Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Islands sailing away

[I 'm grateful to be one of the first two recipients of the D'Arcy Residency, which has been established encourage the writing of long essays about New Zealand's cultural history. Beginning next September, I'll be hunkering down for three months in the D'Arcy cottage on Waiheke Island, and turning out a ten thousand word essay - the core of a book - on New Zealand's role in the nineteenth century Pacific slave trade. I've chosen to head to Waiheke towards the end of next year because I want to get back to the tropical Pacific, and listen again to the kava circles and archives there, before beginning my book.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the synopsis I sent to the committee that awarded the D'Arcy Residencies for 2015, along with some hyperlinks to posts on this blog that have discussed my research into New Zealand's slaving history.] 
One day in the winter of 1863, a strange boat anchored off ‘Ata, a tiny, reefless, rocky island at the southern end of the Kingdom of Tonga. Although it had spent most of its career hunting whales in the cold waters around southern New Zealand, the Grecian had recently been painted black and white, so that it looked like a man ‘o war. 
The Grecian's captain, Thomas McGrath, shouted that he wished to trade with the inhabitants of ‘Ata, and invited them aboard his vessel. McGrath was an Australian who had settled in New Zealand, and his crew, a mixture of Pakeha and Maori, had been recruited in the Chatham Islands.
One hundred and thirty-three 'Atans - almost half of the population of the island - took up McGrath’s offer, sliding expertly down cliffs, pushing through the surf, and climbing the side of the Grecian. They would never see their homeland again. McGrath and his crew locked the 'Atans in the hold of the Grecian and sailed to the northern Cook Islands, where they sold their cargo to slavers bound for Peru.
When he learned of the raid by the Grecian, Tonga's king ordered the evacuation of 'Ata, and despatched a boat to carry the remaining 'Atans to the much larger, more northerly island of 'Eua. In a clearing cut from 'Eua's bush, the 'Atans established a settlement that they named Kolomaile, after the only village on their lost homeland. 
Last year, when I was teaching in Tonga, I visited Kolomaile in the company of Taniela Vao, a lay minister in the Free Wesleyan church and long-time scholar of his country’s history. As Taniela and I drank kava, the inhabitants of Kolomaile told stories about the tragedy of 1863, and described their longing to visit the island where their ancestors are buried. 
The raid on 'Ata was only one episode in a decades-long slave trade. Peru had banned the importing of slaves by the middle of the 1860s, but before the end of the nineteenth century hundreds of vessels carried captives from scores of Pacific islands to places like Fiji, Queensland, Samoa, and Tahiti. The traffickers were often called 'blackbirders' or, more euphemistically, 'labour traders'. Huge and profitable sugar, tobacco, coffee, and cotton plantations were made from their labours. 
The similarities between the vanquished American Confederacy and the colonial plantations of the South Pacific were not coincidental. After the defeat of the Confederate army and the emancipation of southern slaves in 1865, plantation owners in the south were ruined. Thousands of them fled to Mexico, South America, and the Pacific and sought to recreate the society they had lost. By the end of the 1860s more than two hundred Americans, many of them former Confederates, were living in Fiji, where they formed a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and put new slaves to work on new plantations. Other ex-Confederates became blackbirders, and worked closely with their New Zealand peers.
'Bully' Hayes, the most famous of all the blackbirders, was born in America but frequently used New Zealand as his base. Hayes boasted 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... 
In May 1870 the slave trade reached the shores of New Zealand, as the schooner Lulu arrived in Auckland with a cargo of twenty-seven men from the New Hebridean island of Efate...
The slave raids of the nineteenth century are remembered by storytellers and singers in Kolomaile, and in many other Pacific villages, but they have been forgotten in New Zealand. No statue or plaque memorialises the tragedies of islands like 'Ata, or the sufferings of the slaves who landed on the Lulu. Many Australian historians have written about the importance of blackbirding to Queensland's economic development, but few Kiwi scholars have discussed our country's slaving history.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, though, New Zealand's popular culture was full of references to men like Bully Hayes. The raids that Hayes and his peers made on tropical islands and the battles they sometime fought with islanders were romanticised and celebrated in songs, poems, and popular histories. Louis Becke wrote bestselling accounts of the life of Hayes; WB Churchward's Blackbirding in the South Pacific appalled and titillated Victorian audiences with its gore. 
By putting the stories told by the people of Kolomaile and other Pacific communities alongside the forgotten texts produced in nineteenth century New Zealand, I want to view this sad and salutary chapter in our history from two sides. After describing the most important events in the blackbirding era and introducing some of the actors in the drama, I want to explain the ways that both the storytellers of villages like Kolomaile and the palangi writers of the Victorian era perceived and presented events like the raid on 'Ata... 
The slave trade of the nineteenth century finds eerie echoes in the twenty-first century. The Recognised Seasonal Employment Scheme, which has in recent years seen thousands of Tongans and other Pacific Islanders come to New Zealand and Australia to work for low wages without offering them any chance of permanent residency, has been condemned by some Polynesian leaders as racist and exploitative. In a television debate held during New Zealand’s 2014 election campaign, Hone Harawira characterised the scheme as a form of ‘slavery’.
In a series of articles that were published in the Sunday Star Times in 2011 and eventually prompted a government investigation and legislation, journalist and historian Michael Field revealed that the Asian and Pacific Island crews of some ships fishing in New Zealand’s territorial waters were being beaten, denied adequate food, and paid derisory wages. Field likened the workers on these ships to slaves.
When we realise that New Zealand was deeply involved in a nineteenth century slave trade, then the abuses documented by Simon Field and the restrictions placed on contemporary migrant labourers can be seen in a new perspective. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Jono said...

Hi Scott, you may be interested in the tale of Banjo, who is buried in the Onerahi Cemetery just down the road from Whangarei Airport. I came across his story while doing an archaeological assessment on the Pataua River, weast of Whangarei. I have copied the following from the report:

[Recorded archaeological site] Q07/580 was located on the north eastern side of the property on the edge of the Pataua River and overlooking an area of mangroves. The midden was 20m long and extended 10m up the bank above the water. The midden consisted mostly of cockle with some pipi and an even smaller amount of mud snail.

On revisiting the site J. Robinson noted that the midden was eroding and patchy, and stated on the site record that some of the material was associated with the camp of “Banjo”, an African American who lived in the area in the historic period.

Further research suggested that Banjo was from an unknown island in the Pacific and had been blackbirded and then abandoned in New Caledonia. He was found in Noumea and brought to New Zealand by William Aubrey, son of Harcourt Aubrey who was the first magistrate of Whangarei.

Harcourt, who lived on the harbour at Reotahi purchased the land on the northern side of Pataua River in 1885 and Banjo, having developed a friendship with the Aubrey children, came to live and work there.

An article by B. Collier published in the Northern Advocate on 5 February 1987 provides more detail about Banjo but provides no source for the information. The article states the boy was about 12 years old when he was discovered in Noumea, and that he may have been taken from the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) as a cabin boy. When Richard Aubrey took over the farm at Pataua he built a cottage near his own for Banjo. As well as working for Richard, Banjo ferried people across the river before the first bridge was built.

Both died in their early sixties within a few weeks of each other in 1933; Richard of a heart attack while clearing storm damaged tree fall and Banjo of influenza, or according to some, a broken heart. Banjo is buried in the Onerahi Cemetery."

11:22 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:01 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Congratulations on the essay opportunity Scott. You have written some excellent essays on here and in way your poems are almost 'essayistic'.
This may be a great way to spread knowledge of matters (such as blackbirding as related to NZ) and for yourself to earn money (in journals or online or whatever).

10:31 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

BTW I didn't feel 100% today (only a minor but lingering virus but leaves me feeling tired at times) so I missed the launch. Ted was heading up there and thought that you weren't going to read as proscribed, because of the contre temps. I suggested this was another Hamilton ruse.

A 'meeting' immediately took place by phone. Here is a transcript (more or less correct):

T.J. and R.T. then agreed that the said S.H. sometimes exaggerates etc etc T.J. also pointed out the difficulty of contacting said S.H. It was then mooted that there were various extenuating re that. R.T. mooted also that hands should extend out in the open fashion for the holding and vertically up-downing of (the usual palangi custom indeed, in lieu of a duel, but there was a lengthy and complex historico-legal debate re the legality and morality of duels which was eventually ruled out of order); but, to reiterate, the arms with hands open mutually extended method of concord attainment was thus suggested and was thus put to the vote and agreed, as both were at fault. (Much of the issue indeed, had become rather confused as per say the legal and foggy labyrinthine wanderings of Jarndyce and Jarndyce or as per 'The Trial' by K...)... It was (eventually) agreed by all that much had gone much awry. But not all lost. Further amendments were made as to pacific intentions (pun not intended, but it was noted that T.J. has connections to the Kingdom by R.T.) of T.J. who as to S.H. had 'gone past each other'. RT noted that he himself had 'put his oar in'
The meeting via telling bone ended with a general consensus of a need for T.J. and S.H. to come to a degree of amelioration and consensus in the light of the ongoing struggle. When asked to what R.T. was referring in this respect the said R.T. just muttered in his usual vacant but noisy way. The Chairman called a halt to the phone proceedings, ruling out R.T. as an old fool (but possibly 'on the right track) and T.J. intending to proceed to the P.N. launch. R.T. pleaded 'out of sorts' (but this was ignored as being too archaic). R.T. requested his copy (of P.N.) if indeed J.R. was kocher, and had included his (highly treasured) rubbish: and could or might the said copy be translocated to Panmure in a reasonable time. All, after much futile but fascinating Pickwickian discussian, concurred.

10:55 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks for this, Jono: fascinating. Are you still living in Whangarei? I'd love to stop by and have a chat the next time we head north.

Christine Liava'a recently published an article in the magazine of the New Zealand Genealogical Society about the Efatean men who were brought to New Zealand in the early 1870s. She was able to trace them to the Hokianga, and acquire a photograph of one of them standing on a hill between Omapere and Opononi, close to the flax mill where they worked.

I think there's a chapter two of New Zealand history waiting to be written.

7:20 pm  
Anonymous Latu, Paul said...

learnt about your research on facebook.
Thank you Scott for this thought provoking and exceedingly important research work.
I am of the Latu genealogical lineage and still tracing whether my Latu is connected to Isileli Latu. I live in Howick and will be very happy to have a chat with you. I am also tracing the Tongan slaves that were taken from Tonga during that period of slave trades. I am a student of Tonga history and I have some other information I want to share with you on email if you may wish to. my email is
I am just fascinated by the passion you have to study about the people movement in the past which may lead to, not only a revelation of some unust events in the past but may promote justice for all.
Malo 'aupito.

11:11 am  
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