Saturday, February 27, 2016

Who speaks for Ruatoria?

A couple of weeks ago I included Ngati Dread, Angus Gillies' three volume account of the murderous clashes between Rastafarians, conservative farmers, and cops in 1980s Ruatoria, in my list of great New Zealand works of non-fiction. 

Ngati Dread took a decade to research, and includes long, often unexpurgated interviews with numerous survivors of the violence of the '80s, as well as many pages lifted from court transcripts. 

Steve Braunias read Ngati Dread, and was excited enough to celebrate it over at The Spinoff. Braunias did a long and fascinating interview with Gillies, commissioned a review of Ngati Dread by Talia Marshall, and ran an excerpt from the book's first volume. 

As Braunias concedes in a new post at The Spinoff, though, not everyone shares his enthusiasm for Ngati Dread. In a series of messages to Braunias, the Ruatorian Kiri Dell questioned Gillies' probity and prose style, complaining that:

Clearly this whole thing lacks a concern about people and is a focus on book sales...This is not your story to tell, it is our story. These books are terribly written and the interview skills weak, bias and leading...Why do white people write about us? Ask yourself Angus, who are you serving by writing these books? 

Braunias had commissioned a piece about twenty-first century Ruatoria, but its unnamed author got cold feet, explaining that: 

I've seen a range of reactions from locals to the Angus interview, some negative but some less so. I'm not sure it's culturally insensitive - just basic human dignity insensitive and unethical, it's really no one else's story to tell, so if the community doesn't want to tell it, then leave it alone until they are ready to share it - or not.  

Here's a comment that I left at The Spinoff

According to the anonymous writer who withdrew a piece from The Spinoff, the story of the Rasta uprising of the 1980s should only be told when 'the community' of Ruatoria and surrounding areas is 'ready' to tell it. According to Kiri Dell, the Ruatoria community should be able to be able to tell its own story, 'in its own words' and from 'its own eyes'. 

Both of these comments imply that the community of Ruatoria has a single perspective on the past, and a single way of talking about that past. Both commenters suggest that, simply because some inhabitants of the area disagree with what Angus Gillies has written in Ngati Dread, Gillies' book must be untruthful and his methods unethical. 

What Ngati Dread and other accounts of the Rasta uprising of the 1980s surely show us, though, is that Ruatoria in particular and the East Coast in general are not communities whose people think alike, but rather sites of long-running conflict. 

The Rasta uprising was a conflict inside Ngati Porou, as much as between Maori and Pakeha. As Angus Gillies notes in his interview with The Spinoff, the leader of the Rastafarians was killed by his own cousin. 

When they hailed Te Kooti as a prophet of their religion, the Rastas invoked the memory of the Ngati Porou civil war of 1865-66, which saw adherents of the anti-colonial Pai Marire faith defeated by a conservative faction of the iwi intent on making alliances with the colonial government and the British Empire. Te Kooti became identified with the Pai Marire rebels, and began his own war against Ngati Porou's conservatives after escaping from the Chatham Islands, where he had been imprisoned with other rebels. 

In the twentieth century conservative leaders of Ngati Porou like Apirana Ngata had immense influence over government policy toward Maori. They worked to stymie new rebels against colonial authority, like Rua Kenana in the Ureweras. Only a decade ago Ngati Porou's leaders helped to weaken the pan-iwi movement against Labour's seabed and foreshore legislation by making a deal with the government. 

The Rastafarian movement can be considered, in part, as a renewal of the nineteenth century revolts against Ngati Porou's leaders. It is significant that some of the mentors of the movement, like Sue Nikora, have been involved in the attempts of dissatisfied hapu to secede from Ngati Porou. In Potaka and around the East Cape, near the edges of Ngati Porou authority, rebellious hapu have over the last decade declared their independence not only from the iwi leadership but from the state of New Zealand. These rebels have made their own Treaty claims. 

Given their place in a long and continuing history of conflict, is it really reasonable to expect that the events of the 1980s would be interpreted in a single way by the Ruatoria community? Do other communities with a history of conflict view and discuss their history without disagreement? 

The list of fifty great books about Maori compiled for The Spinoff by Te Roopu Haututu included Redemption Songs, Judith Binney's epic biography of Te Kooti, and Michael King's famous account of the life of Princess Te Puea. But when Redemption Songs was published twenty years ago it was received with anger as well as acclaim, because Maori as well as Pakeha descendants of some of the victims of Te Kooti's military campaigns considered that Binney had been too sympathetic to her subject. And although King's portrait was admired by many supporters of the Kingitanga, some of the hapu of the lower Waikato were very upset by the historian's decision to take the side of Te Puea against their more conservative, pro-Crown ancestors. 

It is not only in Maori communities that conflict over the interpretation of the past persists. I grew up in Franklin, down the road from the farms of the Crewe and Thomas families, and remember the bewilderment and anger that the murder of the Crewes and police frame-up of Arthur Alan Thomas caused in a small and conservative rural community. 

Steve Braunias discusses the murders and their psychic effects in a chapter of his book Civilisation. I admired the chapter, and showed it to my mother. She liked it too, but another local disliked Braunias' tone and assertions. The different opinions of Braunias' text did not surprise me: Franklin is still divided by the Crewe killings, with different families favouring different theories about the event, and the families of the cops who framed Thomas still trying quixotically to rehabilitate their kin. None of the many books about the Crewe murders has been received with unanimity in Franklin.

If the rules that Kiri Dell and the anonymous would-be writer for The Spinoff suggest were adopted, then the writing of history would become impossible. No community speaks with one voice, and interprets its past in one way.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous talia marshall said...

Not from Ruatoria bro just carried one of their kids. In brackets by my name you'll see my iwi, you know that beach that just sold...but that cultural capital has nothing to do with why I wrote what I did but sweet Jesus I feel a lot safer with it there I am also Ngati Rarua and one of our tiki- the peacemaker ended up in the hands of Te Kooti. But now it's in Te Papa instead of round my neck. Actually this whole thing has been really messy and I wouldn't have touched it unless I had that vicarious connection. My own baby maui etc...

9:57 am  
Anonymous Talia Marshall said...

Hekia Parata is more related to the rastas than me which might be the establishment issues you're alluding to. I'd also say as a Ngarimu Kiri Dell is entitled to feel however she wants but I also think Steve made valiant efforts to let multiple voices be heard

10:02 am  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Thanks very much for those comments and that correction Talia: I'll amend my post.

As I see the debate about Angus' book I keep thinking back to my own situation, as a palangi who has been telling, or trying to tell, the story of a Tongan tragedy:

It is not easy to deal with the contradictions and conflicts that investigations into the darker parts of the past create. I think Angus has a genuine reverence for his material and for the region where he grew up, though.

10:21 am  
Anonymous Talia said...

Yeah I think Angus has intergrity, aroha and personal respect for the people who out talked him in that book. And I think maybe that is the main point-those people chose to share their stories, saying they were duped by a Pakeha is to accuse them of stupidity, and quite frankly those voices hijack Ngati Dread they're so splendid. It's their tino rangatirattanga that's being excerised and he acts as a genuine conduit for that.

There are issues though that seem specific to the tragedies that make talking about it really fraught. They were all related and what family ever reaches consensus? There is also a larger issue about how the victims were discussed. Lance Kupenga walked to his death with his cousin, like a slave behind a horse, that's such heavy tragedy, he shouldn't have been reduced to policemen making jokes about maggots. His head needs restoring to his body, which is why the voice of his father is critical and his particpation in the narrative key to the wairua and mauri of the text.

Sorry to bang on but I watched Hekia debate John Key's 'get some guts' blather in the house last year on Parliament Tv(!) and she invoked the fallen heroes of Ruatoria, which is her right as the descendant of Materoa Reedy-say what you like about that woman (bad bad words at the tele), her reo is impeccable. And it got me to thinking about Moana Ngarimu VC and the documentaries I've watched about him -sadly quite a bit- and I thought his story is no reason to send anyone to Iraq especially when so many soldiers are still brown- that we still use brown bodies as cannon fodder.

The other thing that maybe hasn't been talked about enough is the amount of potential Chris Campbell and John Heeney and even Beau showed at school- teachers rave about their genius and charisma- that same potential Api Ngata sent overseas in C Company. I agree that the Te Kooti stuff is significant, and the internal politics of Ngat Porou too, but in a more contemporary sense it's the sisters of Moana who had to deal with the social fractures that set in after the war. There are men sized gaps all over that magic mountain as much as Rogernomics and the Williams Family's monopoly of whenua so weirdly ancient apparently even it's geology is cosmic.

11:46 am  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Lots of interesting stuff there. The talk of war reminds me of the small hill outside Tikitiki, with the pa site left over from a battle between Hauhau rebels and Ngati Porou conservatives on its summit and the beautiful but terribly sad memorial church, with its stained glass window and plaques remembering the Maori Battalion, on the lower slopes. If the battle on the summit had turned out differently, then Ngati Porou would quite possibly have steered a different course in the twentieth century, and Apirana Ngata would never have felt he had to send the iwi's young men off to die in a futile effort to win equality from a Pakeha government.

My friend Justin Taua, who comes from the ultimate military whanau has spoken very eloquently about what he considers the misuse of Maori martial history, eg But I think his is very much a minority voice

1:22 pm  
Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Actually this was the link I meant to give for Justin's korero:

1:24 pm  
Anonymous Talia Marshall said...

hey cool thanks I'll read the tonga raid thing as well.

1:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gillies speaks out

2:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Kiri Dell this corporate warrior posting cheesy slogans by CEOs?

7:26 pm  
Anonymous pari said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Rathaman was here right from the beginning, but for me the beginning was the word and the word was God. God is not blond-haired, blue-eyed, God is brown. We're Rasta - everything we do is for Rastafarai.

The town of Ruatoria is a unique remote East Coast settlement. Several years ago disagreements over land subject to claim but owned extensively by one family and the subject of sales to foreign interests, brought a wild series of fire-bombings and violent confronatation, culminating in the death of Rastafarian Chris Campbell. The Dreads are endeavouring to put this violent period behind them and to develop a living relationship with the land and the natural resources in an area which is low in employment, leaving many people dependent on welfare. They are critical of a system which ties them down in regulations and limits their capacity to use the resources they do receive in ways they believe would best develop their independence and self-reliance.

They are concerned that the land and its resources are being plundered by a greedy society and even the seed of the herb of the earth which God gave us appropriated, patented and controlled by corporate interests.
The Dreads are Rastafarians and follow the same one God, Yah, as the Jews through the line of the Queen of Sheba the Ethiopian monarchy. This tradition was then carried by slavery to Jamaica and the US. "Haille Selassie is the 252 nd King from the line of Solomon the son of David. The second coming of Jesus Christ in his kingly form, the line of David, the union of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba a line of royalty that was held throughout the history of Ethiopia." They believe all peoples will eventually be united under the red, green and gold.

The Maori Dreads combine their Rasta teaching with the teachings of Te Kooti. Following Te Kooti's example, the Dread gather on the twevfth day of each month for the Rah.

Ringatu - the "upraised hand" was a religion developed by Te Kooti Rikirangi during his imprisonment without trial on the Chatham Islands. On his escape back to New Zealand, he staged a successful guerilla war. Many of Te Kooti;s teachings reminded his people of the story of the Jews in the Old Testament, who had been driven out of the land of Israel and had wandered in the wilderness until God brought them back to Jerusalem. The Maoris too had lost their land and been harshly treated. To Kooti taught his people to beware of the Pakeha (white man) that had been inspired by Satan. Te Kooti taught them that in his matakite (visions) God had promised the he would save Maoris, just as he had saved the Jews. Christianity is regarded as a failed deviation which has not delivered on its promise to humanity as a whole and has not served the Maori people because it has aided colonization and the assimilation of Maori culture.

11:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mount Hikurangi = original Mount Zion

11:14 am  

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