Friday, December 30, 2016

Talking to the ABC

I've done an interview with Aussie public radio about the slave raid on 'Ata and its consequences.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The ship from Dunedin and the tragedies on Nukapu

My interview with Christchurch radio station RDU has gone online. Host James Dann asked me not only about the raid on 'Ata Island but about the wider Pacific slave trade and its links with New Zealand. I mentioned the Dunedin-based steamship Wainui, which was connected to the most infamous and misunderstood episode of the entire slave trade.

The Wainui's captain and crew stole men and women from Melanesia and sold them in Queensland or Fiji to the owners of sugar plantations. In August 1870 the Wainui approached Savo, a small island in the Solomon archipelago, and encountered a group of men and women in canoes. The captain of the Wainui steered his ship into the little vessels; their passengers went screaming into the water. The crew of the Wainui lowered a whaleboat into the sea, rowed towards the flailing bodies, and pulled them to safety, and into slavery.

But the Wainui's captain did not realise that his latest captives included both the wife and daughter of the chief of Savo Island. The people of the island were enraged, and its sole white inhabitant, a beachcomber and small trader, had to barricade himself in his hut.

A few weeks after the raid on Savo John Coleridge Patteson, the Anglican Bishop of Melanesia, approached Nukapu, an island in the far south of the Solomons, on the missionary ship the Southern Cross. For sixteen years Patteson had been landing on Pacific beaches. By 1871, he could preach in twenty-three of Melanesia's thousand languages. On island after island, the bishop left Bibles and medicines and sailed away with young men, who learned to read and pray at Anglican schools on Norfolk Island and in Auckland.

Patteson was popular in many places, and slavers took to imitating him. They would anchor off islands, don black garments, hold Bibles aloft on the decks of their ships, and wait for locals to paddle or swim towards them. After hearing about his imitators, the Bishop of Melanesia became a meticulous opponent of the slave trade. He collected stories of raids and whippings, and wrote long memoranda to the governments of Australasia and Britain.

In the months before the Southern Cross' visit, Nukapu had been repeatedly raided by blackbirders. The people of the island were not happy to see another exotic ship stop outside their reef.

Patteson landed on Nukapu in a Melanesian canoe given to him by some of his students. Hours later he drifted back towards the Southern Cross on the same vessel. There were arrows and axe marks in his torso, and the right side of his head had collapsed. The bishop had become Nukapu's message to the white world.
Patteson's death created an uproar throughout the British Empire. In New Zealand public meetings denounced the slave trade, and parliament passed a resolution calling on Britain to ban and punish the practice. Captain Jacobs of the Southern Cross published an account of Bishop Patteson's death that blamed the event on slave traders. The Southern Cross had visited Savo at the beginning of September, and Bishop Patteson had spent some of his time on the island hearing a report about the attack by the Wainui. It was the actions of ships like the Wainui, Jacobs suggested, that led to the slaying of John Patteson.

Despite Jacobs' testimony, the British government sent a warship, the HMS Rosario, to punish Nukapu for Patteson's death. The Rosario was driven by propellers and had eleven guns. On the way to Nukapu the ship stopped in New Zealand, where some of its crew played the first ever rugby union international against a team of Aucklanders.

When the Rosario anchored off Nukapu in October the local men danced on their beach, then fired a volley of arrows that fell into the sea far short of the warship. The Rosario responded by bombarding the island. The ship fired its largest guns, and the ship's crew opened up with their rifles. Later a party of marines went ashore, and burned a Nukapuan village.

The invasion of Nukapu was condemned by anti-slavery campaigners as an insult to the memory of Bishop Patteson, and was criticised by newspapers in New Zealand and in Britain. Patteson himself became the first Pacific martyr of the Anglican church, and is still remembered by members of the church today. Patteson's certificate of ordination is displayed at Auckland's Anglican cathedral; on a window in church in a Surrey village called Kingswood there is a portrait of Patteson serenely contemplating his Bible while two copper-coloured savages carrying clubs approach him.

What is not remembered is the share of responsibility that a steamer from Dunedin bore for both the slaying of Bishop Patteson and the British navy's attack on Nukapu.

Note: the original version of this post mistakenly claimed that there was a causal link between the raid of the Wainui on Savo and the slaying of Bishop Patteson, by claiming that Savo and Nukapu were neighbours, and that the people of the latter island were enraged by the abduction of the chief of Savo's wife and daughter. I am very grateful to Christine Liava'a for e mailing and pointing out that Savo and Nukapu are hundreds of kilometres apart. ('I know', Christine said, 'I've been to both'.) I've changed my post to make the weaker claim that Captain Jacobs of the Southern Cross saw the raid on Savo by the Wainui as an example of the blackbirding that led to Bishop Patteson's death.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Just like Christmas

It may be hard to believe, but there are one or two tolerable songs inspired by the festive season. Here's a fan video for Low's 'Just Like Christmas', showing a drive through the snow-fringed streets of Ripon, the stout Yorkshire town whose cathedral inspired Kendrick Smithyman.
And here's RUN DMC, including the late and much missed Jam Master Jay, doing 'Christmas in Hollis' back in that suddenly fascinating decade, the 1980s.
If these tracks, and not multiple versions of 'Come Let Us Adore Him' and 'Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas', had been blasting from the speakers of the Warehouse and Auckland's malls, then the mental health of the city would be a lot better right now.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Books of the year

Because I get most of my books from op shops and from the withdrawn bins of public libraries, I tend to be a few years behind most of the reading public. I can't post a list of the top books of 2016, because I have hardly read a book published this year. Here, though, are the ten best books I've read, or in some cases reread, this year.
Olivia Laing, To the River

Like all the best psychogeographers, Laing knows how to make a relatively short walk into a big story. Her week-long ramble down the banks of Sussex's Ouse River turns into a journey through time, to battles of the eleventh century and then to the fragile utopia that Virginia and Leonard Woolf established beside the waterway in the 1920s. Virginia Woolf praised the Ouse's beauty in her journals and letters, and eventually drowned herself in the river. Laing emerges from the past to let readers into her own emotional life with a frankness that made me suddenly aware how repressed and dishonest my own writing is.

Chad Taylor, Departure Lounge  

I read Taylor's novel for the sixth time last week. When the book was published a decade ago reviewers praised its cool, noirish tone, and thereby missed Taylor's achievement. Departure Lounge is full of hardboiled sentences and has the wheezing machinery of a crime novel, but it is really a long love letter to the Auckland of the author's childhood - a city that was being erased, even in 2006, by real estate developers and town planners. Where more conventional noir novelists use short, concrete sentences to push their plot along and sketch their characters quickly, Taylor piles sentence on sentence until his paragraphs swell and shimmer with detail. He keeps his sex scenes cool, but makes burglary erotic.
Raymond Firth, We, the Tikopia

Long before Bob and the Wailers, dreadlocks were made famous by Raymond Firth's massive book about a tiny island. Tikopia sits amidst the Melanesian archipelago of the Solomons, but its people are Polynesians whose ancestors journeyed from Tonga or Samoa millenia ago. Despite the fact that their island covers only five square kilometres, the Tikopians have maintained a complicated and very hierarchical system of chiefs and kings and commoners reminiscent of classical Tongan society. When Firth arrived on the island almost a century ago its people had not completely converted to Christianity, and had only begun to accumulate Western commodities. Many of Firth's readers have seen his book as a sort of a wormhole through which they can travel to ancient Polynesia.
James Salter, Solo Faces

I began reading Salter's novel about anarchic mountaineers - it was apparently adapted from the script of a canned film in which Robert Redford was to star - whilst sitting comfortably on a couch. After a few pages I had to lie down carefully on my back. The couch had become a ledge a few inches wide, on the side of a French mountain. Salter's prose is so precise that it causes hallucinations.
Sigrid Nunez, Sempre Susan: a Memoir of Susan Sontag

If you think you have problems with your mother-in-law, then you ought to read the delightfully bitchy Sempre Susan. The young Sigrid Nunez should probably have been suspicious when she learned that her boyfriend David Rieff still lived with his famous mother Susan Sontag. Before long Susan had asked Sigrid to move in with her, so that Ingrid could see David without taking the boy away from his mum. Things got more fraught, and more hilarious, from there. In a better world Woman's Day would be this entertaining.
Graham Greene, Getting to Know the General

As Chavism implodes in Venezuela, it might be a good time to read Greene's memoir of his friendship with General Torrijos, the left-wing leader of Panama in the late 1970s and a model for Hugo Chavez. In between reviewing Panama's restaurants and draining its bars of whiskey, Greene reports on Torrijos' experiments in direct democracy and his confrontations with the United States, which in the 1970s still controlled strips of land on either side of the Panama Canal.
Gerd Koch, Songs of Tuvalu

Half a century ago a German ethnologist sloshed ashore at Niutao, one of the nine atolls that today make up the nation of Tuvalu, and unpacked his hefty and clumsy recording gear. He was soon prompting the island's elderly men and women into singing and chanting old poems about half-forgotten subjects - magicians, and ghost ships, and immortals. Today the unfashionable songs Koch recorded are played on Tuvalu's national radio station. When I first sought out Songs of Tuvalu at the Otara Public Library, I found that an earlier patron of the library had removed the poems about magic from the book. I eventually found them intact in a copy fetched from the basement of the central city library.
Craig Harrison, Broken October

Another reread. If CK Stead's Smith's Dream is an austere, elegant parable, then Harrison's dense and dirty novel - which was published at about the same time as stead's novel, but has never had the same renown - is a how-to guide for dystopians.
Roderick Finlayson, The Schooner Came to Atia 

Unlike any other Pakeha writer of his generation, Finlayson spoke a Polynesian language and lived in both Maori and Pacific Island communities. He's best known for the book Brown Man's Burden, which collected his short stories about the inhabitants of a marginalised and impoverished Maori village, but this coolly written account of New Zealand misrule on a Cook island also deserves to be read today.
Sarah Moss, Cold Earth

Like Don De Lillo's The Names and Tobias Hill's Hidden, Cold Earth is a fine novel about archaeologists gone mad and murderous. Moss follows her group of archaeologists to the shore of one of Greenland's gnarled and ice-strewn fjiords, where they dig up the bones and the memories of doomed Viking colonists of the late Middle Ages. Then a mysterious virus spreads swiftly across the warmer parts of the globe, and the aeroplane that was due to pick up the diggers is delayed...

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Talking to RDU

I talked with James Dann of Christchurch Radio Station RDU yesterday morning about The Stolen Island and the nineteenth century Pacific slave trade. The interview hasn't been archived online, but James did include The Stolen Island in his survey of the best books of 2016.

It's great to check out twitter and see that my book is turning up at the bottom of a few Christmas trees.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Talking to E-Tangata

E-Tangata has published Dale Husband's interview with me. It's part of the site's Pathways series, in which writers talk about their genealogies and influences.

I hope that my memories of the late King Tupou V don't offend any of the man's admirers. I could never quite get over this billboard.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A previously unknown island

Recently Scott Hamilton published a book about 'Ata Island; not to be outdone, the journalists at Auckland's student radio station have come up with a study of At'a written by one Scott Morrison.

Seriously, though, I'm grateful to BFM's Mackenzie Smith for interviewing me about 'Ata and the nineteenth century slave trade, and for juxtaposing our conversation with a discussion of the new report on the super-exploitation of migrant labour in twenty-first century New Zealand. 

The Listener's article also went online yesterday.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

'Ata in the Listener

Sally Blundell's generous and lengthy Listener article about The Stolen Island brings the story of 'Ata and of New Zealand's part in the Pacific slave trade to a nationwide audience.

Like Radio New Zealand's website, the Listener has reproduced the eerie photograph of slaver Thomas McGrath that I acquired from McGrath's great-great-great grandson.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Slavery and the south

I'm grateful to Bruce Munro, who has written a long article about my book The Stolen Island for the Otago Daily Times. Munro looks at the South Island connections to the raid on 'Ata Island and the Pacific slave trade.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

'Ata and 'America'

My interview with Graeme Hill about 'Ata Island and the Pacific slave trade is online here.

Later in his show Hill did a long and marvellous interview with Peter Carlin, who has just published a big biography of Paul Simon. Hill and Carlin locked horns over Simon's 1980s album Graceland - Hill insisted that it is musically hollow and ethically dubious, while Carlin disagreed - and then did a fascinating analysis of my favourite Simon song, 'America'. You can hear that interview here.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Talanoa with an Able Tasman

It was great to do a prerecorded interview with Graeme Hill yesterday afternoon for his Sunday show on Radio Live. During our talanoa my mind kept wafting from the book I was promoting to Graeme's past as a member of one of the most gorgeously melodic NZ bands of the '80s and '90s, the Able Tasmans. 

I saw the Able Tasmans live again and again, and I always thought of the lushness and warmth of their music as a sort of Auckland response to the brilliantly stark sound of the Flying Nun bands that came out of Dunedin and other southerly parts of the country in the 1980s. 

After this afternoon's interview I asked Graeme if he still made music. He said 'I play around the piano when I'm drunk'. I hope he releases some of his drunken improvisations. 

Here's Graeme and his mates in the Able Tasmans doing 'Hold Me'.

Footnote: I just watched the video again. Graeme is the guy standing rather awkwardly behind the singer doing nothing at all. I'm not sure why he isn't playing a keyboard but his still presence in the midst of the performance adds a curious tension to the clip...

Footnote (2): My mate Adrian Price has an explanation:

I could easily be misremembering this, but I'd thought it was because the video isn't live and he refused to 'keyboard sync' to the audio, so ended up just standing there.

I can believe that. 

Footnote (3): My chat with Graeme will be broadcast from 9.15 tomorrow (Sunday) night

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Ruins glimmering

Maikolo Horowitz has written about The Stolen Island for the Scoop Review of Books. His piece ends with this sentence, which makes me feel sad but also reminds of the beauty of Tonga's remoter islands:

Yet at the end of the day ‘tis ‘Ata that remains – a rocky isle, now uninhabited, with its 18th century ruins glimmering in the subtropical sun, as your Airbus hurtles you to bustling Auckland.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Counting the victims

As The Stolen Island gets some attention from the media I'm receiving a mixture of positive and negative responses to the book. My account of the slave raids on the Tongan islands of 'Ata and Niuafo'ou has pleased some people and angered others. 
On a Tongan website one person left a comment accusing me of being a descendant of the men who raided the island of 'Ata and enslaved half its people. I'm not worried about this type of comment, but I am concerned by the palangi rednecks who are either accusing me of inventing many of the details in The Stolen Island or else claiming that the book is unnecessary. These deeply conservative and rather paranoid people are convinced that there is some sort of conspiracy afoot to tarnish colonial New Zealand and the 'white race' in general, and believe that my little book is part of this grand conspiracy.
So far the conservative palangi critics of The Stolen Island have used two types of argument. The first sort of argument implicitly accepts that the slave raid on 'Ata occurred, but questions whether the raid is worth remembering today. Here's a comment that makes the argument for the insignificance of the raid:
This book is claptrap. A small incident blown out of all proportion when the real history of the Pacific is read. Journalistic excess.
I'd like to invite the people making this sort of argument to come and drink kava with some of the Tongan community in Auckland. Last Sunday I visited the kava hall attached to the Onehunga Methodist church, and listened to the Tongans gathered there talk about 'Ata. I was humbled when speakers thanked me for writing The Stolen Island, and for pushing the story of 'Ata into the consciousness of palangi New Zealanders. Nobody in the kava hall thought the enslavement of half of 'Ata's citizens a 'small incident' that had been 'blown out of proportion'. Many had ancestors who were either trapped aboard Thomas McGrath's slave ship or else forced to watch from the shore as the slavers did their work.
The raid on 'Ata was a colossal disaster for nineteenth century Tonga. In 1863 the kingdom had about twenty thousand inhabitants, so the 144 men, women, and children taken from 'Ata represented a loss of about 0.7% of its population. To take an equivalent toll a disaster in twenty-first century New Zealand would have to cost thirty thousand lives.
King Tupou I was forced to evacuate the survivors of the raid from 'Ata. The abandonment of the island was a grave setback for him, because he and his government had been trying hard to maintain Tonga's independence from European powers and the United States. 
Tupou I was aware that the colonisation of many Pacific islands and archipelagoes had been justified by the claim that the indigenous authorities in those places had been incapable of protecting their people from palangi slavers and planters. He was anxious to prove that his control extended over all the islands of Tonga. He had put government representatives on almost every island, to register the ships of palangi who stopped there and to impose customs duties on them. But the raid on 'Ata forced him to withdraw his people from the southern frontier of his kingdom.
The Stolen Island also discusses the wider Pacific slave trade, which moved tens of thousands of islanders from their homelands to the plantations of Queensland, Fiji, New Caledonia, and elsewhere in the second half of the nineteenth century. This slave trade is anything but a trivial detail. Without it the Pacific would look very different.
The second type of argument contests the details of the slave raid on 'Ata. One commenter, for instance, asks how I know that 144 people were stolen from 'Ata Island:
144 is a very convenient number, [Scott] has names?
It's not clear what this commenter means by 'convenient'. Perhaps he thinks the number 144 is convenient because it is high. But the number has not been arrived at by accident.
The claim that 144 'Atans were stolen by Thomas McGrath in June 1863 was made by the great Pacific historian Henry Maude in his book Slavers in Paradise: the Peruvian slave trade in Polynesia, 1862-1864. Maude published his book in 1981, after spending years struggling through archives on several continents. His research assistant Grant McCall, who was then a graduate student at Australian National University, visited Peru and explored that country's archives, reading newspapers from the 1860s and the records of Lima's oldest hospital. 
Maude and McCall were very interested in the letters that diplomats based in Peru had written during the time that the slave trade flourished in the country. Diplomats are trained to observe and report on the events in the countries where they are stationed, and British diplomats in Peru had seen and written about the slave trade.
One of the documents that Maude and McCall found in the records of the British Foreign Office was a note written by EW Robertson, who was the acting British consul in Callao, to W Stafford Jerningham, who was the incoming head of staff at the British embassy in Lima, on the 21st of July 1863. Callao was Peru's main port, and the locus of the slave trade. Polynesians had nicknamed it 'the jaws of hell'. 
In his note to Jerningham Robertson explained that a boat called the General Prim had arrived at Callao and unloaded 174 people from a place the Prim's captain called the 'Frinately Islands'. 71 of them were female. The General Prim had arrived on the 19th of July.
'Frinately Islands' is an obvious mispronunciation of 'Friendly Islands', a popular nickname for Tonga, and Maude concludes that Thomas McGrath, who took slaves from the islands of 'Ata and Niuafo'ou in June 1863, must have sold his cargo to the General Prim, whose captain had sailed out from Peru looking for captives. After examining the itinerary of the General Prim in June 1863, Maude estimates that the two slave ships met somewhere near the northern Cooks island of Pukapuka.
In 1872 John Moresby captained the British naval vessel the HMS Basilisk on an anti-slaving mission. Moresby cruised through the western Pacific, searching for slavers and collecting stories about slave raids. When Moresby landed at Niuafo'ou a German trader and long-time resident on the island named Axman told him that a boat had called and asked for men who wanted to work for wages in Fiji. This offer had apparently received an enthusiastic response. The 1860s were a time of hardship and disorder on Niuafo'ou. Tupou I had recently reclaimed the island, which had been independent of Tongan control for decades, and many locals found his tax demands difficult to meet.
Thirty Niuan men had joined the boat after hearing the offer of jobs; they were never heard from again. Moresby describes his visit to Niuafo'ou in the journal he kept on the Basilisk, and in a book about his journey he published in 1876. Both the logbook entries and the book are available at the University of Auckland library (the logbook is available on microfiche, as part of the enormous Pacific Manuscripts Bureau collection).
Moresby and later Maude attributed the slave raid on Niuafo'ou to Thomas McGrath. Maude pointed out that McGrath would have been travelling close to Niuafo'ou when the raid occurred, and noted that, unlike South American slavers, he knew Tonga and Fiji well, and would have been able to construct a story about work opportunities in Fiji.
If we exclude the 30 men taken from Niuafo'ou from the 174 captives who arrived at Callao on the General Prim on the 19th of July 1863, then we can guess that the ship held 144 'Atans - 73 of them male, 71 of them female.
EW Robertson's report from Callao sits fairly well with the eyewitness report on the raid of 'Ata that was given by John Bryan, the ship's cook. In an article published in the Melbourne Leader on the 28th of November 1863 and then republished in many Australasian papers, Bryan was reported as saying that the 'Atans came aboard McGrath's ship to trade, and that they were tricked into going below deck to eat a meal before being locked up. Bryan said that 'about 130' islanders were taken captive.
I hope all this makes it clear why I say in The Stolen Island that at least 144 'Atans were stolen from their island in June 1863.
Footnote: I have been focusing on the traces that the slave raids of 1863 left in palangi archives, but there are other ways of remembering history.
The survivors of the slave raid and their descendants have told and continue to tell many stories about the tragedy. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century some of these stories were written down by palangi, and published in Australasian newspapers. Usually the stories published in papers do not give estimates of the number of 'Atans taken by the slave raid, but there are one or two exceptions to this rule.
In his article 'Atata and Ata', which was published in two parts by the New Zealand Herald in 1903, Walter Parker claims that 'about a hundred men' boarded McGrath's ship and were taken away to slavery. Parker was for many years a sheep farmer on 'Eua, the island where the survivors of the slave raid of 1863 were resettled by Tupou I, and his very detailed article was probably based on stories he heard from 'Atans. Some of the story's details are nevertheless wrong, and Parker's freely expressed prejudices about Tongans make him a problematic recorder of the Tongan past.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Monday, December 05, 2016

A part of the story

The weekly online magazine E-Tangata has published some excerpts from the first chapter of my book The Stolen Island. E-Tangata will be publishing an interview with me  in its December the 18th issue. 

I've spent the last few days talking about history with descendants of the survivors of the slave raid on 'Ata and with other interested Tongans at kava circles and in lounge rooms (apologies for unanswered e mails and texts!). I'm excited that radio stations in Tonga are talking about The Stolen Island, and that 'Atans are responding to the tohi by celebrating their identity. I'm proud to own this T shirt, which was made recently by an 'Atan. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Watch out, JK!

The Stolen Island is number nine on the latest New Zealand bestsellers chart. My book is nipping at the heels of JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and ahead of several Enid Blyton reprints. I think my mother must have ordered a few hundred copies.

Radio New Zealand's Hamish Cardwell has turned my interview with Wallace Chapman into an article on the national broadcaster's website. I've done further interviews with The Listener, the online journal E Tangata, Radio Australia's Pacific Beat programme, and the Otago Daily Times. I'm flattered by all this interest, and hopeful that palangi New Zealanders are waking up to the extraordinary and tragic history of 'Ata Island.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The loneliness of the monolingual palangi

Malo aupito to Neputino Tonga Online News, which has published an article about my tohi fo'ou The Stolen Island

Neputino is a Tongan-language site, and I am cracking out my Tongan dictionary to try to decode both its article and the comments that readers have left underneath! Oh how I wish I'd concentrated harder at my 'api 'ako faka Tonga!

Neputino's journalists attended the launch of The Stolen Island - my thanks to Dr 'Okusitino Mahina for inviting them - and they have done a fine job of captioning the photographs that 'Atan descendant Kenneth - or Keneti - Tuai took there.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]