata, past a large sign that said WELCOME TO HOBBITON and a bad statue of a pensive Gollum. The Matamata Visitor Information Centre had posters and stacks of brochures advertising expensive guided tours of Hobbiton, but couldn't supply us with any information about Peria, or about other sites associated with Wiremu Tamihana.

It might seem odd that Matamata chooses not to publicise the story of Peria and its people. Wiremu Tamihana is an impressive figure, a visionary thinker as well as a man of courageous action, and events like the epic battle at Orakau and the night crossing of the Waikato have as much drama as anything Tolkien and Jackson have imagined. Why, we might ask, are movies not being made about Wiremu Tamihana? Why hasn't a replica of Peria been built for busloads of snap-happy tourists?
But there is an important difference between the dramas of nineteenth century New Zealand and the dramas of Middle Earth. Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit offer audiences an unambiguous battle between the loveable hobbits of the Shire and the alien, almost abstract evil of Sauron. Pakeha readers and viewers can identify easily with Frodo Baggins and his friends, and despise Sauron and his Orcs.

Learning the story of the Waikato War and Peria is, though, a much less comfortable experience. In the story of the Waikato War, the army doing the pillaging and burning is made up not of mindless monsters, but of men acting in the name of the New Zealand state. The place of Sauron is taken by the business and political establishment of Pakeha New Zealand. For politicians, tourism operators, and Pakeha film and book audiences, it is much easier to think about New Zealand as Middle Earth than as a society founded on and consolidated by war.

Footnote: Over the last week or so Chris Trotter and Giovanni Tiso have both written well about the 'rebranding' of New Zealand as Middle Earth. I banged on about the same subject in this lecture. The late Waikato historian Evelyn Stokes wrote a fine biography of Wiremu Tamihana.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Richard said...

I agree. I am not sure you would ever get as much interest. What is it people about The Hobbit etc. I've read the book. I enjoyed the LOTR films very much (and I will watch the Hobbit film which is based on a book I enjoyed also) ...but I am not happy with the hype ideology (and the anti unionism and misrepresentation of NZ) etc

It's part of the old white NZ drive to justify stealing the best lands off Maori.

It comes close to Fantasy racism - Ideo-XenoFantasticalism...

Will Jackson turn from fantasy? It is all about success and money.

NZ - far from being an idyllic shire (there are none in Britain now if there ever were) is heavily polluted and the history is deeply troubled.

10:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scott, thanks for this antidote to the Hobbit-mania which I can feel, even here in Japan.
Aren't you being anachronistic, though, when you talk of the land-grabbers acting "in the name of the New Zealand state." They claimed they were repressing a rebellion against the Queen (as you earlier point out) and they would have been bemused if you told them that their beloved imperial colony was the "New Zealand state."

1:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

NZ is a land of abandoned settlements.

4:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Victory to the Orcs!
A Russian scientist and Tolkien fan decided to write an alternative version of "Lord of the Rings" told from the side of Mordor. It has been around for years, but because of copyright limitations was not available in English until recently. Now an English translation of the Russian original is available for free online. You can download it

12:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

interesting comment from the Groan

28 November 2012 10:47 PMLink to this comment
Congrats to PJ and NZ for what, by all reports, appears to be a continuation of a great entertaining series of flix.
However, can I be an old curmudgeon here (apologies in advance). I spent my early years living very close to JRRT. in Oxford. The Middle Earth books were absolutely part of our British & European literary culture, not to say our late sixties counter culture, and firmly located geographically in our backyard as well. The Shire was quite clearly inspired by Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, not by any paddock in New Zealand. The skies evoked in the novel were dark and mysterious, not the sun drenched blue over snow capped peaks of New Zealand. The characters were based upon the Nordic and British historical cultures, not the polynesian or immigrant cultures of New Zealand. My grumble is that New Zealand had appropriated an inarguably British literary icon as a tourism draw, whilst apart from providing the standout actors in the movies, Britain has been sidelined by commercialism and cool Kiwi entrepreneurism. .
That said, New Zealand and Peter Jackson have created something to be proud of. But hey, New Zealand will never, ever be Middle Earth despite their enthusiasm. It is somewhere north of Africa, East of the USA and west of the Middle East.

1:21 pm  
Anonymous Keri Hulme said...

Aotearoa-NZ can NEVER be 'Middle Earth' - the mythologies are too different, even when remanents of those mythologies have been imported here (I have Orkney ancestry, as well as Lancashire forbears) and the earlier mythologies from here (and cultures!) are way too strong for this Jackson-generated* & Nat. government promulgated crap.

One cant blame Tolkien for Jackson's tripe.

10:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

8:32 am  
Anonymous yo said...

there are traitors about

12:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beginning in 1927, the Chimera began their attack on Russia. From the very beginning Russia's military was inefficient in combating the alien threat, especially in having human soldiers being vulnerable to the Chimeran virus. Russian scientist Dr. Fyodor Malikov worked on using Pure Chimeran DNA that he had discovered from the site of the Tunguska Event and created an experimental vaccine which shows promise in creating a resistance to the virus. The Russian government, desperate to stem the Chimeran tide, ordered many surviving soldiers to be vaccinated with Dr. Malikov's vaccine. The experiment initially worked, as the soldiers demonstrate a strong resistance to the Chimeran virus and were more effective in fighting the Chimera. However, some soldiers began to exhibit erratic and violent behavior. Gradually by September 1930, nearly 90% of the soldiers exhibited advanced mutations and severe insanity in which they became AWOL and banded together into small groups and roam the Russian countryside preying on other humans. Becoming as much of a threat as the Chimera, theses mutated and insane soldiers became known, and officially referring to themselves as the "Cloven".[1]
Though the Cloven did not physically change into Chimera, the psychological stresses of their Chimeran condition drove the Cloven insane. The Cloven were able to hold on to their individuality, though, and as a result have traits of both Chimera (inhuman noises, parts of their DNA, eating their dead) and humans (appearance, Russian dialect).[2][3][4] However, the Cloven have no known alliance with either group, and are hostile to both.[5]

The Angry NightEdit
On the day of their transformation and madness, known to the them as the "Angry Night", the Cloven intended to escape westward. Once reaching western Russia, the Cloven took over Moscow.[6] Their activities in the capital city were reported by survivors that they kill, cannibalize, and kidnapped ordinary people. For reasons unknown the Cloven only abducted women; however, these abductions are somehow connected to the "Leben Geist".[6] Following the destruction of the Red Curtain, the Cloven migrated to Europe and settled discretely in many secluded locations, such as Paris' underground catacombs or abandoned towns.[7] Furthermore, the Cloven later expanded to Britain by either hitching on refugee ships that were bounding to Britain or having followed the underground tunnels which the Chimera had dug underneath the English Channel during their invasion of Britain.[8]
Throughout 1951, the Cloven were beginning to be frequently noticed by the public due to their barbarous acts which includes cannibalism and gruesome remains they left in their wake. This caught the attentions of various human government organizations in which attempts in making contact with the Cloven further ended in violence. Throughout the entirety of the Chimeran War, the Cloven were rarely seen engaging in any conflict. However, it is appeared otherwise as a detachment of Cloven fought against the Chimera and were witnessed by British soldiers near Lancaster. These Clovens actually lured the Chimera they fought to York where they deliberately coordinated a conflict between the Chimera and American forces during Operation Deliverance, allowing the operation to end in failure.[9]

8:30 pm  
Anonymous Vaughan Rapatahana said...

Kia ora.

The irony of this is that the same racist underpinning accentuates not only the abnegation of Peria by the white man, but also the institutionalisation of Peter Jackson's manifold movies as further concretization of the white man as some sort of mythic heroic figure.

In other words, both are examples of pernicious and racist Pakeha bullshit.

5:50 pm  
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1:48 am  

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