Sunday, July 26, 2015

Eating pig in Kolomaile

It was wonderful to have lunch today in the village of Kolomaile, at the southern end of 'Eua, Tonga's southernmost inhabited island, with the Masalu Halahala, who represents the descendants of one of the founding inhabitants of 'Ata, the tiny and rugged island that was raided by Australian and New Zealand slavers one hundred and fifty-one years ago. 

After the slave ship had taken half of 'Ata's people away, Tonga's king moved the remainder to the larger and safer island of 'Eua. They named their new settlement Kolomaile, after the settlement they had left behind on 'Ata. As we sat in a shady yard beside a table dominated by a recently slaughtered pig, the Masalu Halahala shared his family's long history with me, and I handed him documents about 'Ata that I'd discovered during my journeys through the archives of Australasia.

As I tried to explain in this 2010 essay, 'Eua is a very diverse island. As well as the descendants of the 'Atans at Kolomaile, it is home to a couple of thousand exiles from Niuafo'ou, an island in the extreme north of Tonga that exploded in 1946, and was evacuated soon afterwards. While some of the Niuafo'ouans, who speak their own language and have many unique customs, returned to their ravaged island, others took up an offer of land on 'Eua, where they created a series of settlements that boast the same names as the villages they left behind. 

The Niuan settlements sit close to Kolomaile, and to villages established centuries ago by 'Eua's earliest inhabitants. Sometimes two different villages, with different traditions and different languages, sit on opposite sides of the same narrow road. 

On our way to lunch with the Masalu Halahala, Cerian and I got lost - I was at fault, as usual - and found ourselves in the Niuan village of Petani. We were fiddling with our cellphone, which does not seem to work well on 'Eua, when a passing Niuan invited me into a kava circle. Thinking that I'd ask for directions, I stepped inside a nearby hall, slipped off my jandals, and downed a cup of kava. I was soon getting a lesson about Niuan history, and the eruption that turned half of Niuafo'ou into lava nearly seventy years ago. 'Eua is an island full of stories, where one could spend a lifetime listening and learning. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Talking at the cave mouth

Radio New Zealand's Justin Gregory has broadcast an interview with Paul Janman and me about the South Auckland lava cave where communists produced a banned newspaper during the first year of World War Two. You can listen here.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Is Labour turning blue?

The New Zealand internet is full of debate about Labour Party housing spokesman Phil Twyford's claim that Chinese investors are responsible for the speculative bubble that makes houses so hard to buy in Auckland. Many people, on the right as well as the left, have accused Twyford of racism; others have insisted he is making a serious and unprejudiced argument. 

I wonder whether Phil Twyford's campaign against Chinese investors might be part of a wider strategy that New Zealand's Labour Party has imported from Britain. 

In the eight months since he won the leadership of Labour Andrew Little has worked to move the party towards a rapprochement with socially conservative Kiwis. He has distanced himself from the socially liberal Greens, and has refused to endorse liberal causes like euthanasia, flag change and gender therapy.

During the Northland by-election Little made a coalition with New Zealand First, and watched Winston Peters overturn an enormous National Party majority. Peters won because he and Little were able to convince the relatively poor and socially conservative Pakeha voters of Northland that National was out of touch with their worldview and unaware of their needs. Peters and Little portrayed National's leaders as a clique of privileged, effete urbanites, who were more interested in profiting from Auckland's property boom than building roads and bridges in the regions. When John Key proved unable to hammer a nail into a billboard during the Northland campaign he amplified these charges.

Like Peters' and Little's rhetoric on the campaign trail in Northland, Phil Twyford's warnings about the takeover of Auckland by Chinese seem aimed at socially conservative Kiwis unhappy at the cultural as well as economic changes of recent decades. As Chris Trotter observes, few New Zealanders have understood until recently that the globalisation of their economy would inevitably lead to the globalisation of their population. A free trade deal with China has been followed by a flow of Chinese investment and immigrants. Most New Zealanders are unhappy with the housing bubble that Chinese investment has created. Sadly, many of them are also dismayed by the changing ethnicity of their neighbours. 
Historically, New Zealand's Labour Party has often been ready to adopt ideas and strategies developed overseas. The first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, Michael Joseph Savage, was born across the Tasman, and learned his politics in the small towns of New South Wales and Victoria. The radical free market reforms that the fourth Labour government gave New Zealand in the 1980s were sourced from the University of Chicago. A decade later, Helen Clark turned to Tony Blair and his notion of a 'Third Way' between social democracy and neo-liberalism when she wanted to remake the New Zealand Labour Party and prepare for a new term in office.

Like Little's by-election rhetoric, Twyford's warnings about Chinese investors seem borrowed from the playbook of an influential section of Britain's Labour Party. For years now, this circle of politicians and intellectuals has been promoting the notion that the left can win power by courting conservative working class voters alienated from the right by the economic and also cultural side effects of globalisation. They call their faction Blue Labour.

Blue Labour believes that decades of free market capitalism have disoriented and demoralised the British working class. The stable jobs, monolithic state institutions, and ethnically and cultural homogenous communities that supposedly characterised Britain in the decades after World War Two have been replaced by a fragmented state, which outsources many of its services, and a chaotic economy, in which the job security of the old era is hard to obtain. Meanwhile, new immigrants have altered the appearance and culture of many communities.

Britain's Tory leaders have traditionally posed as the defenders of their nation's borders and the champions of its traditional culture, but Blue Labour thinks they are more interested in importing cheap labour than protecting British sovereignty, and are more comfortable hobnobbing with Saudi investors in the City of London than drinking warm beer in an English pub. To fill the political space left by the Tories, though, Labour must repudiate both the enthusiasm for capitalist globalisation that dominated the Blair years and the opposition to nationalism that has been a staple of the party's socialist left. 

It would be wrong to say that Blue Labour captured Ed Miliband, but the faction's influence could certainly be seen on the former leader's speeches and policies. When Miliband used the slogan 'One Nation Labour' and invoked the nineteenth century Tory patriot Disraeli he was trying to occupy ground David Cameron had supposedly vacated. When Miliband made new curbs on immigration one of his election campaign pledges Blue Labour cheered. 
Although Blue Labour talks about reaching out in a very accessible way to ordinary voters, it bases its strategy on some quite sophisticated, and indeed esoteric, ideas.

Blue Labour is influenced by Toni Negri and Michael Hardt's idea that twenty-first century capitalism is outgrowing the nation state, and rendering traditional forms of government redundant. In their briefly famous book Empire Hardt and Negri argued for the bypassing old forms of government based on the nation state, and the creation of new, international structures. Blue Labour leaders like MP John Cruddas and academic-turned-peer Maurice Glasman, though, see the structures of the nation state as safeguards against a runaway capitalism. 

Blue Labour also borrows ideas from Telos, a journal that began in the 1970s by promoting a sort of Marxism, but has become, over the last couple of decades, a supporter of various forms of nationalism and regionalism. For many of the writers who publish in Telos and attend the journal's conferences, outfits like Italy's Northern League are bulwarks against a capitalist system and a set of supranational institutions that threaten to dissolve borders and submerge cultural differences. In the era of globalisation, parochialism is supposedly as subversive as socialism once was. 

A third source for Blue Labour thinkers is the left-wing versions of British nationalism developed by the likes of Henry Hyndman and George Orwell. In his little book The Lion and the Unicorn, which he wrote in the midst of the Battle of Britain and subtitled Socialism and the English Genius, Orwell compared his homeland to a family where the wrong members had all the money and power. The British ruling class was like a senile and extravagant patriarch that needed to be disciplined by its more sensible working class relatives. Orwell is remembered for his satires of Stalin's Soviet Union, but he also hated the capitalism of America, and feared that its crass and alien culture would overwhelm his beloved Britain. 

Orwell's left-wing nationalism found some surprising echoes in the decades after World War Two. When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953, for example, the Communist Party of Great Britain applauded, because it considered the coronation a show of British independence in the face of American-led global capitalism. 
Nostalgia for an order lost to the chaos of global capitalism has long been a part of left-wing discourse. In the ninteenth century William Morris deplored the destruction of Britain's countryside and craft industries by mills and railways; in the 1930s Walter Benjamin described socialist revolution as 'an emergency brake' that could save humanity from the destructive 'progress' of capitalism. Even Karl Marx, who as a young man celebrated the way that capitalism could make 'all that is solid melt into air', ended his career lamenting the destruction of the peasant communities of Russia at the hands of property speculators and industrialists. 

But where Marx and Morris and Benjamin advocated revitalising old institutions and practices and making them into components of a new, improved society, the Blue Labourites seem to take an uncritical and sentimental view of traditional parts of their society. The faction seems to support anything that socially conservative working class Britons favour, and to oppose whatever those Britons oppose. Maurice Glasman's statements of unqualified opposition to immigration and paeans to 'traditional religion' would fit easily into The Sun or the Daily Mail

Footnote: I discovered Blue Labour a couple of years ago, when Stuart White wrote an article called 'The Dignity of Dissent: EP Thompson and One Nation Labour' for the online journal Open Dissent. King was responding to the Sheffield political scientist Michael Kenny, who had suggested that the slogan 'One Nation Labour' might have pleased Britain's greatest twentieth century historian. King argued that Thompson would not have liked the intolerance that is implicit in the words 'One Nation': a sign of democratic health. But the rhetorical momentum of One Nation seems to carry us away from this, evoking unity as the ideal. Does dissent get in the way of the desired unity? Is it, therefore, fundamentally undesirable? How does One Nation Labour discriminate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ kinds of division and disagreement? How can the necessary discriminations be conveyed within the confines of the One Nation concept?

I'm pleased that Stuart White cited my book about EP Thompson in support of his argument, because I think that the case he makes is both eloquent and correct. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, July 10, 2015

Chasing slavers through the archives

This is the abstract for a talk I'll be giving on the evening of Monday, the third of August at the 'Atenisi Institute in Nuku'alofa. Come along. 

Islands Sailing Away: what palangi archives say about the slave raids on ‘Ata and Niuafo’ou

Early in June 1863 a ship named the Grecian anchored off ‘Ata, the southernmost island in the Kingdom of Tonga. The captain of the Grecian, a veteran Tasmanian whaler named Thomas McGrath, invited the people of ‘Ata to come aboard his vessel and trade. Whaling ships had been calling at ‘Ata for decades, and islanders had become used to trading the crops they grew and the fish they caught for the exotic goods of the whalers.
After at least one hundred and forty-four men, women, and children – about half the population of ‘Ata – had boarded the Grecian, McGrath and his mostly New Zealand crew locked them in the hold of the ship and sailed away. The government of Peru was paying for shiploads of Pacific Islanders, and McGrath had decided that slaving would make him more money than whaling. After taking another thirty victims at Niuafo’ou, Tonga’s northernmost island, McGrath sailed east, where he encountered a Peruvian vessel and sold his captives.
When he learned about the raid on ‘Ata King Tupou I arranged for the resettlement of the island’s surviving population on the larger and less remote island of ‘Eua. Except for occasional visits by castaways, adventurers, and archaeologists, ‘Ata has been uninhabited since 1863.  
The raids on ‘Ata and Niuafo’ou are remembered around the kava bowls of Tonga, but they have been forgotten in New Zealand and in Australia. Even in Tonga, many questions remain about the raids and their aftermath. What happened to the ‘Atans and Niuafo’ouans stolen by the Grecian? Did any of them survive slavery, and do they have living descendants? What consequences did McGrath and his crew face for their actions? How many other Pacific Islanders were enslaved by New Zealanders and Australians in the nineteenth century?
In 2013, when he was living in Tonga and teaching at the ‘Atenisi Institute, Dr Scott Hamilton visited ‘Eua and, with the help of Tongan translators, listened to stories about the raids. He decided to find out whether the archives of New Zealand and Australia could provide more information about these tragedies and their legacy. His aim was not to replace but to complement the stories that Tongans already tell about the raids. 
Using newspapers, shipping reports, diplomatic despatches, and information provided by descendants of Thomas McGrath, Hamilton has been able to reconstruct the movements of the Grecian in the years and months before and after the raids on ‘Ata and Niuafo’ou. With the help of several senior scholars of Pacific history and an Auckland-based descendant of a survivor of the raid on ‘Ata, Hamilton has also been able to learn more about the fate of the Grecian’s victims, and identify two Tongans who may have succeeded in returning from Peru to Polynesia.
Hamilton has also learned that New Zealand’s involvement in the Pacific slave trade was far more serious than has previously been thought. In the 1870s and ‘80s Pacific Island slaves worked in New Zealand flax mills and on the estates of some of its wealthiest citizens, and New Zealand ships regularly raided tropical islands in search of new labourers.
During his talk at ‘Atenisi Hamilton will share the information he has gathered, and describe the book he is writing about New Zealand’s slaving history.

Friday, July 03, 2015

After the ta'e

Last month I posted the introduction to 'Pass the ta'e please', an essay about kava drinking and cultural revolution that I had written for the Aussie journal Overland. Now the rest of my ta'e has turned up on the Overland website, alongside some psychedelic kava leaves.

'Pass the ta'e' ends with an account of an exciting and infuriating evening in October 2013, when members of the avant-garde kava Seleka kava club visited the kava drinkers of 'Atenisi, the little university on the edge of Nuku'alofa where I taught for a year. 'Atenisi was founded by the late philosopher Futa Helu, and has long been a bastion of secularism and dissent in the Kingdom of Tonga.

For a couple of former students of 'Atenisi, though, the wild hair, amplified music, and Cubist paintings of the Seleka gang were an affront to Futa Helu, as much as to Tonga's churches and monarchy. The fact that Tevita Latu, the founder of Seleka, had been charged with treason in the aftermath of the riot that wrecked much of downtown Nuku'alofa in 2006 only made the club more suspect.

'Pass the ta'e' records my worry at the inability of some 'Atenisians to accept their visitors, as well as my belief that the Seleka Club, with its internationalism and creativity, is perpetuating rather than a betraying Futa Helu's project.
But I might have been worrying too much, in typical palangi style, when I wrote 'Pass the ta'e'. The Director of 'Atenisi, Futa Helu's daughter Sisi'uno, recently curated an exhibition that featured not only several important Niua Sila-based Tongan artists but Tevita Latu and his fellow Selekarian Taniela Potelo. Alas, I'll be arriving in Nuku'alofa a few days too late for the show!

My essay for Overland also describes 'Atenisi's battle for survival over the last decade or so. The school remains poor and under-attended, but over the last couple of months its staff and supporters have been buoyed by the news that three of its recent students have been awarded scholarships to undertake postgraduate studies overseas. One will go to the University of Northern Illinois, another to Warsaw University, and a third to the University of the Ryukus in Okinawa. I taught all three students in 2013, and am very excited for them. I hope that their success will encourage more young Tongans to knock on 'Atenisi's doors.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]