The way to establish whether or not colonisation brought benefited or harm, according to Plover, simply is to look at how Maori were living pre-1840, and then look at progress after contact with new people, new ideas, new products, and a new way of life.
We can know how Maori lived before 1840 by reading evidence recorded by visitors from Britain at that time. These written accounts are readily available and include:
• Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand, by John Liddiard Nicholas, published in 1818,
• The log book of the HMS Acheron (1848-1852),
• Christianity among the New Zealanders, by Reverend William Williams, 1867, and
• Forty years in New Zealand, Reverend James Buller, 1878, among others.
These are accounts written up to 200 years ago and have remained unchanged since then, unlike "tales of ancestors" that are conveyed orally and which are adapted in the re-telling to suit the audience.
These 19th century writers describe the dire existence of Stone Age people in New Zealand back then.
Plover quotes extensively from these sources under chapter headings: Food, clothing, housing, transport, hygiene, health, superstition, slavery, women, children, infanticide, tribal war, cannibalism, property rights, introduction of law, language, fauna and flora, population.
Food was mainly fern roots with occasional kumara, shellfish, fish, and people. Food had been plentiful, but once the large flightless birds called moa had been hunted to extinction and forest on the east coast of both islands had been burned off, people became food and cannibalism was rife.
Flax mats were the only clothing. Many were naked.
Small dwellings that occupants had to crawl into that became as hot as ovens was where people slept.
Walking and canoes were the only forms of transport.
Lack of washing meant people were infested with parasites and stank.
The nuclear family did not exist. Men had numerous wives who were ranked, No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and so on. Wives fought each other over seniority.
Warriors were needed so girl babies were not wanted and were frequently killed at birth.
Children ran wild. Reverend Williams described the upbring of the son of a Maori priest (tohunga):
My father then taught me how to bewitch and destroy people at my pleasure; and he told me that, to be a great man, I must be a bold murderer, a desperate and expert thief, able to do all kinds of wickedness effectually . . .Fighting and theft was prevalent. Murder would require vengeance (utu) from the murdered person’s family which could involve feuds between groups that would last for generations until the wrong had been avenged. An innocent third party may be killed to satisfy the wrong.
Fear induced by the threat of dire consequences should this or that prohibition (tapu) be broken was the only rudimentary control.
The brutality of existence back then was described in the logbook of the HMS Acheron.
In the summer of 1831-1832, Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha, described as probably the most vicious cannibal of them all, upon capturing a Ngai Tahu fort at Kaiapoi, tore open “a living mother and holding the half-firmed embryo on a pointed stick in the flames to be afterwards devoured. Plover wrote that:
The uncertain survivalist lifestyle produced a “maximum aggressive” trait in the victors and/or a “borderline personality condition” and heightened state of fear among those awaiting their fate, both contributing to serious psychological harm.
They [Maori] were lifted out of this darkness and horror by first the missionaries, who preached the love of Christ, and then after 1840 by the imposition of British law, which outlawed such conduct. But the mental damage of this brutalising behaviour would not vanish immediately, Plover wrote.
Now here is the most salient message.
Plover’s book was published around the time that the Supreme Court quashed the convictions of the late Peter Ellis, who had been jailed for 10 years on 16 counts of indecency in relation to seven children after the most bizarre witch-hunt centering on the Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre in 1991.
The Supreme Court made a big show of invoking tikanga, that is Maori customs and values, to allow a posthumous appeal.
The High Court has also invoked tikanga in two cases involving Maori claims for ownership of parts of the New Zealand marine and coastal area, namely one case titled Edwards, and the other, Reeder.
Other than sweeping generalisations unworthy of any judiciary, neither court has defined exactly what it means when referring to tikanga.
Plover’s book shows exactly what tikanga involves. Consequences for wrongdoing revolve around theft and murder. In other words, if you do wrong to me, I will kill you and take your stuff.
Don’t you think we have a substantial problem in this country when the High Court and the Supreme Court are incorporating into case law processes based on ancient customs and values that revolve around theft and murder?
Benefits of colonisation, Adam Plover, Tross Publishing, 130 pages, illustrated, $30 (including postage) is available from www.trosspublishing.co.nz or from Paper Plus.