Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Waitangi Rua Rautau Lectures 2016

I was recently one of a number of speakers at the Waitangi Rua Rautau Lectures for 2016, held at Victoria University of Wellington's Te Herenga Waka Marae. After the first address from Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick discussing the council's recent partnership agreement with Te Arawa, the second part of proceedings focused in particular on the role of historians in the Waitangi Tribunal process.

My own talk was a tribute to the late Professor Alan Ward, who passed away in December 2014. As I noted, I first met Alan in 1993, when I came to Wellington from Christchurch on a three-month contract to research claims for the Crown-Congress Joint Working Party, where Alan was the chief historian. Within six months of that, the CCJWP was defunct, but more than two decades later I'm still here doing more or less the same thing. And although there were times after that when we had less to do with one another, Alan and I worked closely together again on his final major publication, jointly revising and reworking Judith Binney's draft chapters for Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History.

The main part of my talk examined Alan's A Show of Justice: Racial 'Amalgamation' in Nineteenth Century New Zealand, a monumental work of scholarship and (as I noted in my talk) still more than four decades later a kind of Bible for Treaty researchers. Although I was already very familiar with it, I had an opportunity to consider the book in more depth when I was asked to contribute a chapter to Texts and Contexts: Reflections in Pacific Islands Historiography, edited by Doug Munro and Brij V. Lal and published by the University of Hawai'i Press in 2006.  The two seminal texts in New Zealand history I was invited to consider were A Show of Justice and Keith Sinclair's Origins of the Maori Wars, first published in 1957.

The lectures were recorded by Radio New Zealand. You can listen to what I had to say here (my contribution starts around 40 minutes in). Judge Caren Fox, Shonagh Kenderdine, Professor Michael Belgrave and Sir Edward Durie are also featured in the recording.


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Book Review: Hazel Petrie, "Outcasts of the Gods? The Struggle over Slavery in Māori New Zealand"

[The following review was first published in Metro magazine, October 2015.]

For most people slavery conjures up images of cotton fields and sugar plantations, capricious white masters, whippings and abject cruelty. Hazel Petrie’s new history of Māori captivity opens with Jake the Muss from Once Were Warriors blaming his own violent tendencies on 500 years of slavery and humiliation. Meanwhile, wife Beth observes that ‘Us Maoris used to practise slavery just like them poor Negroes had to endure in America’. It is a common assumption.

Except the reality, as Petrie succeeds in showing, was considerably different. Although some Europeans then and now liked to claim that Māori customs such as slavery were ended as a result of exposure to a superior civilisation, the evidence suggests quite a contrary and surprising chain of influence.

Once missionaries set up shop in northern New Zealand from 1814 onwards, they attracted whalers and others to the area, most of whom willingly traded muskets for pigs, potatoes, timber, flax (and sex). That in turn encouraged a massive increase in the number of war captives put to work in these areas, since the trade in goods and services that they provided was crucial in acquiring even more muskets.

As Petrie and other historians have argued, the subsequent period to about 1830 was an abnormal one in terms of the sheer scale and extent of intertribal warfare. The widespread release of captives that followed during the 1830s reflected the end of the ‘arms race’ between iwi. Easy conquests were no longer to be achieved once all the tribes had their own guns, creating obvious incentives for the restoration of peace. Christianity was sometimes helpful in achieving this outcome without loss of face (or mana) by any of the parties. But it was usually not the crucial driving factor.

Former slaves proved adept traders in the new commercial environment, in part because they were relieved of the communal obligations that chiefs bore to distribute wealth. Free to accumulate capital, many also benefitted from their early embrace of religion and literacy. In some regions former captives who had returned home introduced the Bible to entire regions years before European missionaries ventured anywhere near.

As for their actual experiences of slavery, Petrie shows that this varied enormously. Most slaves were not born that way but instead taken as captives. But not all prisoners would be reduced to the status of slaves. Captive chiefs were often spared such indignities and many resumed leadership roles upon return to their own tribes. Mistreatment of those who were taken as slaves was widely frowned upon and the slaves themselves often displayed a remarkable degree of independence from their supposed masters.

Revealingly, some former slaves preferred to remain with their host communities even after release. And meanwhile, for all the pious humanitarian talk surrounding the Treaty of Waitangi, its signing had no immediate impact on Māori slavery, which continued in some places for two decades or more.

For Petrie it is a moot point whether ‘slavery’ is even a valid description in the New Zealand context given the variety of Māori experiences of captivity and the range of Māori terms that can be used to describe their situations. That kind of nuance might not have been appreciated by Jake or Beth. But it reflects what is without doubt a carefully crafted and important history of Māori captivity.    

Outcasts of the Gods? is published by Auckland University Press.


Monday, 14 December 2015

New Zealand Wars, Land Wars, Māori Wars?

Last week a group of Otorohanga College students presented a petition to Parliament calling for a national day of memorial to remember the wars fought on New Zealand’s own shores. It is a cause I support and the petition, which attracted over 10,000 signatures (including mine), and its handover attracted significant media interest. But one thing that caught my eye was the description used in media reports for the wars themselves. Many referred to these as the ‘Land Wars’, the ‘New Zealand Land Wars’ or even the ‘Māori Land Wars’. There appeared to be little awareness on the part of journalists that what historians have called the wars has changed over time.

Do labels really matter? Well, they do because they convey some key messages about the nature of the wars, their causes and participants. To begin with it was common to refer to this series of conflicts as ‘the Māori Wars’. That was consistent with the British tendency to name wars after their enemies, like the Boer War, the Zulu War, or the Indian Mutiny. But there are some obvious problems with such a label. For a start it tends to sheet home responsibility for the wars to Māori, while rendering invisible the other combatants.

Māori veterans of the Waikato War, 1914, 1/1-017975, ATL

In the 1960s some historians tried to correct this by adopting the label ‘the Anglo-Māori Wars’. But there are issues here too, not least in that some Māori fought on the ‘Anglo’ (that is, British or Crown) side. And given estimates that up to 40% of the imperial troops who fought in New Zealand were Irish the ‘Anglo’ part was no more accurate either. So there are big problems with any label that purports to accurately describe those involved in the wars in any kind of succinct yet accurate way.

As historians began to delve deeper into the causes of the wars, some felt that ‘Land Wars’ was altogether more appropriate. It pointed the finger at the settlers, whose land hunger and greed was in this way highlighted as the fundamental factor behind the wars. This reflected a shifting historiography that was beginning to question the older assumptions about the wars (based in large part on an uncritical acceptance of official Crown explanations for their outbreak) in favour of a viewpoint more sympathetic towards Māori perspectives.

James Cowan, 1929, 1/1-018597, ATL

But later historians argued that the wars were about much more than just land – they were a conflict over the future of New Zealand as a whole. Hence in 1986 James Belich revived ‘the New Zealand Wars’ – a title employed by James Cowan in the 1920s (and widely used in Britain and New Zealand the 1860s to describe the conflicts as they were being waged before falling out of favour as ‘the Māori Wars’ became standard). Cowan had been ahead of his time in favouring ‘the New Zealand Wars’ – part of his efforts to convince a sceptical Pākehā populace that their country had a history of its own worth remembering.

Although there have been a few attempts to challenge this since, the New Zealand Wars, as Belich and Cowan preferred to call them, has mostly been favoured since the 1980s. It is a label that I prefer because it avoids mono-causal explanations for the wars and simplistic descriptions of those involved.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Hinge of Fate: The Siege of Waerenga-a-Hika, 17-22 November 1865

On Tuesday this week I gave a well-attended public talk at the Tairawhiti Museum as part of commemorations organised by Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki to mark the 150th anniversary of the siege of Waerenga-a-Hika (17-22 November 1865). Prior to the talk, I also spoke with Jesse Mulligan on Radio New Zealand about the siege and its commemoration. As I noted, Waerenga-a-Hika marked the start of a four or five year period at Turanga (Gisborne district) that contained among the darkest episodes in New Zealand history. 

The Gisborne Herald provided this report on my talk, followed by an editorial supporting my call for more awareness of the history of Waerenga-a-Hika and the New Zealand Wars more broadly. Local kaumātua also endorsed calls for a national day of memorial marking the New Zealand Wars that had previously been suggested by Tainui representatives and others.

Earlier in the week the local newspaper provided some useful historical background on the siege and the Waitangi Tribunal's findings on it. The day after my talk the main event was held at Waerenga-a-Hika, when a specially commissioned memorial was unveiled before a large crowd that included Kīngi Tuhetia. (See Te Karere's report here).

Subsequent to my talk, I received numerous requests from people wanting copies of it. The full text of my talk would be much too long to post here but a summarised version follows below.

A full house at the Tairawhiti Museum

One hundred and fifty years ago this week there occurred a siege that changed forever the course of Turanga history. It was a conflict that local Māori of all persuasions strove desperately to avoid. But the Crown was determined to impose its rule over the district once and for all while it had the force at hand to do so. And so, repeated Māori pleas to resolve matters peacefully were ignored and 800 Māori taking shelter at Waerenga-a-Hika (including over 300 women and children) were attacked. At the end of the six day siege on 22 November at least 71 of the pā’s occupants had been killed (though other estimates number more than 100, with a further eleven killed on the Crown side). Hundreds more were taken prisoner, many to eventually be illegally detained on the Chatham Islands along with Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki. The government had finally overturned Māori autonomy at Turanga, imposing its own rule instead and setting the platform for subsequent land confiscations in the district. All of this is outlined in the Waitangi Tribunal’s Turanga Report, which found that the Crown breached the Treaty of Waitangi when it unjustly branded Turanga Māori as rebels and attacked them at Waerenga-a-Hika. And yet, despite this, what took place at Waerenga-a-Hika is little known beyond the descendants of those who were attacked. In this, the 150th anniversary year of the siege, it is time that changed. Waerenga-a-Hika as the historian Bill Oliver wrote many years ago, was the ‘hinge of fate for the Maori East Coast’. It is a chapter in New Zealand history that deserves to be remembered.

To understand Waerenga-a-Hika we need to consider what came before. Some Turanga rangatira signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. But it was probably of little significance to them at the time and changed nothing on the ground. Turanga was not even visited by a Crown official for more than a decade. In 1855 the region received the first resident Crown official. He lasted five years before being withdrawn after reporting that Turanga Māori ‘unanimously & emphatically denied the Queen any right in these Islands’ and ‘yielded obedience or refused it as it suited their purposes’. With a tiny settler population in the district (a few dozen compared with a few thousand Māori) local iwi remained firmly in control of their own affairs, their runanga effectively the government of the district. That was a situation that the settlers and government officials increasingly found untenable. And so, it was almost certain that the Crown would seize any opportunity it could to overturn this state of affairs. That opportunity came about in 1865.

Although expressing sympathy for the plight of Taranaki Māori when war broke out at Waitara in March 1860, the Turanga tribes refused to become involved, declaring that it was necessary for them to remain at home and protect their own lands. They adopted a similarly independent stance towards the Kīngitanga, declining requests to support the movement on the basis that they already had their own kings, who were the ariki of their tribes.

Turanga Māori had no desire to become involved in what were to them essentially foreign wars. But when conflict came to their own district it proved harder to remain on the sidelines. Substantial numbers of Turanga Māori adopted the Pai Marire faith when its emissaries arrived in the district in March 1865. Those emissaries, Patara Raukatauri and Kereopa Te Rau, had been instructed by Pai Marire founder Te Ua Haumene to convey a token – a preserved Pākehā head – to the paramount Rongowhakaata and Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti chief, Hirini Te Kani. Te Ua had also warned the pair not to harm Pākehā, emphasising the ‘good and peaceful’ nature of the new faith. But at Opotiki, things had gone badly wrong when the missionary Carl Sylvius Volkner had been killed by local Māori, reportedly at the urging or instigation of Kereopa.

Although Turanga Māori condemned the murder of Reverend Volkner large numbers flocked to the new faith, prompting an exodus of settlers from the district. However, the Pai Marire party were quick to reassure those settlers who remained of their peaceful intentions. ‘[W]e wish to remain at peace and protect our Pakeha friends, and trade with them as before’, one was told.

The particular brand of Pai Marire adopted at Turanga was one based on autonomy of religious worship, rather than anti-European sentiment or intentions. Politically, it involved little change from the healthy scepticism with which Turanga Māori had always viewed Pākehā and their government, or from the strict policy of neutrality or non-alignment adopted by the Turanga tribes when confronted with requests from outside groups for assistance. Because of this there was little tension between local Pai Marire supporters and the kūpapa (neutral) or Kawanatanga (‘loyalist’) parties. In fact, Crown officials frequently complained about the extent of fraternization between these groups. Such tensions as did exist at Turanga were fomented by the Crown and its allies – with the full support and encouragement of local settlers. In May 1865 the Ngāti Porou chief Mokena Kohere hoisted a Union Jack on disputed land at Titirangi (Kaiti). Local Pai Marire refused to take this bait and ‘heartily refused to mix themselves in the matter’. In June civil war broke out amongst the Ngāti Porou, as ‘loyalist’ chiefs and their followers, supplemented by colonial troops and government-provided arms and ammunition, attacked Pai Marire members of their own tribe, supposedly in an effort to arrest the Pai Marire emissaries. In September the first Crown troops were landed at Turanga and by the following month the Ngāti Porou ‘loyalists’, having defeated their own Pai Marire followers, were making their way to Turanga in substantial numbers in order to ‘settle accounts’ with local Pai Marire and the refugees from their own civil war who were now seeking shelter at Turanga.

On 1 November, Donald McLean, the government agent for the East Coast, was ordered to march the force from Waiapu to Turanga and ‘enforce’ peace in the district, by immediately expelling all Pai Marire emissaries. War was now fast approaching at Turanga, a prospect apparently eagerly awaited by the Crown, its allies, and settlers full of resentment at having been forced to live according to Māori law for decades on end in what was supposed to be a British colony. Ironically, the only people who do not appear to have welcomed the impending showdown were the local Kawanatanga and Pai Marire factions – supposedly rival protagonists in the conflict. What followed were a series of desperate efforts on the part of Turanga Māori to avoid conflict, all of which were rebuffed.

McLean arrived at Turanga on 9 November and an ultimatum was issued to the tribes the following day. This required the handing over of all ‘murderers’, the immediate expulsion of Pai Marire emissaries from the district, an oath of allegiance, compensation to settlers for any property damaged or plundered, and the handing over of all arms. Within days of this, the Ngāti Porou refugees had left the district and reports were that the Pai Marire party were willing to accept the terms imposed so long as McLean would only cross the river to see them. This McLean outright refused to do. Turanga Māori now had until Midday 16 November to surrender or suffer the consequences.

The Pai Marire party might well have asked, ‘surrender from what’? The East Coast fugitives had already gone home, and restitution had been offered for the damages done to settler property. There had been no ‘rebellion’ at Turanga.

For McLean, and for other Crown officials it was not a question of making peace but of crushing the independence of Turanga Māori by force of arms while the resources were available to do so. While Turanga Māori desperately strove to maintain peace, Europeans were just as anxious to ensure war. As McLean’s close ally J.D. Ormond had written days earlier ‘I expect to hear...that war has broken out at Poverty Bay & I hope so too – we ought to give them a lesson whilst we have the force at hand to do it.’

If McLean had crossed the river to accept their submission then there would have been no war at Turanga, no Waerenga-a-Hika with all of the associated trauma. McLean knew this and deliberately refused to do so. What followed was in no way the fault of Turanga Māori. They had done all they could to avoid conflict.

Rongowhakaata and Te Whānau-a-Kai Pai Marire, led by Anaru Matete, had fortified themselves at Pukeamionga, a hilltop overlooking Patutahi, with their Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki kin taking cover at Waerenga-a-Hika. With the expiry of the deadline on 16 November all available troops set out for Pukeamionga. But in the morning, the troops changed course and instead marched on Waerenga-a-Hika.

As they approached the mission station, they fired unsuccessfully upon a group of Māori coming in their direction. This turned out to be Wi Haronga and his family, who had stayed on at Waerenga-a-Hika to guard the mission property, departing only at the last moment while others were busy removing lead from the roof to use as ammunition against the arriving troops. The commanding officer, James Fraser, and his forces claimed possession of the strategically-valuable Bishop’s house, from which they commenced firing into the pā.

This exchange of sporadic firing continued for two days until, on the evening of 18 November, a party of Rongowhakaata and Te Whānau-a-Kai Pai Marire – who had been watching the siege from Pukeamionga – cleverly managed to sneak in to Waerenga-a-Hika by disguising themselves with the white calico arm badges of the government forces. The following day as many as 200 more reinforcements arrived to support their Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki brethren, this time carrying with them the Pai Marire fighting flag, Riki. These men were soon joined by warriors from inside the pā, and together these groups advanced on the British troops. Rather than wait to find out their intentions, Fraser ordered the advancing party to be fired on. Thirty-four Māori were killed in this exchange, compared with just one slight injury on the government side. On 20 November an hour’s truce was permitted for burial of the dead.

The remains of Waerenga-a-Hika Pā after the siege (PACOLL-8800, ATL)

Even so, this minor victory for the British had hardly altered matters. Fraser reported on 21 November that ‘the aspect of affairs remains unchanged, the Hau Haus being too dispirited to attack us, and their pa being too strong to be taken without a little time’. Yet despite this report, less than twenty-four hours later the inhabitants of Waerenga-a-Hika had thrown down their arms, some having fled and others making their submission.

The received version of the siege of Waerenga-a-Hika would have us believe that, in the midst of a supposed bombardment, the pā’s inhabitants had hoisted a white flag and offered to surrender unconditionally. In reality it was the British side which had raised a white flag of truce and invited them to lay down their arms. Reassured by promises that the vast majority of their number would be permitted to remain in the district, many had done so, with others opting to escape instead.

A clue to the real reason why the people in Waerenga-a-Hika pā surrendered comes from Fraser’s description of them as being ‘dispirited’. They had never really wanted to fight and did not wish to see more of their people killed. They had been backed in to a corner by the government and had responded bravely for a week. But the time had now come to lay down their arms.

Clearly, this was not a war of religion or ideology between rival factions of the same tribe or tribes, but rather a war of conquest directed by the Crown against Turanga Māori with the assistance of its allies. It was a war that Turanga Māori never wanted to fight and one that would have devastating consequences for all of the iwi of Turanganui-a-Kiwa, who would variously be subject over the next decade to military occupation and loss of authority, illegal exile, land confiscations, socio-economic deprivation and starvation, dramatic population declines and further military actions directed against them. Although 150 years ago, those actions reverberated across generations and the consequences continue to be felt in multiple ways today. Waerenga-a-Hika was a pivotal – and perhaps even the pivotal – event in the history of Turanga. If we are to learn from the past and avoid repeating its mistakes in the future and if we are to mature as a nation, confident enough to embrace the difficult parts of our history then we need to ensure that the story of what took place 150 years ago this week is not forgotten.