Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Mike Butler: Poles apart on Waikato conflict

Two books published recently on the armed conflict in Waikato from 1863 to 1864 are poles apart in their viewpoint, with one trying to analyse events within the context of their time and the other seeking to reconcile you and I with “terrible” events that took place close to where we live.

The Kingite Rebellion by John Robinson looks at the “complex and messy way” in which settler and Maori culture collided from 1800 through the 1860s wars. Robinson views the emergence of the Kingitanga as a response to excessive caution by the British government which left Maori communities alone when many Maori were calling for governance, law and order.

The Great War for New Zealand -- Waikato 1800-2000 by Vincent O’Malley asserts that the Waikato fighting was the defining conflict of the history of “Aotearoa New Zealand.”

He aimed to provide “meaningful analysis”, add detail lacking in earlier works, and add hitherto unaddressed topics including the socio-economic consequences of the war, the history of the Waikato confiscations, and “the long search for justice that followed”.

The academic backgrounds, work history, and personal lives of the two authors may partly explain the opposing viewpoints.

Dr John Robinson is a research scientist in mathematics and physics, having studied at the University of Auckland and Massachussetts Institute of Technology. As an interdisciplinary research scientist, he’s penned all manner of reports, following the evidence to reach a conclusion.

However, when he analysed Maori demographic and land information for the northern South Island for the Crown Forestry Rental Trust in 2000, Robinson was required to reshape the evidence to fit a pre-determined conclusion and the person who told him to do it was none other than Vincent O’Malley.

A letter, dated October 26, 2000, from O'Malley as research quality manager, said that Robinson’s work would “obscure the true nature of the cataclysm which affected Te Tau Ihu iwi between 1850-1900", adding that the opinion was from an "independent analysis", author unspecified.

Robinson had found that the massive casualties of inter-tribal wars had reduced the Maori population by around 40 percent, by around 50,000 people, and the shortage of woman meant the population continued to decline for a few decades before a recovery that started in the late 19th century.

Vincent O’Malley presents himself as “a Pakeha New Zealander of Irish and Scottish Highland descent” with a BA (Hons) in History (1st Class) from the University of Canterbury. who completed his PhD thesis at Victoria University of Wellington in 2004.

He is a career grievance historian who is founding partner of Wellington consultancy History Works, established in 2004, which presents to the Waitangi Tribunal “throughout Aoteaora/New Zealand” many times after “working successfully with claimant groups”.

O’Malley’s acknowledgement of his Tainui father-in-law and wife on page 602 adds to the view that this book is a claimant history instead of a pursuit of evidence to wherever it may lead.

In his quest to understand reasons why some Maori wanted to set up a Maori king, Robinson wrote that “whenever some cause is identified, it is found that it is the consequence of past events; thus the path runs back through time to happenings during the intertribal wars of the 1820s and 1830s, preceding the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi”.

His first chapter, “The End of Maori Isolation”, reminds us of a gap of 3200 years in cultural development between Stone Age Maori culture and industrial age settler culture, which set the scene for a massive cultural shock when the British appeared in New Zealand.

The “complex and messy” way in which settler and Maori culture collided led Robinson to tell the story in a chronological sequence, with a large number of short chapters, paying attention to numerous different actors in different parts of the country.

There are many quotes and much of the story is told in the words of the 19th century authors, deliberately, to avoid becoming a modern interpretation to satisfy a client such as the Waitangi Tribunal.

O’Malley’s writing is history with a message with an emotional “reconciliation” as his goal. He wants claimants to be heard “if our nation is to reconcile itself with its troubled past”, although he says that this does not require “feelings of guilt or shame”.

Ignoring the devastating impact of the musket wars, his “tale of loss and waste” starts with contact with missionaries and goes to great lengths to chronicle depredation at the hands of the settler government.

Any uplifting elements he mentions could only include what he sees as the “principled idealism and bicultural vision of [the main Kingitanga protagonist] Wiremu Tamihana; Rewi Maniapoto’s insistence of fighting fairly and honourably . . . or even the sheer bravery of those few Pakeha who spoke out against the injustices of the war at the time”.

O’Malley’s narration is primarily interpretative, told in his words. Reference to key dates and events often appear to assume that the reader already knows all about it so the full story is unnecessary. He emphasises that before “the invasion”, Waikato Maori prospered in peace growing crops which they sold in Auckland until the wicked white coloniser wrecked it all.

His focus solely on Waikato without weighing the impact of events taking place simultaneously in Taranaki, the Bay of Plenty, and the East Coast is somewhat like watching a play in which a substantial number of key events take place off stage and no effort is made to consider whether or not they have an impact on the on-stage action.

This is important because O’Malley ignores the impact on the settler government of 20 years of turmoil in Taranaki that exploded in armed conflict in March 1860. The excuse for that conflict was a dispute over the sale of the Pekapeka block of land at Waitara although the issue at stake was who had actual authority – the settler government or some anti-settlement chiefs.

The sequence of events that Robinson lays out shows that the elevation of Waikato chief Te Wherowhero as the first Maori king, Potatau I, which took place in 1858, along with extensive involvement of Waikato fighters in the Taranaki conflict and the ability to strike at will small settler communities on both coasts, meant that the settler government could not ignore the Waikato assertion of sovereignty.

However, by injecting the 20th century co-governance treaty partnership ideology into 19th century events, O’Malley argues that the Kingitanga was not really a threat and were misunderstood and the settler government used an apparent threat as an excuse to take more than a million acres of Waikato land.

The date July 12, 1863, is the date that Lieutenant General Duncan Cameron led government forces across the Mangatawhiri River, near the junction with the Waikato River. O’Malley calls this an “invasion”. Robinson says that strictly speaking this could not be an invasion because the Waikato was not a separate country. Instead, fighting in the Waikato was an armed intervention by the government to put down a rebellion.

What took place at the undefended village of Rangiaowhia on February 21, 1864, remains a controversial part of the Waikato conflict.

The tale of woe that apparently grew at each retelling claimed that defenceless women and children were fired upon and the church in which they were sheltering was burned to the ground. This account has been hotly disputed with a significant piece of evidence being the continued existence of a pre-hostilities church at Rangiaowhia.

O’Malley frames his narrative with quotes that show the claimant view in the best possible light. He cites the accusations of Kingitanga prime mover Wiremu Tamihana, that the government had asked them to keep women and children away from fighting pahs, which Kingitanga did, and Cameron’s troops still killed them. Tamihana continued to describe the deaths of Kingites at Rangiaowhia as murders.

O’Malley cites written statements from two further Kingitanga supporters, a disaffected missionary, and a passage from Forest Ranger leader Gustavus von Tempsky as he imagined Bishop George Selwyn’s feelings at that moment.

Within that frame, he gives the account that Robinson gave, that six men and a boy were seen to enter a whare, that Edward McHale of the 65th regiment was told to go in to arrest them, that McHale was killed, that those in the whare began firing through the walls, that Colonel Marmaduke Nixon was seriously injured (and later died), that the whare started burning, that an unarmed old man came out of the whare wrapped in a white blanket, that the unarmed old man was shot dead, and that no one else came out of the whare.

O’Malley included a painting of Rangiaowhia village with a caption stating that there were two churches there at the time, probably to undercut criticism of repeated claims about an atrocity in a church, an incident that clearly did not happen.

On casualties, Robinson cites historian James Cowan’s figures covering all 19th century armed conflict in New Zealand as 2810 in total with 560 British, 250 friendly Maori, and 2000 hostile Maori, while noting that it was far fewer than the likely 43,600 during the inter-tribal wars from 1800 to 1840.

O’Malley focuses on Waikato casualties citing a range of figures between 500 and 2000 on the Kingitanga side while government casualties were 111 killed and 200 wounded. He provided varying estimates from historians James Cowan, James Belich, and B.J. Dalton.

He did an extra calculation to promote the impact of the Waikato conflict on Waikato Maori He compared the death rate of Waikato Maori, which was 4 percent of the total Waikato Maori population, with the death rate of New Zealand soldiers during World War 1 being 1.7 percent of the total New Zealand population.

On land confiscations, Robinson devotes four pages to explain that 1,119,528 acres were taken in Waikato and 1,278,080 in Taranaki. He noted that the confiscations were too sweeping, with the “warlike Maniapoto” in control of their territory and the “defeated Waikato” suffering heavy losses. He noted that “a considerable amount of the confiscated land was subsequently returned, but grievances were created that continue to this day”.

O’Malley repeats Tamihana’s argument that the Waikato conflict and confiscations were all about seizing the land. Further, he argues that Governor George Grey intended confiscations from the start of his second term as governor, institution a methodology that he had used at the Cape Colony in south Africa at a time when the British Empire was taking a hard line against indigenous unrest.

However, O’Malley’s 100 pages on confiscation proposals, legislating for confiscation, confiscation on the ground, military settlements, and the compensation court, combine to give an insight into numerous failures by the settler government to enact a plausible policy that was of any benefit to anyone other than a few well-heeled settlers who bought large areas of Waikato for very little.

O’Malley quoted a NZ Herald report in 1877 that said “Only the Kingites, who are not gradually selling land and drinking the proceeds, are not rapidly declining in numbers”. Robinson sees those Maori who cooperated with settlements as benefiting and those who didn’t substantially missing out.

On an emotional level, why would the Kingitanga confiscations resonate with the non-Maori O’Malley? A clue may be found in his Irish and Highland Scots ancestry.

The Irish had sustained land confiscation and colonisation by the English and numerous small farmer Scots families had been evicted during the Highland clearances. The Kingitanga grievance would resonate since the Scots and the Irish both have a deep and similar grudge about “what the English did to us”.

The Kingite Rebellion, John Robinson, Tross Publishing, 406 pages, illustrated, $40. The Great War for New Zealand -- Waikato 1800-2000, Vincent O’Malley, Bridget Williams Books, 690 pages, illustrated, $79.99.


Unknown said...
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As usual Mike a great article of clarity on our misrepresented past.

Laurent said...
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If there was only 50,000 Maori at onetime in New Zealand how the hell can they claim all of the country. I presume if a Waka landed on the tip of Italy and the whole of Europe was devoid of people then the Maori could Claim Europe. Ponder this: If a lie is repeated often enough and for long enough then it becomes the new truth....

Hugh Barr said...
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Mike: A great article exposing another Treaty manipulater. Many thanks for filling in the details that give the full picture. Hugh Barr