Tuesday, March 26, 2013


A ripped out page

There is one very well known photograph of Kereopa Te Rau. This was taken by Samuel Carnell, an outstanding Napier photographer on the 8th December 1871.

We know this because the date is scratched into the negative, as is the person's name. (You can see it easily by googling 'Kereopa Te Rau'.) 

Kereopa by this time was in the Napier Prison, awaiting his trial - and he knew already - his execution. He knew this because he had already tried to exit the situation. 

Walking into Napier Prison a cut-throat razor slipped out of his clothes - before he could be searched. Incredibly quickly, given he was handcuffed, he managed to grab the razor and slit his throat. 

Though blood went everywhere, he did not die - he missed the major artery - and soon three doctors were on site, and one, Dr Hitchings, expertly sewed his throat up.

The photograph by Carnell shows Kereopa's misery. Carnell would have brought the props - ie Maori cloak - to the prison, so he looked 'legitimately' Maori. Perhaps because Kereopa looks so very pensive and sad, Carnell also overdrew, on the negative, his moko. 

This was an attempt to make a man whom many Pakeha saw as a terrorist look more 'terrifying'.

The photo would have been hot property, as people in the 19th century collected photographs of all sorts of people - royalty, celebrity midgets, circus performers, murderers, notorious poisoners, famous whores, beautiful society women, notable men like parliamentarians. 

It had an element about it of kids collecting certain kinds of cards.

Also photography, as a relatively new invention, delivered the news of what someone actually looked like - across space and time. In its own way it was remarkable.

Carnell later went on to be the chosen photographer for Hawke's Bay Maori. They felt at ease preening in front of his camera, rarely choosing to wear by-then 'antique' Maori costume. Instead they chose high status Pakeha outfits, refitted to ensure their own identity was recognised, mixed in with moko and other identifiable Maori elements.
Ripeka Hakiwai, ko Ngati Te Upokoiri ATL Neg number 1/4-022217-G

These were collected in a fine book called Nga Tamata which you can still find in bookshops.


But my mystery began with an idle evening recently when I did the obvious (which sometimes occurs quite late in research.) I googled Te Papa to see what they had of Kereopa Te Rau.

The two photos they had of him were from the same image - the famous (or infamous) one.

But I also noted there was another image, not on-line because permission from his iwi was needed. This piqued my curiosity immensely, as I was eager to see another image of Kereopa.

I knew Carnell had taken several photographs.

The curator at Te Papa kindly sent me an image which could not however be copied or used publicly. 

It was another image, but I was unsure whether it was Kereopa. (Kereopa was a missionary name turned into Maori, not a specific identity. ie there were lots of Kereopas.)

The image showed a rather plump man, once again wearing antique costume, holding a patu. He had none of the pensive grief in the well known portrait which is so affecting. He looked relatively ordinary.

When I asked the curator if she knew if it was indeed the famous Pai Marire warrior and prophet - and murderer? - she said the image came from a book called 'Portraits of Tattooed Warrior Chiefs of NZ: The Millard Collection'.

The book was unavailable at Te Papa because something was happening in the library.

I asked my friendly source at Napier Library, Steve Knowles, to try and find where else I could look at the book. I was fascinated to see if there was any further context.

Lo and behold there was a copy at the local EIT, in Taradale, in a special bookcase.

This morning I arranged to go out and look at it.

The glass case was unlocked and I was given the book - really a booklet - and told I could look at it right by the librarians, where I was publicly viewable.

The EIT librarian had already told me an image of Kereopa did not appear to be there. 

And sure enough, it wasn't.

It seemed inexplicable.

But then….some curiosity awoke in me. I looked very carefully at the binding and counted only nine images where it was clear there should be ten. And when I looked even more closely, I thought I could see where a page had been ripped out.

But was it Kereopa Te Rau? I glanced at the single page introduction. It was a curious piece for both its date - 1942 - and the person writing.

1942 was a strange date for a book, as this was the time in the 20th century when it was quite possible German and Japanese fascism would triumph and the course of history changed forever.

Only Britain and its empire fought against fascism, and it was quite conceivable the battle would be lost.  After the fall of Singapore and it was clear the Japanese could reach Australia and New Zealand with impunity, NZ's army was sent to Egypt - to fight German and Italian fascism. So New Zealand was very exposed.

In this predicament, cultural items like this book would have been used to arouse
a sort of pride or interest in NZ-specific history.

It was introduced by 'Victor R Millard' from the Royal College of Art, a sculpture student.

In terms of content it would seem that the ripped out page was indeed meant to represent Kereopa Te Rau.

Millard, giving some context to the photographs, talked of tohunga in a relatively respectful way (for the period). He also said, 'Being a cannibal race, they believed that by eating the heart and brain of a dead enemy, their courage and wisdom would thus be increased.'

(An alternative version was told by Ranginui Walker on the interesting series on Lindaeur at present on Maori TV called 'Behind the Brush' (Tuesdays 8pm). He said that by eating someone - an enemy - you showed how much you despised them, because basically after eating them, you shat them out.)

Anyway, long story short, I am going to have to find a hopefully complete booklet and see whether it does say it is Kereopa Te Rau - or whether it simply says the person is "Kereopa" - which was how Te Rau was pretty much uniformly known in the 19th century global press. 

My mystery is this: did the person ripping the page out do so because of his notoriety - or did the person rip the page out to protect his privacy, his mana?

Watch this space.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Who did what to whom?

Below is a tagline for an article which appeared in the NZ Herald on March 9 2013.

It relates to my project in that it is about the efforts of Mokomoko's whanau to get what they regard as proper restorative justice for their ancestor who was one of a number of people hanged for the killing of Carl Sylvius Volkner.

Mokomoko, a Te Whakatohea chief, was hanged at Auckland Prison on May 17, 1866 in what one could call the violent aftermath which followed Volkner's slaying.

The sad thing is Volkner, on his way to being killed, knew with a terrible foreboding that his death would lead to the most awful consequences.

Utu, so highly prized as a concept in the Maori world, is really not so different from plain old revenge.
Revenge works in many different ways in lots of cultures. (In fact I was interested to read in a blurb about the
soap television series called 'Revenge' an old saying: he would sets out to get revenge should first dig two graves.
ie those who set out to get revenge might as well set aside a grave for themselves, as that individual, or tribe, or society is enwebbed in a killing so bad that the whole enterprise is poisoned from the start.)

The article looks at the terrible consequences of utu which followed Volkner's killing - confiscation of
448,000 acres for a start. The Mokomoko family had a pardon granted in 1992 and in 1996 the Governor-General granted the pardon on the grounds that it was 'just and expedient'.

But no mention was made of Mokomoko not committing the crime. (He was alleged to have carried the rope with which Volkner was hanged and being present when he was hoisted up. The evidence is very contradictory on this, and the most plausible places him elsewhere.)

His whanau however have had to live with what they describe as a 'ripple effect' of 'extreme prejudice; resentment, anger, even hatred.' (The article is written by Yvonne Tahana.) This is because many people in Opotiki and elsewhere blame those who killed Volkner for the confiscation of their land and deep loss of mana.

It is an extremely complicated picture. For example one of Mokomoko's descendants says this: 'Mr Biddle says there isn't a question that the German missionary went bravely to his death. 'It was done by Kereopa. You always get a rebel and I can't tar (all Pai Marire followers) with the same brush (as Kereopa who was Pai Marire missionary.)'

This is difficult, as Kereopa Te Rau's whanau are equally insistent that he did not kill Volkner. (And there is very little evidence to show that Kereopa actually physically strung Volkner up and hanged him. Whether he influenced others to do so, is less easy to decide.)

So this article brings a key question to the fore: who did what to whom?

It is both an historical question - ie to do with what happened in the past - but it is also a contemporary question, in that its echoes still sound profoundly among different iwi.

Volkner was right: his killing unleashed the dogs of war. He had wanted to protect and nourish the members of his parish. When he was taken off the ship forcibly, he tried to shake hands with his Maori parishioners. Some stood by and wept. But nobody shook his hand.

The eyewitness accounts of what followed after this are many and contradictory, often based on iwi alliance or the degree to which an individual was implicated and wished to pass the burden of guilt on to others. In many ways it reminds me of 'Roshomon', a Kurosawa classic film from 1950.

The Roshomon effect is called 'the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection by observers of an event who are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it. (Thanks Wikipedia.)

Who did what to whom?

It's still a vital contemporary question.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Comet in a night sky

When I opened this blog to write something I was taken aback to find that I had written nothing here since January.
There was a reason for this. Over the past six months I had become aware that something was wrong with me
physically and eventually this reached such an impasse I could only barely walk. Anyway long story short,
I have been diagnosed with an 'aggressive' late development rheumatoid arthritis.

 I have been given some medicine which seems to be working very well, so my depression has lifted and my ability to walk and work has improved enormously. I now have a deadline for this book - July - so it is something to work towards.

And in that lovely way, once I felt better, things started to cohere and I suddenly glimpsed the end of the book. The truly wonderful thing is that it was the vision ,or idea, I had started out with. Over the past two years
I felt assailed, uncertain, pushed in different directions. Then suddenly it all seemed to fall into place.

'Seemed' however is the operative word. I have yet to write the ending, then go back to the beginning, look at the overall narrative, see what works and where it doesn't and begin that brutal process Patrick White called

In the meantime I have not yet got a title. One title I liked was 'Comet in a Night Sky' and when I saw this beautiful photo in the Dom Post of a recent comet passing over Wellington I could suddenly see the cover.