Friday, 19 June 2020

Whose History?

Confronting The Past: What to do with our anger? That’s what counts now – as the promised New Zealand History curriculum nears completion. Should every Pakeha explorer; every missionary and trader; every royal emissary and military man be tried and convicted posthumously? Should every statue of the squat Queen-Empress be hauled down? Must every town and city – and the streets transecting them – be re-named? How are such questions to be answered - and by whom? Image by Dave Tipper.

THE DESCENDANTS of nineteenth century Pakeha colonists have some questions to answer about the past. By the same token, however, the descendants of nineteenth century colonialism’s Maori victims have some questions to answer about the future.
 
For the past 150 years only one story has been told about the origins and evolution of New Zealand – the Pakeha story. That needs to change. But, if the change amounts to nothing more than substituting a new Maori narrative, every bit as all-encompassing and unchallengeable as its Pakeha predecessor, then it is difficult to see how we, as a nation, will be very much further ahead.

Let us consider some examples of this growing determination to replace an old story with a new one. About a week ago, the Hamilton City Council responded to a threat to vandalise the statue of Captain John Fane Charles Hamilton (after whom the city is named) by uplifting and removing it. The Royal Navy Captain, it was alleged, was responsible for the deaths of many Maori in the Land Wars of the nineteenth century. His statue constituted an egregious affront to the sensibilities of local iwi.

The fact of the matter is that Captain Hamilton fell, sword in hand, at the Battle of Gate Pa, not far from Tauranga, in 1864. He met his death on the parapet of a Maori fortification while attempting to rally wavering British troops who, at that moment, were being shot down in their dozens by skilfully entrenched Maori warriors. Hamilton killed no one in that brutal encounter. By my calculation, the length of the naval officer’s sojourn in and around New Zealand, prior to being struck between the eyes by a musket ball, was just 177 days.

Hamilton’s conduct did, however, conform in every respect with the Victorian ideal of martial valour. He died, as all good Victorian captains were expected to die: bravely, facing the foe, for the honour of his sovereign and the glory of her realm. It’s why the new colonial settlement on the banks of the Waikato River was given his name. As a bona fide hero of the war Her Majesty’s forces had just won, he was someone to be remembered.

That the Maori activist who threatened Hamilton’s statue got most of the details of its subject’s short sojourn in New Zealand wrong, matters much less than the general validity of his objection to Hamilton’s posthumous role in memorialising the confiscatory colonial war in which he, however briefly, had participated. That objection is made even stronger by the statue’s provenance. Far from being a relic of the nineteenth century, it was gifted to the Hamilton City Council well into the twenty-first. Were I Maori, such careless reiteration of the colonial narrative would leave me frustrated and angry.

What to do with that anger? That’s what counts now – as the promised New Zealand History curriculum nears completion. Should every Pakeha explorer; every missionary and trader; every royal emissary and military man be tried and convicted posthumously? Should every statue of the squat Queen-Empress be hauled down? Must every town and city – and the streets transecting them – be re-named? Shall future generations of Otago university students be denied the pleasure of sinking a pint or three at The Captain Cook?

Because, if that is the way it must be: if the nineteenth century imperialists’ actions can only be answered by equal and opposite indigenous reactions in the twenty-first; then isn’t it inevitable that the anger and frustration ignited by the erasure of Pakeha history will set off a whole new cultural conflagration?

Maybe not. Earlier this week I heard a supposedly well-educated journalist and broadcaster make it clear that he hadn’t the faintest idea of Oliver Cromwell’s contribution to our history. Like Captain Hamilton and Captain Cook, Cromwell stood condemned for participating in historical events too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt.

That a small Central Otago town, once the home of disenfranchised goldminers, was named for the man whose “New Model Army” decided the issue between the Divine Right of Kings and the Rights of the People, has long been forgotten – along with its sharp political point.

The wind that blows from the past scatters the fog of the present, revealing the future. It’s blind breath cannot distinguish white skin from brown. History touches us all.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 June 2020.

22 comments:

Boris said...

As a former history teacher, my approach to teaching about the past was to emphasise to my students that history was not immutable and should be written in pencil, so that it could be amended or added to because of reinterpretations of existing evidence or discovery of new evidence. Perhaps the key to preventing a “one single approved narrative” approach to history lies in the achievement standard at each level which examines different perspectives of past events. Students are required to demonstrate an understanding of different contemporaneous perspectives of significant historical events or how modern perspectives of such events might be different from how people in the past understood them. My experience is that history teachers are well aware of the dangers of an “offical narrative” and seek to develop critical thinking about the past be getting students to understand the complexity of the human experience.

petes new write said...

British history? Well Maori can have their's too, equally bloodthirsty - Te Rauparaha. Slavemaster and killer as well. Its all history,warts and all. If people don't like the statues, get rid of them. But make sure a majority of residents want them gone. Personally, I don't really care. You can't change what happened on both sides. History is history and make sure you learn from it.

greywarbler said...

I was thinking of the past history and the present, when I listened this morning to an interview on Radionz. Tourism operators of smaller cruise ships asked for the right to go around NZ for NZs in our bubble to call in to some small ports that would like some tourist dollars. It could have good affect as long as they can cope with tight Covid-19 controls which have to be honed and sharper than recently.

In the past my grandfather was part of a missionary ship going from NZ to various islands. All with good intentions, bringing Christianity and some useful modernity to such peoples. Unfortunately its visits usually left people infected with white man's diseases, but then that resulted in an increasing number of visits as the missions brought medicines to treat the sick. It took a long time for the churches to realise that it was their presence that had brought the disease. In fact the people in the end made the connection of the ship visits and the death they left behind, and didn't wish to see them again.

Any advantage received by the inhabitants was outweighed by the sad disadvantage from their presence which left a trail of sickness and death. In NZ can the tourist venues cope with the flush of demand, and is it sustainable? And will the floating cities want to come here like locusts and kill off our natural and enjoyable surroundings again.

So take note of past history and learn a lesson from it; don't repeat it like dummies and allow large cruise ships in again ever, they caused pollution and introduced marine pests, and did not pay enough to cover the problems they caused. And that was before Covid-19. Let them go into business carrying people to visit other continents instead of planes as we used in the 1960s - remember the Fairstar and Fairsky from then?

Now in NZ smaller cruise vessels under tight regulation, with provisions for proper controls and measures if disease is found, may just be able to survive in the harsh business climate now, but commenters want staff to be from NZ, and they would be wages at the lower end to fit the cost structure which at present uses overseas staff. It would be worthwhile, to keep tourism going, for government to give special allowances for workers, for travelling, and accommodation etc. which would enable them to keep working and help tourism keep going, and the economy boosted. This thinking might be new in the history of neoliberalism, but our past history has shown that we can be smart and innovative in government financing to benefit the country, and that approach is badly needed now. Business is a fairweather friend skimming the goodies. We want a committed government for us, by us, using the power of experienced thoughtful intelligent planning and modelling.

Anonymous said...

If these woke hypocrites expect anyone to take them seriously they should start with erasing the Otaki statue & other Porirua public buildings named after the warmongering mass murderer, slaver, torturer & cannibal Te Rauparaha. All Lives Matter. RobbieWgtn.

pat said...

Sadly, fact has little to do with it.....like politics emotion rules the day

JanM said...

"THE DESCENDANTS of nineteenth century Pakeha colonists have some questions to answer about the past".
The truth of it is, that owing to an almost complete absence of local history being taught in schools, the great majority of descendants wouldn't have more than the faintest idea what the questions were, let alone the answers!
Hopefully, this is about to change

kiwidave said...

The present governments policy of perpetual appeasement to a provocative faction will win it few friends. The current iteration of National appear to have been cowed into a similar mindset.
If there is doubt as to motivation look at the effect. The ethno-nationalists illegal road blocks were intended to intimidate and provoke outrage; does any one seriously believe there was a threat of some rabid covid carrier driving into town, bursting into granny's house and infecting the old dear. Or that the antagonists are that brittle that the mere sight of a memorial would trigger them into destructive rage. The whole thing is a con job and our PM and a large contingent of the woke commentariat have fallen for it.
National need to grow a pair and, like Macron in France, take a firm stand on the cultural vandalism as well the bullying and antagonistic behaviour we're seeing.
The demands are ill-defined, without end, as is the apparent willingness for perpetual appeasement. Are the people happy about that?

swordfish said...

Chris: "For the past 150 years only one story has been told about the origins and evolution of New Zealand – the Pakeha story."

Nope ... New Zealand Historiography has long been moulded by an essentially liberal-left consensus highly receptive to work that prioritizes colonization and the critique of empire. Certainly, we've seen a clear Revisionist wave emphasising cultural colonisation over at least the last 4 decades, one very much in tune with broader shifts in the political and intellectual terrain - the resurgence of Maori political activity, bi-culturalism and its largely uncritical embrace by the Pakeha New Middle Class.

And, of course, I could point to sympathetic work back in the 70s, Dick Scott's The Parihaka Story in the mid-50s, even back to the 1920s & before when you had prominent historians like James Cowan & Elsdon Best whose work was largely focussed on & (at the time) considered sympathetic toward Maori - even if they seem somewhat condescending to 21st Century eyes (as you might expect 100 years later).


BlisteringAttack said...

Go to the South Island and you'll find that Te Rauparaha is not highly regarded.

Equally in June 1942 at Minqar Qaim, Maori Battalion and other NZ forces were involved in the bayonetting of German wounded in their beds as well as German doctors and orderlies.

History can be unpleasant, ugly, & repulsive, & plain wrong. But that is the human condition.

You can't photoshop it out of memory.

Trev1 said...

It appears we are on the brink of another wave of ethnic cleansing, this time carried out by the Woke. The country's "colonial" history is to be expunged and the reputation of the Empire's descendants blackened. For what precisely? Time has moved on and we are not who we were 150 or 200 years ago, for better or for worse. I think current spate of extremist hyperactivity and iconoclasm is a symptom of mental illness induced by too long a lockdown. The plague has now taken hold of our minds.

Anonymous said...

I may have misunderstood you Chris but I would have thought that the issue around the name Cromwell were more to do with the Lord Protector's performance in Ireland. These days most discourse in NZ would appear to be driven by historians with Irish surnames or at least names originating outside "England". One prominent individual even has Irishmen making up two thirds of the settler army in NZ but absolves them of guilt coz "many of them took Maori wives" !
Wars in History in the past, History Wars in the future.

John Hurley said...

I see Lana Hart (Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce) wants to tear it all down (and bring in 5 million more migrants in an earlier article). A positive national identity is bad for business? Of course most of us haven't a hope of joining her elite circle once they decide what will replace it all?
https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/121887356/history-is-messier-than-we-think
.............
The media creates a false public opinion in the absence of a public square. "Calls are increasing" 7 Sharp etc.

Ranginui Walker had a vision for this country, despite the title of his book Struggle Without End he said the divisions between Maori and Pakeha would be settled in the bedroom.
He was opposed to multiculturalism and believed NZ should keep it's population low or it would be "ruined...just like anywhere else in the world"
..........
Feb 26, 2018Jesse Mulligan Afternoons@JMulliganRNZ·
says NZ is overpopulated, and that's what's caused the housing crisis.Prof Tim Hazledine of@AucklandUni

Feb 26, 2018Leonie Pihama@kaupapamaori·
Replying to @JMulliganRNZ@radionz and AucklandUni
Really? So where is an analysis of colonisation and the theft of lands and the impact of capitalism and its greedy new formation of neoliberal economics?

Feb 26, 2018(Ni)(Co)(La) (Ga)ston@nicgaston·Replying to@JMulliganRNZand@AucklandUniabout the other (manifold!) sides to this one...Jesse I think you could have a great convo with@kaupapamaoriand@DrJessBerentson

(Ni)(Co)(La) (Ga)ston Retweeted
lindaclark1 @lindaclark1
I could write a thesis breaking down the breathtaking disconnection contained in this political ad. The emotional distancing alone. Sheesh. But FLOTUS is doing more of these now which I guess was a provision in the newly improved prenup. https://twitter.com/FLOTUS/status/1273948647860785153

Nicola Gaston is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Auckland and Co-Director of the MacDiarmid Institute, New Zealand. Wikipedia

MacDiarmid Institute supports The Spinoff.
https://thespinoff.co.nz/science/12-03-2019/the-problem-with-false-balance-reporting-on-vaccination/

Linda Clark snorted at Hugh Barr re his interpretation of Foreshore and Seabed legislation. Is a board member of NZ On Air.

oneblokesview said...

A thougthful piece. Well done.

Often I disagree with your posts.
But that is part of being a rational human.
We can bothe disagree and agree with somebody.

Keep up the good work.
I will skip the items I disagree with and savour those that I find interesting.

Anonymous said...

I may have misunderstood you Chris but I would have thought that the issue around the name Cromwell were more to do with the Lord Protector's performance in Ireland.

It does. Problem is, the town's name isn't celebrating that aspect of him. It's commemorating Cromwell the Civil War Leader (as is Naseby, of course. It's a middle-finger to the Stuarts, not the Irish).

In fact, if you wanted to make Cromwell more cuddly in today's environment, it is worth pointing out that he let the Jews back into England after over three centuries of legal exile. And that he banned Christmas. He did have some positive traits buried in there too.

Geoff Fischer said...

"THE DESCENDANTS of nineteenth century Pakeha colonists have some questions to answer about the past. By the same token, however, the descendants of nineteenth century colonialism’s Maori victims have some questions to answer about the future."
Sadly, but not surprisingly, you start straight into making the controversy a matter of race.
It is not about race at all. The heroic defenders of Pukehinahina ("the Gate Pa") against the attacking British forces included men and women of both Maori and Pakeha descent. They bore no ill will towards their foes on a personal level or on account of their race. In fact they showed great compassion for those who lay injured between the lines.
We do not object to Hamilton's statue because we despise him as a person. On the contrary, we respect his personal courage. We simply reject the monument as a symbol of British imperialism, colonialism, invasion and oppression.
It has been our custom for the past two centuries to take an axe to the icons and symbols of colonialism wherever they may be found and wherever we can. That will not change.
However the attitude of the New Zealand public as a whole is changing, and changing quite rapidly. People are starting to question the wisdom of allowing the colonial regime to persist indefinitely. Colonialism still makes sense for the colonial political establishment and foreign capital, but no longer for the mass of New Zealanders.
Because you are so wedded to the Labour Party (the colonialist party par excellence which is not to say that the National Party is in any meaningful sense a nationalist party), you seem willfully blind to the transformative changes taking place in New Zealand society today.
Like most if not all those on the left, and the colonialist regime as a whole, you project every political issue through the lens of race. But people will not be deceived into thinking that the struggle for our nation's future will be a battle between Maori and Pakeha. With every passing day they become more keenly aware that it is between colonialism, imperialism and capitalism on the one hand and mana motuhake, rangatiratanga and kotahitanga on the other.
There are signs of desperation in the lengths to which you and your comrades on The Daily Blog will go in order to shore up the colonial regime and this particular government. Jacinda Ardern is adept at the arts of communications and public relations. That is the field in which she was trained and qualified, and she displays a level of expertise which is a credit to her tutors at Waikato University, but as a true leader she has failed.
All that can be said in her favour is that no one else in her position would have done much better. Can anyone save the edifice of colonial capitalism? I doubt it. The chronic housing shortage, the glaring inequality of New Zealand society, the bureaucratic shambles of the New Zealand state, the moral crisis at its heart, and now the Covid-19 fiasco at the border both prior to and following the lock down are all signs that Jacinda Ardern cannot walk the talk.
It is not the statues themselves that are important, but what they symbolize and represent. That simple truth seems to have passed you by.

sumsuch said...

Details, details, setails.

Just seen Chomsky's latest appearance on u-tube where he called Trump the worst criminal in history, 3 times. The commenters got onto other candidates. Ignoring our times. 10 years to do anything, and Trump fighting that. That depressed me to death til I did a physical 8 hours next day. Or, irrelevant diversion.

Black Lives Matters here in NZ is about the 1991 benefit cuts never recovered. All these Monte Holcroft letter-writers. Or, a Pandora's Box of communicators, who help with the details but mostly the powerful's mission of divide and rule. So many opinions make folk seek certainty, with or without foundation.

There is nothing but what matters the most now. Indeed it is, in opposition to all the details-gabbling, a sign of the worthwhile.

'Here lie millions of rightful footnoters'

sumsuch said...

Chris, they pay you for your best idea of reality, and we read you for that. That's your job/niche. That's your way of delivering our country back to us. These politically awful lived decades have proved rule of the people is right. 'They' have the power and the people are atomised, but we are right. 'They' don't bend because of (entirely) irrelevant present power. 'They' are wrong. Don't bend for their e.i.p.p.

You're a beacon in the roaring forties of rich-rule.

Mustering for Labour ...?!

There are so many mature NZ experts of our opinions. A technocratic coalition of the willing? As per war govts. These times. Our people could deliver NZ. If nothing positive from demo-crats the silly-ast negative of the interests of the powerful continue.

Labour is still ridiculous kids at best, compared to the social democratic adults in 1984.

That generation is ready and willing for our country, no matter parties.

John Hurley said...

Geof Fischer
However the attitude of the New Zealand public as a whole is changing, and changing quite rapidly. People are starting to question the wisdom of allowing the colonial regime to persist indefinitely. Colonialism still makes sense for the colonial political establishment and foreign capital, but no longer for the mass of New Zealanders.
.........
Don't mistake journalism "calls are rising for [ ]" and public opinion.

People take history and identity quite seriously and they see themselves connected to the feats of their ancestors, so history lives in the present even though the society looks totally modern
https://medium.com/conversations-with-tyler/tyler-cowen-eric-kaufmann-population-religion-culture-6e85bf9c8c07

I still don't get why Maori culture should predominate over (say) a Wrightson's Woolstore in designing the Christchurch library. I don't think the appeal will help down town businesses.

Spiked has a good angle on it
https://www.spiked-online.com/2020/06/25/this-iconoclasm-is-class-warfare

Shane McDowall said...

Love the way whitey hands out medals to troops after getting their arses kicked by "savages".

Two British soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross after the arse kicking at Gate Pa in 1864.

11 VC's were handed out in the aftermath of an arse kicking at Isandlwana in 1879. The classic movie "Zulu" eulogises the British defence of Rorke's Drift, while almost ignoring the Zulu victory.

Not to be outdone, the Yanks awarded 24(!) Medals of Honour in the aftermath of getting their arses kicked at Little Bighorn.

Geoff Fischer said...

Worse is the common practice of bestowing honours on those who have been guilty of war crimes, as a way of pretending to the world that what looked like a massacre of innocents was actually a heroic military engagement. The perpetrators of the My Lai massacre received a Letter of Commendation for their efforts, and the New Zealand military has made it standard practice to cover up atrocities by showering commendations for heroism on the troops responsible. Then there is the case of Warren Tucker, whose botched attempt to provoke a bloodbath in the aftermath of the Ruatoki raids was rewarded with a CNZM....

Shane McDowall said...

Strange how the My Lai massacre is well remembered, but the Hue massacre committed by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong is largely forgotten.

Right wingers are not the only ones with selective memories.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Shane
The Vietnamese ruling party needs to be reminded of Hue, but it is better that their own people raise the issue with them, and not you or I or any of those who were responsible for killing millions of Vietnamese and leaving their thousands of square kilometres of their land a toxic waste.
New Zealanders, on the other hand, need to be reminded about the My Lai massacre and all the other atrocities committed by their side, especially given the attempts by Helen Clark's government to revise the history of the war and rehabilitate the war criminals.