Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking for the horizon

I'll be spending one of the first days of the New Year on the Hauraki Plains, helping Brett Cross, who has developed an interest in the region's contribution to aviation and maritime history, search farm drains and peat swamps for the bones of World War Two corsairs and nineteenth century schooners. If Brett and I can con a geiger counter from a handy nuclear scientist, then we might even test a couple of acres of soil near Ngatea for the dose of radiation that the landing gear of a flying saucer supposedly left in 1969.

I will probably spend some of my day with Brett staring west, at the Hakarimata and Hapuakohe Ranges, which together stand like a wall between the plains and the Waikato River.

Like so many New Zealanders, I was raised amidst hills and valleys and trees, and sometimes feel lost and a little dizzy on a bare plain. In the same way that a disoriented yachtie might search a horizon for a familiar reef or star, I have to check the unease that flat barren country gives me by looking into the distance for hills or, better still, mountains. The Hakarimata-Hapuakohes only rise a few hundred metres, and are covered in regrowth forest and scrub, but set beside the yellowing dairy farms, gravel pits, and peat swamps of the Waikato they seem massive and primordially green.

I took this photo of the Hakarimatas from Gordonton Road, which flows southwest from State Highway One below the sacred maunga of Taupiri, past a dairy farmers' golf course and the ancient marae of Hukanui, into the bleak new northern suburbs of Hamilton. About this time last year, Gordonton Road began to lose traffic to the new four lane expressway Steve Joyce built between Hamilton and Taupiri township. Where Gordonton Road is adorned with bends and dips and rises, Joyce's expressway is determinedly flat and straight.

Without their shoals of commuters and daytrippers, Gordonton and nearby roads sometimes have the melancholy tranquility of estuaries at low tide.

If you're driving through the Waikato this holiday season, you might enjoy avoiding Steve Joyce's four lanes and giving the old roads your custom.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

It's 'Akilisi!

This is my favourite photograph of 'Akilisi Pohiva, the long-time leader of Tonga's Democratic Party who has just become Prime Minister of Polynesia's only continuously independent nation.

At Tonga's recent election, 'Akilisi's party won ten of the seventeen seats on the general roll; the others went to independents. The remaining nine seats in parliament are allotted to nobles, and most commentators expected the nobles to unite with independent MPs and form a government that excluded 'Akilisi. There was a precedent for this sort of manoeuvre: at Tonga's 2010 general election the Democratic Party won twelve of the seventeen seats available to commoners, but was defeated when the noble MP Lord Tu'ivakano fumbled together an anti-'Akilisi coalition.

The 2010 general election was the first to be held under constitutional changes that allowed for commoners to elect a majority of MPs. These changes were won after decades of protest by commoners against the privileges of Tonga's royal family and its nobles. In 2005 public sector workers staged an epic strike against the status quo, and twenty thousand people - a fifth of the country's entire population - marched through the streets of Nuku'alofa to demand democracy. In 2006 another pro-democracy demonstration turned into a riot, and scores of capital's shops were looted and burned.

In 2010, many Tongans saw Tu'ivakano's power grab as a betrayal of the spirit of Tonga's revised constitution, and a defeat for the pro-democracy movement. Tu'ivakano's government was widely criticised as corrupt and inefficient, and several of its members fell from power amidst scandals.

In the lead-up to Tonga's recent election, 'Akilisi insisted that his party needed to win all seventeen of the seats available to commoners, in order to forestall any new manoeuvres by the nobles. After the Democratic Party fell far short of its goal many of its supporters looked forward gloomily to another term in opposition.

When parliament convened yesterday, though, five MPs outside the Democratic Party sided with 'Akilisi, so that he had enough votes to form a government.

It is not clear what sort of policies Tonga's new government will pursue. Ever since he lost his state sector job in the 1980s for criticising Tonga's establisment, 'Akilisi has been preoccupied with the struggle to democratise his country. He has spoken and written ceaselessly about the structure of the country's parliament, the necessity of a free press, and the importance of depoliticising the judicial system, but has had less to say about state budgets and trade patterns. The Democratic Party has never produced a detailed plan for Tonga's small and troubled economy.

As the Tu'ivakano regime grew close to China, 'Akilisi made an alliance with the Australian and New Zealand governments, who are competing with Beijing for influence in the tropical Pacific. Now that 'Akilisi has taken power, his friends in Wellington and Canberra, as well as their friends in the Pacific offices of the International Monetary Fund, will be encouraging him to 'reform' the Tonga economy by privatising state-owned assets and making land and labour easier for foreign investors to acquire.

During the 1980s and '90s, democratic governments that replaced dictatorships in many parts of the Third World were persuaded to pursue the same sort of neo-liberal policies, to the detriment of their peoples. It would be a tragedy if Tongans gained democracy, only to lose their land and their way of life.

The example of several radical governments elected over the last decade in Latin America suggests that it is possible to reject the advice of the IMF without rejecting economic development. Back in June I tried to argue that Tonga could, like Venezuela and Bolivia in recent years, find ways of combining twenty-first century technology and trade links with traditional forms of social organisation and land ownership. Some commentators, both inside and outside Tonga, have regarded this sort of argument as romantic. My friend and former colleague Maikolo Horowitz, for example, believes that 'Akilisi has no choice but to implement free market reforms in Tonga, and to open the country to foreign investment (Maikolo explained his thinking during this interview with me).

For now, 'Akilisi's supporters are celebrating his election, and the latest steps in the long march of the pro-democracy movement. At the Seleka Club, the headquarters of Nuku'alofa's political and artistic avant-garde, the kava will be flowing, and the music will be blasting.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pleasing a reviewer

Over the years I've had a few reviews of my work. Some of the reviews have appeared in journals, others on websites, and still others in newspapers. Some have been positive, and some have been negative. But no response to my work has been quite like the review I got tonight from Aneirin.

I'd been struggling for a couple of hours to get my son to bed, and I knew his insomnia was my fault. I'd disrupted his sleep pattern earlier in the day by letting him nap in the car, and ramped up his blood sugar levels by feeding him a couple of ice creams. We'd turned the lights off in his bedroom, lain down, and calmed down - I get more agitated than him, in these situations - when he demanded that I tell him a story.

I improvised a rather trite and formulaic tale of a bear that goes wandering in the woods, gets lost, and then encounters, as evening shadows are growing, a huge lulu (that's the word for owl that Aneirin learned in Tonga last year) with bright yellow eyes. At first the bear is afraid, but the lulu quickly explains that it wants to be his friend, and offers to fly him home. The bear climbs on the owl's back, and the two of them rise high above the trees, so that they can see stars, and a moon as big and yellow as the owl's eyes.

When a little blue house - blue is Aneirin's favourite colour at the moment - appears in the grassland beyond the forest, the bear recognises his home, and the owl expertly descends, landing in the sandpit outside the front door (bears, I explained to Aneirin, adore sandpits as much as he does). The bear's mother and father open the door anxiously, and chastise him for getting lost. They smile, though, when the bear explains how he got home, and the owl is invited inside, where a dinner of pizza and honey - what else do hungry bears eat? - has just been pulled from the oven.

"That's really good story Dad" Aneirin announced, after I'd finished improvising. He closed his eyes and began a smooth descent into sleep. I'd never been more relieved and pleased by a review.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas cheer at the Mall of America

This photograph was taken yesterday during an anti-police protest in Minneapolis' massive Mall of America; it reminded me of the 1976 sci fi movie Logan's Run, which is set in an underground city whose beautiful young inhabitants are encouraged to party and shop, and then party and shop some more - and threatened with violence if they are imaginative enough to question the logic behind their apparently blissful lifestyle.
The Mall of America's sinister text message to protesters underlines an argument that sociologist Mike Davis has made about the anti-democratic nature of privately owned shopping precincts. 
In City of Quartz, his classic study of life in Los Angeles, Davis notes the difference between a publicly owned city space, like a park or a square, where citizens are often free to meet and discuss ideas, distribute materials like leaflets and pamphlets, and hold protest rallies, and a privately owned mall, where anybody who upsets the owner can be eased out the door by security guards. 
A shopping mall offers the illusion of public space. As long as visitors to the mall keep buying toys and soft drinks and movie tickets, then the illusion is maintained. When visitors to a mall want to behave like citizens rather than consumers, though, they soon discover the true nature of their environment. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Three holiday shots

[Continuing the series begun last week...]
Onehunga: the Milburn Carrier, which moves to Westport, is the last of the fleet of large ships that once cut the Manukau harbour. The metal sheets of the Milburn's hull are neurons that help the ship remember, on behalf of all its sunken or scrapped comrades, that journey through the harbour heads - waves striking waves on the bar, the salt haze spreading, dense as smoke, black rocks rearing suddenly, like harpooned whales - 
Ngatea: peat-haze like mustard gas over the Hauraki Plains. Dogs sap a ducksniper's hide. Gorsepods misfire.
Huntly: chimneys make a tundra in the sky, while in the heat haze of Generating Unit 5 faces ripple and disintegrate.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Rise up against Islam': Kiwibloggers react to the Sydney siege

[In the aftermath of the siege and shootout at Lindt cafe, thousands of Australians have taken to the streets and to the internet with messages of tolerance. The slogan 'I'll ride with you' has been widely used by Aussies who don't believe that their country's Muslim community should be punished for the actions of Man Haron Monis. Leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities have come together to preach peace. 
Here in New Zealand, though, some observers have had a very different reaction to the tragedy in Sydney. On a number of right-wing blogs, commenters have made Man Haron Monis into a representative of all Muslims, and have demanded the collective punishment of Australasia's Muslim community. 
Here are some excerpts from a long and depressing argument I had in a comments thread at Kiwiblog, the very popular site run by National Party pollster David Farrar, during the Sydney siege. The anti-Muslim ranters at Kiwiblog included David Garrett, a former member of parliament for the Act Party. Garrett is no longer an active member of Act, but his opinions about Muslims are shared by Stephen Berry, who got one of the party's top list spots in this year's elections.
tranquil wrote:
I would love to see the Australian people rise up against Islam as a result of this incident (but it probably won’t happen). I am fed up with Western people being on the receiving end of such savages and barbarians. I would love to see the tables turned and *Muslims* suffer for once. At least the Buddhists in Burma have the right idea in how they are dealing with the Muslims there.
Would the jihadists who read this blog and downtick the comments please tell us who you are so we can put some bullets in you. Else Eff off to Syria and become martyrs. If it’s just lefty pinko liberal types, please eff off to Syria to go and talk nicely to them. David, Can you track who downticks what? This information could be useful in sanitizing New Zealand from Jihadists…
Little by little, the notion of stopping and reversing Islamic immigration will gain traction. Actions such as these in Sydney will prompt people to question the standard liberal ideology of the belief in tolerance or non-discrimination. Ask a white blood cell about “tolerance” when it comes across a pathogen in the human body.
Scott wrote:
I’ve noticed the 'stopping and reversing of Islamic immigration' being proposed by people on the right, but these folks never explain how it would be done. It seems to me that such a policy would be impossible to implement without the creation of something akin to a police state here. 
Stopping new immigration is easy. Reversing the trend will involve discrimination. Reclassify Islam as a political belief system. Identify the most virulent strain of Islam (as they are not all the same) and revoke the citizenships of members of that group. Pick one group at a time. Work through the process politely and professionally. Review progress. Proceed on to the next group if required. 
Scott wrote:
You want to 'reclassify Islam as a political belief system'. How do you define this system? Is anyone who self-identifies as a Muslim a Muslim? Would you deport members of the Ahmaddiya faith from New Zealand? They first arrived in numbers in the ’70s, have their own prophet and idiosyncratic beliefs, and are detested by jihadis because their liberalism and ecumenism. Indeed, the Ahmaddiya have often been the target for Al Qaeda attacks. Sectarian Middle Eastern governments persecute the Ahmaddiya, accusing them of apostasy. You'd be sending some of these people to their deaths. 
Religious communities which use the Koran and uphold Mohammed as a prophet but do not consider themselves Muslims would also presumably have to dealt with. The Baha’i community reveres Mohammed, but also regards the Torah and the New Testament as part of the word of God. Presumably our Baha’i Kiwis would have to reform their theology, and part company with their Korans, if they wanted to stay in their homes... 
The policy you're proposing would require the constant monitoring of immigrant populations, to ensure that Muslims hadn’t slipped into the country by pretending to have another or no religion. Muslim New Zealanders who’d renounced their faith so as to remain in the country would have to watched, in case they showed the same backsliding ways as English recusants in the Elizabethan era. Many Muslims would go underground rather than convert or leave the country; their safehouses would have to be raided and emptied. A branch of the police would have to be organised to sniff out and destroy samizdat editions of the Koran.
What would you do with the Kiwi Muslims who lack dual citizenship? What about our Maori Muslims? Perhaps you think some cash-strapped nation could be persuaded to accept some of the Muslims we expel as refugees, in the same way that Nauru and the Papua New Guinea have accepted asylum seekers spurned by Australia? 
waikatosinger wrote:
We don’t need to keep out all Muslims. It is probably enough to ensure we don’t import a large enough number from one place that they can become a community. That is easily achievable by simply setting very small immigration quotas for Muslim countries.
Scott wrote:
The first significant group of Muslim migrants to New Zealand came from Fiji, which is not a Muslim majority country. More recently, many Muslims have arrived from India, which is not a Muslim majority country. 
In many places it is difficult to determine the demographic relationship between Muslims and other groups. Are Muslims a majority in Albania, where fifty years of Stalinist rule left most people with little relationship to religion? What about Bosnia, where being Muslim is often a matter of culture rather than going to a mosque? And in many Third World nations it is difficult to get reliable data on the relationship between different religious communities.
Odakyu-sen wrote:
I agree that facing off against “Islam the monolith” will not work. You have to clearly break down “Islam” into the various sects and deal with each one individually. The different sects are, as you point out, not all the same. Like I said: discriminate. Use common sense. Take the initiative.
Scott wrote: 
But no matter how much you subdivide the Muslim community – whether you decide to deport everyone who calls themselves a Muslim or just X or Y branch of the religion – you are going to face the same logistical problems. Let’s say you decide to pick on Sunni Islam, and leave alone Shi’a and other branches of the faith. You still have the problem of constantly monitoring the New Zealand population for Sunni texts, for secret prayer meetings, for signs of evangelising. You still have to hunt underground Sunni believers through safehouses and encrypted internet sites. You still have to maintain a constant watch for ‘self-converts’ – and since there’s nothing so glamorous as a banned ideology you’ll get a stream of these. You still have to maintain prisons where suspected Sunni are held and interrogated, and deportation camps where the condemned await exile.
And you can’t do all these things without creating a police state.
waikatosinger wrote: 

I do believe in religious freedom. Don’t you?
Scott wrote:
I hope it’s clear that I’ve been trying to call the bluff of those who demand that Islam be banned from New Zealand. I think that by examining the logistics of any attempt to ban Islam we can show what a terrible move it would be. 
The only religion ever to be banned in New Zealand is indigenous. For fifty-five years, Maori were barred by law from worshipping their gods and consulting their tohunga...
The Tohunga Suppression Act was motivated by hysteria and punished a whole religious community for the alleged misdeeds of one of its members. It’s a part of our history which we should remember when we hear calls for the banning of Islam and the deportation of Muslims.
David Garrett wrote:
It appears to be an invariable rule: Let Muslims get to 2% of the population (2.5% in Australia apparently) and you get problems…let them get to 5% (as in the UK) and ghettoization and atrocities occur…It seems the jihadis in Australia aren’t waiting until they get to 5%…
As for the bullshit that banning further immigration from Islamic countries would mean we had a police state here, what a total and unmitigated load of crap…Very very simple: a change of policy to allow no immigration at all from specified countries…easy peasy…
Any country in the Middle East (even Israel, there are Arabs there too) plus any other country which is officially Islamic – such as Pakistan – and any whose citizens have been involved in terrorism… I don’t give a rats how many countries that is…Call it racist if you like – I really don’t care – but can anyone really argue that illiterate uneducated Somalis add anything to our society…except risk?? 
Scott wrote:
According to David Garrett, we should prevent a Muslim demographic bomb from exploding in New Zealand by banning migration ‘from any country in the Middle East’, plus any other country that is ‘officially Islamic’.
As someone pointed out upthread, though, many of the migrants that have arrived in New Zealand from Middle Eastern nations are not even Muslim, let alone supporters of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. Many of the Iraqis who live here, for instance, are members of religious minorities – Chaldeans, other Christians, Mendaens. Another big chunk of the Iraqi migrant population are Kurdish Muslims. These communities have arrived here because they have been displaced from their homes by Bush’s war and by the various religious fundamentalists that have taken power in its wake. It is hard to think of any New Zealanders who would be less inclined to raise the black flag of ISIS and Al Qaeda. 
The example of New Zealand's Iraqi community shows why bigoted generalisations shouldn’t be allowed to guide immigration policy.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, December 15, 2014

Teena Pulu Brown rattles Tonga's cage

[Vuna Road is only a dozen kilometres long, but it encompasses all of the contradictions of the Kingdom of Tonga. Vuna runs along the waterfront of Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital and only city, from the suburb of Sopu, where palangi diplomats and local businessmen have built large homes and walled compounds, past bars, restaurants, and a series of wharves and berms that double as marketplaces, to Patangata, a shantytown built on a sandspit by economic refugees from Tonga's outer islands. 
Commerce brings the different populations of the waterfront into contact. At improvised stalls set up on the sides of Vuna Road, fishermen and carpenters from Patangata sell fresh octopi and carved ika to Australasian diplomats and elderly Americans disgorged from cruise ships. On weekends, middle class Nuku'alofans park their SUVs and buy kava from relatives who have driven dented utes in from the countryside.

Recently, though, Tonga's government announced plans to regulate and segregate the entrepeneurs of Vuna Road. It told stallholders to stop trading from the grassy edges of the road, and instead conduct business from a new 'marketplace' that consists of a few hundred square metres of of crushed coral rock surrounded by wire fences. This hot and treeless space has been named 'the cage' by Nuku'alofans.  
In a paper that she gave at last week's Human Rights in the Pacific conference at Albany Massey University, Teena Pulu Brown, who is a senior lecturer in Maori and Indigenous Development at AUT University, made the 'cage' on Nuku'alofa's waterfront into a metaphor for Tongan society in the second decade of the twenty-first century. 

Brown delivered her paper with journalist Richard Papamatautau, who accompanied her on a recent visit to Tonga to observe the country's general elections. After putting Tonga into its regional context, Brown's paper describes the action, and sometimes the lack of action, during an electoral contest whose outcome remains uncertain. After I apologised to her for missing the conference, Brown was kind enough to send me a text of 'Who's who in the zoo?', and to let me publish it here. ]

Who’s who in the zoo? Tonga election 2014
Movember was a hairy month.  It made “the poor state of men’s health due to lack of awareness” go from bad to worse (Movember New Zealand, 2014).  There was Tony Abott’s koala summit (Lavelle, 2014).  What was that all about?  The G20 countries acting for “two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and 75 per cent of global trade” landed in Brisbane to talk shop (G20 Australia, 2014a).  Pacific Island states stood for the one-third that didn’t get a look in, which was customary.  The Trans Pacific Partnership evaded the regional radar of Pacific Island governments.  No political head uttered it was about “investor rights not free trade,” of which they didn’t have any (Lennard, 2014).  But when Australia’s Prime Minister erased climate change from the G20 talk-fest because it stymied economic growth, and Pacific Island leaders said nientenichtsnadanichego to the European Union bankrolling climate funds, something, somewhere, was disconnected.
A few days after global trade stormed the global South, Will Ilolahia of Auckland got on Radio Australia.  The tide turned to Pacific Island politics.  A week off from 50,405 Tongan voters electing seventeen people’s representatives to parliament was an opportune time to wave a red flag at the Tongan state, Will thought (Matangi Tonga, 2014).  He was right and wrong, which was typical.  Will had gotten his protestor skills as a young Polynesian Panther of 1970s inner-city Auckland.  This was his urban Polynesia edge.  Different to community leaders his age, migrants who spoke English with a Dongan accent and socialised in Tonga not to rumble with authority, Will got in the state’s face. 
“Those of us who actually hold Tongan passports we’ve been quite concerned, and we raised it with some of the members, why can’t we be like other democracies [and] be able to vote because after all, a lot of us overseas Tongans provide Tonga with a significant amount of income in regard to remittances and other important things that we do for the Kingdom.  Areas of expertise by overseas Tongans should be taken into account but the hierarchy and administration is always done by the locals who, to be straight up, I don’t think they see past the island itself when we are becoming a global force.  Millions of dollars is remitted back to Tonga, more than what they earn in their exports” (Hill, 2014a).
‘Aminiasi Kefu, Tonga’s attorney general quashed any whiff of an overseas uprising.  “[We] just simply can’t afford to set-up voting from outside because it would have to cover Australia, Japan, France, the UK, the US, and the Tongans [are] basically everywhere.  That would just be a logistical nightmare and also, we need a lot of resources.” (Pulu, 2014).
Meanwhile in New Zealand, the colonial propaganda wars had resumed.  Whether 1840 Maori chiefs ceded sovereignty by signing a Treaty with the Queen of England was disputed.  John Key had an opinion.  New Zealand’s Prime Minister thought the colony was settled peacefully.  He was mistaken and shameless, which was characteristic.
“In my view New Zealand was one of the very few countries in the world that were settled peacefully.  Maori probably acknowledge that settlers brought with them a lot of skills and a lot of capital” (Stuff NZ, 2014; Waatea News, 2014).  He should have put it in context: Maori acknowledge settlers brought skills and capital they used against them.
In Nadi, Fiji, Pacific Island heads of government gathered to pivot and prostrate to China.  President Xi Jinping performed a declaration: “We feel a natural kinship with each other.”  “The vast Pacific Ocean links China, Fiji and other island countries and, indeed, our hearts close together” (Fox, 2014; China Embassy, 2014; Jinping, 2014).  Three days prior, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated the rhetoric in Suva: “This is a region that is important to us.  There is a lot we can do for these nations” (Modi, 2014).
The world’s largest ocean was vital to Chinese, Indian, and Russian navies upgrading their Pacific fleets and dependent on open lines of communication and ports of access for deep penetration in the remote South, which was proving to be no longer a Western sphere of influence.  With “our hearts close together” in “a region that is important to us,” China, India, and Russia spun polished stories to get inside sea borders of South Pacific security (Jinping, 2014; Modi, 2014).
The Pacific Islands’ region had joined hands in an ancient circle dance.  They had returned home to the Austronesian family of languages of South East Asia, Madagascar, and Oceania, and were singing for Live Aid as the world’s 21st century dependent relatives. 
On November 27th 2014 the Tonga election intensified the country’s bipolar condition.  People were attached to, and cut off from, the region’s global-scape.  Many assumed “politics [was] not a priority for youth” (Tonga Daily News, 2014a).  High school youth had their faces blacked out in media as lean, mean, bare foot brawlers outrunning flabby cops who looked like contenders for a United Nations non-communicable disease list, not that there was a national register, but not that the Tongan state wouldn’t formulate a fat people’s file for funding.
“What are solutions for problems [like] committing suicide?”  Questions were put to parliamentary candidates at a youth event bankrolled by the United Nations Democracy Fund that attracted few young people.  The response was holey with an e implying worn and leaky, not the holy with a y suggesting divine and flawless.  “Youths nowadays should try to accept God, fully repent from sin and everything will be clearer.” (Tonga Daily News, 2014a).
How will Tonga solve youth unemployment?  “Youths are lazy because of their attitude.”  “Weaving mats and display it in stores will help to push youths [to] see that [it is] important.” (Tonga Daily News, 2014a).
With 8,175 new voters aged 21 to 35, the mentality that “youths are lazy” and need to “accept God [and] repent from sin” did zilch to elevate this voting bloc’s value by saying young people have rights to inclusion (Tonga Daily News, 2014a, 2014b).  Young people’s voice and visibility didn’t matter, and they showed it by not giving a rat’s ass. 
“Are you half caste?”  “My grandfather was European.  But I’m Tongan like you.”  “I can see you Palangi.  Are you half Tonga?  Are you sure?” inquired the cleaner with bucket and mop in hand.  She gazed at the exotic hybrid exiting my hotel room with money in pocket for overpriced coffee at a town café.  In town, I was fenced by one block of cafés and bars for foreigners who paid cash or credit for food and alcohol, but spared no coins on poor beggars pestering them for change.  In town, I didn’t have to play the hotel half cast watching Tongan women clean, cook, and serve white tourists in strained English, clumsy manners, and frayed uniforms stitched up with black cotton.  In town, I could pretend the cage wasn’t fragile. 
I asked my colleague Richard to do fieldwork for a co-authored article.  A journalism academic, he had been Radio New Zealand’s Pacific correspondent covering the 2010 vote, and state funerals of father and son monarchs, Tupou the fourth and George Tupou the fifth.  Richard knew how Tonga rolled out election pageantry brimming with brass parades and car-cades that could not conceal families with children manning road side stalls for twelve hour shifts.  He understood I was tied to political actors, drenched in the politicking, gagging to get breathing distance from the field.
While Richard was doing fieldwork, my job as an anthropologist, I thought I’d be a Facebook journalist back at the hotel.  I posted photographs with news captions.  “The Cage.  The outgoing Tu’ivakano government wants to capture street vendors selling vegetables, firewood, and seafood on Vuna Road in this cage and charge them a fee to sit in the hot sun, uncovered, without shelter or access to running water and an ablution block peddling their poor people’s goods.”
No one liked my investigative reporting.  I tried live commentary from the field.  “Top end of Vuna Road by the Palace was cordoned off last night when I was driving back from town and it’s still blocked this morning.  I was going to drive through the cones.  King Tupou the sixth is here at the Palace, which is why this part of the road was closed to the public.  Why?  Do the common people have ebola?” (Brown Pulu, 2014a). 
My Tongan Facebook friends with European ancestry liked the angle so I played it loud like a broken ukulele.  “Watched a rusted old truck from the Sopu end of Vuna Road drive around the barrier and straight through to town.  Go the commoners!  Half cast has more appeal.  I have an escape route out of Tongan commoner jail by motioning that the other half points to European ancestry.  Be jealous of me too!  I ain’t royal and I ain’t no goddam commoner with ebola.  I am mean.  I am speaking from my British and Dutch side.  Blame that part of my mixed-up racial, ethnic, and cultural background.” (Brown Pulu, 2014a).
I was uncoordinated piecing it together. Journalists Pesi Fonua and Kalafi Moala told New Zealand media the election was peaceful.  It wasn’t.  It was pensive.  Young people brooded that job chances were grim.  Families fretted that scrapping together an evening meal could worsen.  Many didn’t vote because it made no difference to them who was in government.
Back in New Zealand after election week, Ma’afu texted me.  Outgoing Minister for Lands and a high-ranking noble re-elected to parliament, I picked a fight with him in Tonga and came off second best.  His message beckoned me to bury the bush knife and relate.
“If the Nobles support Vaea, [I] am crossing the floor” (Ma’afu, 2014).  I nearly died.  Read the one-liner dazed: Ma’afu was “crossing the floor?”  Is he drunk?  I grappled to take in that this noble might actually cross the parliamentary floor to support the nomination from the people’s representatives for Tonga’s Prime Minister.  The noble Ma’afu was doing democracy.  Why was it hard for me to accept that?  What double standards I had.
Brown Pulu, T. (2014a). Facebook Post, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, November 29.
Brown Pulu, T. (2014b). Facebook Post, Auckland, New Zealand, December 1.
Callick, R. (2014). Fijian stopover as Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping charm Pacific. The              Australian, Melbourne, Australia, November 21.
China Embassy. (2014). Foreign Minister Wang Yi Talks about President Xi Jinping’s Attendance at the G20 Summit and Visits to Three Countries Including Australia.  Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of South Africa, Pretoria,     South Africa, November 25.
Fox, L. (2014). Chinese president Xi Jinping signs five agreements with Fiji as part of China’s            Pacific engagement strategy. Australian Broadcasting Corporation: News, Melbourne, Australia, November 22.
Gulati, M. (2014). Modi in Fiji: An Agenda Beyond the Diaspora – Analysis. Eurasia Review:   News and Analysis, Madrid, Spain, November 20.
G20 Australia. (2014a). G20 Members. G20 Australia 2014, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra, Australia.
G20 Australia. (2014b). G20 Leaders’ Communique, Brisbane Summit, 15-26 November         2014. G20 Australia 2014, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Canberra,        Australia, Pp. 1-5.
Hamid, M. (2014). Mohsin Hamid: why migration is a fundamental human right. The Guardian, London, United Kingdom, November 21.
Hill, B. (2014a). NZ Tongans want vote without flight home. Radio Australia: Pacific Beat,       Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Melbourne, Australia, November 20.
Hill, B. (2014b). NZ Tongans wield political influence behind the scenes. Radio Australia:        Pacific Beat, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Melbourne, Australia, November          21.
Jinping, X. (2014). Bright future for friendly cooperation with Pacific Islands, says H.E. Xi     Jinping. Matangi Tonga Online, Nuku’alofa, Tonga, November 20.
Kaniva Pacific. (2014). 9 Nobles vs 9 Democrats: 8 Independents decide which party to        form government. New Zealand Kaniva Pacific, Auckland, New Zealand, November  29.
Latu, K. (2014). Democratic Party promises shake-up of Ministries to promote growth and            development in the Kingdom. New Zealand Kaniva Pacific, Auckland, New Zealand,   November 24.
Lavelle, N. (2014). Cross Talk with Michael Hudson, John Weeks, and Colin Bradford: Koala Summit. Russia Today, Moscow, Russian Federation, September 19.
Lennard, N. (2014). Noam Chomsky: Trans-Pacific Partnership is a “neoliberal assault.”        Salon, San Francisco, United States, January 14.
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Modi, N. (2014). PM Blogs on his visit to Myanmar, Australia and Fiji. Narendra Modi, New  Delhi, India, November 21.
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Friday, December 12, 2014

Three shots from the same war

Beneath the smooth lamplit tar of Highway One: the gravel voice of an old Waikato road, the bones of ambushed coaches

Beside Onehunga's main street the pressganged soldiers of the Orpheus await resurrection, remembering the rotten teeth of Plymouth pier, and skiff-sized breakers on the Manukau bar

At Rangiriri cemetery, wild imperial soldiers are parted from their booze and loot, and made to stand at last in silent respectful rows. Death is a drill sergeant.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Deep diving

Lava Portal from Public Films on Vimeo.

With the help of a superb editor named Eddie, Paul Janman and I have made a promotional clip for Lava Portal, one of the nine chapters of our movie about the secret history of Auckland's Great South Road and its environs.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The rise of the Minimalist Party

We all know about minimalist art and minimalist music, but in the Kingdom of Tonga a minimalist style of politics seems to be thriving. 

The seven independent MPs voted into parliament in Tonga's recent general election have no common philosophy, no common policies, no manifesto, and no common name: that hasn't stopped them, though, from turning themselves into a de facto political party and conducting negotiations first with the Democratic Party of 'Akilisi Pohiva and then with the nobles who are allotted nine crucial seats in parliament by Tonga's revised constitution. 

Sadly, the post that I wrote in 2010 about Tonga's previous general election and its aftermath seems to describe many of the events of the last week. For the second election running, the Democratic Party has won a clear majority of the seats in Tonga's parliament elected by universal suffrage; once again, though, Pohiva and co look like being denied the right to form a government.

Last June, when a festival of political discussion was held in Nuku'alofa, I argued that Tongan democracy should interest us all. I wish it interested the kingdom's nobles and independent MPs. 

For updates and waspish commentary on the negotiations in Nuku'alofa, follow 'Atalanga-based scholar Teena Pulu Brown's twitter feed [Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, December 05, 2014

Te Puoho's weird war

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

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]