Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Bruce Moon: Ngai Tahu and Mount Cook
At last year's sentencing, District Court Judge Joanna Maze is said to have thought this crime so appalling that her "starting point for sentencing had to be the maximum penalty available, a fine of $5000". Only the guilty plea of the pilot led her to reduce this to $3750. She said it must be "seen as one of sacrilege to those to whom Aoraki/Mount Cook is of central cultural importance". (1)
In the summary of facts read to the court, the Department of Conservation said the 3754-metre peak represented, to Ngai Tahu, "the most sacred of ancestors, from whom Ngai Tahu descend and who provide the iwi with its sense of communal identity, solidarity and purpose".
Well, that certainly sounds horrifying enough - the "open and shut" case which undoubtedly it was. Nevertheless it will not hurt the cause of justice if we look a little further.
First, Ngai Tahu forebears came from Poverty Bay and Hawke’s Bay and crossed to the South Island in the 17th century when they started to slaughter the existing inhabitants. Possibly Ngai Tahu themselves were fleeing from stronger aggressors in the north.
Be that as it may, the Ngai Tahu were "Johnnies-come-lately" in the South Island who somehow had survived beforehand without their affection for Mount Cook. Moreover, most of them settled in villages on the east coast where the best of the scanty South Island food supplies were found. Only from a few vantage points on the east coast can Mount Cook be seen at all and even then only in clear weather. (2) Probably therefore, most pre-European Ngai Tahu never even saw it once in their lives.
This alone raises some doubt about the high-flown claim that it gives the tribe "its sense of communal identity, solidarity and purpose". Let us see just what that "sense of communal identity, solidarity and purpose" might be.
It is reported that Ngai Tahu Forest Estates Limited sold its freehold interest in 18,252 hectares of central South Island land to a Swiss company for a "consideration of $22,888,888", a mere $1,254 per hectare! The sale has been approved. This land comprised blocks at Ashley Downs, Ashley Forest, Mt Thomas Forest, Okuku, Omihi, Hanmer Forest and Trig Road, Oxford. (3)
Just what does their living and "most sacred ancestor" think of this sale of ancestral land almost under his nose, by the tribe it provides a “sense of communal identity, solidarity and purpose”. It must at the very least have shaken a few avalanches off his steep slopes.
It wasn't the first time Ngai Tahu had done this sort of thing. In November 2010, for several million dollars, they had sold to one Margaret Hyde, an American citizen, the freehold land of Rakanui Station, some 15km south of Kaikoura. (4)
The Overseas Investment Office explains "the vendor is selling the forestry land as it is moving towards a more active investment strategy and more balanced investment portfolio" In other words, a company of the Ngai Tahu tribe, masquerading as a tax-exempt charitable organization, has revealed itself for what it truly is - a multi-million business corporation, set up entirely with taxpayer money.
It dresses its window of course with high-sounding talk of the "central cultural importance" of "the most sacred of ancestors" but in reality this is pure mumbo jumbo, no more than a smokescreen to appeal to soft-hearted and soft-headed New Zealanders, our decidedly "wet" Department of Conservation", craven Ministers of the Crown and racist judges.
The historical record clearly exposes the big bosses of Ngai Tahu, Elizabeth Rata's "neo-tribal elite", or most of them, and their fellow-travellers as only too successful in duping the rest of us as they have set about their business.
As J.L. Nicholas observed in 1817 "Among the moral vices to which many of the New Zealanders are prone, may be reckoned the odious practice of lying, in which they too frequently indulge" (though he did acknowledge that there were honourable exceptions). While Nicholas observed only the tribes in the far north, he may well be describing the practice of other tribes from the North Island. (5)
A little sanity and realism might be restored by referring to the even-tenored work of A.P. Harper, whose father had made one of the first east-to-west crossing of the main divide in 1857. We quote from this work.
"The chief point of interest is Mount Cook, 12,349 ft. For some years past, an attempt has been made ... to change the name of this peak to 'Aorangi,' a Maori word.(6) Some of those who write articles on their climbs are fond of saying 'Mount Cook, or, to be correct, Aorangi' or some such expression, inferring that 'Mount Cook' is not the correct name. I have always objected to the innovation, and have made inquires in all directions, but can find no proof whatever that 'Aorangi' was applied to the peak, or that it ever had a distinctive name amongst Maoris. (7)
"So far as I could learn from the Maoris of the West Coast, who could see Mount Cook and the other great peaks towering up within 20 miles, they had no name for any peak or range except those lower hills on which they ventured. Again, the Maoris had a wholesome and deeply-rooted fear of the mountains, none of the old West Coast natives ever went far from the low country, so it can hardly have been necessary for them to have individual names for the great snowy ranges. On the East Coast the Maoris could have had little knowledge of this district, as it is so far inland, and most of the South Island natives lived near the sea-beach, from which Mount Cook is only in one or two places visible, and can only be distinguished by persons well-acquainted with the peak. It therefore appears that if any Maori name existed it would be known amongst the West Coast natives, who could see Mount Cook every clear day within twenty miles of the sea ... standing out in the most unmistakeable manner.
'In 1865, I had a Maori ... with me for two months, and a very good, intelligent fellow he was. I asked him one day, 'What does "Aorangi" mean, Bill?' to which he answered 'It mean de big white cloud.' I said, 'I suppose that is why you call Mount Cook Aorangi?'.
"'Oh, no; Aorangi not mountain, Aorangi a big white cloud, here―there―' said Bill, pointing out sundry large, fleecy clouds.
"I then pressed him more on the point, and told him he knew nothing about it, and that Aorangi was the name they had for Mount Cook. But he waxed quite indignant, saying― 'De Maori, he no name de mountains, only where to go, de white man he name 'em.'
"I afterwards made inquiries from other Maoris, and always had the same reply, that they had no name for the high mountains. [I]t will be a pity to have the older name of Mount Cook superseded by a Maori word which has only been applied to the peak during the present generation."
It becomes abundantly clear therefore that bodies such as the Department of Conservation and the NZ Geographic Board, not by any means for the first time, have made their decisions based on that little learning which is a dangerous thing and other deeply vested interests have simply believed, or said they believed, what they saw it as their advantage to do so. This is becoming quite the norm in our increasingly deluded country. (8)
Yes, indeed, the great panjandrums of the Ngai Tahu tribe do have a sense of "solidarity and purpose" but this has nothing whatever to do with a supposedly sacred mountain but only with enriching themselves as a successful business corporation.
Sources and notes
1. Hovering helicopter 'gravely offensive', http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/kapiti/8528007/Hovering-helicopter-gravely-offensive
2. For a while I boarded in the former nurses home at Timaru Hospital. From my top floor room, in favourable conditions, Mount Cook could be seen in the distance with nothing to mark it out as being more commanding than other peaks.
3. Ngai Tahu Sells Over 18,000 Hectares To The Swiss, Committee against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, August 2011, http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/cafca11/aug11.html#_Toc326585348
4. Ngai Tahu Sells Rakanui Station To An American Energy Trader, Committee against Foreign Control of Aotearoa, November 2010, http://canterbury.cyberplace.co.nz/community/CAFCA/cafca10/nov10.html#_Toc299906427
5. A Voyage to New Zealand, 1817, p. 384
6. This is of course a word from northern Maori dialects. More recently, the southern form "Aoraki" has been preferred. I remember writing an article myself in the house magazine of South Canterbury Community College (now Aoraki Polytechnic) to explain the difference which was news to most people I spoke to.
7. Pioneer Work in the Alps of New Zealand, 1896, pp 10ff
8. The Geographic Board's policy is clearly to impose on Southern geographic features, names in the remote Ngapuhi dialect, perhaps under the false impression that it represents the "purest" form of Maori. In fact, it is a pure historical accident that this dialect has become dominant because the missionaries who first codified the language settled in the far north. We do note however, that missionary Wohlers on Ruapuke Island in the far south, chose to follow the northern conventions in what he wrote but any claim that they are somehow "better" is quite unfounded. Thus the busy wordsmiths have changed the name of a mountain near Nelson called "Mokotap" to "Maungatapu" when the former is almost certainly very close to the name the early settlers heard as the local Maoris said it. "Kartigi" in Otago is another example, the wordsmiths having rendered it as "Katiki" and other examples are not hard to find. "Otakou" is indeed a corruption of "Otago" and not the other way around.
at 3:20 PM