Friday, June 29, 2012

Te Radar takes the missionary position, and screws up again

Last week I criticised the first episode of Te Radar's television series about the Pacific, which saw the Kiwi entertainer knocking about Fiji and recycling a series of racial stereotypes invented by Victorian colonists and missionaries.

The second episode of Radar Across the Pacific confirmed Te Radar's fondness for cliche. Wandering around Tonga on a Sunday with his film crew, he noticed lots of shuttered shops, and lots of folks snoozing in public. Impressed by this display of somnolence, Te Radar decided that it reflected the profound influence of European missionaries on Tongan society. He conceded that Tonga was never formally colonised by Western powers in the nineteenth century, but claimed that missionaries from the Old World "certainly captured" the "hearts and minds" of Tongans.

But Sundays in Tonga are not all they might at first seem.

Towards the end of his episode, Te Radar chatted with Kalafi Moala, Tonga's most important journalist. Moala and Te Radar discussed Tonga's pro-democracy movement, rather than the keeping of the Sabbath, but if Te Radar had bothered to read his interlocutor's book In Search of the Friendly Islands he would have found a long description of the various ways in which Tongans flout the laws which prevent commercial activity on Sundays. Tongan shopfronts may be shuttered on the Lord's day, but locals know if they knock at a back door normal service will be provided. Moala notes that Tongans consume alcohol in large quantities on Sundays, whatever the law may say.

Nor were the Tongans Te Radar saw sleeping in public necessarily symptoms of a Sabbatarian zeal. Like many peoples who have not yet fully submitted to the exigencies of capitalism, Tongans do not always keep regular hours of work and rest, and do not feel ashamed about catching up on an hour or so of sleep in public, even if that means lying down in a slow-moving queue or on a piece of pavement. The folks Te Radar saw napping in broad daylight might have been recovering from a kava circle or a tapa-beating session, rather than abstaining from consciousness in the name of the Lord.

More important than Te Radar's misunderstanding of the Tongan Sunday, though, is his claim that the country was "captured" and virtually colonised by Western missionaries in the nineteenth century. No one can deny the massive influence of Christianity on Tonga over the past couple of centuries. The country's towns and villages are filled with churches, its flag is dominated by a cross, and its motto is 'God and Tonga are my inheritance'.

But too many observers tend to decide, like Te Radar, that Tongans simply fell on their knees in front of European missionaries in the nineteenth century, and passively submitted to a prepackaged version of the Christian doctrine. There is a good deal of condescension implicit in such an assumption.
We don't, after all, assume that the English Reformation of the sixteenth century was the result of Anglo-Saxons falling on their knees and accepting without question the gospel of Protestantism that John Hus, Martin Luther and others had forged on the European continent. We know that Protestant ideas were taken up and reworked by indigenous English theologians like John Wycliffe, and we know that Henry VIII turned the new doctrine to his own, deeply political purposes, as he restructured his society and increased his own power. Why should we assume that the priests and leaders of nineteenth Tonga were any more less crafty than their counterparts in sixteenth century England?

As the Dutch Marxist scholar Paul van der Grijp shows in his 2007 essay 'First Mission in Western Polynesian: the Dramatic Tongan Experience of the London Missionary Society', the initial attempt to evangelise the Friendly Islands was a disaster. The thirty young Britons who arrived on Tongatapu in 1796 soon got into serious trouble, thanks to their tedious sermons and their tendency to get involved in inter-village disputes. A missionary named George Vason grew so discouraged with the lack of progress that he threw away his dog collar and set about acquiring Tongan wives. After several of Vason's former colleagues became involuntary martyrs in a local war, the first attempt to Christianise Tonga came to an abrupt end.

It was Tongans, not Europeans, who planted Christianity permanently in the Friendly Islands. After smashing the statue of a pagan god with the trunk of a small tree and living to tell the tale, a Ha'apai chief named Taufa'ahau decided that the old gods of Tonga had lost their power, and that the new monotheistic doctrine ought to be embraced. After waging a series of holy wars, Taufa'ahau succeeded in unifying his country, and in 1845 he declared himself Tupou, the first king of modern Tonga. During his reign of five decades Tupou I was assisted by a number of palangi Methodists, including Shirley Baker, who helped draw up Tonga's revolutionary 1875 constitution and for a time served as the country's premier.

But Tupou I's alliance with Baker did not signify his subservience to European Christian authority. In the 1880s, after the Methodist church had begun to encourage Tupou to accept British colonisation, Baker denounced his superiors in London as shills for imperialism. After the Methodist hierarchy and its friends in the British Colonial Office demanded Baker's deportation from Tonga, Tupou announced that he was turning his back on 'foreign' Christianity and founding the Free Wesleyan Church. Like Henry VIII centuries earlier, Tupou made his break from foreign religious authority for essentially political reasons. Pro-British clergy were driven from Tonga, and the property of the old church was seized by the king.

Even before the 1880s, mainstream Methodism never had a monopoly on Christianity in Tonga. A Quaker named Daniel Wheeler had visited the country in 1836 and won widespread sympathy for his faith. In the 1840s  Frenchmen had arrived with a relatively liberal brand of Catholicism, which encouraged rather than prohibited traditional dances and poems, and found followers amongst Tongans alienated from Tupou I's Protestantism. In the twentieth century Methodism spawned numerous offshoots, as Tongan theologians argued over obscure passages of the Bible, and Mormonism took root. New Christian denominations continue to be imported into Tonga. Recently the Russian Orthodox Church set up shop on 'Eua, the Kingdom's southernmost inhabited island.

It is clear that, just as the sixteenth century English assimilated Protestantism and adapted it to their various ends, so the Tongans of the nineteenth century seized hold of the Christian doctrine and reassembled it in ways that accorded with their traditions and interests. For the young Taufa'ahau of Ha'apai, Christianity was the dynamic new ideology which, when deployed alongside muskets and canon, could unify his country. For the elderly Tupou I, the perpetuation of the Christian faith meant the creation of a new, anti-imperialist church and the expulsion of English clergy from his realm. For Tupou's former pagan opponents, who had only belatedly and reluctantly become Christians, Catholicism offered a set of rituals reminiscent of some of the old heathen rites, as well as a relaxed attitude to pagan dances. The other denominations which began to appear in Tonga in the late nineteenth century represented other groups, with their own interests and agendas.

In a recent interview, Te Radar admitted that he didn't bother to do any research about the Pacific before he arrived in nations like Fiji and Tonga with his film crew. In the absence of any understanding of the history and sociology of the region, he is being forced back, in episode after episode, onto rather unsavoury stereotypes. Last week Te Radar offered us two versions of the noble savage myth; this week he recycled the cliche of the simple-minded Pacific Islander who succumbs easily to the missionary, and submits passively to European cultural imperialism. What cliche can we expect next week?

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Monday, June 25, 2012

The meaning of Ewen Macdonald

Dozens of murder trials are staged in New Zealand every year; most of them are reported dutifully rather than excitedly by our media, and fail to fill the small public galleries of our High Courts. Every now and them, though, a case comes along which claims the front pages of newspapers for months, packs a public gallery day after day, and demands obsessive discussion in pubs and supermarket aisles around the country.

The trial of Ewen Macdonald for the murder of his brother-in-law Scott Guy has transfixed Kiwis since it opened more than a fortnight ago. Every day our newspapers and televisions have broadcast new revelations about Macdonald's difficult relationship with Guy, the principal heir to the Manawatu dairy farm both men managed. We have learned that Macdonald and various farmhands grumbled for years about Guy's autocratic ways and abbreviated working days, and have read reports about family conferences and dinners which ended in tears and recriminations, as Guy's sister became the conduit for her husband's grievances and grudges. We have heard Macdonald admit that he vandalised the new home Guy and his family were about to move in to, in a vain attempt to drive his brother-in-law off the farm, and we have heard the police accuse him of ambushing and gunning down his enemy in the pre-dawn darkness on a corner of the farm two years ago.

But all the obvious interest in the current murder trial - all the front page stories and extended reports on television and conversations in pubs and supermarket aisles - has been coupled with a curious reticence. There has been a great deal of description of the conflict between Guy and Macdonald, but very little discussion about what it might mean. Of course, the trial of Macdonald is still underway, and commentators are thus prohibited from offering opinions on whether or not the man is a murderer. But the struggle between Guy and Macdonald is a matter of record, and Macdonald has admitted the attack on Guy's home.

It seems to me that Ewen Macdonald is a disturbing figure for many Kiwis, because he is at the same time sympathetic and repugnant. We empathise with the stories of him working alone on the farm for hours, after his brother-in-law had decided that the rain was too hard or that he had to go off to some social event. We take note when we read a farmhand describe Macdonald as the best boss he ever had. We gasp when we learn that Scott Guy had turned up to a family meeting and announced that he expected to inherit all of the farm, simply because he was the first of the sons born to his parents. We understand Macdonald's view of himself as a second-class member of the family.

At the same time, though, Macdonald's attempt to drive Scott Guy and his young family away from the Manawatu appalls us. After Macdonald took an axe to the Guys' new house and covered it with obscene graffiti the community around Feilding was alarmed. Scott Guy's wife Kylee feared that a violent lunatic might have her family in his sights.

But Ewen Macdonald was not a lunatic: his attack on the Guys' home showed cool calculation, and was part of a strategy designed to make him the sole manager of the Guy family farm. The other offences Macdonald has admitted, like the theft of deer and the burning of a derelict house on another part of the farm, show the same careful thought. If Macdonald had committed some crime against Scott Guy on the spur of the moment - if, for example, he had thrown a punch after being provoked by Guy's arrogance or laziness - then we might be ready to forgive him. But his cool cruelty is hard to excuse.

While I read about Ewen Macdonald I keep thinking of Edmund, one of the most complex characters in King Lear. Edmund is the second and illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, a powerful intimate of Lear. Because of the circumstances of his birth, Edmund has never been the equal of Edgar, Gloucester's first-born, legitimate son. He knows that he will inherit nothing from his father, who refers to him as a 'whoreson' and ignores his intelligence and determination.

Edmund decides to reject the customs of his society in favour of the 'laws of cunning and strength', and begins a campaign to usurp both his brother and his father. Edmund falsely accuses Edgar of attempted murder, so that the hitherto favoured son is forced to flee Lear's court into the countryside, and disguise himself as a wandering madman. After forming an alliance with Lear's similarly cunning daughters Regan and Gonerill and seizing state power, Edmund is defeated, and repents of his sins
Many literary historians have linked Edmund's story to changes that were taking place in English and European society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As the feudal order of the Middle Ages, with its set social hierarchies and obsession with genealogy, was challenged by the appearance of Protestantism and capitalism, which encouraged more individualistic views of the world, ambitious and talented men like Edmund were prepared to challenge those who would once, by virtue of birth, have been considered their superiors.

Shakespeare's genius meant that he could make Edmund a character who is neither wholly unlikeable nor particularly admirable. When we hear the Earl of Gloucester express his contempt for his 'whoreson' in the opening scene of King Lear we feel sympathy for Edmund; after we see Edmund framing Edgar and persecuting his father, though, we understand that he has confused justice with vengeance and vaingloriousness.

It is worth noting something of the economic and social background to the struggle between Scott Guy and Ewen Macdonald. Like Shakespeare's Europe, contemporary New Zealand is a place where old social roles are being upset by economic change. The neo-liberal 'reforms' which saw deindustrialisation and the the erosion of the public sector in the 1980s and '90s have greatly increased economic inequality and social mobility in our countryside as well as our towns.

As the historian Miles Fairburn showed in his classic book The Ideal Society and Its Enemies, nineteenth and early twentieth century Pakeha New Zealand was a fragmented, fluid society, where settlers who had fled the class systems of the Old World ranged from place in search of economic self-sufficiency. Many ended up running small dairy or sheep farms, and for much of the twentieth century young Kiwis with an independent spirit and a love of the countryside continued to dream of owning their own farm. For many decades the dairy sector, in particular, was dominated by small-scale farming operations. The term 'cow cocky' came to stand for the man who owned fifty or so acres of land, ran a small herd on it, and used the facilities of the local dairy co-op to get his produce to distant markets and make a living.

In recent decades, though, dairy farms have been getting larger and larger, and therefore more and more expensive to run. The dairy co-ops of old have coalesced into a multinational company preoccupied with its own expansion outside the country, and indifferent to the needs of small farmers. Foreign investors have lined up to buy 'superfarms' created by the merger of more modest blocks of land. Men and women who might once have been 'cow cockies' now work for salaries or wages on  land they will never own.

In the past, the conflict between Ewen Macdonald and Scott Guy would easily have been resolved. With the help of his parents-in-law, Macdonald would have left the Manawatu, bought a modest block of land in the King Country or the Hawkes Bay hills, and become his own master. He could have built his own farm up over decades, as Scott Guy's parents were able to do.

With the small, start-up farm virtually a thing of the past, though, Macdonald felt compelled to hold his ground in the Manawatu. He knew that walking away from the Guy farm would mean losing any chance of running his own farm, and spending the rest of his life working for a salary. Scott Guy's long-suffering parents tried hard to satisfy the ambitions of their son and son-in-law, even though it meant draining the revenue of their farm to pay for two managers with overlapping responsibilities. By attacking Scott Guy's new home, Ewen Macdonald tried to resolve the contradiction which was making his life so difficult. By driving the first-born son off the Guy farm, he would reward himself for his years of hard work and bring peace to the troubled property. Like Edmund, though, Macdonald used methods which were incompatible with his ends. His sense of injustice led him to acts of cruelty.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Te Radar in the Pacific: new journey, same old stereotypes

In his review of my Oceania issue of brief  for the Australian journal Jacket2, Jack Ross discusses the 'strange propensity of New Zealanders' to forget they live 'in the middle of the largest ocean on earth', an ocean containing an immense number of islands and cultures. When palangi Kiwis do think about the Pacific, they tend to use simplistic and old-fashioned concepts, which long ago ossified into stereotypes.
Jack approves of the new issue of brief, but not all readers have shared his feelings. One critic of the issue, who wishes to remain anonymous, complains that I have 'filled the thing up with too much theory' when I could have been including more 'poems, stories, reports and photos' from the Pacific. It is true that brief 44-45 contains some fairly heavy-duty theorising from the likes of the Tongan intellectuals Futa Helu, Epeli Hau'ofa and 'Okusi Mahina and the New Zealand Marxist Owen Gager. Helu, Mahina, Hau'ofa and Gager have all wanted to change the ways we think about the Pacific, and to do this they have created new theoretical accounts of the region's history and makeup. They have minted their own, sometimes cumbersome concepts to replace labels and categories they consider Eurocentric or excessively romantic or otherwise unhelpful.

I think that the theoretical writings of Helu, Gager et al are something more than exercises in self-indulgence. As Kant showed more than two centuries ago, humans see the world through the prisms made by the ideas they hold. If we hold simplistic and outdated ideas about the Pacific, then no amount of fresh information about the region - no amount photographs or reports or travel - will help us to understand it better. We will remain prisoners of our preconceptions. Just as a pair of glasses needs to be replaced when its lenses have worn out, so a set of ideas needs to be junked when it badly distorts our understanding of the world.

The latest product from Kiwi comedian-cum-documentary maker Te Radar shows the quixotry of trying to get a new view of the world through old and blurry ideological lenses. In the promotional clip for Radar Across the Pacific, a television series which will portray his travels through Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, and Kiribati, Te Radar points out that the nations of the tropical Pacific are New Zealand's 'neighbours', but that many Kiwis nevertheless know little about them. Te Radar intends his jaunt through the tropics as a journey of discovery, for himself and for his palangi audience.

Te Radar has made a niche for himself as New Zealand's cuddly, politically correct comedian, the man who generally refrains from toilet and bedroom humour, and who would never think of making his audience laugh with nasty ethnic stereotypes. Te Radar's television documentaries have been as well-meaning as his comedy. In Off the Radar he 'went bush' on a plot of land north of Auckland, in an effort to become self-sufficient; with Hidden in the Numbers he made an heroic attempt to popularise the work of Statistics New Zealand.
In recent years a slew of deliberately crass travel documentaries have won big television audiences in the West. An Idiot Abroad, a series which follows an obnoxious Briton as he travels the world, insulting almost everyone he meets along the way, has traded particularly well on old-fashioned racial and cultural stereotypes. It is hard to imagine Te Radar laughing at An Idiot Abroad. He clearly intends his journey across the Pacific as a respectful investigation, and in the first episode of the series, which was broadcast tonight and saw him travelling through Fiji, he was impeccably polite to all of his interlocutors and persistently curious about their society.

But Te Radar's good intentions couldn't stop the first installment of his series relying on the same racial stereotypes which sustain products like An Idiot Abroad.

Te Radar's journey through Fiji made him aware, again and again, of the size and political power of that nation's military. Te Radar repeatedly observed that Fiji has experienced several military coups in recent decades, and that its current leader is a military man. He noted the Fijian army's involvement in counterinsurgency and 'peacekeeping' campaigns in places like Iraq and Sinai, and visited a village which had lost sons on foreign battlefields.
Te Radar cannot be faulted for focusing his attention on Fiji's military. The armed forces are far more central to Fiji's history and identity than the palm-fringed beaches or faux-pagan dances which are commonly used to represent the country in tourist brochures and lazy travel guides.

But Te Radar's revelations about the size and far-flung deployment of Fiji's military raised a couple of difficult questions. Why, anyone watching his documentary would have wanted to ask, does a poor country with less than a million people keep thousands of men in uniform? And what interest does Fiji have in sending so many men so regularly to distant battlefields?

Instead of offering intellectually serious answers to the questions he had raised, Te Radar fell back on hoary ethnic stereotypes. He explained that Fiji had a large military because native Fijians were a warrior people who saw fighting as an essential part of their culture. The vision of indigenous Fijians as ferocious, inveterate warriors has its roots in the writings of nineteenth century European explorers, missionaries, and colonists, and was popularised in the twentieth century by pulp novels and sensationalist films.

Perhaps aware of the dubious lineage of his talk about native warrior traditions, Te Radar offered an additional explanation for the importance of Fiji's armed forces. Talking to a villager who had lost a relative on a foreign battlefield, he suggested that Fijians might be popular peacekeepers because they had 'such friendly smiles'. With this cringeworthy line Te Radar invoked the stereotype of indigenous Fijians as a simple, happy people, blissed out by kava and the tropical sun.

Te Radar is not the first person to mix up the two main stereotypical depictions of Fijians. In Fiji and elsewhere in the Pacific, palangi depictions of indigenous people have revolved around cliches of noble and ignoble savages. Missionaries and colonists often switched between the two stereotypes, depending on their moods and needs. Both stereotypes remain embedded in the consciousness of many palangi, even in the twenty-first century.

If Te Radar had been able to cast aside his stereotypes and examine the history and sociology of Fiji, he would have discovered that, far from being some simple expression of the indigenous soul, the size of the Fijian military is the product of decisions made by the imperialist powers who dominated the country in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In 1874, after a violent campaign by settlers who had organised a branch of the Ku Klux Klan, Fiji's King Cakobau was forced to ask Britain to annex his country. The British were interested in growing sugar in Fiji, but reluctant to spend large sums of money on the needs of its native population. They placed native Fijians under the control of handpicked chiefs, forbade them from visiting towns like Suva or entering a range of occupations, and imported large numbers of Indians to work in the sugar industry. Fiji was soon divided into a burgeoning capitalist society and a stagnant indigenous ghetto. Realising that the most restive native Fijians needed to be given some way of improving their lot, the British decided to give the colony an army recruited from native villages. The army became larger and larger, as more and more young men clamoured to join it and escape from their narrow lives.
In the second half of the twentieth century the United States began to exert a strong influence on Fijian society. American military advisors were sent to train the Fijian army, and duly imbued it with a fervently anti-communist Cold War ideology. The army was warned about the dangers of Indian-dominated left-wing organisations like the Labour Party and the trade unions, and encouraged to think of itself as the conscience of Fiji, rather than a mere tool of civilian politicians. Sitiveni Rabuka, who staged the first of Fiji's military coups in 1987, was a good example of the sort of soldier American advisors helped create in the postwar decades. Rabuka was a fundamentalist Christian who wanted to see the conversion of Fiji's 'heathen' Hindus, and who regarded the Labour Party he deposed almost as an arm of the Soviet Union. Frank Bainimarama presents himself as the saviour of Fiji's Indians as well as its indigenous people, but he, as much as Rabuka, is the product of a politicised military which has a large degree of autonomy from the rest of Fijian society.

The Fijian army's continual deployments in distant troublespots have reinforced both its autonomy and its politicisation. The deployments give the military income, and make it less reliant on funding from Fijian governments. They also allow give some Fijian soldiers the sense that they are playing an important role in world events, and reinforce their contemptuous attitude towards civilian politicians and civil servants in Suva.

The first episode of Radar Across the Pacific failed because Te Radar's laudable curiosity about the Pacific collided with his allegiance to hoary stereotypes about the region. To understand a place we need not only information, but a set of background ideas about that place which avoid simplification and prejudice. Te Radar should have read Epeli Hau'ofa or Futa Helu before he packed his bags and took off for the tropics.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Friday, June 15, 2012

Looking for trouble in Tonga: a reply to Vomiting Diamonds

A blogger with the alarming name Vomiting Diamonds has criticised the emphases of my posts about Tongan history. Diamonds is a Marxist, and he believes that there is too little conflict in my picture of the Tongan past:

Anyway, where does class exploitation and resistance fits in to all this? It seems to me it's a bit in the background in all this somewhat abstract discussion of modes of production.

Diamonds makes a fair point. I do give the impression, in my previous blog post and in certain other posts I have made about modern Tonga, that rulers like King Tupou I and Queen Salote operated completely independently of any pressure from social forces. In my last post I praised documents like the Emancipation Edict of 1862 and the  of 1875 Constitution as historically progressive, yet gave the impression that they were the doing of Tupou, and Tupou alone, rather than the achievement of the sort of popular movement which is usually responsible for the success of progressive social measures.

Every society is a mixture of cohesion and conflict, but social scientists tend to disagree about whether the conflict or the cohesion is more worthy of study. Marxist historians, with their belief in the ubiquity and importance of class struggle, are likely to be disappointed with the emphases made by some of the leading scholars of the Tongan past.

The two pioneering scholars of nineteenth and twentieth century Tongan history are Ian Campbell and Sione Latukefu. In his book Island Kingdom: Tonga Ancient and Modern Campbell brings together findings from archaeological digs, the scribblings of early European visitors to the Pacific, and a lot of economic data to create a lucid narrative of Tongan history. Latukefu, a Methodist minister as well as an academic, spent decades interviewing Tongans about the histories of their families, villages, and churches, and was thus able to escape the Eurocentrism of many palangi commentators on his society.
For any outsider interested in learning about Tongan history, Campbell and Latukefu provide very useful introductions. But both are inclined to emphasise the cohesion of Tongan society over the past century and a half, and neither gives much attention to the experiences of subaltern groups like poor farmers, urban labourers, criminalised youth, and inhabitants of isolated outer islands.

Campbell and Latukefu often give the impression that the course of Tongan history has been determined by  a handful of great men and women. Island Kingdom includes a couple of fascinating chapters on Tupou I's reforms of Tongan society, but these chapters leave us with the impression that these changes came about because of the wisdom of Tupou I and his close adviser, the Wesleyan missionary Shirley Baker, rather than because of anything the mass of Tongans said or did.

But there are hints in some of the work of younger scholars about how the limitations of Campbell and Latukefu might be surmounted.

In his book Tonga in Crisis the anthropologist and poet 'Okusitino Mahina compares the pro-democracy protests which culminated in the riot that razed half of Nuku'alofa in November 2007 with events in the nineteenth century:

[T]he introduction of Codes of Law beginning with the Vava'u Code in 1839, followed by the 1862 Emancipation Edict and the promulgation of the 1875 Constitution...were the direct results of major political upheavals that threw the whole of Tonga into some fifty years of bloody Civil Wars...Characterised by bloodshed, burning and destruction, these political and religious conflicts, which culminated in the promulgation of the 1875 Constitution, raise some serious questions. Should we embrace the 1875 Constitution and treat the political violence that led to its formation as a complete disgrace? Or, should we embrace the political violence and regard the Constitution as a total disgrace? 
Where Campbell and Latukefu often seem to regard the Civil Wars of the early nineteenth century as struggles between members of the Tongan elite - between chiefs using private armies to settle disputes over traditional kingships, and over religious doctrine - Mahina sees them as conflicts in which the Tongan masses are players. And where Campbell and Latukefu treat the Civil Wars as a temporary departure from the pattern of Tongan history, and regard Tupou I's accession to power in the 1830s and '40s as a restoration of normality and stability, Mahina argues that conflict continued, in one form or another, throughout the reign of Tupou. Measures like the 1875 Constitution were the product of this continuing conflict, not a reflection of its end. Unfortunately, Mahina did not have space to develop his interpretation of nineteenth century history in Tonga in Crisis.

If we wanted to flesh out Mahina's claims ourselves, we could do worse than deploy a technique EP Thompson developed during his researches into nineteenth and eighteenth century English history. Thompson was a man who spent decades railing against attempts to portray British society as traditionally cohesive rather than conflict-ridden, and who insisted that history had to be seen from the 'bottom up', through the eyes of subaltern groups, as well as through the narratives left by Prime Ministers and diplomats and generals.

As he worked his way through stodgy official histories, old government reports, and yellowing court records, Thompson learned to read between the lines of his material: to 'listen' for the voices of  marginalised and unfashionable individuals and groups. By attending to the oversights of official histories, and the lacunae in supposedly exhaustive documents, Thompson was able to reveal another side to his country's history.

I want to suggest how the Thompsonian technique might be applied to Tongan history by pointing to what I think is a significant silence in standard accounts of one of the most important phases of the country's nineteenth century civil wars.
After proclaiming himself King of Tonga in 1831, Tupou I began a long military campaign to unify his country, which had broken into warring statelets at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Tupou was an early Tongan convert to Christianity, and his campaign soon took on the character of a holy war.

After subduing all of his native Ha'apai archipelago in central Tonga, Tupou moved north, and took control of the Vava'u Islands. Soon Tupou was fighting on Tongatapu, the large southern island which has usually dominated Tonga. As the site of the traditional Tongan capital of Mu'a and tens of thousands of hectares of rich plantations, Tongatapu was indispensable to Tupou.

In 1835 a handful of Tongatapu chiefs converted from paganism to Christianity, and established, with the help of a few British missionaries, a fortified settlement around a church in Nuku'alofa, on the northern coast of the island. Tupou arrived with an army in 1837, after pagan forces besieged the little outpost of Christendom. Tupou's troops relieved the siege, and made a series of attacks on pagan villages in the interior of Tongatapu. As each village fell to the holy warriors, its people were slaughtered. Several historians have suggested that the missionaries in Nuku'alofa goaded Tupou into these massacres, by quoting some of the gorier passages of the Old Testament to him.

Although Tupou appeared to pacify much of Tongatapu in 1837, his rule was not accepted by the survivors of his invasion, and in 1840 he was forced to mount a new campaign against his pagan enemies.

During his second war for Tongatapu Tupou made a radical change in tactics. Gathering his army outside Kolovai, a pagan stronghold on the western tip of Tongatapu, he made a speech without precedent in Tongan history:

We did wrong in the last war when we did not fight as Christians; then our object was not to save but to destroy. Now, I tell you all that we must not fight in that way again. If the enemy come out of their fort tomorrow morning, every man must try to seize them, but not to shoot them, except in a case of life or death.

For a fortnight Tupou's army sat outside Kolovai's high earth walls, waiting for its enemies to surrender. The soldiers inside the fortress were mostly serfs, who had been compelled to take up arms by the chiefs whose lands they worked. As word of Tupou's speech reached them, they began to sneak out of the fortress. When Tupou finally advanced on Kolovai the fort's depleted garrison surrendered immediately.

After the fall of Kolovai, Tongatapu's pagan chiefs began peace talks with Tupou, and the war soon petered out. When another rebellion against his rule broke out on Tongatapu in 1852, Tupou used the tactic which had defeated his enemies at Kolovai. Once again, mass desertions took the wind out of the rebels. After 1852 Tupou never faced another armed uprising.
Historians have tended to treat the defeat of the 1840 and 1852 rebellions as evidence of Tupou's wisdom and political nous. There has been little discussion, though, about how Tupou's tactic of peacefully waiting out his enemies could have enjoyed such remarkable success. What made the soldiers of villages like Kolovai so ready to defy their chiefs by throwing down their arms and deserting their posts? Why was the pagan feudal class of Tongatapau, which had for hundreds of years raised powerful armies, suddenly unable to put up a fight against a Christian upstart from Ha'apai? Is it possible that Tupou was able to triumph peacefully over the rebels of 1840 and 1852 because he made an informal alliance with a peasantry that was ready to revolt against its traditional masters?

When we ponder these questions we need to remember the origins and development of feudalism on Tongatapu.

The Lapita people, the ancestors of today's Polynesians, brought a relatively egalitarian society with them when they colonised Tonga three thousand years ago. Based as it was on fishing and small-scale farming, the Lapita economy was incapable of generating the sort of surplus that could support a privileged and idle class.

Over millennia, though, Tongatapu's inhabitants developed a sophisticated and highly productive system of agriculture to support their growing population. A chiefly class rose to appropriate the surplus produced by this economy; priests and poets were deployed to justify and beautify the privileges of this new class. When Cook arrived on Tongatapu in 1773 he found a fantastically stratified society. Chiefs regarded the serfs who worked their estates as members of a different race, and denied that they had souls.
In the early decades of the nineteenth century, though, the feudal order was destabilised. New-fangled muskets and cannons upset the balance of power between chiefs and emboldened raiders from northern islands; Christianity undermined old religious apologies for the powerful. The need for firearms and other European goods led chiefs to sell or barter much of their harvests to traders, rather than offer it to the priests, poets, and sacred king who lived in Mu'a. Young serfs could dream of escaping their lot by leaping aboard a passing European ship or enlisting in the army of some enemy of their chief.

In 1839, after taking advice from some missionaries, Tupou had created the 'Vava'u Code', Tonga's first set of written laws. The Vava'u Code ordered chiefs to give their serfs a fair amount of land to farm for subsistence purposes, asserted the universality of human rights under Christianity, and demanded that every able-bodied Tongan perform useful work. The Vava'u Code foreshadowed the Emancipation Edict, which removed serfs from the control of chiefs, and the Constitution of 1875, which transferred chiefs' properties to the state. Although it was a modest document, compared to the reforms that were to come, the Vava'u Code nevertheless announced that Tupou would not tolerate some of the old excesses of the chiefs.

News of Tupou's Christian religion and his irreverent attitude toward some Tongan shibboleths would have preceded his arrival on Tongatapu. Is it possible that the willingness of the defenders of villages like Kolovai to capitulate to Tupou I was in part a declaration of no confidence in Tongatapu's local feudal class? Did Tupou, with his attacks on the privileges of the chiefs, his Christian rhetoric about the brotherhood of man, and his promise not to mistreat captured enemies, seem like a potential ally to some of Tongatapu's beleagured peasants? Is some sort of peasant rebellion hidden by conventional accounts of the 1840 and 1852 wars on Tongatapu?

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Size isn't everything: or, why we should study Tongan history

The New Zealand media rightly gave extensive coverage to Samoa's recent celebration of fifty years of political independence.

Kiwi journalists often talked, though, about Samoa being 'granted' independence on June the 1st, 1962, as if freedom were some gift generously bestowed on the islanders by their white-skinned betters. In reality, of course, the Samoans only managed to reestablish control over their own affairs after a sixty-six year struggle against first German then New Zealand colonialists. In the course of this struggle protesters were gunned down on Apia streets, whole villages were burned, and roads were blockaded for years on end. Samoan freedom was won, not given.

Our media made another egregious error when it referred, again and again, to Samoa becoming 'the first independent Pacific nation' fifty years ago.

Last week, while parties were raging in Samoa, Tonga was quietly marking the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Edict created by the visionary King Tupou I.

After reunifying Tonga, which had suffered decades of war in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Tupou had in the 1850s set about giving his ancient nation modern institutions and laws. A convert to Methodism, Tupou had come to abhor his country's feudal lords, who clung to the pagan belief that the serfs who worked their land had no souls and no rights, and could thus be beaten or slain with impunity. After visiting Sydney and being shocked by the sight of homeless workers sleeping in parks, though, Tupou decided that capitalism was just as undesirable as feudalism.
In the Emancipation Edict and a series of other laws that culminated in the 1875 Constitution, Tupou gave a raft of freedoms to ordinary Tongans, set limits on the powers of the country's old feudal class, and created a hybrid mode of production that was neither feudal nor capitalist. Serfdom was abolished, and every adult male Tongan was guaranteed a small parcel of land to work. The old feudal lords were turned into state-funded administrators of the land distribution system. Freedom of the press and of religion were guaranteed.

Tupou I's reforms won him strong support from a majority of his people, and helped to keep the country united during a time when imperialist powers like Britain, Germany, and America were trying to provoke Tongans into the sort of civil wars which were used to justify the advent of colonial rule in Fiji and Samoa.

It makes no sense for our journalists to refer to Samoa as the Pacific's first independent nation, when Tonga never lost its independence to colonialists. Sadly, though, both Kiwi journalists and Kiwis in general have a longstanding habit of either ignoring or ridiculing Tonga's record of uninterrupted autonomy.

Many Tongans see their country's royal family as a symbol of  independence; for palangi Kiwis, though, it is a target for mockery. We salivate over the weddings and jubilee bashes of the Windsor and Grimaldi families, but turn into ardent Republicans as soon as we see a crown sitting on a Tongan head.

We are just as hypocritical when we mock Tonga's dependence on the money its sons and daughters send home from abroad. Remittances are certainly crucial to the Tongan economy, but it is hard to see the cash which flows home from the cities of New Zealand, Australia, and America as some sort of implicit critique of Tongan society.

In recent years New Zealand's politicians and social commentators have become increasingly agitated by the numbers of young Kiwis who leave the country to avoid paying back their student loans. These refugees from debt are pilloried as 'disloyal', told that they are breaking New Zealand law, and threatened from afar with all manner of punitive measures. Is it not remarkable that we have to pass legislation and crack knuckles to compel our young emigrants to wire some money home, when young Tongans routinely send cash back to their birthplace without any compulsion from the state? Surely the role of remittances in the Tongan economy is a positive reflection on that country, not a cause for ridicule?
Tonga is also regularly dismissed by palangi Kiwis because of its size. It cannot be denied that Tonga is a very small nation. Its several hundred islands together cover an area not much larger than Lake Taupo, and it has fewer people than Tauranga. Samoa is nearly than four times larger than Tonga, and has nearly twice the population. Fiji has twenty-two times as much land, and seven times as many people.

As the Bee Gees pointed out, though, Size Isn't Everything. Tonga may be a very small nation, but it is also a non-white Pacific nation which avoided colonisation in the nineteenth century. That gives it a significance out of all proportion to its size.

Amongst nineteenth century Pakeha, the superiority of European civilisation over its darker-skinned rivals was regarded as self-evident, and the victory of the coloniser over the colonised was seen as inevitable.

Many of us might reject overt racism today, but the notion that the subordination of the Pacific to European and American rule was historically inevitable is much harder to jettison. As the British historian EP Thompson liked to point out, once a conflict has concluded in a certain way it is very tempting to believe that such a conclusion was inevitable. History is easily made into destiny.

Thompson liked to study peoples and events which showed, through their very existence, that history was not a uniform and inevitable process. He wrote about outfits like The Levellers, who tried to build a communist utopia in seventeenth century England, and events like the Swing Riots, which saw rural labourers briefly stop the Industrial Revolution in its tracks in 1830s England, because he believed they were windows through which we might see an alternative history.

Although it is a small society, Tonga offers us a window through which we can see an alternative history of the Pacific. Tupou I was, after all, only one of a clutch of leaders who tried to defeat the designs of European and American imperialists by building a strong modern society on Polynesia foundations. In Aotearoa, King Tawhiao created a thriving nation in the central regions of Te Ika a Maui, but was unable to unify Maoridom, which lacked Tonga's history of political unity, and was defeated in the Waikato War of 1863-65. Hawaii's King Kalakaua not only unified his own people but began building a sort of anti-imperialist empire in the Pacific, presenting himself as a defender of local interests against white colonialists, before eventually succumbing to American pressure. To examine Tonga's real history over the past century and a half is to get a better sense of how the histories of the Waikato and Hawa'ii may have turned out, had the dice fallen a different way.

But Tonga's history of independence is important for our understanding of the present, as well the past. If we assume that the Pacific and other peripheral parts of the world were destined to be dominated by the imperialist powers of Europe and North America in the nineteenth century, then it is all too easy to assume that the same domination is inevitable today.

Samoa may have long since won its political independence, but in recent years it has faced demands for neo-liberal 'economic reform' from American and Australasian governments and from organisations like the International Monetary Fund. Like the colonial administrators of old, the Western suits of the twenty-first century are demanding that the Samoans allow the foreign buy-up of their land and resources. Other Pacific governments have faced similar demands. The Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund have called on Tonga to 'reform' the land distribution system Tupou I set up, so that Tongan farmers no longer have security of tenure over soil allotted to them by the state. A massive report delivered last week by a Royal Land Commission contains somewhat similar suggestions.

The politicians and technocrats who advocate the breaking up of collectively-owned lands and the sale of resources to overseas investors typically couch their arguments in terms of historically inevitability. Like all neo-liberal ideologues, they insist that 'there is no alternative' to their policy prescriptions. But as EP Thompson and Tupou I showed in their different ways, history always contains alternatives. Tonga's successful resistance to colonisation in the nineteenth century should inspire those who want to resist neo-colonialism in the twenty-first century Pacific.

[Footnote/admission: I've been trying to design a sort of comparative course in Tongan-New Zealand history and culture lately, so this post is a sort of self-justification. I'll print an outline of the course, which is mostly an exercise in wish-fulfilment, later this week...]

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Friday, June 08, 2012

Civilisation's strange saviours

As a teenager I sneaked into a screening of Romper Stomper, the portrait of the Australian neo-Nazi scene that launched Russell Crowe's movie career. I was impressed by the epic running battle between Russell's band of dim-witted skinheads and the army of enraged Vietnamese Australians who poured out of a seemingly endless series of Ford Escorts and Bedford vans wielding enormous knives borrowed from their parents' restaurants.

I don't think I spent long considering the ideological backdrop to Romper Stomper, but I do remember being struck by the contrast between  the neo-Nazis' claims to be the saviors of Western civilisation and the depravity of their lifestyles. The tattooed, taut Crowe, who was far less famous, in the early nineties, than his cricketing cousins Martin and Jeff, talked about leading a gang of ubermenschen, but he and his mates were covered in jailhouse tattoos, and used a toilet brush to wash their dishes. They lived in a series of grotty warehouses, and their political activism invariably involved knuckledusters, baseball bats, and oi, a subgenre of music which makes run-of-the-mill punk seem as sophisticated and adventurous as free jazz. For all their talk of social Darwinism and their claims to uphold the best of European culture and history, I don't think Russell and co would have been admitted to Plato's Academy, or allowed onto the Beagle.

I'm reminded of the pathetic ubermenschen of Romper Stomper when I see reports on the progress of Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi organisation which last month won twenty-two seats in Greece's parliament. Led by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, an ex-soldier with an exceptionally high-pitched voice and a fondness for stiff-armed salutes, Golden Dawn bemoans the state of modern Greece, and promises to recreate the age of Homer, Pericles, and Plato.

Laments for lost Hellenic glory are not new - Byron famously described Greece as a place on which 'all, except their sun, is set' - but they do not usually come from fat, tattooed, crewcut blokes in leather jackets. Nor is it clear exactly how the Golden Dawn's political programme, which calls for the mass internment of dark-skinned folk and socialists, the banning of trade unions, and the placing of 'the interests of the country before the interests of democracy', is going to help Greece revive its reputation for intellectual and literary brilliance.

Golden Dawn has come under scrutiny from the Greek and international media since last month's elections, and its poll ratings have dropped. Greeks who used the party to register a protest against the austerity programme forced on them by the German bourgeoisie have discovered that Michaloliakos and his colleagues are ardent Hitlerians, who look back to the German occupation of the '40s reverently. Golden Dawn has slipped in the polls, and may not keep its place in parliament in the new round of elections scheduled for June the 16th.

The Dawn's reelection chances have not been helped by the decision of one of its MPs to turn a television chatshow appearance into a boxing bout. In Romper Stomper, Russell Crowe's troubles began when he and his friends decided to beat up a group of young Vietnamese women. On Good Morning Greece Ilias Kasidiaris, who is apparently a keen weightlifter and boxer as well as a politician, had a crack at a couple of female MPs from the left-wing Syriza coalition and the Communist Party.  After throwing a glassful of water and three punches Kasidiaris fled the television studio. He is now holed up at Golden Dawn headquarters, a fugitive from the Greek police.

Even before Kasidiaris' implosion, Golden Dawn had been denying claims that it was a fascist organisation. The Dawn's online bookshop, which offered literary classics like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf for sale, had been closed down, and Michaloliakos had insisted he was a run-of-the-mill Greek nationalist, not a Nazi.

Despite Golden Dawn's attempts to clean up their website, a good deal of evidence of the real nature of their politics remains online, and some of this evidence comes courtesy of one of New Zealand's best-known neo-Nazis, Kerry Bolton. The obscure Ethniko website, which was set up to 'honour the Greek-German folk spirit', harbours an interview which Bolton did in French with a member of the Golden Dawn back in 1998.

Michalolikos founded Golden Dawn in 1980, but by 1998 his outfit was still tiny and little-known. Bolton's interest in Golden Dawn is understandable, though, because he and Michalolikos shared a peculiar desire to fuse neo-Nazi politics with Satanist and neo-pagan religion. In its early years, Golden Dawn denounced Christianity as a foreign, pusillanimous creed, and urged Greeks to turn to the authentically Aryan figures of Zeus and Lucifer. Bolton promoted much the same message in a string of magazines published at this end of the world in the '90s. In recent years Michaloliakos has reinvented himself as a stout defender of the Greek Orthodox Church, and Bolton has pronounced himself a Catholic. I wouldn't trust either of them with the communion wine.

I'm reliant on babelfish for my reading of Bolton's 1998 dialogue with a Golden Dawn activist, but I'm fairly sure I haven't misunderstood the opening section of the chat:

Bolton: Can Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) be described as a National Socialist Movement based on Hitler, or is it based on specifically Greek tradition while appreciating the merits of such movements of the past?

Golden Dawn: I will repeat this question by repeating two sentences of Hitler. The first is located in Mein Kampf, where this great leader stated: "the civilization that we will create will last a thousand years, because it combines the Hellenic thought Germanic thinking." The second is the answer to a question of the famous General SS Belgian Léon Degrelle. The question: "Mein Führer, who are we?", Hitler said: "we are all the co-rapporteur. This remarkable statement is mentioned by General Degrelle himself in a letter to Mr. Mihaloliakos leader a few years before the death of the first. In short, we see National Socialism not only as a political movement created by Hitler to serve the needs of a specific people (the German people, in this case) at a specific time, but also as the modern version of the former Greek expression. I recommend your readers to read Plato's Republic and to inform on Greek thought; then they fully understand what I'm saying here:  National Socialism has its roots far in the past, at the dawn of our Aryan civilization and it is indeed a Greek philosophy! I should add that the modern National Socialist philosopher David Myatt fully recognized this fact in his various works.

I'm sure that Golden Dawn would today hasten to denounce this exchange as a flagrant fabrication perpetrated by an agent of the New World Order, but I think that it highlights an essential aspect of the party's politics.

Where many other southern European fascist movements have looked to Mussolini or Franco for inspiration, Golden Dawn is preoccupied with Hitler. Bolton's interlocutor labours to make the Belgian fascist and wartime collaborator Leon Degrelle into a sort of bridge between the Fuhrer and Michaloliakos. Degrelle is a controversial character amongst fascists, because he chose to put his loyalty to Hitlerism before his loyalty to his own people, but Michaloliakos apparently had no objections to his behaviour. Now that he is presenting himself as a Greek nationalist rather than a neo-Nazi, though, Michaloliakos might be embarrassed by his connection with Leon Degrelle.

Michaloliakos would be even more discomfited, I think, by the praise that Golden Dawn's spokesman had for David Myatt, a Briton whose ideology fuses Nazism with elements of Islamism. Myatt, who nowadays calls himself Abdul-Aziz ibn Myatt, argues that Aryans and Muslims ought to join forces and launch a jihad against Jews. In 1998, when Bolton got his interview with Golden Dawn, Jews were still the favourite hate group for most European fascist organisations, but over the last decade or so, and especially since the 9/11 attacks on America, the far right has attempted to capitalise on widespread Islamophobic by focusing its hatred on Muslim immigrants to the West. In the new atmosphere of the twenty-first century, David Myatt's Islamonazi ideology has become an embarrassment to many fascists. I doubt whether Golden Dawn, which likes to claim that immigrants from nations like Pakistan are in the process of 'Islamicising' Greece, would cherish being associated today with the bearded, Koran-carrying Myatt.
The Golden Dawn spokesman's assertion that Hitler was some sort of reincarnation of Plato shows once again the absurdity of the group's claims to represent the best of Greek and Western culture and history. While Plato's Republic has been criticised as an authoritarian text by numerous scholars, including our own Ted Jenner, it cannot be fairly compared to Hitler's demented Mein Kampf, or to Michaloliakos' incoherent conspiracy theories.

Golden Dawn's attempt to annex Greece's classical heritage seems particularly surreal to me, because of my current dealings with members and former students of the 'Atenisi Insitute, the school established on the outskirts of Nuku'alofa by the Tongan classicist Futa Helu back in the 1960s. In the new Oceania-themed issue of the literary journal brief, Ted Jenner notes that 'Atenisi, whose name is Tongan for Athens, began teaching its students Greek in the late '70s, the very time when the language was pulled from the curricula of  Kiwi state schools. At the launch party for the new brief, Ted talked nervously to me about his forthcoming trip to Greece, noted that he had taught the Greek language and Greek literature to enthusiastic students in Malawi for more than a decade, and suggested that classical civilisation might be in better nick in Africa and the Pacific than in the Athens neighbourhoods patrolled by Golden Dawn thugs. Looking at the likes of Nikolaos Michaloliakos and Ilias Kasidiaris, who would disagree with Ted?

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Absent without leave

I must apologise sincerely to the members of the Workers Party for cancelling, at an unacceptably late hour, my appearance at the Socialism 2012 conference they held last weekend in Wellington. I wasn't kept away from the Windy City by a lack of desire to discuss pre-capitalist societies and the problems of Marxist theory with the Workers Party and its guests, but by a sudden and nasty escalation of the nerve pain which has troubled me ever since I smashed my arm into several pieces more than a decade ago. I feel wretched about letting you down, comrades.

I've been on light duties for the most of the past few weeks, but the indefatigable Paul Janman hasn't let my enfeebled state impede work on the documentary I am helping him make about the Great South Road. After I'd called off a planned night-time expedition, explaining that if I wasn't fit enough to talk about Althusser over cups of tea in a fuggy Wellington seminar room then I could hardly manage to ride down South Auckland's wind tunnel waving a camera out a car window, Paul turned up at my house with Uruguyan coffee and stacks of CDs. I emerged from the bed-tomb I had improvised on the living room couch, and thanked Paul for bringing me some music to listen to during my recuperation; he replied by telling me to pull myself together, and to begin recording some voiceovers for the scores of hours of "raw footage" he had shot on safaris down the Great South Road. "Raw footage is like raw sewage" he told me, drawing on his experience as a sometime employee of the Waste Management Department of the Auckland City Council. "It has to be sifted and purified."
Paul watched as I slotted the first of his discs into a DVD player which had just gratefully spat out my copy of John Boorman's Zardoz. I pressed play, and flakes of white light blew over the screen. I began to fiddle with a knob of our decrepit telly, thinking that it must be misfiring again, but Paul told me to stay my hand. "It's supposed to look like that" he explained. "It's shot in infra-red." I squinted, and realised that the white light had only partially obscured a half-empty caryard and a crowded food bar.

"This is the way Fallujah and Kabul look like to invaders, in the twenty-first century" Paul explained. "This is the light that the best rifles offer. This is the light that terrorists and freedom fighters die in." "Fair enough" I replied, "but back in 1863 the 65th Regiment just used lamplight, didn't it?" Paul was unimpressed. "I thought you wanted to mix up eras" he said, "to let time run wild while space is restricted. I told you about Fellini's Roma, where some gladiators from Nero's era share the back of a troop truck with some blokes in khaki...but don't worry, I've left other stretches of the road pitch black. Anyway, what we want is a bit of narration. Throw some anecdotes and poems into that recorder, and make them rhyme with the images, if you can see them. You don't have to leave the couch. Hell, you can even hide under that duvet and read."

Here's a text from my first book To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps which I've lightly revised and tried to match with some of Paul's footage. Most of the nasty stuff in it comes from the stories that used to be broadcast in my Seventh Form Common Room. I hope they weren't true.

Now it seemed to be unrolling metre by metre in front of him, like an unfamiliar hallway late at night, when you're scared to turn a light on and wake your hosts, and instead walk slowly into the dark, peering down at your silent slippered feet. Above the road a large sign approached, blurring as it got bigger. Suddenly, as he was about to pass it, the words swam into focus, and he read CONIFER GROVE 200M. He swore, but when the next sign appeared in the distance he didn't even bother to squint. He realised he didn't want to turn off. He reasoned that there was only a finite number of possibilities, of possible encounters and actions, in one suburb. He could drive to a late night bar, drink some more bourbon and cokes there, perhaps chat up a middle-aged trophy wife on a tottering stool, more likely sit alone and watch strobe lights dancing on the black floor. He could stop at a Burger King or KFC, and observe squeaky-clean boy racers pulling up in their mothers' Hondas to refuel. He could drive down dark quiet streets and fields to a beach, and park under a row of Norfolk pines, and watch the dark hull of a Ford Fairmont rocking between empty carparks, and perhaps linger long enough to see a girl spill out of the car's back door, pull her panties up under her skirt, and turn and swear and stagger away, rubbing tears into her makeup. He could follow the pines until they turned into a seawall and a disused sewage pipe, then turn left, away from the silent water, and creep up one of the driveways that rise off each waterfront street, then crouch in some convenient bushes until a dog stopped barking, or a light was quenched, and it was safe to stumble across the lawn toward a groundfloor window the heat had prised open. What would he do, once he got inside? How would he know if the house was hers, was his? He knew she lived somewhere in the south, somewhere close to the sea. He would look for something blunt, like the alarm clock she had kept beside the bed - something that would knock her out without hurting her. Something that would give him time, time to make a black coffee, to tell the story to himself. He had hit her with that clock before, when she was about to surprise him with the girl from across the road. He had kicked that bitch out the back door, then dragged his wife from their bedroom to the lounge's long couch. When she woke up she accepted his story, or seemed to, in spite of the bruise, because of the bruise. But he hated the idea of turning off. He loved this road. As long as he stayed on this road that might go on forever the number of possible actions could be considered infinite, and he had command of them all. He remembered again his grandfather’s house, how he'd stayed there once, when his mother had dropped him there in the middle of the night, after her last fight with his father. His grandfather had sent him off to a small room at the end of the hall, but he couldn't sleep, no, he didn't want to sleep, and he'd walked up and down the hall in his grandfather's old slippers, passing each door slowly, not daring to turn the handle, fearful of what might be inside, of what might not be inside. He'd resolved to visit each room in the morning, but his mother woke him very early and took him away, and he never visited that house again. He suddenly realised he was driving far too fast. He was sweeping past one car then another: first a Fairmont, then a Ford Escort, then a Mercedes. A Mercedes! He smiled when its owner showed her annoyance by sounding her horn and shouting something out the window. How much was he doing? This old bomb had trouble getting past a tonne, even on the Bombay Hills with a tail wind! He looked at the speedometer: 25 KMS. Quite illogically he leaned on the brake, and saw the speed drop to 15 KMS. He realised that the Escort and the Mercedes had passed him. Looking into the distance, he could see tail lights that probably belonged to the Mercedes, turning off to the left. Now another driver was passing him, honking her horn as she did so. With a sudden twist of the steering wheel he pulled over to the side of the road, where weeds grew amongst loose gravel. He sat there for a long time, watching pairs of tail lights pass him and slowly disappear.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]