[Over at Chris Trotter's blog, the debate that I started last week about the New Zealand Wars and the meaning of the Treaty of the Waitangi sputters on. Here's a comment I made about one of the most fascinating characters in our nineteenth century history.]
Charles claims that the Treaty of Waitangi was designed to subject Maori as well as Pakeha to the laws of Britain. He insists that the arrival of beneficent British law ended warfare between Maori in the South Island. But Te Wai Pounamu's last armed inter-iwi conflict - a bizarre and pathetic but very instructive affair - occurred in 1836 and '37, when the Treaty was not even a twinkle in Hobson's eye.
The south's last armed conflict was provoked by Te Puoho, a rangatira from the Ngati Tama iwi, whose members had been driven from their traditional north Taranaki rohe to Port Nicholson by the Musket Wars. Te Puoho decided that the iwi should make a new and permanent home in the South Island. In a series of meetings with dubious relatives, he announced plans to lead an army the length of the island, storm the trading and whaling stations that Kai Tahu had established on the Fouveaux Strait, and put the members of that iwi to work as slaves.
When more cautious members of Ngati Tama noted the huge size of Kai Tahu's territory, Te Puoho claimed that, by hitting the iwi's southern strongholds unexpectedly, he would 'skin the whole eel' in one stroke, and make resistance further north impractical. Kai Tahu would surrender, and Ngati Tama would be transformed from a small and landless iwi to the masters of most of Aotearoa.
Te Puoho won less than a hundred men to his cause. He exhausted his little army by marching it down the South Island's West Coast and across the Southern Alps. Eventually Te Puoho and his warriors came across a small and almost empty Kai Tahu kainga: they stormed its pig pen, and pulled up and devoured some half-ripe kumara. While they were sleeping off their exhaustion in a hut near the conquered pigsty, Te Puoho and his comrades were ambushed and despatched by a much larger Kai Tahu war party.
The story of the 'war' of 1836 and '37, which the young Atholl Anderson told in his 1986 book Te Puoho's Last Raid, reminds us of the changes that were occurring in New Zealand during the decade before the treaty of Waitangi was signed.
Te Puoho was both an anachronism and an innovator. His faith in the musket made him a throwback to raiders of the 1820s, like the Nga Puhi chief Hongi Hika, who returned from visits to London and Sydney with an arsenal of guns that he quickly tested in the territories of his iwi's traditional enemies.
By the 1830s other iwi had acquired guns, and what Chris Trotter calls 'a balance of terror' was achieved, as chiefs realised that new armed expeditions would likely be costly and futile. Kai Tahu were trading and interbreeding with the whalers and sealers of the Fouveaux Strait, and had accumulated muskets, money, and mana. It is not surprising that most of Te Puoho's relatives were reluctant to join his adventure.
The fate of Te Puoho's invasion shows us how anachronistic and ineffectual inter-iwi warfare had become in New Zealand's main islands by the middle of the 1830s.
In one way, though, Te Puoho was an innovator. During the halcyon days of the Musket Wars Hongi Hika had never attempted to hold onto the lands he attacked. Hongi and his warriors would float over the horizon on their waka, storm, loot, and burn a pa, and leave with prisoners, most of whom were considered floating kai rather than slave labourers.
By contrast, Te Puoho wanted to conquer and administer the whole of Te Wai Pounamu. He would put Kai Tahu to work, grow food to barter or sell to Pakeha, and become rich.
Although Te Puoho failed, his plan for Te Wai Pounamu was to some extent realised in the distant Chatham Islands, whose indigenous people lacked not only guns and any sort of military tradition. Some of Te Puoho's relatives joined with their fellow North Taranaki iwi Ngati Mutunga and invaded the Chathams in 1835. They killed hundreds of Moriori, and made the rest work as slaves on farms that supplied Pakeha towns like Port Nicholson, Sydney and even San Francisco with potatoes.
The society that Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga established on the islands they called Wharekauri was unprecedented in New Zealand history. With its mixture of slavery and cash cropping, it resembled, on a small scale, Confederate America or Europe's slave colonies in the Caribbean.
Only the confluence of a number of factors - the isolation and pacifism of the Moriori, the demand for food from Pakeha towns, the use of guns, which made large-scale coercion possible in a way that the traditional armoury of Maori war didn't - made Wharekauri possible. (Unfortunately, and for obvious reasons, conservative Pakeha have in recent decades tried to make Wharekauri into a symbol of pre-Treaty Maori society in general.)
Because the British Crown did not consider the Treaty a charter to interfere in Maori affairs, and had no interest in bringing British law to Maori society, the slave colony on the Chathams persisted into the 1860s.
The story of Te Puoho shows why the Musket Wars were petering out in the 1830s, before the treaty of Waitangi was signed. And the story of the society Te Puoho's relatives established on the Chathams suggests that, even after the signing of the Treaty, Britain had no desire to impose its legal code on Maori chiefs, as long as those chiefs did not interfere with Pakeha colonists and British businesses.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]