Wednesday 18 August 2010

Blood Brothers

In the beginning was the word: According to Professor James Belich, Edward Tregear's 1885 book, The Aryan Maori, by inducting the Maori into the same "Indo-European" racial family as the Pakeha: "arguably ranks with the Treaty of Waitangi as a key text of Maori-Pakeha relations."

IT ALL BEGAN with a seemingly innocuous question.

"How would Hone Harawira feel", NZ Herald journalist, Derek Cheng, inquired, "if one of his seven children came home with a Pakeha partner?"

It was a gift of a question really, and no doubt Mr Cheng expected Mr Harawira come back with a statement celebrating racial tolerance. But, he was in for a big surprise.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable", Mr Harawira replied. "Like all Pakehas would be happy with their daughters coming home with a Maori boy – and the answer is they wouldn't.

"That's just the reality of the world. Let’s not cry about it. Let’s just live with it and move on."

But the "reality of the world" is very far from being what the MP for Te Tai Tokerau believes it to be. As they have so often done since he entered Parliament in 2005, Mr Harawira’s pronouncements betray a deep misunderstanding of this country’s present, and a worrying lack of knowledge about its past.

One of the curiosities of New Zealand history is the degree to which Maori and Pakeha intermarried. Indeed the free-and-easy co-mingling of the races in this part of the world would have scandalised the Anglo-Saxon settlers of Australia and North America – especially in the last quarter of the 19th Century.

It was during this period – the Age of Imperialism – when the European powers were "scrambling" for colonial possessions in Africa and Asia, that the by no means unrelated ideology of "Scientific Racism" began colonising the European and American mind.

Fuelled by Charles Darwin’s ideas about "the survival of the fittest" a vast and spurious hierarchy of races was constructed by American and European "scientists" to both explain and justify the Aryan (or Caucasian) race’s position at the very top of the human evolutionary tree, and why the "lesser races" were restricted to its lower branches.

To maintain the "purity" of the Aryan race, they insisted that there be absolutely no "miscegenation" (literally, "race-mixing"). In the former slave-owning states of the American South, this prohibition was to be given the force of law.

Not that white Americans living in the South were always willing to let their own race-based laws take their course. Between 1882 and 1968 some 3,446 black Americans were lynched – most commonly on spurious charges of "defiling" white women.

The Americans were not, of course, alone in mandating racial segregation. Miscegenation was almost equally taboo throughout the British Empire.

What made New Zealand so different?

The answer, quite simply, is: a book.

According to the leading NZ historian, James Belich, The Aryan Maori, written by Edward Tregear, and published in 1885, "arguably ranks with the Treaty of Waitangi as a key text of Maori-Pakeha relations."

Tregear had the soul of a tortured romantic. He was simultaneously bewitched and repelled by the wildness and isolation of New Zealand and its indigenous people. Having spent many years living with the Maori, and learning their language, he yearned to integrate the rapidly growing colony’s competing cultures into a harmonious whole. But how could he? Weren’t his "Aryan" brothers and sisters forbidden from "mixing their blood" with the "natives"?

But what if he could prove that the Maori were Aryans too? If he could demonstrate that their "land of ultimate origin was probably in South-Central Asia, but it may have been in Lithuania, or by the shores of the Caspian Sea; wherever it ‘may have been’ it was, as I believe, in that locality wherein those branches of the Indo-European family now occupying North-western Europe had their birth".

Tregear’s thesis (long since discredited) found an astonishingly receptive audience among Pakeha New Zealanders and was swiftly incorporated into the "official" history of the young colony. The Maori’s heroic resistance to colonisation; their rapid adoption of European religion, culture and technology; all was explained.

Pakeha and Maori were now free to "co-mingle" with the Scientific Racists’ blessing. Though separated by vast reaches of time and space, the two peoples were fellow "Indo-Europeans" – blood brothers.

The strength of the bonds forged by Tregear’s Aryan Maori theory was demonstrated in the "Battle of Manners Street" of 1943. When White Americans from the Deep South objected to sharing the Allied Services Club with Maori soldiers, they and their Pakeha compatriots invited these "allies" outside. For four hours thousands of Yanks and Kiwis traded blows in the streets of the Capital – two Americans died.

Isn’t it, therefore, richly ironic that, more than a century after the publication of The Aryan Maori, it is Mr Harawira, who finds himself discomforted by long-discredited 19th Century ideas concerning race-mixing?

And Edward Tregear? While wrong about the specifics of the Maori people’s origins, he was, in a larger sense, quite right. Maori and Pakeha are kin: not because we’re fellow Aryans; but simply because we’re fellow human-beings.

This essay was originally published in The Press on Tuesday, 17 August 2010.


markus said...

"Tregear's thesis (long since discredited) found an astonishingly receptive audience among Pakeha New Zealanders..."

I'm not sure Belich provides adequate evidential support for this argument. It's been a while since I read 'Paradise Reforged', but I remember feeling that Belich had only cited a few specific examples of elite opinion as well as one or two history books. I'd suggest the question of wider public opinion on the thesis remains uncertain.

Chris Trotter said...

I think the fact that the Maori's supposed "Aryan" origins were still being alluded to in NZ secondary-school history books 60 years after Tregear's little treatise first appeared, more than confirms Belich's and my own analysis.

I realise it's highly embarrassing to some New Zealanders that earlier generations were no less influenced by scientific racism than the Americans or the Germans.

I, however, prefer to look upon Tregear's thesis almost as an example of the Platonic "Noble Lie": a story it was necessary for the masses to believe so that some semblance of justice might be achieved within the state.

Victor said...

Although the Tregear thesis may only have had limited take-up, a watered down version of it seems to have had wider circulation.

My wife tells me that,as recently as the 1950s, she was reared on the notion that the Maori were one of the 'finest' (and least dark) of the non-white races and stood on a branch of the evolutionary tree that was only slightly lower to that of the godlike Europeans. There are those who think like that to this day.

I also remember my shock, when, newly arrived in New Zealand in the 1980s, I heard some learned academic on the radio, passionately 'defending' the Moriori from allegations that they were of Melanesian stock.

So OK they were Polynesian and, by most accounts, admirable people. But they wouldn't have been less admirable if they'd been Melanesian.

Up to a point, Chris, I agree with your 'Noble Lie' theory. But I wonder how those who accordingly treated Maori with a semblance of justice behaved to the more obviously non-Aryan Chinese immigrants of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

I also wonder how much attitudes of this sort helped keep New Zealand's doors closed to all but the most fortunate refugees from National Socialism.

And I wonder whether such myths are the origin of the debilitating condescension, masquerading as liberalism, that has denied Maori real equality and led so many of them to focus rather excessively on tribal and racial identities.

Madison said...

Yes, very good blog. Although I know it's fun to say that Americans are backwards there's two things I'd like to point out. First, separation of the races through law was widespread throughout all of the States and not just the south until the civil war. It simply remained in the south (ashamedly) for much much longer.

Secondly I would like to point out how despite the racial tensions I've seen in NZ I must say that there has been far more mixing, blending and adopting of different cultures here and the differences in debate that this leads to have been a joy. I'm not being sarcastic. That I can hear people have debates and arguments and not always devolve into horrible racial fights is an amazing thing to watch when I've come from somewhere that this is almost completely nonexistent and a taboo subject.

For me I will admit that Hone Harawira is probably the most depressing public figure I've seen on the subject as he continually promotes separatism and distrust. The push for racial divides is only going to create more problems than it will solve and by separating government policies and social benefits by race, as Hone and other radicals do suggest, will only lead to more inequality and not less. As the well worn case of Brown vs. Board of Education decided, separate but equal can not exist since if they are separate they are inherently inequal.

In all a good argument, any suggestions on how to convey the same ideas to the local skinheads? I'd love to get them to read the book, they wouldn't know what to make of it.

Bearhunter said...

This kind of thinking hasn't completely disappeared, you know. There's a shop selling British-Israelite material on Dominion Road. For those unfamiliar with the British-Israelite theory it says that the British (and more specifically the English) are the lost tribe of Israel.

ani nil carborundum said...

I do not think the British Israelites and similar fantasists should get any credit for our relatively harmonious racial relations.
The early contact between Maori and Cook's expedition and then the whalers, sealers and early traders were critical to the development of a respectful and warm view becoming the norm in the less formal settlements of the early years.
Formal history emphasises the relationships between missionaries, colonial officials and then the larger settler colonies in Wellington,Auckland, New Plymouth and the South Island, but much of the positive stuff grew from the more informal connections built with traders, sealers and whalers, and migrants from the Australian penal colonies.
The Hokianga, which is still probably the most racially harmonious community in the country is a great example of the real basis for this mutual affection,respect and intermarriage.

In Rawene, still stands the house built by the American Clendon, for his Ngapuhi wife, and the most self-promoting Pakeha Maori Frederick Maning likewise built a home at Koutu Point for his much loved Maori wife.
The founder of the first timber mill in Kohukohu, many years before the treaty, was a young and devout Scot who travelled with his bride-to-be, a daughter of Patuone , to Sydney presumably to ensure the ceremony was blessed by the appropriate branch of Christianity.
My own paternal ancestry goes back to a young Irishman, no doubt via Sydney, who married into local Maori in Kaeo long before the treaty.
The credit for this tradition should be properly placed with the Maori of the time who saw that the proper social process to absorb new people into the community involved marriage and access to land.
This approach was greatly facilitated by the number of felicitous commonalities between Maori and these newcomers, including a physical appearance that was highly attractive to Europeans, (which sadly was less true of many other colonised races), and a military capacity that demanded a certain level of respect, and a quick adoption by Maori of literacy, and the husbandry of new plant and animal species.

Anonymous said...

Ah, British-Israelitism, of which Bill Massey was an adherent. Don't think its quite the same thing - invented mainly to show that the English were even more godlike than your average Aryan - Lesser breeds without the Law -
Those two lost tribes of Israel have been a gift to ethno-conspiracy-theorists
An earlier version of the Noble Lie has Williams (or some other early missionary - have yet to check) speculating that the Maori were descended from the Two Lost Tribes - which was taken up by Te Kooti, among others.
Of course Muriel Newman et al have used variants of these theories against Maori ...

Scott said...

You're taking a prety sanguine view here of a book which continues to have a negative effect on Kiwis' understandings of their past, Chris.

If Madison does some research she'll soon find that local neo-Nazis are already using Treager's rubbish theories of New Zealand prehistory. Martin Doutre and Kerry Bolton, key figures in local far right organisations and authors of the 'Celtic New Zealand' theory, are fans of Treager's approach to linguistics, which enables them to 'prove' that the best parts of Maori culture actually come from Europe (Maori and other Polynesian peoples were the slaves/servants of God-like white people who crossed the Pacific in ancient times, according to Doutre et al).

Did Treager's bizarre ideas gain currency because Pakeha were keen to get matey with Maori, or because they furnished an excuse for the assimilation of Maori and the destruction of their culture? After all, if Maori were 'fallen' Aryans, then they could be restored to cultural and racial health, if they could be persuaded to mix their blood with that of higher branches of the Aryan race and throw away their culture for the superior Anglo-Saxon model.

The attempt to establish a connection between indigenous non-European peoples and Europeans who have arrived in their world is not unique to New Zealand. In Fiji, missionaries looked at the dark skin of the locals, and decided that they must have arrived in the Pacific from Africa, and before that been one of the lost tribes of Israel. Many Fijians still hold to this myth. The Mormons teach both Polynesians and indigenous Americans that they come from the twelve tribes.

As strange as it might sound, there were attempts by nineteenth and early twentieth century Australian liberals to show that Aborigines were Caucasians, and therefore the long-lost brothers and sisters of their conquerors. The liberals who made this pseudo-anthropological claim hoped that if it gained currency it woud lead to better treatment for Aboriginals. In Australia at the time Aborigines were so marginalised that support for assimilation was a liberal position.

Scott said...

As an aside, nobody died in the 'Battle of Manners Street'. The 'battle' was a series of scraps that involved hundreds rather than thousands of servicemen and ended late in the afternoon, when the last train to the Kapiti Coast, where the Yanks were barracked, was due to leave. The incident became a bit of an urban legend - largely, I suspect, because it was kept out of the news at the time.

Chris Trotter said...

Your sources, Scott? I'm relying on the NZ Encyclopaedia account.

Victor said...

Just on a point of record. The bible suggests ten lost tribes.

There is a huge literature over who they might be and where they ended up, not all of it totally implausible, in terms of the customs of the peoples concerned.

From memory, candidates include the Pushtun, the Kashmiris and, rather less plausibly, the Karen of Burma.

Obviously, if either the Brits or the Maori were descended from the lost tribes of Israel, they would not be Aryan, in the sense that the word was used in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Edward said...

I don't know of many anthropologists who would share this particular view of Tregear, or his relevance to Maori culture then or today. Granted maybe he's an interesting, albeit odd, historical figure, but I feel quite a large discord between what you are trying to claim from a historical perspective vs the anthropology of it. I guess what i'm saying is that i'm suprised you would put so much stock in the power of Tregears book, and i'm not sure I understand why. I agree with you insofar as it seems you argue that Pakeha and Maori have had a closer relationship than sometimes seems, but I get a bit lost when this is placed (seemingly) in the framework of trying to homogenise our past by focusing on events of common ground rather than taking a systemic approach to culture and historical change. Perhaps i'm just overanalysing though..
Food for thought anyway.

markus said...

I do think there were competing theories, Chris. Let's remember Thor Heyerdahl's post-1940 emphasis on South America, for instance.
Certainly older members of my family (born late 1920s-mid 1930s) were amused by the idea that the "Aryan Maori" thesis was some sort of entrenched and pervasive belief in New Zealand when they were growing up.

However, I think they would agree with Victor's broader notion that many New Zealanders of the time saw Maori as "superior natives". But that's not quite the same as a belief in "aryan" origins.

Victor said...


Something that interests me is the apparent rarity of iter-racial marriages in the United States. This is despite the huge and beneficial changes in race relations there over the last 50 years, the election of a Black president etc.

I confess to not having read either of Obama's autobiographies but I believe that one of them refers to a conscious decision he made in his twenties to stop dating white women.

Obviously, Obama is no racist. But his position doesn't seem all that different to Hone Harawira's recent statement. And, in the New Zealand context, Hone's statement seemed very close to racism.

Not only is there a marked difference between US and New Zealand attitudes to inter-racial marriages and partnerships. There also seems to be a growing difference between US and UK attitudes. Britain today is full of inter-racial couples, as are most west European countries.

So why does US integration seem to stop at the bedroom door? Or am I exaggerating the difference? Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

RedLogix said...

So if all our commenters above are so happy to reject the influence of Tregear...then to what else are we to attribute the remarkable willingness of Pakeha to intermarry Maori... in such contrast to the situation elsewhere?

I'm tempted to suggest the simple imbalance of the genders, that European men outnumbered women until quite late in the 1800's may well have had a bearing. But then again I'm not sure that this was a situation unique to this country.

And while European colonial males quite frequently 'went native' in many places, the result was usually social ostracisation from 'proper' white circles. Not so much the case here in NZ.

Counterbalancing this is the observation that such intermingling was often commonplace , and more readily tolerated in the earliest stages of colonisation. (I'm thinking here of the history of the East India Company.) Perhaps in NZ the whole process was so much more compressed, from the first substantial arrivals in the 1830's to WW1 all in less than 80 years. As I've said before, it was a turbulent era full of dramatic changes for peoples all over the world.

But whatever the rationale, Chris is still correct in observing that Maori never faced the overt discrimination and unrestrained racism seen elsewhere. Certainly there was any amount of petty snobbery, institutionalised biases and exploitation of privilege... but counterbalanced by equal amounts of respect, mutuality and intimacy. (My own grandfather for instance was universally known by a Maori nick-name.)

We really have two paths we can go by, separation and hostility... or respect and unity of purpose. It seems to me that NZ until about the 1970's had been drifting erratically between these choices, but since then the latter, the desired path, has been receding from view.

Madison said...

First, to Scott, I don't really want to do any real research into the local skinheads, I'd rather just find them a hole to crawl back into. I've got no real desire to get any closer to them or attempt to see what they're thinking. I was hoping that this book might be understood to push against their ideas, but as it's my first knowledge of the author I guess the skinheads have already cut and pasted what they want from Treager.

As to Victor, I'm not really sure about the reason for a lack of inter-racial marriages. I do know it's far more common here. I don't find the dating to be too much different in the countries as it was reasonably common to see mixed couples in the cities when I left but obviously something isn't carrying through to the marriage part. I do have a few friends who had serious trouble family-wise on that front with families being unaccepting of their choices.

I haven't read Obama's books but I do know that similar ideas have been expressed by others, usually ultra-right wing nutters who misconstrue his statments, but if he states he made the choice than it's something to look into. I find a serious difference with Hone's statements that he would seem to encourage total racial separation while Obama seems to be making a choice affecting mostly just himself. It doesn't seem to hurt his ability to work with others as he seems to only have excluded people on the dating front and been quite willing to work with anyone while Hone carries his refusals to almost any level. His statement also points towards the danger of bringing back legally enforced racial separation which simply can not be allowed to happen.

Having thought while writing I believe that the slavery issue is probably the most major factor in the lack of interracial marriages. NZ hasn't had to try to remove 200 years of racial slavery as it never made that crucial mistake and while there is a distrust it was never taken to that level. The same would be true in the UK, while slaves were there it was never anything on the scale in the US and hasn't needed the time to cleanse a lot of the ingrained distrust. To be honest though I can't put a finger on any specific reason why the numbers should be so different.

maps said...

Chris, my source on the Manners street scrap is Nancy Taylor's two-volume history of the Home Front during WW2, which was published as part of the state-sponsored series of official histories in the decades after the war.

Talking of sources, I'd be interested to see some stats on Pakeha-Maori intermarriage in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I've just been reading an account of the institutionalised anti-Maori racism that existed in the Franklin District into the '60s, and it emphasises the rarity of intermarriage.

I suspect rates of intermarriage, and the state of Pakeha-Maori relations in general, varied from region to region. The Hokianga, which a commenter mentioned as a relatively harmonious place, may have been more liberal than Franklin. Even there, though, Maori were pretty marginalised by the early twentieth century.

Redlogix has a rather sentimental view of New Zealand race relations. He should read about the colour bars that kept Maori out of pubs, barbers, and even parts of movie theatres in Franklin, or the ostracising of 'Pakeha Maori' like the Hokianga's Jacky Marmon by mainstream Pakeha society.

RedLogix said...

Redlogix has a rather sentimental view of New Zealand race relations.

I've no illusions that the discriminations you mention did not happen. Nor would I seek to minimise how humiliating and unfortunate they were. But they are not the whole story as you seem so keen to tell it.

The first member of my mother's family arrived here in NZ from San Francisco in 1832... she was a well-respected midwife who worked for many decades in the Far North among Maori and European alike. As the generations passed there has been an almost constant mingling of one sort of another. I myself have probably spent more time on various marae than you would likely guess. My own personal whakapapa informs me that Maori and Pakeha have been close companions in this nation's post 1840 history... expunging those positives from the narrative simply to serve a separatist agenda is sad to see.