Monday, August 22, 2016

One day, many wars

It is good to see the government promising a national day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars, the conflicts that killed thousands of people in these islands between 1843 and 1916.

The New Zealand Wars were intermittent, regional, and very complex. Often they had more than two sides. 
When Te Kooti waged his guerrilla war in the central North Island in the late 1860s and early '70s, for example, he found himself fighting not only the colonial army controlled by the Pakeha government in Wellington, but the forces of the Ngati Porou and Te Arawa peoples, who had chosen for their own reasons to make an alliance with the Crown. As the war developed Te Kooti made his own alliances, winning support from the Tuhoe people of the Ureweras and from sections of the Tuwharetoa people of the Taupo region. 
Te Kooti even found some Pakeha supporters. A group of Irish Fenians sold him ammunition, and a trade unionist and anarchist named Arthur Desmond was almost lynched after performing a poem in his honour in a Pakeha settlement on the East Coast. Despite the urgings of Wellington, the British government, which had become increasingly critical of New Zealand's colonists, refused to support the struggle against Te Kooti. 
The outcomes of the New Zealand Wars were also complex. Many iwi suffered devastating land confiscations in the aftermath of their struggles with the Crown. The Tainui peoples lost more than two million acres in the aftermath of the conquest of the Waikato. Crown land confiscations were justified as punishment for rebellion, but they were motivated by the greed of property speculators. Some iwi that had fought hard against the invasion of the Waikato saw their lands untouched, because they were of little economic value, while iwi that had remained neutral but lived on desirable land, like Ngati Kahukura of Waiuku, suffered confiscations. 
A few iwi were able to emerge from the New Zealand Wars with their lands relatively intact. After a civil war in which supporters of an alliance with Pakeha were triumphant, Ngati Porou contributed men to the struggle against Te Kooti. After that war had finished the iwi held on to the weapons it had been given to fight Te Kooti, and threatened to use them against any Pakeha who tried to take their lands. The government in Wellington shelved plans to push settlers into Ngati Porou's region.
When it organises commemorations of the New Zealand Wars, the state should make a distinction between the facts of history and the interpretation of these facts.* Kiwis should be given the facts of their country's nineteenth century history, and encouraged to debate the meaning of these facts. The details of Te Kooti's life are clear and dramatic, but different people in different places will inevitably have different opinions on the meaning of his life. For some commentators, Te Kooti has been a fanatic and a terrorist; for others, he has been a freedom fighter; for still others, he was a misunderstood man of peace.

The commemorations of the New Zealand Wars could be an opportunity for us all to learn more not just about the facts of our country's history but about the many ways that the past can be viewed. 
Although the New Zealand Wars deserve their own day of commemoration, they should also be remembered on Anzac Day. The first Anzacs fought not at Gallipoli but in the Waikato and Taranaki Wars of the 1860s, when many hundreds of soldier-settlers from Victoria and New South Wales joined colonial New Zealand troops in their battles against Maori.

*Admittedly, hard and fast distinctions between fact and interpretation are often difficult to make.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, August 19, 2016

The lost land of aute

Over at EyeContact the Panmure psychogeographer Richard Taylor has made a typically thorough response to my essay about Nikau Hindin, the young artist who is trying to reanimate the ancient Maori art of tapa making. 
When I told friends about Nikau Hindin's recent exhibition at Manurewa's Nathan Homestead gallery a lot of them thought I was hoaxing. They were sure that Maori had never made tapa. Even when I showed them some promotional material for the show, I suspect that they thought it might be some sort of 'Forgotten Silver'-style joke. The notion of Maori tapa confuses many of our categories, it seems.
Coincidentally, I was reading David Simmons' fascinating book Greater Maori Auckland this week, and I found a chapter about the flat and sandy islands that once existed off Awhitu and in the Kaipara harbour. These 'lost lands' were slowly eaten by wind and water, and now exist only in a melancholy photograph and some oral traditions. I'd known about the lost land of Paorae, thanks to this article by James Cowan, but had never heard of the sunken Kaipara island of Taporapora.

Simmons says that Taporapora, which is today no more than a mangrove bank off a tiny bach village at the end of a peninsula in the central Kaipara, was once the home of a whare wananga and of a famous plantation of aute. It was interesting to learn this story, because several aute beaters have been found close to Taporapora, in the mud-choked mouths of the rivers that feed the Kaipara harbour. Oral tradition and archaeology seem, then, to support one another.
I wonder whether we couldn't also bring palaeoclimatology to the table, and ask whether a microclimate helpful to the raising of tropical plants like aute might have existed at Taporapora half a millennium or so ago.
Microclimates certainly exist in the Kaipara region today: olives and other Mediterranean crops are grown on the Tinopai peninsula, which extends into the harbour from the north, and is known for its warm and dry weather.

David Simmons reports that different groups settled Taporapora at different times. The second group to settle on the island brought aute, and presumably wielded aute beaters. In my essay on Nikau Hindin I report linguist Roy Harlow's belief that different Eastern Polynesian peoples settled Aotearoa at different times, before coalescing and becoming the ancestors of Maori. Harlow detects a trace of Mangaian in the dialects of regions like the Kaipara.

Perhaps a fragment of tropical Polynesian society established itself and persisted in a stable state for some time, on the atoll-like island of Taporapora, centuries before the emergence of what we know today as Maori culture?

I wish our archaeologists had a submarine, so that they could look at the ancient lands of Taporapora and Paorae.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Who needs a drug-free Olympics?

It was marvellous to see Fiji beat the Poms and win a first gold medal for the Pacific last week in Rio. It was even better to see the Fijians celebrate their triumph by drinking yaqona (or kava, as it is known in this part of the Pacific) in front of thousands of spectators. We've heard a lot about the necessity of disentangling drugs from the Olympics, and athletes in Rio have endured all sort of peculiar tests for traces of substances deemed illegitimate by the guardians of their sports. Curiously, though, nobody seemed to object to a group of gold medallists consuming a venerable narcotic in full view of fans and cameras. 
Kava, it seems, is a drug that can hide in plain sight. A couple of years ago demonstrators up and down New Zealand demanded, and eventually got, a ban on the sale of synthetic cannabis. Our media covered the debate over synthetic pot in great detail, visiting the shops were the stuff was sold and interviewing various users in various states of health. But neither the campaigners against drugs nor the advocates for synthetic pot nor the media ever seemed to notice that scores of ordinary corner dairies in south and west Auckland sell bags of an imported, completely unregulated narcotic every day. Kava is used by many members of Auckland's huge Pacific Islands community, and by a few palangi who have discovered its pleasant effects. 
I suspect that the protesters and the media ignore kava because it doesn't fit some of the stereotypes they hold about recreational drugs. Kava users don't end up holding up dairies or begging outside the Warehouse for money to buy another fix. They do not seclude themselves shamefacedly from the rest of society when they enjoy the drug. Kava drinking is an activity that ornaments rather than disrupts lives. 
I hope that the Fijians' very public endorsement of kava will prompt greater interest in the drug outside the Pacific. I can't help thinking that regions like Europe and the Middle East would be better off if their populations took to ingesting some of the drug at the end of the day. Kava relaxes its users without addling their brains, and makes them sociable yet not voluble. It is not surprising that Melanesians often use the drug in ceremonies designed to settle disputes and ameliorate bad feelings. Imagine how much more pleasant the bars and streets of Bolton or Scunthorpe would be at two o'clock on a Saturday morning, if punters had been drinking kava rather than lager. Picture how much more smoothly Middle East peace negotiations might proceed,if they were held around a bowl of kava.
I wrote a little about the kava culture of Tonga here
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, August 12, 2016

From tapa to Taua

Over at EyeContact I've published an essay about Nikau Hindin, who has been trying to revive Maori tapa, an artform dead for half a millennium. I talk about the different challenges that Nikau and the ngatu painters of Tonga face, and use a quote from my troublemaking mate Justin Taua to try to show that Nikau's project is not just an exercise in recreating the past, but has important political implications.

[Poste by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Trump, the Pacific, and unintended consequences

On his popular Kiwiblog, the National Party pollster and advisor to John Key David Farrar is vainly trying to convince his audience that Donald Trump should not become president of the United States. Many of Kiwiblog's readers are social conservatives partial to conspiracy theories about ethnic minorities, and Trump's orations against Muslims and Mexicans have delighted them. 
I haven’t seen any of Farrar's readers discuss how a Trump presidency might affect New Zealand’s traditional role in the Asia and Pacific regions. 
Since World War Two Australia and New Zealand have been sheriff's deputies for the United States in the Pacific. Our navy and army exercise regularly with their American counterparts, despite our anti-nuclear policy, and we formulate and execute interventions in Asian and Pacific nations together. When they face serious issues, Kiwi diplomats in Pacific nations where America lacks representation - nations like Tonga and the Solomon Islands - follow policies developed with Canberra and Washington. The Australian and New Zealand military and police interventions in nations like Timor-Leste, Tonga,  and the Solomons were all made in line with American policy, and with the moral support of America. 
In recent years the Anzac nations and America have been trying to stymie the spread of Chinese influence through the Pacific. The Obama administration has tipped more money into the region, and consolidated its military bases on islands like Guam and Okinawa. Obama has spoken of shifting the focus of American foreign policy from Europe and the Middle East to Asia and the Pacific. The recent visit of Obama's deputy Joe Biden to New Zealand was a reminder of the cosy relationship between this country and the United States. Biden used his visit to warn China that the United States remained a 'Pacific power', and was not about to vacate the region. 
Trump may have fluid or incoherent opinions on many other subjects, but his views on foreign policy have been clear and consistent for decades. He dislikes the many treaties that make America responsible for the defence of smaller and weaker nations, and he admires the size and power of China and Russia. On the campaign trail this year Trump has called the NATO alliance a drain on American resources, and dismissed America's military alliances with Japan and South Korea for the same reason. Trump has made his admiration for Vladimir Putin clear, and has said that he is keen to reach a better understanding with China's leaders. 
It would not be at all surprising if president Trump junked the Obama-Clinton policy of confronting China in the Asia and Pacific regions. He would be especially likely to turn away from the strategically unimportant South Pacific, and let China complete its economic colonisation of nations like Tonga and Fiji. If Trump thinks American military bases in Europe and on the Korean peninsula are unnecessary, then he is unlikely to have much enthusiasm for maintaining facilities in places like New Zealand or the Marshall Islands or American Samoa. 
If Trump turned his back on the Pacific then the New Zealand and Australian governments would face a choice. They would either have to maintain a policy of confronting China on their own, which would be very difficult, or else reach some sort of rapprochement of their own with the Chinese. Either way, they could not count on the guidance and materiel of their American cousins.
They might object to numerous other aspects of a Trump presidency, but few people on the New Zealand left would be too upset by an American withdrawal from the Pacific. It is New Zealand's political and defence establishments that would have a headache. David Farrar's alarm at Trump's rise is understandable. 

One of the stranger unintended consequences of a Trump presidency might be the emergence, for the first time in one hundred and thirty years, of an independent New Zealand foreign policy. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Friday, August 05, 2016

A quick note on Tonga's new crisis

I had a chat on twitter a few months ago with Michael Field, the Pacific journalist and author of a classic study of New Zealand's colonial occupation of Samoa. Field has been an astringent commentator on Tongan affairs, and for many years he was banned from the kingdom.

When I asked him whether he had plans to write a book about the Friendly Islands, Field said he'd like to publish a study of the democratisation of the kingdom, but that he didn't think the time was quite right. Tonga's royal family and class of nobles lost a lot of power in 2012, when the country adopted a revised constitution that gave commoners a majority of seats in parliament for the first time and stripped the monarch of his right to form governments. But Field told me that he didn't think the nine nobles who still sit in Tonga's parliament were quite ready to concede power to the seventeen commoners who sit alongside them. 'They'll push back', he warned.

It looks like Michael Field was right, because this week Lord Vaea, a long-time member of the Tongan parliament, has been preparing to put a motion of no confidence in 'Akilisi Pohiva, the leader of the Friendly Islands Democratic Party who became Prime Minister late in 2014. Lord Vaea is in Auckland with Pohiva, on what must be a rather awkward state visit, but his fellow nobles back in Nuku'alofa have been telling journalists and foreign diplomats that Pohiva must go. Vaea says a vote of no confidence will be 'a priority' when he returns to Tonga.

In an interview on Radio New Zealand this morning, Michael Field blamed the move against Pohiva on the elderly leader's increasing frailty, on anger over the Tongan government's desire to sign a United Nations resolution on the rights of women, on frustration at Tonga's 'enormous poverty', and on the refusal of the nobility to accept the dictates of the country's commoners.

The nine nobles in Tonga's parliament have tended to act as a bloc, and are probably united now in wanting to get rid of Pohiva. The nobles were elected by a few dozen of their peers, and are thus insulated from public opinion, but they must persuade five of the popularly elected commoner MPs to their side if they want to vote Pohiva out of office. Field is not sure that they will be able to do this.

Michael Field is hardly alone in believing that Tonga's democratisation is an unfinished story. 'Akilisi Pohiva and his supporters in the country's media have often lamented the way that the revised 2012 constitution gives nobles a third of the seats in parliament by right. Pohiva has at times talked of abolishing the seats, and at other times suggested that they should at least be popularly elected.

If they move as a bloc against the Pohiva government with light support from commoner MPs, then Tonga's nobles will be putting themselves in a dangerous situation. Defenders of Tonga's constitutional arrangements like Tevita Motulalo, with whom I had a less than amicable discussion back in 2014, have insisted that the nobles ought to have places reserved for them in parliament because they represent the kingdom's traditions and culture, and can act as apolitical advisers to representatives of the commoners. That argument was always nonsense, and a power grab by the nobility will expose it as nonsense to every Tongan. Tongans took to the streets in the tens of thousands in 2005 and 2006 to demand democracy; it wouldn't be surprising to see them take to the streets again, in defence of their popular Prime Minister. The reforms of 2012 could turn into the revolution of 2016.

Footnote: In this essay for EyeContact I tried to give a sense of how the struggle between Tonga's democrats and authoritarians plays out in everyday life, and in art.

Update: looks like the vote of no confidence will come on August the 15th.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

A very lost Hamilton

Last week a copy of the first ever trilingual anthology of Maori poetry turned up in my letterbox. Twelve Heavens/Nga Rangi Tekau-Ma-Rua/Doce Cielos runs to 136 pages, and presents the work of eight contemporary Maori. A stickynote directed me to pages 64-66, where three different versions of a poem about myself waited. Unfortunately, the poem, which was written by my old mate Vaughan Rapatahana, isn't entirely complimentary. Here are its Maori and English incarnations:

ha! haumata
For Scott Hamilton

ha! hamutana
kei whea koe e hoa?

e titiro ana ahau mo
                               he hamutana
te taima katoa,
egari ko tahi hamutana anake kei konei -
he taone nui
i roto te rohe of Waikato.

ko kaore he tane ki tenei ingoa,
kaore he tane o nga whakataurangi nui
me he waha e taurite!

kei whea koe e hoa?

ko te kirikiroa tino ngaro koe
e kautahoe
ki tau moana o nga kupu nui.

hey! hamilton
For Scott Hamilton

where are you, friend?

I look for a hamilton
all the time
but there is only one here
a big town in the waikato district.

there is no man with this name
no man with many promises
and a mouth to match!

where are you friend?

you are a very lost Hamilton
in your ocean of big words

Vaughan might be referring to my repeated failure to visit him in Morrinsville since he returned from Southeast Asia and settled in that charming town a couple of years ago. When we walked the length of the Great South Road last December, Paul Janman and I hoped that Vaughan would drive down, ditch his car, and join us for a few kilometres. But Vaughan is teaching in Morrinsville, and he was too busy for psychogeography. He told us he'd shout us a coffee if we made a detour to his new hometown, but that would have added a couple of days and a dozen or so blisters to our journey.

Not only have I failed to visit Vaughan - I've failed to publish him. He sent me a long and interesting essay about Manila, the city where he spent years in exile, a couple of years ago, and asked if I wanted to post in on this blog. I told him I would, and promptly misplaced the text. I've relocated it today, and will stick it up tomorrow.

But I haven't neglected Vaughan Rapatahana entirely. I posted this essay about his poetry in 2012, ran a short interview with him in 2011, and in the same year republished his fascinating article about teaching on the hollowed-out island of Nauru.

Nor have I neglected Morrinsville completely. I published this essay about the Maungakawa ranges, which rise south of the town and are an old stronghold of the Maori King Movement, in 2011. I'm revising the essay for inclusion in my forthcoming book about the Great South Road.

Vaughan has a habit of sending me e mails written entirely in te reo Maori; I tend to feel embarrassed by my inability to decipher them. This year, though, I've been studying Tongan, a language Vaughan claims to understand very imperfectly. I've been looking forward to being able to reply to one of his Maori missives with a long and incomprehensible epistle in Tongan!

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]