Tuai: A traveller in two worlds by Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins (Bridget Williams Books, 2017), 288 pp., $39.99
James Barry’s fine 1818 portrait, Tooi, a New Zealand Chief, on the cover of this book, gives an indication of why the authors must have chosen to set out on this voyage of research about the northern Ngare Raumati rangatira, and of the taonga of information they reveal along the way. Tuai’s mana is evident in the painting. He looks away from the viewer towards some distant focus, possibly aware of being observed, but seeming to appear vigilant, spiritually aware and detached all at once.
It is his continuing fortune to have found the historical biographers he deserves. This book is very much a study of interpersonal relationships: he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. His history and whakapapa are also a history of the north, of inter-iwi and Māori–Pākehā relationships of the time. The authors trace and unravel his ‘attempt to integrate his Māori and European ideals’ over the momentous events of an action-packed lifetime. They often speculate in the conditional about how Tuai ‘would have’ felt and thought about events and expectations at particular moments. The effects of focalising through Tuai’s experience comes near to fictionalising his character, yet this process produces a convincing and gripping read, as it intensifies a sense of intimacy with the protagonist, and otherwise stays very close to historical fact.
Tuai was born around 1797, and he and his peers were the first in Māori history to grow up ‘accustomed to Pākehā’. And yet, as the book shows, becoming mutually ‘accustomed’ was a fraught, if sometimes rewarding process, on both sides. Korokoro, Tuai’s elder ‘brother’, an influential man in the sometimes-conflicting relationship between Ngare Raumati and the expanding Ngāpuhi alliance, had the greatest impact on him as he grew up. Tuai impressed Samuel Marsden when he worked in Parramatta, and in 1814 was taken on as an assistant. His tasks included teaching te reo to Thomas Kendall. In April 1817 Tuai and Tītere, a young Ngāpuhi man, travelled to Britain ‘to gain more Information’.
The ‘two worlds’ of the title sets the book in a familiar bicultural framework, but a lot of evidence is offered to reveal that Tuai’s world was a multicultural, multilingual one. As well as being active on many levels in communications between iwi, on behalf of his whānau, during his travels he met and talked with Aboriginal people, heard accounts of the terrible acts they experienced, conversed with an African convert, toured London, assisted in assembling accounts of te reo grammar and vocabulary, experienced a middle-class lifestyle in industrialised Madeley, lived among Evangelicals in a vicarage, and may even have met the exiled Napoleon on the journey out. The plan had been to study rope-making in case it was viable as a business in New Zealand, but the residence in the midst of heavy industry in Shropshire showed more exciting possibilities, such as the manufacture of steel and glass.
The authors expertly and repeatedly point out that Tuai’s refusal to conform in the long term to the expectations and demands placed on him by Pākehā, demonstrates his shifting identifications and allegiances in the to-and-fro of relationships across the globe. His resistance takes many forms, such as deliberately swearing in front of Kendall and Pōmare I, then later claiming his need to avoid the influence of maritime profanities as a reason for requiring private cabin space on the return journey to New Zealand. He may not have been the pōtiki, but there is something of the trickster in his actions.
There are fascinating descriptions of turning points in Tuai’s life, and perceptive discussions of the significance of the choices he had to make. The long hours he spent honing skills in reading, writing, memorising and interpreting scripture, as well as his obvious enjoyment of the benefits of Pākehā culture, were challenged by the need to return to his iwi and Māoritanga as it was practised then. It’s clear that becoming a permanent missionary convert was never an option for him.
While Pākehā benefactors often had to cope with Māori rejection, the authors show that Māori, too, were constantly confronted with Pākehā insults to their dignity, beliefs and mana. As a young man, Tuai’s able diplomacy allowed him to take on the roles of rangatira, ‘go-between’, ‘consultant’, ‘interpreter’ and ‘advisor’; he was constantly crossing back and forth over Pākehā class lines, since he had to work his passage to Australia on the ship and earned his living in a stint at whaling. An assessment of Tuai’s considerable contribution to Kendall’s te reo grammar (1815) includes the word ‘wanhoungha’ – whanaunga – which, the authors deduce, demonstrates that ‘a bond of reciprocal responsibility’ was already firmly established between Māori and Pākehā.
His own artistic work, some drawn while recuperating in London from serious pulmonary infections, fascinated then as it does today, and his detailed sketches of waka and moko demonstrate his deep understanding of Māoritanga and an ability to pass on his enthusiasm. It would have been interesting to read more discussion of how Tuai and Tītere reconciled the idea that their illnesses were caused by ‘bad atua’ possession, personified not unreasonably as ‘Mr Coughee’, and ‘their view that the Māori atua did not live in England and therefore had little power there.’
The return journey is a genre in itself. Detailed descriptions of farewells in Britain and arrival in New Zealand, gleaned from diaries, letters and newspapers, depict a painful severing of affectionate and supportive relationships, though it is hard to decipher to what extent the tears may be caused by relief at leaving the missionary regime, or dread over the challenges of loyalty that lay ahead. Then there is a gripping account of the voyage itself, which includes a detailed analysis of Tuai’s collapse in an emotional confusion of tears at a stopover in Madeira. It also covers reports that Tuai, and especially Tītere, were no longer ‘grateful’ for CMS sponsorship; it reveals their preference for consorting, despite tensions, with both soldiers and sailors; it encompasses shipboard marital rows, storms, flogging of convicts, hunger, disease, birth and numerous deaths. By the time they arrived back in New Zealand in 1819, Tuai had been away for nearly five years, and both tane were sombrely aware of the impending danger from colonial forces far less benign than the missionaries, although the possession of guns had always been a threat behind the evangelical front.
Tītere rejoined his iwi and his culture and did not look back. Tuai disappointed Korokoro by encouraging Marsden to build at Kerikeri under the protection of Hongi Hika and Rewa, a decision that meant trade opportunities were not evenly distributed among northern iwi and caused ongoing troubles. Several pages are devoted to a subtle analysis of Tuai’s difficult position as uniquely ‘hybrid’, though he was well aware of how unpredictable his own status was. His access to Pākehā culture was enviable (and undoubtedly inspired Hongi Hika’s plans for his own journey to England, demands for weapons, and the fateful consequences that had for many iwi) – but this meant that Tuai had to prove his trustworthiness again by completing his moko, travelling to tangi, trading and joining taua.
He was present on the ship that gave its name to the Coromandel Peninsula, and involved in taua (some with Hongi) against the Thames–Hauraki, Tāmaki, Urewera, Te Ati Awa and Waikato people. Reports of Tuai’s participation in warrior life are disturbing for the contemporary reader. He re-told some stories compulsively, expressing emotional conflict, and he repeated descriptions of his prowess. The account of his own attempt to mitigate the killing of war captives – with quick blows rather than the long torture that was sometimes their fate – is a reminder of how contradictory his cultural values were.
Two chapters are dedicated to Tuai’s interaction in 1824 with those on board La Coquille, a French scientific ship. He made a profound impression on the French as guide, informant, trader, ‘controller of prostitution’, artist’s model and ‘Le Roi’: King. Dumont d’Urville lamented Tuai’s absence deeply on his return in 1827.
By the time Tuai died at about the age of 27, Korokoro and his uncle Kaipō had been killed in the famous battles with Te Arawa, and the kāinga at Pāora had been dispersed by Rewa’s Ngāpuhi people, then abandoned as the iwi intermarried elsewhere. I would have liked to hear more discussion throughout about Tuai’s son, and about his wife Hiri and her role in his life. Neither survived him by long.
Jones and Kaa Jenkins weave together this vast array of information with steady and interpretive insight, and superb scrutiny of the way images of Tuai have circulated. Vivid use has been made of primary sources such as John Nicholas’s travel narratives, Francis Hall’s letters and journals, and many others.
In his essay, ‘Our Sea of Islands’, Epeli Hau`ofa comments on the vital continuity of ‘grassroots’ relationships and the fact that daily voyaging undertaken by Pacific peoples has a long-established history. It’s a revelation to read the meticulous tracing and cautious interpretation of the significance of Tuai’s journey by Alison Jones and Kuni Kaa Jenkins. Their readings of events and the texts surrounding them carefully develop lines of enquiry to create a profoundly interconnected book that will mark a point to return to for many generations.
BRIAR WOOD grew up in South Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. Until 2012 she lived and worked in Britain, where she published poetry, fiction and essays. Her recent writing has been inspired by her return to Northland places, where her whakapapa connects her closely to ecological concerns. Her poetry collection Rāwāhi was shortlisted for the Ockham awards in 2017.