Monday, August 09, 2010

Fighting for land - and for the Enlightenment?

This site has not been the only place in the blogosphere where the New Zealand Wars of the nineteenth century have prompted vigorous debate in recent days. Over at Bowalley Road, Chris Trotter has reproduced a newspaper column in which he complains about the perceived bias of contemporary historians of the wars. Chris is particularly upset by the Waitangi Tribunal's Te Urewera report, the second half of which has just been published.

The authors of Te Urewera were charged with exploring the background to the claims that Tuhoe have brought before the Waitangi Tribunal, and they have naturally given a good deal of time to the repeated invasions of Tuhoe territory by Crown forces between 1865 and 1872. Chris is critical of the Tribunal's historians because he doesn't think they share his view that the armed struggle between Tuhoe and Crown forces was a 'civil war' whose outcome helped determine New Zealand's future. Chris thinks that the 'civil war' in the Ureweras involved a clash of ideologies, as well as a clash of arms:

Tuhoe picked the wrong side in the war to decide what sort of country New Zealand would become: a modern, technologically sophisticated, socially progressive and politically democratic state.

So modern and democratic, in fact, that in order to bind up the wounds of the losers, its liberal elite is willing to traduce the historical record and besmirch the reputations of the courageous men and women – Maori and Pakeha – whose blood sacrifice
[in the war against Tuhoe] made New Zealand possible.

How credible is Chris Trotter's view? Were colonial militia, Maori kupapa, and British officers fighting a war for the advancement of the Enlightenment and the establishment of liberal democracy in those misty Ureweras forests in the 1860s? Should Tuhoe have thrown down their arms and sworn allegiance to the Queen, and to the spirit of Voltaire?

To argue that Tuhoe should have made peace with the Crown, rather than fight it, is to argue that they should have accepted the confiscation of a huge chunk of their land in the aftermath of the killing of Carl Volkner in 1865. Volkner, a Church Missionary Society clergyman suspected of spying for his friend Governor George Grey, was slain outside his Opotiki church by a group of the local Whakatohea people led by a newly-arrived firebrand from Taranaki, Kereopa Te Rau. Tuhoe had nothing to do with Volkner's death, but the Crown, which was under pressure from land speculators and armed settlers, used the event as an excuse to confiscate a huge section of the iwi's best land. Tuhoe lost all of their holdings along the Bay of Plenty coast, and also suffered an invasion by Crown forces which claimed to be hunting Volkner's killers. In his article, Chris Trotter notes that Tuhoe hosted Te Kooti at the end of the 1860s, as the prophet and his guerrilla army fled Crown forces. Tuhoe's decision to host Te Kooti led to a series of new invasions by Crown forces. Ill-disciplined armies of kupapa Maori and colonial volunteers led by professional soldiers burnt kainga, shot civilians, and pulled up crops to create famine. Chris believes that these actions were prompted, and perhaps to some extent justified, by Tuhoe's irrational hostility to the Crown. The iwi ought to have recognised that the government in Wellington represented 'progressive' values, and submitted to it.

It is not surprising that Chris' article fails to mention the confiscation of much of Tuhoe's best land in the mid-1860s. Once this act of gross opportunism is taken into account, Tuhoe's hostility to the Crown, and their decision to align themselves with Te Kooti, are easily understood. It is hard to imagine an example from history of a people who have been happy to accept the expropriation of a vast tract of their best territory on manifestly unjust grounds. Do we find it strange that the Norwegians chose to fight a brave but hopeless war with Germany in 1940, after Hitler demanded control of most of their coastline? Would anybody expect Poles to have assented to the partitioning of their country by the Soviet Union and Germany in 1939? Does anyone fault Finland for refusing to hand half its territory over to Stalin, in the same year?

Perhaps, though, Tuhoe should have made an extraordinary concession, effectively destroying their traditional economic base and losing their access to the sea and to many of their sacred sites, because submission to the colonial government would guarantee modernisation and prosperity, in the 'technologically sophisticated' and 'socially progressive' New Zealand Chris celebrates?

We can test this proposition by looking at the history of Tuhoe Country in the twentieth century, after the government in Wellington finally gained firm control of the region. The evidence is that, far from showering Tuhoe with the fruits of modernity and the Enlightenment, successive governments worked hard to block Tuhoe attempts at economic development and education. Again and again, Tuhoe were stopped from developing their land. The sort of state help with roading which was extended enthusiastically to rural Pakeha communities was persistently witheld from Tuhoe, even after the tribe donated land for a road and offered to provide free labour to help with its construction. The settler state tried to destroy Maungapohatu, Tuhoe's spiritual capital, by raiding the place in 1916 and by systematically underfunding education and other services there for decades afterwards.

What is true for Tuhoe is true for most other iwi in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The economic successes of the Maori nations of the Waikato Kingdom and Parihaka were not replicated under colonial rule. Wellington stifled rather than encouraged economic development.

Chris Trotter claims that iwi which allied themselves with the Crown during the wars of the nineteenth century did well out of the deal, because they gained ready entry into 'socially progressive New Zealand', but the sad twentieth century history of Auckland's tangata whenua offers evidence against this proposition. Ngati Whatua supplied the land on which the city of Auckland was founded, and were reliably loyal to the Crown throughout the Land Wars, and yet by the middle of the twentieth century they were being forcibly removed from the one small piece of land they still owned in the city, and watching the village they had maintained there being burnt to the ground. Ngati Whatua only won back some of their land after they abandoned their loyalty to the New Zealand state and staged a series of militant protests, including the massive and long-running occupation at Bastion Point.

In the comments thread beneath his post, Chris Trotter argues that Maori had the opportunity to 'assimilate' in the nineteenth century, by leaving behind their old culture and their old lands and becoming citizens of the new 'technologically sophisticated, socially progressive' Pakeha-dominated New Zealand. Chris believes that assimilation would have represented a step forward for Maori, in the context of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It is unlikely that many nineteenth and early twentieth century Maori would have wanted to commit 'cultural suicide' by becoming brown-skinned Pakeha. Chris may think that the assimilation of Maori would have been historically progressive, but Maori fought to defend the Waikato Kingdom and Tuhoe Country, and protested with such determination at Parihaka, precisely because they wanted to remain unassimilated.

Even if more Maori had wanted to assimilate in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it is very unlikely that they would have been able to, because the same capitalist economy which Chris hails retrospectively as an engine of historical progress depended upon keeping them out of the modern world.

After the wars and confiscations of the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Maori found that they had been pushed off their best land into marginal areas like the King Country, the 'limestone country' around Port Waikato, and the upper Whanganui. They were able to make a subsistence living on the rough, inaccessible land that remained to them, but they were unable to revive the export-driven market gardening economies that had flourished in the Waikato Kingdom and in Parihaka.

Because many Maori still lived off the land, Pakeha farmers and other employers were able to pay Maori wages that fell below subsistence levels, and thus drive up their own profits and undermine the wages of Pakeha workers. The state could afford to pay miniscule benefits to unemployed Maori for the same reason. For Kiwi capitalism, there was little incentive to fully proletarianise Maori until the boom years that followed World War Two created a major labour shortage.

In the comments thread at Bowalley Road, a reader named Victor accuses Chris Trotter of taking a rose-tinted view of nineteenth century Pakeha state and of the capitalist class that state served:

Aren't you propounding another equally sweeping and a-historical myth? Was anyone actually fighting to make New Zealand "a modern, technologically sophisticated, socially progressive and politically democratic state"?...Did their notion of a modern state include Maori in possession of large tracts of land, acting as fully participating and equal members of the body politic (and not just on paper)?

I remain wary of replacing a romantic, nostalgic myth of the "Harp that once through Tara’s halls" variety with an equally romantic "history as the onward, upward march of enlightenment" variant, with every minor rivulet, no matter how murky or swamp-ridden, seen as feeding the great ocean of Human Progress.

Chris may wrap his interpretation of nineteenth century New Zealand history in the rhetoric of hardheaded historical realism, but the essence of his interpretation is, as Victor points out, remarkably romantic. And if one is going to be romantic about a past conflict, isn't it better to romanticise the underdog in that conflict?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trotter is right.
It was barbarism versus civilisation.
You can't make an omletee without breaking some eggs.

11:40 am  
Blogger Matthew R. X. Dentith said...

Is it me, or is it "The Maoris[1] would be alright if they were just more like us" month in the blogosphere? I am beginning to grow weary of the rednecks trying to present themselves as rational and well-considered.

1. Redneck plural used deliberately in jest.

12:55 pm  
Anonymous Edward said...

It's not just you. Must be the time for postulating the same old ignorant nonsense within a soft candy shell supposed to resemble a good argument. Maybe it's a counter-conspiracy to do with the passing of Maori language week?

3:00 pm  
Blogger Matthew R. X. Dentith said...

Everyone seems to be doing it, including people I'd normally respect.

3:09 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Who else have you spotted coming out with the line, Matthew? (I'll probably regret asking, I know!)

3:18 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I don't mind these debates because they are an opportunity for me to think through my own positions. This is a comment I just left at Bowalley Road - it makes a point about the compatibility between cultural assimilationism and discrimination and segregation that I should have included in my post here:

The reason why colonial policy in Samoa, Niue, and the Cooks is so interesting is that it represented the will of the New Zealand state, not the feelings of ordinary Pakeha. And colonial policy, as detailed in books like Michael Field's Mau and Dick Scott's Would A Good Man Die?, was premised on the notion that, for both cultural and racial reasons, whites were vastly superior to the native population.

In Samoa, the Germans had also treated the natives as inferior, but their top administrators were sentimental ehtnographers, and they chose to shelter the Samoans from much of the modern world, so that they could continue to live 'like children'. The Kiwis were also determined to keep the races apart, and passed a series of apartheid-style laws, but they also wanted to turn the Samoans into brown Pakeha - and fast. They embarked on a breakneck modernisation programme whose goals included smashing the traditional extended family, breaking up communal lands, and spreading capitalism. As I found when I visisted Samoa last year, it's still possible to see some of the bizarre legacy of this modernisation programme, which ended up sparking a national liberation struggle:

I'm sorry to go on about Samoa, when it's not the subject of Chris' post, but I think it's significant because it shows the patent racism of the New Zealand state in the early twentieth century, and because it also shows that cultural assimilationism can go hand in hand with discrimination and segregation.

4:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey in case you didn't notice chris praised the dumb poem you put up last week...and now you criticise him like crazy...what a nice guy you are...NOT!

why always criticise criticise maps???????

4:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is the invasion of Tibet good but the invasion of the Ureweras bad?

6:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS Te Kooti has/had freaky eyes

6:06 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

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6:15 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

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6:16 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

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6:16 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

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6:17 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

It's pretty clear we're talking past one another, Scott.

I wouldn't dispute a word of your history, it's just that you deploy it to rebut a case I did not make.

Were the Maori subjected to collossal injustices during the 19th and early 20th Century? Of course they were. Would the tribes who threw in their lot with the Crown have wished for a better alternative? Undoubtedly.

The brutal reality of the time, however, was that the Pakeha were the stronger of the two forces contending for control of New Zealand, and the world they were constructing all around the Maori tribes could not be dismantled.

You throw in the examples of Norway and Poland during WWII. But try to imagine what the options for the Norwegians and Poles would have been if Germany had won the war. Would it have been wiser to go on fighting, or to try and reach some sort of modus vivendi with the German conquerors?

These are the sort of questions the Maori tribal leaders had to grapple with in the 1860s and 70s. And given that there was no deliverance from outside in the offing, I believe they made the only rational decision - and made the best they could of a very difficult situation.

I'm also a little puzzled as to why you make no attempt in this posting to grapple with the horrors of Te Kooti's raid at Mohaka. Like the Tribunal historians you draw a veil over that awful crime - while using words like genocide to describe the actions of the Crown.

A few days ago I received an e-mail from the descendents of one of the Pakeha families that witnessed the massacre. They tell me that but for the intervention of the local tribespeople none of them would have survived.

Maori aren't the only people with memories in this land, Scott. And it is the values represented by the local tribe which rescued their Pakeha neighbours - not the values of Te Kooti - that has made New Zealand the "technologically sophisticated, socially progressive, and politically democratic" country that it is today.

6:17 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Chris,

I don't want to deny Te Kooti's extraordinary capacity for violence between 1868 and 1872 - I've written a number of times about this aspect of his life - but nor do I think we can ignore his other qualities, which included, for most his life, a love of peace and a role as a unifier. Te Kooti is a mysterious and disturbing figure precisely because he seems to combine, in his words and in his actions, violence and goodwill, irrationality and wisdom.

Is it true that Te Kooti contributed nothing to what is good about today's New Zealand? I don't see how Te Kooti's Ringatu church, which held communities together in difficult times in the Bay of Plenty, in Tuhoe Country, and on the East Coast, and which still has many thousands of members today, can be condemned on the basis of the massacres at Mohaka and Matwhero, anymore than the whole Anglican church can be condemned for what Henry the eighth did.

Te Kooti's reinterpretation of the Bible as a text about New Zealand history - his escape from the Chathams became the crossing of the Red Sea, his time hiding in the Ureweras became the forty days in the wilderness, and so on - has inspired both Pakeha and Maori theologians and writers. Te Kooti's waiata have been a reference point for later Maori composers.

Most of all, the astonishing meeting houses Te Kooti built or inspired in various parts of the New Zealand - buildings which were statements against the destruction of Maori culture, and yet were also wildly innovative, with their brightly coloured paintings that rejected the abstract, ahistorical style of classical Maori visual art - have left a permanent mark on our culture, inspiring both Maori and Pakeha artists and architects.

6:45 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

Conceded, Scott.

Te Kooti's contribution to NZ history extends well beyond the Mohaka massacre. But that does not mean we can overlook such savagery, or that it should not be added to the scales of historical judgement (any more than it would be acceptable to publish a book about Hitler's skills as a watercolorist without mentioning any other facets of his life!)

The Ringatu faith - like the prophetic religious teachings that gave rise to the "Ghost Dance" in North America - bound together a people under enormous cultural stress. Its essentially insular and culturally circumscribed character does not, however, render it accessible to a wider audience.

Even so, Te Kooti was an uncanny fellow: a sort of Gandalf the Grey - with a taste for blood.

11:12 am  
Blogger maps said...

In case anyone is wondering what all the fuss is about, here's an article by AJ Taylor about Maori folk art which includes a dicussion of Te Kooti's meeting houses, and some images from the famous house at Rongopai, outside Gisborne/Turanga:

Hamish Keith's recent TV series about New Zealand art featured a tour of Rongopai's extraordinary interior. Keith noted that Shane Cotton, who is perhaps the most prominent of this country's younger artists, has taken some of his inspiration and imagery from Rongopai. The house also plays a crucial role in Witi Ihimaera's important but (in my opinion) unsuccessful novel The Matriarch, where it is treated as something like the cultural capital of Maoridom.

Roger Neich, a long-time ethnologist at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, produced a wonderful, very colourful book about the houses called Painted Histories. I see the book is now available in paperback:

Quite a few of the Ringatu meeting houses are in remote areas of the country, but if anyone is passing through Te Kuiti on state highway three they can see Te Tokanganui-A-Noho at the south end of the main street, on the left hand side of the road, more or less opposite the gas station.

11:40 am  
Anonymous Nga said...

Tuatahi - Firstly - I just found this site on FB News Feed this morning and have enjoyed reading all the Kaupapa and ensuing comments.
Okay ... Chris Trotter - I thank you for the comments you raised about the Mohaka Massacre. Those were my Great Great-Nannies and their Tamariki and Mokopuna that were slaughtered by Te Kooti when he marauded down the East Coast Kahungunu Rural areas. Their Blood stained the Embankment Walls of the Mohaka River in their attempts to escape Te Kooti Raiders they attempted to reach the Mohaka River for Refuge but were slaughtered on the embankments.Lucky our Grannie Ma survived, otherwise I / We My Whanau wouldnt be here today.
I share this because of Tuhoe Negotiators i.e. Tamati Kruger and Pou Te Hemara demands with their proposed settlement - that further to the Mana Whenua Claims they also want an Apology from the Crown and Kahungunu. Well ...Hell will Freeze Ova b4 they eva gonna get that from Us. If anything we would give those 2 a Big Boot Up the Kumu! very rarely does one see any public or published reference to the Mohaka Massacre. Wat a damn cheek those 2Hoy Fullas are demanding.

1:03 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I've never been to Mohaka, sadly. The road between Wairoa and Napier is one of the 'blank spots' on the map of T Ika a Maui for me. I did go to Matawhero, site of Te Kooti's other famous massacre, back in 2005. The little Anglican church which he left standing amidst the ruins of the village had an air of extraordinary peacefulness about it, but looking out across the sea I could imagine the prophet sailing in from Rekohu with his followers.

I notice that Judith Binney's account of the attack on Mohaka in Redemption Songs, her biography of Te Kooti, can be read online after a quick search, thanks to the magic of google books. James Cowan's account in his classic book The New Zealand Wars is also online:

10:28 am  
Blogger Richard said...

"You can't make an omletee without breaking some eggs."

(From - The Ubiquitous and eternally courageous 'Anonymous') (At least Trotter et al sign their comments...

Omlettee? Well, whatever, this sentiment would equally shared by such as Te Kooti.

The massacre was bad (we are seeing through Cowan and other s "on the side" more or less of Pakeha and those supporting the Pakeha invasions - but that is not to say it is "all lies" - I read Cowan's description and it is not pleasant that is for sure...and indeed the attack at Mohaka cant and shouldn't be ignored )) but Te Kooti was far from being a savage all the same.

I see him more as a Bonaparte than a Hitler. And Bonaparte was great militarist and his influence and "legacy" meant in fact a unification and considerable development of Europe in the wake of the French Revolution.

Te Kooti is not seen as saint in Binney's book but he has many redeeming aspects. I don't think she is saying these massacres were good - but in most cases there were quite specific reasons given for everyone that Te Kooti had killed. He rarely undertook random killings. (but this is Binny etc contra Cowan - history is never so clear cut)

He in fact had his own land taken from him and he avenged that. He was also unjustly sent to the Chathams.

Did we and do we have such a wonderful civilisation? I think Maori had a flourishing civilization of their own and a great culture, art, way of life. They had no booze. They managed in a place where there was very little resources (compared to other places) - no cattle, agriculture was very hard, and so on. Quite a harsh environment but they lived here successfully for many centuries. Did they need this wonderful civilisation? (Tim Shadbolt used to call it "Syphilisation")

I doubt it. And was it necessary to invade? Why not convey this wonderful siphylisation so they could learn aspects of it? (Without the syphilis and the other diseases such as TB, and sans the booze). Why invade and destroy and divide?

I am not so sure we have such an advanced civilisation here. Or hat we Pakeha ever had or have anything "advanced".. We here are a nation of the highest youth suicide rates - one of the highest murder rates in the Western world and so on...destruction of trade unions - ever increasing drugs, violence, uncaring attitudes, alienation ...corruption, pollution of minds and the environment, and destruction of that environment on a huge scale. We ally ourselves with massive and vicious military regimes who still invade, and "massacre" (to reuse that word) and bomb and burn other peoples (but they of course are primitive and backward so perhaps the Vietnamese and the Iraqis etc should be grateful?)

Not sure who the savages are...

2:14 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

A few days ago I received an e-mail from the descendents of one of the Pakeha families that witnessed the massacre. They tell me that but for the intervention of the local tribespeople none of them would have survived Te Aroha Hot Pools

11:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Kupapa has been variously defined as being neutral (in a quarrel), being loyal, being an ally, or being a traitor. The word itself has come to be as hotly contested as its history.'

- Ron Crosby

10:15 pm  

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