Friday 2 September 2022

The Man In The Black Hat.

Hatless On The Steps Of Parliament: Brian Tamaki is proof that not all Maori fall on the radical, left-wing, progressive side of politics. Just as many are to be found on the Right. That is as true today as it was eighteen years ago when Tamaki led his first march on Parliament.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I came across this column quite by accident while searching for information on another matter altogether. It was written about a certain evangelical gentleman of sinister mien, whose antics are still discombobulating liberals an astonishing eighteen years after these words were written. I didn’t know whether to laugh, or cry, at how very little has changed since late-August 2004.

MY OLD MATE PETE left high school before I did and got himself a job at the General Motors warehouse in Upper Hutt. This was thirty-odd years ago, when New Zealand had a real labour shortage, and well-paid labouring jobs were everywhere.

Pete would regale me with all kinds of stories about the people who worked alongside him in the sprawling GM complex, but there’s only one that has withstood the vicissitudes of thirty years. The sight of the Destiny Church marching through Wellington streets brought it all back: the story of Pete’s workmate - Lance.

Lance was a big Māori guy who claimed to be a Vietnam vet. Pete was never quite sure if Lance was telling him the truth, but he liked listening to his war stories anyway. The other thing Lance liked to talk about – apart from Vietnam and the army – was politics. Not “normal” politics – he had no time for National or Labour or even Social Credit. No, Lance was into a weird, far-right mixture of politics and religion. The book he swore by was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth.

An incipient lefty, like me, Pete was spellbound by Lance’s radical right-wing riffs. One in particular made a lasting impression. “When we come to power,” Pete remembered Lance declaring, “we’re going to liberate the police, and police the liberals.”

People talk about “Māori radicals”, tino rangatiratanga and the Treaty of Waitangi, and it sets off all kinds of political depth charges in New Zealand’s collective memory. We think of Syd Jackson and Nga Tamatoa, of Hana Te Hemara’s “kill a Pakeha and die a hero” speech, and of the tense stand-offs between Police and protesters at Waitangi throughout the early eighties. We remember, too, that since the 1930s Māori have voted for the Labour Party. Mention Māori politics, and most people think left-wing.

But it ain’t necessarily so. Māori, like so many of the Polynesian peoples whose traditional religions were more or less destroyed through their contact with Christian missionaries in the 19th Century, adopted the conservative moral strictures of the new religion with extraordinary fervour. Christian sexual morality, in particular, fastened heavy chains of guilt around what had been the carefree and sexually polymorphous Polynesian spirit. To this day, the Samoan, Tongan and Fijian churches preside over some of the most sexually intolerant societies on Earth. And the recent comments of New Zealand’s Anglican Archbishop on the subject of homosexuality, suggest that Māori Christians are no less intolerant than their Pacific Island co-religionists.

More worrying still are the affinities many Māori leaders have indicated for the rigidly hierarchical and undemocratic social structures of their Pacific Island neighbours. Chiefly power is entrenched in both the Fijian and the Tongan constitutions – to the ultimate disadvantage of Tongan “commoners” and Fijian Indians. The Fijian Methodist Church openly endorses and supports the political claims of this indigenous Fijian aristocracy, and, to its eternal disgrace, failed to condemn either of the Fiji coups.

Add this strong affinity for aristocratic political organisation to a deeply conservative Māori Christianity, and then mix in the powerful historical legacy of a social system in which warriors wielded enormous cultural power, and the resulting socio-political profile is anything but “progressive”. Indeed, conservative Christian Māoridom is a place where men like Lance – not to mention Brian Tamaki – can strut their stuff with far more self-assurance than any Māori radical.

So, when I saw the footage of thousands of Destiny Church members marching down Lambton Quay on Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help recalling Lance’s promise to “police the liberals”, nor the strange millenarian fantasies drawn from his Late Great Planet Earth. I wondered if he was there, somewhere in the midst of it all, and whether this tightly disciplined movement, with its supremely confident and charismatic leader, represented everything he – and thousands of conservative working-class Māori like him - had been waiting for since 1973.

Some people – dear, brave Georgina Beyer among them – heard in Monday’s noisy display of fierce racial pride, aggressive political intolerance and fanatical religious belief, frightening echoes of Nuremberg.

But what Brian Tamaki reminded me of was a poem - written by Sam Hunt, and published about the same time that my old mate Pete and I were kicking round the Upper Hutt car plants.

It’s called Beware The Man, and three decades on, I can still recall some of the lines:

Beware the man who tries to fit you out
In his idea of a hat
Dictating the size and colour of it …
… Beware! He’s fitting you
for more than that.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post of Friday, 27 August 2004.


John Drinnan said...

It is very very confusing for the identarian ''Left'.the only explanations that some More have been oppressed and been damaged by white supremacists, so if they re n ot evil they must be saved by good middle class folk, We live in strange times

Shane McDowall said...

400,000 Pasifika living in New Zealand, and every single one of them is living proof that if there is one thing worse than being colonised, it is not being colonised.

Indigenous sovereignty is not all it is cracked up to be.

Curious that most Pacifika cannot see how colonised their minds are. The white man's religion has got them by the short and curlies.

Worse, it is a 19th century version of Christianity.

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear Chris

Revisionist history is everywhere it seems. 200 years ago Maori embraced Christianity not because it was forced on them, it wasn't, it was preached with conviction and demonstrated by acts of love, compassion, humility and service. Just as it overthrew the war like gods of Rome 2000 years earlier, Christianity proved more powerful than the tribal gods of Maoridom.

It is unsurprising therefore that Maori, when they heard the good news, (and Jesus life death and resurrection to purchase our redemption is good news), they embraced their new found faith with enthusiasm. Their lives were transformed, they released their slaves, many of whom returned to their own tribes to the amazement of their relatives and friends who had given them up for dead.

In a very literal sense, they had received their loved ones back from the dead. Whole tribes were converted to the Christian faith by this one example alone. It was historically unprecedented.

Fast forward 200 years. A lot has happened in the intervening period. Maori have been betrayed by the Crown, even by some Bishops in the Church, many have rejected the faith once handed down to them by their forebears, many but not all by any measure. Not that you would know this by watching TV1 News or reading the MSM.

These news outlets love to sensationalise preachers like Brian Tamaki who courts controversy the way Labour loves a new tax. However, like Labour he does appeal to a certain section of the community, those on the margins, those who are marginalised. And here's the thing. There are children who will go to bed tonight, loved and secure because their parents heard the gospel for the first time at a Destiny church, they believed and their lives were transformed.

I can live with that, perhaps we all can.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

And yet Brendan almost every day I hear stories of children being abused by so-called Christians, sometimes in the name of Jesus Christ, sometimes secretly. And there isn't a church in the world AFAIK that has done the decent thing and reported these people to the authorities. Instead, from the Catholic Church on down, they have covered these incidents up. For years and years. And the mainstream media on the whole does quite a reasonable job of exposing this without too much sensationalism. But with your general contempt for the MSM you quite possibly avoid these stories. I don't know about the destiny Church, but there are children all around the world who go to bed afraid to wake up because what should be a loving relationship or perhaps a professional relationship, has tureds into a horror story.
I find it difficult to live with – Christians don't seem to mind a great deal. Perhaps it's all to do with the "greater good".

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear GS

Good on you for pointing out that not all Christians example the teachings of Christ all the time. There will be readers of Chris's blog for whom this may come as a surprise, but I suspect they are few in number.

It's OK to be upset by Brian Tamaki and Destiny Church, even though by your own admission you don't know anything about it. It's not particularly rational, but it's OK.

Enjoy your Fathers day.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah Brendan – nice to see you are not using the "No True Scotsman" defence quite so readily. You actually called them Christians. Not all? On the evidence I've got it seems pretty much a majority.
But what I do know about the destiny Church is that its leaders take money from people who can barely afford it and use it to fund a lavish lifestyle, including flash cars and motorbikes. And funnily enough the gullible seem to think that this is okay – perhaps they are aspirational.