Sunday, July 29, 2012

Different strokes...

I found this cover the other day and couldn't resist buying the book. It shows Bishop Selwyn in the middle of a conversion, telling spellbinding bible stories to a clearly entranced Maori audience.

The only doubter seems to be the man standing behind him, his arms symbolically crossed. He seems to have devil's horns in his hair and he is the only one standing 'outside the circle' - the doubter in any audience.

Selwyn, dressed in clean clothing, is speaking Maori and his audience, silent and observant, are listening carefully. It could be a car salesman describing a new form of tyre.

But the light of the fire suggests something other. Light stands for illumination, understanding, belief, knowledge while the encroaching darkness represents lack of Christian knowledge, the darkness of 'barbarism' or traditional beliefs.

So it is a heavily coded message, in some ways laughable, in some ways touching in its naivety. (It dates from the 1940s, when things seemed 'simpler'.)

Bishop Selwyn was seen in many different ways in his own lifetime.

This is a cartoon dated 21 November 1861 and is from the Taranaki Punch. In it Bishop Selwyn with his well known profile and hooked nose, stands in between a Maori (who literally thumbs his nose) protecting him from the soldier trying to shoot him. It is during the NZ Wars.

One of the interesting things is the way a cross is formed by the rifle and a baton the bishop is holding - but the cross is in an ambiguous area - right by the gun of the soldier.

Selywn got too close to colonial and racial politics.

By the 1860s Maori were disillusioned by Selwyn because he seemed to be on the side of the British army.
Pakeha settlers disliked him because he seemed an apologist for all things Maori.

'Oh, how other things have changed!' Selwyn wrote about this time. "How much of the buoyancy of hope has been sobered down by experience! When, instead of a nation of believers welcoming me as their father, I find here and there a few scattered sheep, the remnant of the flock which has forsaken the shepherd!'

It was dangerous being a shepherd on his own, distrusted by both sides.

Below is a Maori cartoon but again it shows Selwyn as being in the middle (this time of two devils, both representing Governor Grey.)

The killing of the Rev Volkner in March 1865 was a crisis for the Anglican church and for Selwyn. The church knew it would arouse the fiercest reaction from Pakeha people - as Volkner himself sensed and knew as he was being led to his death. His death was a political disaster for Maori, almost a form of political suicide.

Selwyn again tried to speak up for Maori - at a time of extremely heightened feelings. He was accused for being an apologist for cannibalism and laughed out of the room.

Above is a photo of five churchmen immediately after Volkner was 'butchered' as the press put it. They were men in a state of acute trauma. 

Volkner's death broke a fundamental tapu which had been in place ever since Christianity had come to NZ: a missionary was to be protected and treated as a man of peace.

A corner had been turned.

In the photo above Bishop Selwyn, who was clearly a short man with a powerful physique, stands at the extreme left. 

He had got on a boat immediately he knew of Volkner's death and went immediately to Opotiki where he tried to negotiate the release of the Rev Grace, who had been imprisoned alongside the Rev Volkner. Then Selwyn moved on by ship to Poverty Bay where Bishop Williams was also facing eviction by the Pai Marire, or Hau Hau.

It was the end of an epic, of an endeavour.

Nothing would be the same again.

Bishop Selwyn would go back to England with a palpable sense of failure. 

And the man to the right in the photo above, Bishop Patterson, he would go off to Melanesia and meet the same fate as Volkner.

Nothing would ever be the same again.

And the beautiful optimism which this book cover tries to evoke a puff of smoke.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kupapa - sympathiser or collaborator?

Ihaka Whaanga, Ngati Kahungunu. Photo by William James Harding.

I was mulling over the Dom Post with my morning coffee when I came upon a startling discovery.

In my research into the land wars of the 19th century NZ I had been using kupapa to mean Maori iwi and hapu who were called Queenites or even 'friendlies' in popular Pakeha parlance.

This meant Maori who for whatever reason joined Pakeha and other Maori and British forces to fight Maori who they regarded as either 'Kingites' or 'rebels'.

Often kupapa did this along the fracture lines of much earlier grievances between iwi arising from the horrific
Musket Wars of the 1820s.

This left such a backlog of ineradicable hatred between tribes that it is historically false to imagine there was a strong sense of an overall "Maori nation" in most of the 19th century. There wasn't.

For example the word 'Aoteraroa' was never ever used to describe New Zealand as a whole. This is as modern an invention as cellphones and about as authentic as tiki-covered tea towels. (I don't mind its usage today but people shouldn't fool themselves it is authentically old.)

In the Dom Post of Saturday 14 July 2012 an article referred to Labour MPs, at the time of the doomed Foreshore Legislation, 'being heckled as kupapa (collaborators.)'

There can be few uglier words in the English language than 'collaborator'. It is redolent of betrayal. I am most familiar with it in the context of World War 2, when 'collaborators' were people who accepted and benefited from Nazism. It seemed to arise from France, in particular, which had both an official and a puppet Nazi regime.

On the other hand there was the heroic 'resistance' that allegedly most French people belonged to. (In fact historically the resistance was tiny. Most French people passively accepted occupation.) So collaborator is not a neutral term.

I would term it 'hot', marginally offensive.

To use the concept of 'collaborator' in the context of the New Zealand past is, to me, extremely sloppy, even offensive misuse of language.

Historically kupapa aligned themselves with the Crown for all sorts of reasons, many of them self interested, or out of a desire to survive a period of maelstrom. Alternatively they did it to harass traditional enemies.

Travelling up the beautiful, weirdly empty East Coast from Napier to Gisborne I came across various monuments (and I have a love of monuments - it seems to me they are kind of like fossils of feeling left behind after powerful emotions have swept by...)

This monument is to Ihaka Whaanga, the distinguished gentleman whose photograph ornaments the front of this blog. He was a chief at the Mahia Pensinsula where whalers set up whaling stations in the early 1840s.

Perhaps this experience helped him to intuit and empathise with Pakeha and all that they could deliver. (You can find out a much more detailed biography of Ihaka Whaanga by Googling him and selecting the Awa dictionary entry.)

Throughout the following period, he sided with Pakeha against the invasive Pai Marire forces, even coming down to Napier to fight the 'foreign' Pai Marire invaders when they came to Hawke's Bay. He also fought alongside Rapata Wahawaha and colonial forces against Te Kooti.

Hence this monument, erected after his death, to thank him. (It is on the main highway, near Nuhaka.)

This is a beautiful old photograph of what it once looked like - much more elaborate. (It is from the Alexander Turnbull Library Collection Ref 1/4-a7493)

I reflected on how today we are asked to believe that all Maori were 'resistance' fighters during the 'Pakeha occupation'. This fiction has been helped along - perhaps unwittingly - by the historical works of Judith Binney and James Belich.

My analysis is this: both Binney and Belich were 'children of the revolution', that is 'old lefties' and both unconsciously searched
NZ history for a Che Guevera role model among Maori. Binney came up with Te Kooti and Belich with Titokowaru - both 'heroic' models of resistance fighters.

However the story of Pakeha and Maori interaction was a lot more complex than that.

And in many ways kupapa stories are as interesting, even more interesting, than the somewhat overblown tales of resistance written by Pakeha kupapa or sympathisers like Binney and Belich.

There is an excellent thesis which you can view on line about the life of Rapata Wahawaha, of the Ngati Porou - he was the man who really pushed Te Kooti into a form of submission, or at least, subsidence.

It interested me as Rapata was one of the men who in the end delivered Kereopa Te Rau (the man most associated with the killing of Volkner) to Napier after the Tuhoe grew exhausted with sheltering him. (In other words here we have a complex situation between different Maori iwi with no very clear sense of good versus bad.)

Newsflash: the past was as muddled and mixed up as our lives in the present.

I realise people prefer simple-minded analyses of complex situations.

But it's inherently dangerous as it encourages simplistic reactions.


Not so long ago a paediatrician's house in Britain was stormed and wrecked after Murdoch's 'The Sun' went on
a crusade about paedophilia.

People got worked up.

They also couldn't work out the difference between a paediatrician (who deals with children's illnesses) and a paedophile.

It's a warning.