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.


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