Walk­ing with an­ces­tors

This im­por­tant and highly read­able book will help us un­der­stand our his­tory.

New Zealand Listener - - BOOKS&CULTURE - By SALLY BLUN­DELL

Sail­ing into the small bays of the North Is­land’s east coast, the com­pact “wooden world” of the En­deav­our was a mi­cro­cosm of West­ern En­light­en­ment think­ing. In­side was a grow­ing ar­chive of car­to­graphic and astro­nom­i­cal data, plants and traded taonga. All were named and al­lot­ted a ge­o­graphic, ethno­graphic or tax­o­nomic place within a world view based on a sin­gu­lar cos­mic hi­er­ar­chy that put God at the top, then an­gels, monar­chy, aris­toc­racy and var­i­ous strata of hu­mans from the “civilised” to the “sav­age”.

Those wit­ness­ing the ar­rival of this sailed ap­pari­tion held a vastly dif­fer­ent world view, one where re­la­tion­ships were built or bro­ken on the flex­i­ble ba­sis of rec­i­proc­ity, ex­change, friend­ship and in­sult; where kin­ship net­works spi­ralled out in sym­bio­sis with an­ces­tral lands and wa­ter­ways; where no­tions of tapu, utu, mana and hau, premised on the pres­ence of an­ces­tors in ev­ery­day life, pre­sup­posed a re­al­ity fun­da­men­tally at odds, writes Anne Sal­mond in Tears of Rangi, “with West­ern ideas about the world”.

She sets out to ex­pose the ef­fect of this on­to­log­i­cal di­vide. She tracks the ex­pe­ri­ences of the first mis­sion­ar­ies, who set out to con­vert a peo­ple they saw as gripped by su­per­sti­tion and amoral­ity, while de­pen­dent on the gen­eros­ity of their hosts. She de­scribes the mixed re­sponses by Maori: wooed by the po­ten­tial for trade and in­creased so­cial stand­ing; cog­nisant of the law­less hordes of grog-sell­ers and traders wash­ing up on th­ese shores; fear­ful of the com­plete dis­pos­ses­sion of lands, as seen in Aus­tralia. She un­picks the nu­ances of the English and Maori ver­sions of the Treaty of Wai­tangi, by which tribes agreed to a shared fu­ture with the Bri­tish queen “in which the mana of both ran­gatira and the queen would be up­held”, while Crown rep­re­sen­ta­tives as­sumed the right to gov­ern the coun­try.

In this way, she writes, “an on­to­log­i­cal im­passe lies at the heart of the New Zealand state. Can dif­fer­ent ‘worlds’ con­verge?” From the ini­tial alien­ation of Maori from their land to more re­cent clashes over seabed and fore­shore leg­is­la­tion and Gov­ern­ment ap­proval of oil drilling off the East Cape, it seems not.

But Sal­mond also writes about those seek­ing, with vary­ing lev­els of open­ness, to soften this dead­lock: high priest Tu­paia and botanist Joseph Banks, mis­sion­ary Sa­muel Mars­den and Nga­puhi lead­ers Te Pahi and Ru­atara, mis­sion­ary and school­mas­ter Thomas Ken­dall and Nga­puhi chief Hongi Hika. In more re­cent his­tory, she points to the blend­ing of West­ern prin­ci­ples of pri­vate prop­erty with tra­di­tional tikanga; non-Maori New Zealan­ders act­ing as kaiti­aki for rivers and beaches; the shift of Maori terms into

Kiwi English; the re­turn of taonga; the resur­gence of the haka, carv­ing and tat­too. Th­ese are signs, she sug­gests, that th­ese di­ver­gent world views are not im­mutable.

She puts this con­ver­gence of ide­olo­gies into a global per­spec­tive, as be­lief sys­tems that ac­knowl­edge the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of life prove more rel­e­vant than old Carte­sian du­alisms in meet­ing the chal­lenges of cli­mate change and loss of bio­di­ver­sity.

Tears of Rangi is a heavy tome. There is some rep­e­ti­tion and the gear shifts from philo­soph­i­cal over­view to his­tor­i­cal de­tails aren’t al­ways smooth, but in ex­plor­ing the views that un­der­pinned and con­tinue to un­der­pin Maori-Euro­pean re­la­tions, she pre­sents an im­por­tant, highly read­able book that helps us un­der­stand our his­tory and plan for our fu­ture.

Sal­mond un­picks the nu­ances of the English and Maori ver­sions of the Treaty of Wai­tangi.

Litho­graph of wounded chief Honghi & his fam­ily. Be­low: Dame Anne Sal­mond.

TEARS OF RANGI: Ex­per­i­ments Across Worlds, by Anne Sal­mond (AUP, $65)

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