When the spear is thrown

J.G.A. Pocock

  • Two Worlds: First Meetings between Maori and Europeans, 1642-1772 by Anne Salmond
    Viking, 477 pp, £18.99, March 1992, ISBN 0 670 83298 7

A society which seriously determines, or discovers, that it is a convergence of two cultures needs a history of two cultures; and since history is a product of culture, this means that it needs two histories, the history of two experiences and two ways of looking at history. This has been the case of New Zealand since it was realised – or since the realisation was forced upon the Pakeha – that the Maori remember a different history and, in consequence, remember history differently. Courageous and not unsuccessful attempts have been made – rather often by Pakeha historians – to give free play to the Maori awareness of history and attend to the voices in which it speaks. But the difficulties are only beginning at this point, since the very word ‘history’ – meaning, as it does, not an unprocessed past, but the activity of remembering and interpreting it – takes on culturally specific meanings, and may come to signify an awareness of experience peculiar to one culture and not to the other, capable of being used by the one to dominate, expropriate and assimilate the other. In the North American context, it has been argued that ‘history’ is an ideological tool whereby Anglo-American culture destroys the sense of unbroken cosmic unity peculiar to Native American cultures, and forces them to take part in processes of change and alterations of consciousness imposed by the invading majority; and it can even be suspected to the contrary that cosmic unity is an invention of the self-repudiating Western mind, imposed upon the Native cultures by Western dissent for purposes ultimately Western.

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[*] Princeton, 233 pp., £16, 31 August, 0 691 05681 1.