Friday, August 21, 2015

'Ata: five more mysteries

Last month I flew from New Zealand to Tonga with my family. About half an hour before the end of the journey a tiny, dark green island appeared in the westward-facing windows of our aircraft. Two fang-like rocks rose beside the island, and white water recoiled silently from its high cliffs.

I was soon shouting excitedly, jumping out of my seat, pacing up and down the aisle of the aeroplane, and leaning over strangers' meal trays, as I searched for the best view of the island. One of the strangers looked at me strangely. "I'm sorry if I seem overexcited" I told her. "I'm just very interested in the island out that window. It's called 'Ata and I've been researching its history, but I've never seen it before". The stranger smiled unenthusiastically, and I retreated to my seat feeling chastened.

Over the past few weeks, though, I've realised that I'm not the only person who is fascinated by the tiny island that sits in the ocean between New Zealand and the inhabited parts of the Kingdom of Tonga.

When I gave a lecture in Nuku'alofa about the raid on 'Ata by nineteenth century whalers-turned-slavers from Tasmania and New Zealand, the audience was larger and more enthusiastic than I'd expected. Well over two thousand people have read the text of my lecture, in the fortnight since I posted it on this blog. Many Tongans have shared a link to the lecture on facebook, and over at the Proud to be Tongan facebook group three hundred and twenty-four people have 'liked' the lecture. I've had e mails and other messages from dozens of people who want to talk about 'Ata. I'm very grateful for this response.

The lecture I gave in Nuku'alofa focused on the slave raid of 1863, and the way it forced the abandonment of 'Ata, but there are many other, less tragic aspects of the island's history that are both fascinating and - to me, at least - mysterious. In this post I'd like share five questions about five different parts of 'Ata's history. Perhaps some of the same readers who have been giving me insights into the slave raid of 1863 can help me to answer these questions.

1. What happened to the people who made 'Ata's pots?

In 1921 the anthropologist Edward Gifford visited 'Eua, the island where survivors of the slave raid on 'Ata had been resettled in the 1860s. These survivors told Gifford stories about the history of 'Ata, and helped him draw up an 'Atan genealogy. Gifford published the stories and the genealogy in his 1929 book Tongan Society.

Gifford was told that 'Ata had been populated by three separate small groups in the eighteenth century. According to one story Gifford heard, the first of these groups of settlers discovered a small number of 'aboriginal' inhabitants on the island, and burned them alive in a cave.
When the archaeologist Atholl Anderson surveyed and excavated 'Ata in 1977, he discovered the remains of a village that had been established sometime around the eighteenth century. But Anderson also found shards of pottery, of the sort made by the Lapita people who settled Tonga as long as three and a half thousand years ago.

An archaeologist named William Dickinson has tested the fragments of pottery found on 'Ata, and found that they were made from local soil, rather than imported from another part of Tonga.

Anderson and Dickinson's research suggests that at least a small number of people were living on 'Ata long before the eighteenth century. What happened to these first 'Atans? Did they die out or emigrate before later groups arrived, or were they usurped by the settlers who arrived around the eighteenth century? Did their memory survive in the story Gifford heard about a group of indigenes who perished in a cave?

2. Did 'Atans have distinctive physical features? 

Some of the Pacific's smallest islands are more isolated from the rest of the world today than they were in the nineteenth century, before the advent of air travel and container shipping. Often nineteenth century mariners would use remote islands like 'Ata as navigational aids, and sometimes they would stop at these islands to gather supplies or make repairs.

Some remote islands boasted surprisingly cosmopolitan populations, as men who had arrived on sealing or whaling or naval vessels settled down and produced children. Michael King has noted that the Chatham Islands, which sit in the cold and empty ocean between southern New Zealand and South America, were home to people from around the world in the first half of the nineteenth century.

There is evidence that outsiders were entering 'Atan society in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The genealogy that Edward Gifford published includes references to unnamed white men, and in 1836 the whaler WB Rhodes reported that a white man was living on the island with a local wife. In an article published by the Otago Daily Times in 1892, a visitor to Tonga named Robert Paulin described some of the refugees from 'Ata:

The appearance of some of the Atta [sic] men I met in Tonga made me think they had white blood in their veins. One, whose good services as a cook made pleasanter many of the pleasant days I spent in Tonga, might sit for a portrait of an old Spanish don - over 6ft high, with high narrow forehead, long face, aquiline nose, keen, dark eyes, thin lips, peaked beard, black, almost straight, hair, long neck, and spare muscular frame, hands and feet very small and neat. This man, nearly 60 years old, used to say that long ago a ship came to Atta [sic] and put some white men on the island, and he was descended from one of the men thus left. 

Some of the descendants of 'Ata I talked with recently on 'Eua insisted that their ancestors had looked different from other Tongans. Several claimed that 'Atans tended to have brown rather than black hair.

The genealogy published by Edward Gifford suggests that cross-cousin marriage was much more common on 'Ata than in the rest of Tonga. If a few outsiders settled on the island and produced children, might these outsiders' physical traits spread quickly through the population, given the frequency of cross-cousin marriage?

3. Did Charlotte Badger visit 'Ata?

Charlotte Badger was a thief, a pirate and, in all likelihood, the first white woman to live in New Zealand. Badger grew up in Britain but was sent to New South Wales at the beginning of the nineteenth century after being convicted of breaking into a house. In 1806 Badger, her baby daughter, and a group of other, mostly male convicts were put on a ship called the Venus, which was headed for the penal town of Hobart. The prisoners took over the ship, and sailed it across the Tasman to New Zealand, where British law had little purchase. During the rebellion Badger is supposed to have dressed as a male and whipped the captain of the Venus. Later she apparently robbed another ship of its stores at gunpoint.

Badger and several other colonists settled in the Bay of Islands, close to a Maori community. Badger was offered passages back to New South Wales, but she maintained that she would rather live amongst Maori than be hanged by her own people for helping to steal the Venus.
But Badger may eventually have left New Zealand, and visited 'Ata on her way to a new home. In 1826 a whaling ship called the Lafayette stopped at 'Ata, where its crew were told that another ship had visited about a decade earlier. According to the 'Atans who talked to the Lafayette, the earlier ship's passengers had included a woman and her daughter. The mother was tall and fat, and her daughter was about eight years old. The mother had told the 'Atans that she and her daughter were fleeing from Maori.

Christine Badger was a large woman, and her daughter would have been about eight years old in 1816.

Many stories claim that Badger eventually settled in more northerly parts of Tonga, or else went on to America, but no evidence has emerged to clarify her fate.

4. Was 'Ata a last refuge for Tonga's pagans?  

In 1854 Charles St Julian, a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald and advisor to the Kingdom of Hawa'ii, published an article called 'The Friendly Islands'. Near the end of his text St Julian turned his attention to 'Ata, which he described as a 'rather barren spot' with a population of one hundred and fifty. St Julian said that 'Ata was 'still heathen', and claimed that Tupou I intended either to 'bring back' its people or else to 'convert them to Christianity'.

By 1854, Tupou I had used guns and the Bible to unify Tonga under his rule. Only two years earlier he had besieged and defeated the Tongatapu villages of Pea and Houma, whose people had rejected both his right to rule Tonga and his Methodist faith. Until 1852 some of the people of Pea and Houma had held on to Tonga's old, pre-Christian religion. They visited godhouses where kava-drunk priests channeled the voices of ancient deities like Hikule'o, and they danced in ways that upset Tupou I and his missionary mentors.

If St Julian's article is correct, then 'Ata was the last stronghold of paganism in Tonga. And oral history suggests there may have been some connection between 'Ata and the siege of Pea.

According to the stories that Edward Gifford collected on 'Eua in 1921, 'Ata's village was named Kolomaile, and was divided into three sections, which were named Hihifo, Auloto, and Pea. The name Pea referred, Gifford was told, to the village of Pea on Tongatapu.

Another of Gifford's informants, who had links to the Tu'i Tonga dynasty, told a story set in the year 1852 that linked Pea to 'Ata. According to the story, a god named Moalaleki resided in Pea, and helped to protect the village. But this god became angry when a cup of kava that should have been drunk by a warrior named Sialevaila was given to another fighter. He deserted Pea and went to 'Ata, bringing with him a kava root. The 'Atans already had houses and priests devoted to a couple of other deities, but they happily accepted Moalaleki, chewing and drinking the kava he had brought.

On the very day that Moalaleki left Pea, Tupou I began his siege of the village. Tupou I's military campaign was, according the story Gifford heard, punishment for the treatment of Sialevailea and the loss of Moalaleki.

Is it possible that the story Gifford heard about Moalaleki and Pea recorded, in an imprecise and metaphorical manner, the flight of a group of refugees from Pea to 'Ata? Did some of Tonga's embattled pagans seek refuge from Tupou I's crusade, and from infighting in their own village, on the kingdom's remotest island?

By the time of the 1863 slave raid 'Ata boasted a Methodist church, which missionary John Thomas describes visiting in his History of Tonga, but the date and manner of the islanders' conversion from paganism to Christianity are obscure.

5. Why weren't the fakaongo interned on 'Ata?

By the middle of the 1880s King Tupou I and his powerful Premier, the former missionary Shirley Baker, had turned against the Methodist church, denouncing it as an agent of British imperialism. Tupou left the international Methodist movement and founded his own Free Church of Tonga, which he ordered his subjects to join. Most Tongans obeyed their king, but a minority refused. These dissenters were called fakaongo, or submissive ones, by Tupou I and his supporters. Hundreds of fakaongo were beaten, and some were driven off their plantations. After six young men tried and failed to assassinate Shirley Baker in February 1887, the Tongan government announced that the fakaongo would be sent into exile.

According to an article that appeared in an Australian paper in March 1887, many fakaongo were visited at their homes by police on the 20th of February and told to prepare for deportation to 'Ata. Some fakaongo who had not been sentenced to deportation applied to the government for permission to travel with their fellow Methodists to 'Ata.
In April 1887 Australian newspapers published a letter from James Moulton, a Methodist minister who was resisting Baker and Tupou I's attempts to drive his church from Tonga. Moulton explained that a group of fakaongo had recently left Tonga on a ship. The government had persistently told the fakaongo that they would be sent to 'Ata, but the vessel had instead taken them to Fiji.

'Ata had been uninhabited for decades, but its tiny size, rough coast, and lack of food would have doomed many of the fakaongo. The persecution of Tonga's Methodists had upset many people in Australia and New Zealand, and Tonga's government may have been worried about the response from the British Empire if the fakaongo were left to die on 'Ata.

Perhaps Shirley Baker avoided populating 'Ata with fakaongo because he wanted to turn the island to some other, more profitable purpose. According to an article published in 1889 in the New Zealand Herald, Baker negotiated with a number of palangi who wanted to lease the island and turn it into a sheep station. New Zealanders had run a huge sheep farm on 'Eua for much of the 1870s and '80s, until they fell out with Baker, whom they accused of wanting to take over their business.

In 1890, after pressure from Britain and the international Methodist movement, Baker was deported from Tonga, and the fakaongo returned from Fiji.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton. Thanks to Hayden Eastmond-Mein for the first image.]

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dorothy Morris and the 'glorious Crusade': a discussion with Mark Derby

[Over the years Kiwi historian Mark Derby has been an irregular, irreverent, and valued guest of this blog. In 2008 and 2009 I described Derby's research into New Zealand's long-neglected connections to the Spanish Civil War; in 2009 I posted his tribute to a very hairy American anarchist named Franklin Rosemont; and in 2012 I asked him questions about The Prophet and the Policeman, his assured and eerie study of the 1916 invasion of the Ureweras by New Zealand police. Recently I asked Mark some questions about his latest book, which takes him back to Spain.]

SH: Your new book Petals and Bullets tells the story of Dorothy Morris, the New Zealander who nursed in Spain during that country's Civil War. Kiwi Companeros, your earlier study of New Zealand participants in the Spanish Civil War, had a local publisher, but Petals and Bullets has been brought into the world by Sussex Academic Press, in collaboration with the Canada Blanch Centre for Spanish Studies. 

How easy has it been to write about a New Zealand character, and the Kiwi milieux that made her, for what you know will be a primarily northern hemisphere audience? Some Kiwi writers have perceived a conflict between local subject matter and international audiences. There has sometimes been a sense that the peculiarities of New Zealand - the vernacular expressions and mountain ranges and historical events and cuisine and so on that we take for granted, but that may be mysterious to outsiders - require either extended explanation or excision...

MD: You are quite right that this book derives from my earlier work on each of the New Zealanders known to have taken part in the Spanish Civil War. They included the wonderfully determined and capable nurse Dorothy Morris who was born in Cromwell but grew up in Lyttelton and trained as a nurse in Christchurch in the early 1930s. Dorothy Morris spent six months, from February to August 1937, as a battlefield nurse working with a mobile medical unit serving the International Brigades. After that she spent two years, until forced to leave Spain because of the advance of Franco’s forces, running a hospital for children in Murcia, a Republican-held region in southern Spain. Her patients were mainly the children of refugees from elsewhere in Spain, as far as away as Barcelona in the north, who had been forced to relocate because of fighting and/or starvation in their own districts. 

All I could find out about Dorothy Morris for my earlier book came from a few newspaper articles, apparently based on letters she had written to her family from Spain, and which they then passed on to the papers. However, a few years after that book appeared, I learned from one of Dorothy’s relatives that she had written a large number of letters and that most of these were still in the family’s possession. I was able to read them, and was astonished at their vividness, power of expression, and (considering the restraints of wartime censorship) how frank and independent-minded they revealed her to be. I later learned that Dorothy had several years of university education before she trained as a nurse, and that she spoke French and Spanish well, and this unusual background was reflected in her correspondence with her family.

There were a number of frustrating gaps in the career revealed in the letters, and I tried, in an on-and-off fashion over several years, to fill these by approaching Spanish Civil War researchers in various countries for specific information. Then suddenly and quite unexpectedly, I was approached by Paul Preston of the London School of Economics, my personal favourite among historians of the civil war. He assumed I was working on a biography of Nurse Morris, and offered to publish it in the series of which he is the general editor. This seemed an opportunity too good to pass up, so I worked more systematically on my material and delivered a manuscript to the UK late last year. 

A New Zealand edition of Petals and Bullets (the title comes from a poem by Pablo Neruda) will be published by Potton and Burton in September, but for everywhere else, the book is published by Sussex Academic Press. This has meant writing simultaneously for a New Zealand readership, which can be assumed to know something of places like Cromwell, Cathedral Square and the Port Hills, and an international one. However, the problem is not as great as it might appear, because only a small proportion of the book is set in New Zealand. Dorothy left this country  in the 1930s and did not return permanently for almost fifty years. In between she worked in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in Spain, southern France, the Middle East and west Germany. That range of settings made it easier for me to address a multinational readership.

SH: Your book arrives at a time when Spain and several other southern European nations are suffering economic and political crises. Do the Spanish Civil War and the other great conflicts of the 1930s have lessons for the crowds on the streets of Madrid and Athens? And do you detect a willingness, amongst today's Europeans, to consider the '30s? 

MD: Although the book hasn’t been on sale long, it’s already apparent from the response that the Spanish Civil War continues to exert a fascination for people in many countries. I think this has to do with the very clearcut and partisan political positions the civil war fostered. Dorothy Morris described it to her family immediately afterwards, in typically intemperate terms, as “a most glorious Crusade… where I encountered some of the finest people, I feel sure, in the world - some of the craziest as well.” 

I think it’s very likely that the truly desperate and polarising economic circumstances of countries such as Greece and Spain mean that people in those countries, and elsewhere in Europe, find the civil war period inspirational for them. Another point people such as Paul Preston have made is that my book shows that, despite the huge corpus of published history on the Spanish Civil War, there is still significant and valuable material to be explored. One of the reasons I decided to proceed with this book was to make Dorothy Morris’s letters available to the international research community which I knew would be eager to read them.

SH: Your book The Prophet and the Policeman included a detailed portrait of a very unpleasant man. You documented top Kiwi cop John Cullen's prejudices against trade unionists, Maori, and Dalmatians, and his role in the farcical and deadly expedition into the Ureweras in 1916. The protagonist of your new book seems much more likeable. What are the challenges involved in writing about people towards whom you have strong negative or positive feelings? Is if necessary for you to repress those feelings, or can they be helpful? 

MD: I found myself very much enjoying and admiring the character of Dorothy which emerged from her letters. I’m sure I would have enjoyed knowing her, even though she evidently became an alarmingly stroppy and ferociously opinionated old battle-axe in her final years. 

It is certainly easier, in general, to write with energy and enthusiasm about a historical figure that you can admire, but I also think it’s vital not to subjugate the rigors of history to the requirements of biography. That is, it’s necessary to stick to the archival record even where it’s indistinct or apparently contradictory, and not to invent or massage the research material to fit the narrative. This can be difficult when working with relatives of close friends of your subject, whose support may be essential, but whose criteria and expectations may conflict with the writer’s obligations to objectivity and accuracy. I feel fortunate that I came under no such pressures from Dorothy’s family and friends. They may well have disputed, or even disliked, some of my findings about her, but that did not prevent them from giving me absolutely vital material, and I’m most grateful for that. 

SH: What are you researching at the moment? You've been a prolific author for years: can we expect another book soon? 

MD: I’m now working haphazardly on several other book ideas, all in their early stages, and i have no idea which of them, if any, will evolve in to the next full-scale project. But until that stage is reached I’m not going to spell out any of the current plans. This is not out of any wish to with-hold information - it’s just that the only thing I’m superstitious about is talking up a project before it’s really underway. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The slave raids on Tonga: documents and a discussion

[Here's the text of the public lecture that I gave, with considerable help from Maikolo Horowitz and from Nadia Fifita, last Monday night at the 'Atenisi Institute in Nukua'lofa. 
I was preparing to give the lecture when my oldest son's temperature rose suddenly, and he began coughing uncontrollably. While Cerian and I rushed Aneirin to Vaiola Hospital, Maikolo, who is the Dean of 'Atenisi and MCs at its public lectures, began to read the text of my talk to the fifty or so people who had gathered to hear me. Our perpetually generous friend Nadia Fifita drove to the hospital, picked me up, and brought me back in time to witness Maikolo reading the concluding paragraph of my lecture. Maikolo looked and sounded younger and healthier and altogether more convincing than me, and I wondered whether I should consider allowing him to impersonate me on a more regular basis. 
After the formal part of the talk, an often emotional discussion began, as audience members shared stories, asked questions about the material that I'd found in New Zealand archives, and pondered the possibility that some of the Tongans taken by the raiders in 1863 returned to the South Pacific. Later Nadia drove me back to the hospital, where I spent the night with Aneirin, who had been diagnosed with pneumonia but soon recovered with the help of antibiotics. I was very grateful to Nadia, to Maikolo, and to the audience: their patience and generosity made what could have been a shambles into a fascinating and moving evening.]

The slave raids on Tonga: discussing five documents
I am a palangi scholar who usually studies and writes about palangi culture and history. I love Tonga and have tried to learn a little about the country, but I don’t speak Tongan, and don’t consider myself an initiate of Tongan culture. I’m not here, then, to offer Tongans a lesson in their history and its interpretation, but to share information I have discovered in the archives and libraries of New Zealand.
I taught at the ‘Atenisi Institute in 2013, and took my students on a field trip to ‘Eua Island. On ‘Eua we listened to stories at kava circles, and one story we heard concerned the tiny and rugged island of ‘Ata, which sits eighty nautical miles south of Tongatapu at the southern end of the Kingdom of Tonga. We were told that ‘Ata had been uninhabited for a century and a half, ever since a ship stole many of its people and took them to South America, where they were enslaved. King Tupou I had moved the survivors of the raid to the larger and safer island of ‘Eua, where their descendants still lived in the village of Kolomaile.
I read Henry Maude’s excellent book Slavers in Paradise, which describes the kidnappings of thousands of Pacific Islanders from dozens of islands by slave ships bound for Peru in the early 1860s. I was fascinated to learn from Maude that the ship which depopulated ‘Ata sailed from New Zealand, and included a largely New Zealand crew as well as an Australian captain. Maude explained that the ship also visted Niuafo’ou, and took thirty men from that island.
There were different stories on ‘Eua about the fate of the ‘Atans who had been taken to Peru. Some locals suggested they had all died; others claimed they had not only survived but flourished, establishing a Tongan society somewhere in South America. One storyteller told me that South American ‘Atans sometimes returned secretly to ‘Eua, where they distributed money to their relations.
When I returned to New Zealand in 2014 I decided to look through the archives there – through old newspapers, shipping records, missionary letters, diplomatic papers, and so on – to see what they had to say about the raid on ‘Ata. I wanted to know about the fate of the kidnapped ‘Atans, and I also wanted to know more about the men who did the kidnapping.
I was assisted in my research by Kenneth Tuai, a descendant of the survivors of the ‘Atan slave raid who lives in Auckland, by Christine Liava’a, the head of the Pacific section of the New Zealand Genealogical Society, by ‘Atenisi’s Lose Jenner-Helu, and by the senior New Zealand historian Mark Derby, who spent time in Tonga in the late ‘70s and remains fascinated by the kingdom.
Earlier this year a panel of New Zealand journalists, scholars, and publishers gave me the D’Arcy Residency, an award that will allow me to live on Auckland’s Waiheke Island and write a short book about New Zealand’s involvement in the nineteenth century Pacific slave trade. I’ll be heading to Waiheke in a few weeks, and the book will be published next year.
I have just sent a week on ‘Eua sharing some of the documents I’ve collected during my research with descendants of ‘Ata. In Kolomaile my wife and I had lunch with the Masalu Halahala, who is regarded as a direct descendant of the first settlers of ‘Ata; near Ohonua, at the other end of the island, I talked with Paula Vehi, who is recognised as the Tupouata, or chief of ‘Ata.
I have brought back many stories from ‘Eua. 
Tonight I wanted to share a few documents that together tell some of the story of the slave raids on Tonga and their aftermath. I’ll hand out five documents, one at a time, and comment on each of them.
Here is an advertisement that appeared in El  Comercio, a Peruvian newspaper, in 1863. The ad asks for help tracking down a young slave who has escaped from his owners into the streets of Lima, Peru’s capital city. Let me recite it:
LOST POLYNESIAN - Wednesday at 5 o'clock in the morning a boy of 12 years of age, called Carlos and one of those recently arrived on the ELIZE MASON, left the house of his patron on Marcelo Street, No. 60. He is dressed in blue coloured cotton trousers and a light shirt. Will the person in whose custody he may be found please be so kind as to advise the occupant of the store at Number 75 Arvohia Street, where a reward will be given.
This advertisement and others like it were discovered and translated by Grant McCall, an Australian anthropologist who visited Peru in the 1970s looking for descendants of Polynesian slaves.
Why were Polynesians being bought and sold and hunted through South American streets a century and a half ago? Nineteenth century Peru was ruled by a tiny group of whites, the descendants of Spanish colonists. The ruling class owned plantations and mines, and needed cheap labour for them. Peru’s indigenous people lived largely outside the direct control of the white elite, and couldn’t be persuaded to toil in mines and on farms for meagre wages. The country had for a while imported African slaves, but this trade was outlawed in 1856.
In 1862, after a campaign by business owners, Peru’s parliament voted to allow the ‘recruitment’ of labourers from the Pacific Islands. Islanders would supposedly be invited to sign ‘contracts’ that promised them freedom and a lives as ‘colonists’ in Peru in return for three years of almost unpaid labour there. The contracts of islanders could be bought and sold.
A fleet of ships soon sailed from Callao, the port of Lima. Instead of convincing Pacific Islanders to sign contracts freely, the crews of these ships usually kidnapped whomever they could find. More than three thousand men, women, and children were taken from eastern and western Polynesia and from Micronesia. More than fifteen hundred came from Rapa Nui alone.
After they were unloaded at Callao, captive islanders were bought by businessmen and put to work on plantations and as domestic servants. The first shipment of slaves arrived on a vessel named the Adelante in 1862. The men from the Adelante were sold for two hundred pesos; the women fetched one hundred and fifty pesos; children changed hands for one hundred pesos.
The Pacific Island slaves soon began to die of diseases associated with poor housing and hygiene – diseases like tuberculosis and dysentery. Others seemed to die from despair. Slaveholders began to complain that they had wasted their money on the islanders.
Here is an entry that the whaler WB Rhodes made in his logbook on December 5th, 1836, the day he visited ‘Ata in search of fresh food and water. Rhodes describes the difficulty of landing at ‘Ata, which is virtually unprotected by reefs and almost surrounded by high cliffs, and notes the steepness of the trail up to the island’s only village. 
Rhodes visited a pagan godhouse, talked with ‘Ata’s chief, and traded with the islanders. He claims that ‘Ata has only been settled twenty years, but oral histories talk of the arrival of a founding group in the eighteenth century, and archaeologists have discovered that Lapita pottery was being made two thousand years ago on the island.
Rhodes’ logbook entry shows that ‘Ata was a thriving community in 1836, and that its people commonly and confidently traded with outsiders, and even sometimes welcomed outsiders permanently into their midst. ‘Ata was still a pagan island when Rhodes visited, but its people had become Christians before 1863. They raised a Wesleyan church and a school, and were visited by several clergymen, including John Thomas, who gives a description of the island in his History of Tonga.
On 'Eua many stories are told about the supposed immorality of the inhabitants of 'Ata. Descendants of 'Ata are informed that their forebears were happy to let whalers carry away the island's women, in return for a few nails or the odd axe. But Rhodes' words contradict these stories. He writes that:
What few girls there are [on 'Ata] are very good-looking. They are not to be procured except by those masters who have often visited the island. Indeed there are only two that have been allowed; and they are considered as wives and kept taboo'd. Captain Brin is the person who first succeeded, and has to pay pretty handsomely to support his lady. She is a fine girl and daughter of the chief. One white man has resided on the island five years and is married to a young native girl. 
Rhodes claims that ‘Ata had only about seventy-five inhabitants in 1836, but by the time of the raid in 1863 the island’s population had reached about three hundred.
For me, reading WB Rhodes’ account of ‘Ata is like looking at one of the rediscovered wall paintings that depict life in ancient Pompeii in the years before that city was buried by a volcanic eruption. Rhodes shows us a world that will soon be destroyed.

I don’t like this face, but I have spent hours staring at it. I look at it for the same reason that I might study the faces of Hitler or Stalin. I want to discover, in the face’s details, some insight into its owner’s crimes – some explanation for what he did, and some clue as to how he felt about what he did. 
The photograph I’ve given you shows the face of Thomas James McGrath, master of the ship that took away so many ‘Atans and Niuans in 1863. It was shared by Arthur Brown, McGrath’s great-great-great grandson. In an e mail to me, Brown called his ancestor ‘a particularly bad and nasty man’.
Thomas McGrath’s father Michael was an Irishman who reputedly took part in an armed uprising against Britain’s colonial rule over his homeland. In 1809 Michael McGrath was deported to New South Wales, where he was soon in trouble.
When he was still a baby Thomas McGrath was placed in an orphanage. At the age of sixteen, Thomas was caught burgling a warehouse, and deported to Tasmania. After serving his term of imprisonment there he married and began working on the whaling and trading ships that sailed out of Hobart. McGrath became a master of ships, and went on long voyages across the Pacific, but he did not always avoid disaster. In 1859 and 1860 he wrecked two different ships off the same piece of coast on New Zealand’s Chatham Islands. 
At the end of 1861 McGrath took a ship called the Grecian out of Hobart on a search for whales. The Grecian was owned by a wealthy Hobart family, and McGrath and his crew of twenty-seven were expected to return within a year.
McGrath spent 1862 sailing around New Zealand and into the tropical Pacific, and at the end of the year brought the Grecian to Wellington, where he sold the oil he had taken from several whales. McGrath should have returned to Hobart with the Grecian and the money he had acquired. Instead, he painted the Grecian black and white, so that it resembled a warship, and sailed back to the Chatham Islands, where he recruited a new crew.
I want to hand out an excerpt from a statement by John Turner, one of eight men who refused to help Thomas McGrath raid ‘Ata for slaves. Turner’s statement was published in a number of Australian and New Zealand newspapers at the end of 1863.
Turner had joined the Grecian in the Chatham Islands expecting to help McGrath hunt for whales in the cold waters around New Zealand. Soon, though, McGrath took the ship north, toward the tropics. On the 17th of May 1863, when the Grecian was floating somewhere between the Kermadec Islands and ‘Ata, McGrath told the crew that they should help him catch slaves rather than whales, because slaves were more profitable.
After Turner and his colleagues refused to help McGrath they were dumped in Samoa, where they eventually received shelter and help from British diplomatic representatives. Turner and the other rebels were soon joined in Samoa by John Bryan, who seems to have been the cook on the Grecian. Bryan had asked to leave the ship after witnessing the raid on ‘Ata, and had been dumped in the Fijian port of Levuka.
Turner uses Bryan’s first-hand account of the raid on ‘Ata in his statement. Bryan described how McGrath invited the ‘Atans aboard the Grecian to trade, encouraged the islanders to go below deck, then pulled hatches closed over them.
Bryan’s is one of six published accounts of the raid on ‘Ata that I have collected. The other five were all based on stories told by the survivors of the raid, and were collected and published many years after the event. Many of these stories, and many stories told on ‘Eua today, blame Paula Vehi, the chief of ‘Ata, for helping McGrath enslave his people.
Vehi, who apparently knew some English and acted as an interpreter when whaling ships called at ‘Ata, is supposed to have persuaded his fellow islanders to board the vessel, knowing that they would be taken away, in return for money. But neither Bryan’s account of the raid nor Turner’s article as a whole makes any mention of an ‘Atan traitor. The ‘Atans were accustomed to paddling and swimming out to trade with visiting ships, and would not have suspected what McGrath was about to do. There was no need for one of their own to deceive them; McGrath and his crew did a good enough job.
Turner said that most of fifteen or so men who stayed aboard the Grecian and helped him raid ‘Ata were Maori recruited in the Chatham Islands. These Maori may well have belonged to Ngati Mutunga, an iwi from the Taranaki region of New Zealand that in 1835 invaded the Chathams and enslaved its indigenous Moriori people (Ngati Mutunga invaded alongside another northern Taranaki iwi, Ngati Tama, but most of the members of Ngati Tama had left the Chathams by 1863). Slavery was not abolished on the Chathams until 1862, the year before McGrath attacked ‘Ata.
In a two-part article about ‘Ata and its history published in the New Zealand Herald in 1903, Walter Parker, a palangi who ran a sheep station on ‘Eua for many years, said that the men who came to ‘Ata in 1863 were short and dark-skinned. Parker may have heard stories about the events of 1863 from the ‘Atan refugees who settled in ‘Eua.
After his raid on ‘Ata McGrath took the Grecian west into the southern Lau group, where he seems to have tried unsuccessfully to lure some locals aboard, then stopped at Levuka, where he got rid of Bryan, then headed north to Niuafo’ou, where he persuaded thirty men to board his vessel by promising to find them work in Fiji. McGrath soon headed east, toward South America.
The kidnapped Tongans would have been kept in the hold of the Grecian. They probably slept either on the floor or on wooden shelves attached to the walls of the ship. Slavers often fed their captives rice cooked with the help of a large boiler.
Somewhere on the way to South America McGrath met the Peruvian ship the General Prim, which was hunting for slaves. He sold his captives to the master of the General PrimOn the 19th of July, 1863, the General Prim arrived at Callao with one hundred and one male and seventy-three female passengers.
McGrath’s raids on Tonga have to be put in some historical context. In 1863 the American Civil War was in its second year, as Confederate troops fought for their sacred right to keep slaves. In New Zealand, thousands of British and colonial troops had invaded Maori territory in the Waikato and Taranaki regions of the North Island. On the continent of Australia, colonists were fighting with Aboriginal peoples and kidnapping Melanesians to work on their new sugar plantations.
In Confederate America, New Zealand, and Australia, newspapers and politicians could argue enthusiastically that darker-skinned people were inferior to whites, and therefore deserved to be conquered and dominated. Alfred Domett, who was the Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1863, considered Maori a backward race that 'must be ruled with a rod of iron' until they had learned the necessity of white 'domination'. 
By the time the Tongans arrived in Callao, the Peruvian government had already abolished the law allowing the enslavement of Pacific Islanders. Several powerful foreign governments had condemned the Peruvian slave trade and, as we noted earlier, slave owners had found the Pacific Islanders disappointing.
Instead of being sold and put to work, the Tongans were placed in a warehouse near the Callao waterfront where hundreds of other Pacific Islanders were already held. The Peruvian government had promised to return the islanders to their homes, and had sent them to the warehouse to wait. In the crowded building diseases spread quickly.
On the 2nd of October 1863 a group of four hundred and twenty-nine Pacific Islanders, including an unknown number of Tongans who had survived two and a half months in the warehouse at Callao, left Peru on the Adelante, the same ship that had brought the first Pacific slaves to Peru in 1862. The Adelante’s captain had been ordered to return his sick passengers to their homelands, but he sailed north and dumped them all on Cocos, an uninhabited island near Costa Rica. A Peruvian warship came to Cocos to retrieve the islanders a few weeks later, but only thirty-eight of them were left alive. These survivors were left by the warship in Paita, a port in the far north of Peru. We do not how many, if any, of the thirty-eight survivors were Tongan.
The letter I’ve handed out appeared seventy years ago in the Pacific Islands Monthly, a journal published in Sydney and aimed at palangi residents of the tropical Pacific. It was written by Frederick Goedicke, an elderly and very wealthy German who had long ago set up a plantation on the island of Foa and married into the Helu family there.
In his letter Goedicke remembers meeting a Tongan man at a horse race held by Maori on an Auckland beach in 1894. The man had identified himself as Isileli Latu, and had explained that he was an ‘Atan who had been kidnapped, taken to South America, and made to work there for fifteen years. Latu said he had escaped to Auckland, where he had married and settled. Goedicke’s letter was found by an Auckland researcher named Lois Webster, who showed it to my friend Christine Liava’a. 
There are three details in Goedicke’s letter that make me believe the story it tells.
Horse races were held on the beach near the Auckland Maori settlement of Orakei every Christmas day in the 1890s, so it is quite possible that Goedicke encountered Latu in the way he claims.
Goedicke reports Latu as saying that, during the raid in 1863, the hatches of the slave ship were pulled over the ‘Atans after they had gone below deck. John Bryan gave the same detail in his first-hand account of the raid.
Latu is of course a common Tongan name, but it was perhaps especially common on ‘Ata. In an ‘Atan genealogy produced by the anthropologist Edward Gifford in the 1920s the name is ubiquitous. ‘Atan descendants have told me that they think Isileli Latu sounds like a credible name for one of their ancestors.
There are, admittedly, some confusing details in Goedicke’s letter – he talks, for instance, about Isileli Latu working in Chile, rather than Peru – but these details can perhaps be blamed on the fact that Goedicke was remembering a conversation he had held more than half a century ago.
Since Isileli Latu married and had children in Auckland, it is possible that there are dozens or even hundreds of New Zealanders who have, even if they do not know it, ‘Atan blood flowing through their veins.
There is some evidence that another Tongan returned from ‘Ata. A former slave ship named the Barbara Gomez was given the job of returning a load of Pacific Islanders to their homes. Many of the passengers on the ship were sick, and the captain of the Barbara Gomez disobeyed his orders and dumped them on the islands of Rapa Nui and Rapa Iti.
According to JL Green, a missionary who arrived on Rapa Iti in 1864, one of fourteen skeletal men who was landed by the Barbara Gomez on Rapa ‘Iti was from Niuafo’ou. Almost half of Rapa Iti’s population was killed by diseases that the freed slaves brought, and by 1865 there were only twenty adult males alive on the island. But nine of the fourteen former slaves survived, and they have descendants on Rapa Iti today.
In 1936 a French yachtsman named Alain Gerbault visited Rapa Iti and met a woman called Tupou, who said that she was descended from a former slave who had been taken from Niuatoputapu to South America. Rapa Iti is a very remote island, whose six hundred or so inhabitants are rarely visited by anyone except French civil servants. If a Tongan visited the island, though, he or she might encounter some long-lost relations.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton] 

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Caving in Nuku'alofa

It was marvellous to bend, crawl, climb, and gasp through the complex of bright caves that Adam Douglass, the On the Spot collective, the Seleka Club, and two hundred volunteers have created at On the Spot's headquarters in central Nuku'alofa and called Vataulua.

Imagine a tropical Lascaux Cave, in which visual discussions of political and social issues of the twenty-first century, like police violence and religious intolerance, sit alongside the shamanic motifs - forests, 
wild beasts, hunters - that ripple across the walls of ancient caves, and you'll have a sense of the power and mystery of Vataulua. My oldest son enjoyed crawling with a torch to the secret room where the shadows of sharks and whales purused each other across dim walls. 
I reviewed the show that Sally Richardson did with On the Spot back in 2013, when I was last in Nuku'alofa;  it was great to return to the collective's headquarters and find more magic. I'll write a proper review of Vataulua as soon as I'm back in Auckland and have recovered from the Tongatapu flu epidemic.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, August 03, 2015

Becoming one beast

My poem 'Notes on the Creation of the World' has been published in an issue of the Aussie literary journal Cordite devoted to New Zealand writers. The poem is dedicated to my friend Visesio Siasau, because it was inspired by his campaign to restore the pagan gods of ancient Tonga to prominence.