Jessica Thompson Carr
Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of resistance, persistence and defiance by Stephanie Gibson, Matariki Williams and Puawai Cairns (Te Papa Press, 2019), 416 pp., $70
The survival of the objects in these pages has depended on many factors—some exist because of their careful owners, others through luck. – Preface
Growing up, I didn’t have much access to my Māori taonga. Most of the treasures of our whānau were either lost or had disintegrated in the bush, or are now kept in a museum. We learned what we could, and our connection was limited to our mum returning from trips up north with Ngāpuhi T-shirts and bumper stickers. Those were my taonga.
Protest Tautohetohe: Objects of resistance, persistence and defiance by Stephanie Gibson, Matariki Williams and Puawai Cairns gathers together all the treasures born of important moments in the history of activism in Aotearoa and gifts them to us, the readers.
The book won the Illustrated Non-fiction Award at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, the judges’ report saying that from a strong pool of contenders, it ‘stood above the others, not only achieving excellence in writing, illustration and design, but also—crucially—tackling a vast and significant topic worthy of these urgent times … From the obscure and ephemeral to the well-known and loved, the images allow us to be witness to—and challenge us to learn from—our shared past of resistance, dissent and activism.’
I identified deeply with this book, considering how my own existence as a Māori woman would not be possible without both tīpuna who took the care to pass on knowledge, and some extreme luck from the past. Through each chapter I felt more valued. Sacred. Tapu.
Protest is a strong refresher (or introduction for those who missed out) to a history of New Zealand that most people have forgotten or chosen to ignore. Among many, I attended a school that prioritised the narrative of Abel Tasman over that of Kupe, and covered events like World War I (excluding the Māori battalion) and the (white) suffragist movement instead of Parihaka or the Waikato Wars. Many events featured in this Bible-thick book have been deliberately left out of many a classroom and home, or they have been spoken of with bias by the media. For these reasons, I recommend it to every person dwelling on the land of Aotearoa.
It is so important that we educate ourselves on the true history of our country—no matter how controversial or gruesome it may seem. Tangata whenua or non-Māori, it is our duty to know the whakapapa of the land. There are many who still do not know about the guerrilla activism in New Plymouth or the occupation of Takaparawhā (Bastion Point). New Zealand has a very short memory, and our history of assimilation and degradation of Indigenous peoples tends to fall on deaf ears. Protest Tautohetohe, then, is the perfect book with which to begin your journey into events rarely shared, as it records personal accounts and iconic photographs. The strong Māori and Pacific Polynesian narrative is one that has been sorely needed on our shelves for a long time.
Objects featured are not lifeless things: they are symbols of revolutionary kaupapa. The plough from Parihaka (1870) sits eerily as a tool of hope, its purpose gone beyond farming. The image yearns still for peace and a nurturing of the land. The stump of a flagstaff (1840) cut down by chief Hōne Heke is a jagged reminder of broken promises, disillusionment with the Treaty, and rebellion against the Crown. The AIDS memorial quilt (1988–91) radiates warmth against a cold society, memorialising those who have passed while simultaneously welcoming new takatāpui into its folds. And the ever-precious Tino Rangatiratanga flag, designed by Hiraina Marsden, Jan Smith and Linda Munn, is used widely to this day in protests, hīkoi, celebration and art.
It is essential that we look at these objects of resistance and understand that, despite their age, they represent where we are today. As it goes with Māori art and artefact, life pulses through these items; there is mauri in every photograph and poster, and in the very book itself.
The historical resistance movements recorded in the book brought us to this point in time, and the images depicted only continue to fuel the ahi kā that burns within us all. Sometimes my reaction to the stories gathered here was to wonder: What’s new? How far have we really come? And my answer is: Honestly, not very far at all. Many of us are still missing our te reo. The land has not yet been returned. Police discrimination and racism are ever prevalent, and indigenous bodies are still being used and underpaid in the workforce. Yet we have come far enough to have such a book published, which itself is a sign of hope.
This book is a valuable koha to those who missed class or were born away from the roots of knowledge. It is a fresh taonga for the bookshelf, and necessary for anyone who tells you how perfect New Zealand is. This is a book of protest—as its very title indicates. Protest has given me ample insight into how much—and how little—has progressed in our short history, and it has inspired me to look deeper into events of the past. With this book in hand, I now turn to the present, where it is almost impossible not to become an activist.
Many Māori are natural-born activists. We are so deeply connected to the moments depicted in this book. We fight on daily, and many of us do not have the glittering treasures and priceless artefacts to show for it. But in our struggle we realise what we have always been—precious and sacred. We continue on, our protest never ends, and we have the taonga to show for it: banners from the Black Lives Matter marches, earrings made in support of the liberation of Papua New Guinea, Protect Ihumātao T-shirts, posters for Arms Down NZ, illustrations raising awareness of Oranga Tamariki uplifts and many other things. We hold the power of art and artefact. It is our duty to create and collect so that we may share truths and promote justice.
Let’s keep collecting our own objects of resistance so that our descendants may pick up a similar book and be inspired.
JESSICA THOMPSON CARR is Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāpuhi. She is 24 years old, born and bred in Ōtepoti. She achieved her degree in English and art history in 2018, and her master’s coursework in 2019. Jessica currently works as an artist, poet and journalist, often under the name Māori Mermaid. She sells prints of her work online, and also works as a social media assistant for Awa Wāhine.