Friday, February 21, 2014

Pseudo-history at the zoo

I hope that nobody reading the discussions with Tongan Mormons that I posted here last week got the impression that fantastic and politically motivated interpretations of the past are confined to the Friendly Islands. As the more long-suffering readers of this blog can attest, the sort of myths that my Mormon interlocutors were tossing about - myths of a white race settling Polynesia from the Americas, and claims about the bias of university-trained scholars of the past - originate not in the tropical Pacific, but in Europe and Australasia.

At about the same time I was arguing fruitlessly with my new Mormon friends I got involved in a discussion about New Zealand history at Kiwiblog, one of New Zealand's most popular websites. Founded and run by National Party pollster David Farrar, Kiwiblog has, like many of the most successful political blogs, a Janus-faced character.

Farrar is an urbane and relatively moderate man, who moves easily through Wellington's tangle of politicians, journalists, and senior civil servants. Every he day he gathers a few pieces of news reportage that interest him, salts them with some terse commentary, and posts them on his blog. Although Farrar is relentlessly defensive about  the Key government and critical of its opponents, his manner is generally polite, and his arguments are generally rational.

In the comments threads that grow like mushrooms on the soil of Farrar's posts, though, a very different tone and set of arguments can be found. Kiwiblog discussions are dominated by angry and often aggressive blokes, for whom Farrar's National Party is little better than the despised Labour and Greens opposition. For these inveterate commenters - some of whom use their real names, and some of whom choose piquant handles like 'Redbaiter' and 'gulagbound' - New Zealand is being perverted morally and politically by overlapping conspiracies involving Maori radicals, Muslim terrorists, feminist man-haters, communistic public servants, politically correct academics, and, frequently, the United Nations.
Kiwiblog's angry blokes seize on the tidbits of news offered by David Farrar like crocodiles seizing the meat thrown by a zookeeper. When Farrar passes on an interesting piece of research about the prevalence of religion in different parts of Auckland, the Kiwiblog commenters find in it nourishment for their theories about the Islamisation of Auckland and the atheistic conspiracy against Christianity; when Farrar links to an article about former trade unionist Labour MP Darien Fenton's youthful struggle with heroin, the Kiwibloggers take the opportunity to restate, in appropriately graphic language, the evils of unions and lefties; and when Farrar notes that several Treaty of Waitangi settlements have been made under National, the angry blokes go into overdrive, warning of a Maori conspiracy to ruin New Zealand.

Like a mild-mannered zookeeper impressed but also embarrassed by the ferocity of the creatures he feeds, Farrar keeps well clear of most of the discussions his posts provoke. Occasionally, if one of the wild animals he hosts become particularly voracious, or begins to sink his teeth too deeply into the flesh of the National government, then the zookeeper intervenes.

Although Farrar keeps up assiduously with political events in New Zealand, there is a curious timelessness to much of the discussion under his blog posts. When I revisited Kiwiblog recently after a year away in Tonga, where the internet connection is too erratic to waste on rednecks, I discovered many of the same themes being rehashed, by the same commenters, in much the same language. The Kiwibloggers inhabit a static, dichotomous universe, in which the manifold forces of left-wing evil are perpetually threatening, but somehow never quite overcoming, right-thinking New Zealanders.

I wasn't surprised to find a recent Kiwiblog thread about Treaty settlements quickly degenerating, in time-honoured fashion, into the recapitulation of myths about ancient white settlers of New Zealand and the extinction of the Moriori people.

Here are some excerpts from my fight for raw meat with the Kiwiblog crocodiles. David Garrett is, of course, the former Act MP whose ventures into Tuhoe and Indian history have been criticised before on this blog. Anyone wanting an account of the history of Pakeha misrepresentations of Moriori history should read Jacinta Blank's excellent Masters thesis on the subject, which can be found at Canterbury University's online Research Repository. I've blogged about the Moriori myth here, and written about Moriori art here.

Dead Right Kev wrote:

Chris Finlayson is a traitor in my books. He has no justification handing over the legitimate birth rights of all New Zealanders to a small group of Iwi elite via the corrupt Waitangi Tribunal on the basis of compensation. It is a disgrace. If there was a proper independent legal process to analyse these treaty scams based on fact none of them would pass muster. One day this whole fraud will come back to haunt the National Party…

Its time people removed their “we must settle any just and genuine claims of the past” tinted glasses and woke up. There simply are not any justified claims beyond the template grievance model manufactured by the WT industry. They are simply all lining up for a feed on the basis that “the other tribe got some so why shouldn’t I get some too”.

Kiwis don’t like what is going on and every poll related to Maori issues gets over 80% against. Is there a political party that will rise up against it? I won’t hold my breath. Which party stands for upholding property rights?

David Garrett wrote:

I would like to think you are right…but the youngsters coming behind us are now indoctrinated from about year 6 (standard 4) in “grievanceology”…how much we owe the dispossessed brown proletariat for what “we” have done to them…in 15 or 20 years, those kids will be in positions of power…already you and I and the sensible commenters here are minority voices in the wilderness…think what it will be like in 20 years?

Ben Dover wrote:

Let’s see Rat DNA that pre dates Polynesian settlement two distinct breed of “Native Dog” Hmmmmm so who were they? Kupe having red hair in polynesian records? All sorts of references all through their oral records of the Patupaiarehe, also referred to as Turehu, Ngati Hotu and Urukehu (red heads), were said to live in large guarded communities. Yeah no kidding. How much DNA evidence was left of the Mori Ori – who were proto polynesian? What 1 or two survive – if you didn't know what actually happened there the DNA would not tell you the story exterminated DNA does not live to tell a story does it.

Scott wrote:

I suspect there is quite a bit of DNA evidence left, Ben, since there are over nine hundred Moriori living in New Zealand, according to the 2006 census. If you find yourself in Rekohu you could always visit their marae, and if you’re in Auckland you could go down to Clendon Park and watch their softball team play most summer weekends.

The irony is that the Treaty and the Tribunal you’re trying in your blundering way to criticise actually gave the Moriori some of their land and fisheries back, one hundred and seventy years after the Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama invasion. Go and read the Tribunal’s 2002 Rekohu Report. And Moriori were thought in the nineteenth century to be Melanesian, not proto-Polynesian. The academic view changed after HD Skinner visited the Chathams in the twenties and took measurements of bones, collected artefacts and words, and noted the obviously Polynesian nature of Moriori culture and physiology.

Jack5 wrote:

Yet the Taranaki Maori invasion of the Chathams, and their brutal genocide of the Moriori occurred before the Treaty of Waitangi, though apparently the Maori invaders retained Moriori slaves well after the treaty. So the non-Maori majority in New Zealand paid the lion’s share of reparations for pre-treaty genocide by Maori.

The Tribunal also concluded that “Moriori were Maori, of the same Polynesian stock, but a unique tribe through the development of a distinctive culture as a result of their isolation”.So the Tribunal made mainly non-Maori pay for tribal warfare by Maori before the Treaty! If the British had landed troops in the Chathams in 1840 and freed the Moriori slaves and seized land to return it to Moriori, doubtless at the cost of many dead Taranaki Maori (the Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga), New Zealand non-Maori would now be paying reparations for the confiscation of the Taranaki Maori invaders’ land.

Scott wrote:

The Moriori who took their case to the Waitangi Tribunal argued that the Crown colluded in the Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama occupation and genocide by first failing to intervene after 1840, when they allegedly had a legal responsibility under the Treaty to protect Moriori, and then awarding virtually all of the land on Rekohu to those groups, and thereby rubber stamping the dispossession of the Maori.

I don’t know that the Crown had much influence in Northland, let alone the Chathams, in 1840, but I can certainly see how Moriori might be bitter about the way the 1868 – 1874 Land Court hearings ended in the rubber stamping of the Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama occupation, and the provision of only a few acres of swampy land for the remnant of the Moriori population. That decision probably guaranteed that the decline of the Moriori would continue.

Barry Barclay’s film Feathers of the Peace gives a very interesting account of the whole process of Moriori enslavement and the collusion of the Crown with Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama. Ironically, by the time the Crown got round to deciding who owned what land on the Chathams, both those iwi had been won over to the pacifism of Te Whiti, and were riding round the islands wearing white feathers. Barclay suggests that the Crown approved the dispossession of Moriori because it was worried that, if they had the land they had occupied were taken from them, Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama would head back to Taranaki and make trouble there with Te Whiti.

I think Chathams history is fascinating because it turns the pattern of the rest of New Zealand history upside down. In the Chathams Maori were the third people on the scene, not the first, and they played the role of the coloniser rather than the colonised. Reading about the Chathams is like reading an alternate history novel. I think that a lot of British historians are fascinated by the World War Two history of the Channel Islands for a somewhat similar reason. As the only part of Britain to be conquered by the Nazis, it lets us explore a lot of ‘what ifs’.

The group of Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama that invaded the Chathams in1835 had been pushed out of Taranaki by the inter-iwi Musket Wars. The Musket Wars, and the tremendous upheaval of Maori society those wars were both caused and influenced by, have to be understood as the necessary background to the invasion of Rekohu.

Iwi like Ngati Mutnga needed guns to survive, and to get guns they needed cash, which they could only acquire by offering agricultural goods and other primary produce to the new palangi settlements in the Pacific. To grow sufficient quantities of crops like potatoes they needed slaves in unprecedented numbers. After taking Rekohu and enslaving the Moriori, Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama exported potatoes in very large quantities to Wellington, Sydney, and even San Francisco. So the invasion of Rekohu has to be set in the context of the explosive impact of modernity on early nineteenth century New Zealand. That’s why I disagree with Paul Moon when he characterises the Musket Wars and events like the invasion of Rekohu as windows into pre-contact Maori culture.
King’s book Moriori: a people rediscovered is possibly, along with his biography of Te Puea, the best thing he ever did, and an essential introduction to the history of the Chathams/Rekohu/Wharekauri. He does a fine job of synthesising and explaining in plain terms the masses of research on Moriori and Chathams history by people like Skinner and the team of archaeologists who dug the islands up in the seventies. It’s a pity that so many Pakeha, including Ben Dover, still haven’t gotten their heads around the fact that the Moriori are a living Polynesian people, decades after the publication of King’s book.

Ben Dover wrote:

No if there were small populations of white people – how do you fancy their chances and given the fact we know the moriori existed you could barely prove that scientifically could you what is left – some carvings…So now like the NZ racist you are you expect us to accept that what happened in the Chathams is OK So what you are saying is because they are polynesia the Farming of them like Sheep for Food for cannibalism is ok You people twist everything anyones SAYS to YOUR OWN AGENDAPolynesian OR NOT They lived a life style that was more advanced than BOTH MAORI and PAKEHA THAT IS THE TRUTH THAT YOU DO NOT WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW isn’t it

Adze wrote:

The genocide in the Chathams seems very rarely mentioned in public discourse except in the most mitigating of language; that it was an occupation and not a true genocide, that some Pakeha were involved (so it was mostly their fault), and so on.
By contrast, I spent much of my early life assuming that some dreadful massacre must have taken place at Parihaka. I still remember Tariana Turia in parliament referring to the event as a holocaust. Yet it was only later I discovered what actually took place; still an atrocity, to be sure. But if we were to compare the two events, I’m not sure their respective treatment in public consciousness has been proportionate.

Scott wrote:

I think the controversy over the notion of a Taranaki holocaust offers an interesting example of the way history can become overly politicised, and debate about the past can go down a blind alley.

If I remember rightly, the Waitangi Tribunal published a report on Taranaki which characterised the destruction of Parihaka and its aftermath – the sequence of events that included the confiscation of land, the evictions of Te Whiti’s followers from their homes, the imprisonment of many Taranaki Maori in the South Island, where they were held in bad conditions and suffered a high mortality rate, and the marginalisation of Taranaki Maori in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – as a ‘Holocaust’. The Tribunal’s use of this word was controversial, and Tariana Turia attracted criticism from her own Labour colleagues when she defended it.

I can certainly appreciate the argument that the word ‘holocaust’ overstates what happened in Taranaki to Te Whiti’s supporters. If we treat holocaust as a synonym for genocide, and define genocide as the organised attempt to wipe an ethnic group off the map, or even the pursuit of policies which have as their inevitable result the wiping of a people off the map, then the Tribunal seems to have made a mistake. We can say that without denying the injustice at Parihaka and the cruel treatment of Te Whiti’s supporters (I visited the damp and cold cave in Dunedin where many of them were kept: it was a sad experience).

Unfortunately, Maori-bashing politicians have tended not to make a responsible counterargument to the Tribunal’s and Turia’s points, but have instead accused them of saying that the Crown attack on Parihaka – that is, the operation by state forces that saw Te Whiti and other arrested and the settlement destroyed - was itself a ‘holocaust’. Since it is a fact that nobody died during this attack – there was burning and looting but no killing – the effect of this distortion is to make Turia and the Tribunal seem either ill-informed or duplicitous. The whole ‘Turia said that the raid on Parihaka was a holocaust’ line has developed a life of its own, and turns up often on conservative blogs. It’s sad that public discourse on New Zealand history so often follows this kind of road to nowhere.

Ben Dover wrote:

If you people really are interested in these things and polynesian history read the journals of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and all the reference to  Red Haired Gingas Sailing the Pacific slowly being edited out of NZ oral History (and worse denied)…People who are eaten – like the moriori leave little or no trace of DNA – DO they…

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Blogger Ray said...

Dirty work but some one has to try and educate these fools
Well done

12:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

evyr nation has its traitors

2:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dumb and dumber...

Kennewick Man descendant of Moriori and possibly Ainu

3:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quote from one of the morons on that site

Be aware that the Maoris are thought to have been in New Zealand for only 1000 years or so. Previous to that, there was, apparently, tribes of white people (not neccessarily European) in New Zealand who were wiped out by the ruthless Maori. Who btw follow their gene lineage directly to the indigenous peoples of not the Hun Chinese...the original Taiwanese.

Humans are certainly a mixed up lot.

Then theres the Alien tampering

holy fuck

3:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ben Dover...

7:14 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

You are navigating through rough seas there Maps!

Did you read Matthews book on the NZ Wars? I thought it was very good. (I read most of it but had to return it to the library).

First of all the reality is that the Chatham Islanders were Polynesian. I think also I read that Moriori was came via Maori. If Maori is pronounced in certain ways it sounds like Moiriori, as many English names can shift their spelling due to what is called the phonetic shift or is it the vowel shift?

"Holocaust" was an exaggeration but the whole history of the NZ Wars is complex as Matthew points out with some Maori supporting Pakeha settler or the Government and other tribes assisting the settlers for various reasons.

Cameron gave his resignation while still on duty (according to Matthews the only British general to do so, as he was in dispute with Governor Gray: Cameron felt that the actions of taking more land off Maori in South Taranaki was quite wrong hence he soon resigned.)

I must read that book by King on the Moriori one day.

Rember that Smithyman poem...

I can see how people get angry though about these issues, but at least, while you have one fellow worrying he is a Chink or something - some people see the Chinese as kind of myopic, over polite, and unmanly or rather bizarre (in that they dress well and don't go around king hitting people, nor are they so keen on various violent crimes, and they dress well by and large) so they prefer a more "aristocratic" lineage!

But Ben can always say he is related to the people who made the first books, invented gunpowder, have had a civilization for about 3000 years and so on...

I am quite happy to assert I am descended from the Big Bang, or from whatever kicked it all into being if it ever "started" anywhere...

10:22 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good piece here:

1:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


4:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Breaking news, a hair from the head of Peter William's head and a piece of Keith Quinn's brain, both from TVNZ, were recently carbon dated indicating that two thousand years ago they were running around naked and were undoubtedly the first humans to inhabit New Zealand. Apparently, Keth Quinn used to refer to the dinosaurs as The Big Popos.

5:04 pm  
Blogger Liz Clark said...

The Pseudo-historians will always try to come up with a story to explain what they don't have the evidence for. Thanks Scott for an always interesting read

7:46 am  
Blogger Rachel Fenton said...

Nothing like the comments thread form to get a debate going - really enjoyed reading this, Scott - great points, well argued.

11:11 pm  

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