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Monday, December 28, 2020

Michael Bassett: Teaching Early New Zealand History in Schools

 

The piece in the Herald on 21 December about teaching New Zealand history to all students confirms the fears of serious historians that the project risks becoming mere propaganda by those with axes to grind, rather than a teaching of the facts. 

Students will be given a lop-sided picture of our early history if the curriculum ignores or romanticizes the pre-1840 period where several Maori tribes went on annual marauding exercises to settle old scores. They killed between 40,000 and 50,000 Maori, approximately 25% of the total number of Maori in the country at that time, eating some, and enslaving others. 

What we historians refer to as the Musket Wars have been written up graphically by Ron Crosby in his The Musket Wars: A History of Inter-tribal Conflict 1806-45. The late Michael King noted in his preface to Crosby’s book that those wars, which occurred before there were more than a handful of colonists in New Zealand, disrupted Maori society to such an extent that the interpretations of which people held mana whenua status over which piece of land, produced resentments that still linger today. 

Moreover, as Ray Fargher has shown in his biography of Donald McLean, the Crown’s chief land purchaser of Maori land in the 1850s and 1860s, even his earlier scrupulous attempts to ascertain which iwi owned a particular piece of land, ran into conflicting claims, often from those Maori who had been dispossessed during the Musket Wars. The large numbers of Maori who supported and fought alongside the Crown – Kupapa Maori - during and after the wars of the 1860s were often people with grievances against tribes who had destroyed their homes and stolen their land before there were many colonists in the country.

In other words, “bleeding heart” versions of our history which push the line that everything was lovely in Aotearoa until the colonists arrived, and that they were responsible for depriving Maori of their livelihoods, are telling dubious bits of the story. Maori had killed more Maori between 1810 and 1840 than the total number of Kiwis killed in World Wars One and Two combined. And in the process, they complicated the relationships with settlers when they arrived in substantial numbers between 1840 and 1860. Yes, the wars of the 1860s did terrible damage to what remained of the Maori economy. But not as much as Maori had done to themselves before colonists had even arrived.

Can those who are devising a curriculum for our schools please ensure that there is some balance to what is taught in our schools? The current craze for painting Maori as unwitting victims of dishonest Europeans needs to be evened up with stories about how welcome the settlers were amongst Maori in areas like Auckland where their numbers had been reduced to barely 800 in 1840 covering one million acres between the Kaipara and east Tamaki because of the ravages by Ngapuhi over time.

Historian, Michael Bassett, was a minister in the Fourth Labour Government.

7 comments:

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

>"... “bleeding heart” versions of our history which push the line that everything was lovely in Aotearoa until the colonists arrived"
This is standard marxofascist doctrine for all imperial/colonial history. The reality was very different and continued after independence in many developing countries where people tend to identify as members of a tribe as their primary identity rather than as citizens of a nation.

Ray S said...

No need for "balance" just the truth as it was and is now should suffice.

DeeM said...

I suspect that the hope for some balance in teaching NZ history will be lost in the bottomless pit of woke indoctrination, favoured by most Western governments these days, and most certainly by our current government.
Children will be presented with the noble savage viewpoint; living in peace and harmony with nature and themselves, and taken advantage of by the bad white colonialists, on which everything can now be blamed.
The real history doesn't fit the narrative so it has to be erased or rewritten.
They say history repeats itself. We're currently going back in time to Stalinist Russia, Nazi Germany and Maoist China where propaganda was paramount in controlling the population. Ironic to think that in our so-called democracies the current trend is to copy three of the worst regimes in recent history.

Doris Devine said...

Thanks for giving us facts and I hope that the Education Department will consult emminent New Zealand historians before pushing through a half factual curriculum. But,this will take years.

Anonymous said...

In all fairness, it should be noted that it was Europeans that supplied the muskets that resulted in such an horrific death toll. European contact also brought influenza and other diseases which further exacerbated the rapid shrinking of the Maori population. All other points taken.....

Mary-Ann said...

Unfortunately the world has gone mad and the European influences are blamed for everything.
Pre European discovery of New Zealand there was history of Moriori being killed enslaved and cannibalism practice. I have no problem with history being taught but it should be taught as a whole and not leave out parts when it doesn't suit a particular culture namely Maori culture.
Own up to what was once part of your violent culture. Teach history as a whole.
Mary-Ann

Robert Arthur said...

Any notion that NZ history will be taught objectively is a pipe dream. To be interested in a teaching career teachers need to be predisposed to extensive pro maori exposure and display an enthusiasm for. They are suckers for a reinterpreted history. Few teachers are widely read in general topics and only know that with which they have been indoctrinated. The industry, employer, and union seems to have been captured by pro maori attitudes. Vast sums are being spent sprucing Parihaka, Ruapekapeka etc as shrines for pro maori worship and propaganda centres for school parties.
It is a pity in a way that pre 1840 history will be omitted or severely modified. Boys tend not to be interested in school but bloodthirsty tales have immense appeal. The fate of Cooks party in the Sounds, the Boyd, Nga Puhi taking a waka load of heads to KeriKeri, Te Rauparahas treatment of SI captives etc would ensure attention and interest of many boys.