Thursday, October 25, 2012

the restoration of character, mana and reputation bill

Yesterday I caught the tail end of the parliamentary 'debate' on the above bill. It relates to Mokomoko, who was hanged for participating in the killing of the Rev Carl Sylvius Volkner. This was in 1866.

As it turned out, his participation was a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He also had in his hand the rope which was allegedly used to hang the missionary.

Today his whanau say he was trying to help the missionary.

The deep ambiguity comes from the fact that the Mokomoko family had to suffer from loss of name.  This was because Mokomoko's alleged action led to widespread confiscation of land and other disasters and he was, perhaps naturally, blamed for being the lightning conductor of misfortune.

Hence the bill today.

This is the link below to the parliamentary words which are worth glancing at, for the current state of apology calisthenics, especially the heartfelt or alternatively self abasing apology from Catherine Fitzgerald, a member of the Green Party and a Pakeha with a yearning for self mortification. 

She is well meaning but doesn't really have a handle on the complexities of history. For example chief among the accusers of Mokomoko were fellow Maori. Their testimonies formed the entire case for the prosecution. 

So it isn't a simplistic case of evil Pakeha and eternally noble Maori - like all history, it is complicated, smudged and more human in the way that things are mixed and messed up.

Interestingly not one member of parliament (but then let's face it the intelligence level is pretty low) referred to the Pakeha  businessman who passionately believed in Mokomoko's case and tried desperately hard to defend him.

These human 'untidinesses' have to be deleted to fit the cartoon simplicity of evil and good - alarmingly to me, arranged on the basis of the colour of your skin. In other words, it comes dangerously close to reverse racism.

This is quite separate from the merit of the case.

I also have to be honest and say I find the terminology of the bill more befitting a Stalinist state. I mean - a bill to 
'restore character, mana and reputation' is a little like something from the personality trials of the 1930s. It shares the same root branch: that the state can obliterate a human and the state can also revivify a human's reputation. 

There is misery here, and poetry and a deep human need. But I am personally unsure whether this is the way to handle the situation. I guess that is the writer in me, the historian. I prefer the mingled truths - the fugutive truth - not the public declarations with breast-beating, trumpets and waiata.

This link:  is to the draft Hansard transcript of the first reading of the Mokomoko Bill.


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