Sunday, October 16, 2022

Mike Butler: Pre-colonisation, warts and all

That colonisation benefited Maori should be self-evident and there should be no need for a book such as The Benefits of Colonisation by Adam Plover. Sadly, a concerted and prolonged smear campaign by the decolonisation/Maori sovereignty movement has confused some so Plover wearily spells it all out in systematic and comprehensive manner.

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:

• The diary of Captain James Cook, 1769,
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 or from Paper Plus.


Anonymous said...

Indeed I do worry, almost more than anything else, about the corruption of the judiciary. I don't know enough in detail how badly the English Justice system - imperfect as it is, but that's another story - has been undermined, but when demonstrably learned, rational people are found to be jumping on the bandwagon it is a sorry situation. How I long to witness their discomfiture when the tide turns. Geoffrey Palmer is pretty quiet these days.

Anonymous said...

Pre-European Maori lived in a Hobbesian ‘State of Nature’ in which ‘every man’s hand was against every other man’s,’ ‘no man was secure in his life or in his property,’ and ‘life was nasty, brutish and short.’

The only universally accepted legal principle was ‘Te rau o te patu [the law of the club] aka might makes right.

Ownership of land and personal property was impossible iny any meaningful sense.

You used or occupied it only until a stronger bullyboy or bunch of bullyboys took it off you.


Unknown said...

Pre 1840 history will never be taught in schools, it would be too confronting.

Martin Hanson said...

Most people, including most Maori, would accept that colonisation has brought a mixture of benefits and costs, so the question that should be asked is:
Did colonisation bring a net benefit or net cost?
For some reason, journalists never ask this question.

Robert Arthur said...

Presumably the book will be included in the reading list for those subject to the new schools histories curriculum. The benefit of the civilising influence of the post stone age world is indisputable, although incredibly many maori question. More challenging is to reflect on how else things might have proceeded other than how they have. Would maori have forsaken utu, dismissed recent cannibal predation and near mutual elimination, somehow communicate throughout the country and combined as a single minded coordinated country wide group (as the trace maori academics and corporates do today, but hapu still do not)? And what would have been their policy? Somehow encourage (and protect) a few visitors for education, technical guidance and useable post stone age language, but not allow land or any other ownership? Adopt farming etc and do all the manual land development and work themselves? Export sufficient kauri to finance weapons and build a modern disciplined army so they could repel any German. Japanese, French, Spanish, Belgian etc armed invaders? What would NZ be like toda?. Afghanistan? Haiti? Ethiopia? Somaliland? Colombia or ... Japan? If any of the potential external conquerors had succeeded how would maori be placed cf their pandered position in a prosperous up to date country today?
I wonder if I could get a job setting essay topics for the new school histories.

Anonymous said...

Great to see an author prepared to publish a true picture of early NZ Maori way of life

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, colonization of the Chatham Is by Maori in pre-European times worked out well for the Moriori didn't it

That is a bit of NZ history that is glossed over by Maori condemning European colonization.

5th generation Kiwi said...

You mean to tell me that prior to the evil white man's arrival Maori were a bunch of canablistic, child killing, smelly, enslaved people ... no way. According to the "Maori world view" they lived in a peacefull paradise with an advanced spiritual and health system, fair Maori justice, and let not forget conservation and sciences, that's what we are being told and most of our education is teaching our children, right?

Anonymous said...

5th Generation Kiwi, yes, one must avoid looking at this from a privileged vanilla lens. Fortunately, one gathers our children are now to be taught from a brown tinted monocular lens that "crosses the bridge that is Tiriti o Waitangi" - you know, that 3 Article, one page agreement that must endure for eternity between the Crown and the common people ("tangata maori" - NB not tangata wenua), no matter how remote or dilute those blood lines become.

Anonymous said...

From a complementary perspective consider the ‘basics’ not available before colonisation eg no wheel, no beef or mutton or pork, no wool, no metals, no dairy products ….

Anonymous said...

Infantacide ,cannabalism was an everyday occurance.There is plenty of reading material out there documenting such atrocities. It is less than 200 years ago that this was happening. Now look what Maori have got. They have roads to drive their cars on. Medical system they can access if they choose to. Education if they choose to. List goes on. It is all about making the right choice.

Geoffrey said...

If one whakapapas to several different tribes, how likely is it that at least one female forebear will have been dragged off by a raiding party as a brood mare? If so, how does one attach mana to such a genealogy? Since the concept of marriage was not obvious the possibility of intermarriage seems unlikely to offer an explanation. Any thoughts…?

Anonymous said...

Other than Cooks diaries, which I have already read, a search of Auckland library on Overdrive didn’t turn up any of the titles above. Where might they be available?

Mike Butler said...

Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand, by John Liddiard Nicholas is here.
Christianity among the New Zealanders, by Reverend William Williams, 1867,
Forty years in New Zealand, Reverend James Buller, 1878.
Diary kept by Captain Stokes during his survey of the New Zealand coast in H.M.S. Acheron.
Viewable in Wellington reading room at Alexander Turnbull Library

Anonymous said...

Just read the book and it should be compulsory reading for all students AND teachers. Throw in politicians, as well. It won't be, of course, but it is the first straight-forward account of that period of NZ history.

Anonymous said...

The Chinese will be writing the same nonsense in a few generations…,