- Encircled Lands: Te Urewera, 1820-1921 by Judith Binney
Bridget Williams, 670 pp, £50.00, May 2009, ISBN 978 1 877242 44 1
- Stories without End: Essays, 1975-2010 by Judith Binney
Bridget Williams, 424 pp, £30.00, May 2010, ISBN 978 1 877242 47 2
To explain why Judith Binney – who died in New Zealand in February – is a major figure in contemporary historiography it is necessary to explain why the history of her country has become a field of which contemporary historians do well to take notice. They have not always done so. New Zealand has been considered a safe, dull Anglo-democracy, with a welfare state 75 years old and reasonable race relations, small and remote enough – even in times of world war – to be dismissed as happy in having no history; none at least, to which historians need bother to attend. Within living memory, even New Zealanders sometimes felt like that. Since the 1960s, however, two major changes have caused them to reassess their history and the histories of which it has formed part, so that they now have things to say which call for the attention of others. Judith Binney was an actor of genius in at least the second of these changes.
The first – about which she did not write, though it is necessary background – was the termination of ‘Commonwealth history’ by the decision of the United Kingdom British to consider themselves, however half-heartedly, Europeans. Commonwealth history had been a lesser aspect of the history of empire, always sidelined by the greater theme of the Raj; a history of colonisation, further sidelined by the still obscure process of replacing the old term ‘imperialism’ with the term ‘colonialism’, meaning empire over culturally different peoples, which could happen without colonisation in the sense of settlement playing much part. Finding themselves marginal to the history of both empire and Europe, the settler-descended peoples of the former Commonwealth or ‘white Dominions’ might, and in some cases have, set about reconstructing the history of settlement and the historiographies it has generated. In this, a major figure among New Zealand historians has been James Belich, a historian of the ‘Angloworld’, the massive emigration of English-speaking peoples who changed global geography by their settlements in North America and the southern hemisphere; Belich continues the history discerned by J.R. Seeley, the great 19th-century historian of the empire of settlement, now that Seeley’s historical world has disappeared. The owl of Minerva follows many flight paths.
Binney and Belich should be mentioned together when we turn to the second transformation of New Zealand historiography. ‘Colonisation’ denotes the occupation of lands by emigrant peoples desirous of maintaining the culture they bring with them; ‘colonialism’ seems predominantly to denote the domination, by means of empire, of at least one culture by people of another. Since there was no case in the history of European or British empire of the colonisation of lands altogether empty of human inhabitants, the two phenomena were inseparable and the term ‘colonialism’ will have to remain, however confusingly, in use. It will denote the experience of the colonised rather than the colonisers, who have other things on their minds and may be unaware – may even deny – that they are subjugating indigenous peoples (the tangata whenua in New Zealand Maori). In recent history – including the history of historiography – it has been necessary to remind them.
Te iwi Maori – to employ another term for the tangata whenua – were originally themselves colonisers, arriving perhaps less than a thousand years ago at the southern limit of the Pacific world settled by Polynesians and others, in sailing vessels for which no English word better than ‘canoe’ has been found. Though mariners of extraordinary skill, they did not become a maritime culture; two-way commerce did not endure so far south, and though each kindred traced its genealogy to the canoe in which the first ancestor arrived, they displayed skill in populating new lands with mythical figures, spirits and ancestors, which linked them with the cosmos through the land where the ancestors were present. Whenua may mean either ‘land’ or ‘placenta’ and for Maori the past is spoken of as ‘before (not behind) us’. To simplify an oral consciousness of vast complexity and sophistication, the central concept has been that of mana whenua, the identification of a particular kindred’s sacred identity and – a word we now use – sovereignty, its power to be and speak itself, with ancestral lands acquired through occupation or war (a significant addition).
Vol. 33 No. 19 · 6 October 2011
J.G.A. Pocock is right to identify the Treaty of Waitangi as the focal point for subsequent histories of Maori-Pakeha relations (LRB, 8 September). However, his analysis of the words rangatiratanga and kawanatanga is too simple. According to the English version of the first article of the treaty, the chiefs cede ‘sovereignty’ over their land to the Queen of England. It is not qualified, as Pocock implies, by any reference to ‘sale of land’. The Maori version of the second article grants rangatiratanga over their land to the chiefs and tribes of New Zealand. The sense of rangatiratanga would have been conveyed by the English ‘sovereignty’, but the English version of the clause does not include the word. Instead, it grants to the chiefs and tribes ‘full, exclusive and undisturbed possession’ of their lands, and gives Her Majesty ‘the exclusive right of pre-emption’ over them. The fact that the Maori version is much shorter than the English has led some to claim that there were really two treaties: the ‘Treaty of Waitangi’, an English legal document, and the ‘Tiriti o Waitangi’, whose wording was designed to allay the fears of the chiefs.
The word rangatiratanga is used in the third line of the Maori version of the Lord’s Prayer, which would have been familiar to many of the chiefs present at the signing of the treaty. To them, the sovereignty of the land would have been no more ‘alienable’ than the Kingdom of God.
J.G.A. Pocock gives readers the impression that Pakeha took possession of Maori land in the 19th century by exploiting Maori incomprehension of land sales and individual ownership. But comprehension was not often the problem. Some land was sold with full understanding and disclosure on both sides, but usually Pakeha were dishonest in their transactions, or obtained land by force. From 1840 (and earlier) until the unjust wars of the 1860s, far from being ‘“natives” too uncivilised to understand what was happening’, as Pocock puts it, many iwi were an economic force to be reckoned with. They had created considerable wealth through trade, which they then invested in flour mills, ploughs and ships of up to 60 tonnes. This prosperity came to an end as a result not of one party’s misunderstanding of the other, but of Pakeha greed for Maori land.
Pocock writes that Anglo-British settlers ‘looked on land with no less veneration than the tangata whenua’. For this to be so, ‘veneration’ would have to encompass contradictory cultural attitudes to land, and the treatment of it. Land referred to in a Maori context is almost always ‘the land’, a specific, particular place, to which one is tied by ancestry and history, not the general, European concept of ‘land’ anywhere. The subtext of Pocock’s statement is very clear: Anglo-British settlers were as deserving of land (in Aotearoa) as Maori. This message is contentious, to say the least, but has recent precedents. As Jacob Pollock has pointed out in the New Zealand Journal of History, both Michael King and James Belich have drawn an equivalence between Maori and Pakeha, rather than problematising the presence of Pakeha in Aotearoa. Their ‘bicultural’ general histories of New Zealand are part of the ongoing project of ‘cultural colonisation’.
Colonialism by force hasn’t stopped either. In October 2007, in the Tuhoe area, masked police pointed weapons at young children and detained them without food or water for several hours during national raids, and police, seeking their prosecution under the Terrorism Suppression Act, imprisoned a number of Tuhoe activists (among others). They were unsuccessful: all charges were dropped, save against four people, because the ‘evidence’ was gathered illegally. The New Zealand Chief Justice Sian Elias said that the police knew they were breaching human rights with their surveillance activities yet continued what they were doing. It seems that colonialism in New Zealand is now called the ‘War on Terror’.
J.G.A. Pocock writes: ‘Sovereignty’ is a word with several meanings, and I meant to reveal its ambiguity. The Crown did not claim sovereignty over a sovereign state, or there would have been no Treaty of Waitangi. When it inserted the word kawanatanga, and claimed an exclusive right of pre-emption over land sales, it claimed some kind of ultimate authority; but at the same time it conceded rangatiratanga, meaning an original possession of the land, for which the word ‘sovereignty’ was already in use. The treaty debate has become an open negotiation between these meanings of the word.
Janet McAllister wrongly supposes that I am endorsing the settler worldview by stating what it was. If by ‘equivalence’ she means that you can’t do the latter without doing the former, it becomes impossible to write history at all. She also puts words in my mouth that I was putting in the mouths of settlers. The story she tells is 90 per cent true, but we need to know more about those who acted unjustly than that their actions were unjust. This does not mean defending them.
Vol. 33 No. 21 · 3 November 2011
The knee-jerk liberalism displayed in one or two of the last volley of letters on New Zealand Maori rangatiratanga fails to take into account that we British have a long history of screwing the natives: the Treaty of Waitangi was nothing more than a weasel-worded excuse for joining Aotearoa to Victoria’s Empire before the French got it (Letters, 6 October). For many of the oppressed tribes up and down the length of the two islands who lived in fear of ending up as slaves and on the dinner plates of their Nga Puhi and Ngati Toa oppressors, the arrival of Victoria’s rule was a heartfelt reason for celebration. Close to my old shack on the Kaipara Harbour north of Auckland once sat a crude wooden representation of Victoria erected in thanks by the surviving local tribes in the middle of the 19th century. Janet McAllister forgets that the only reason her property in Auckland was so easily acquired by its first European owners was that the local Maori had been massacred over 15 years or so of Nga Puhi invasions. Contemporary New Zealand liberals are unable or unwilling to understand that life in early Godzone for most Maori tribes was punctuated at regular intervals by bouts of rapine and pillage that were ended only when the British flag flew over the land. The notorious pillaging cannibal Maori chief, Hone Heke, knew that: his part-time hobby was chopping down British flagpoles.