Other People’s Wars: New Zealand in Afghanistan, Iraq and the War on Terror, by Nicky Hager (Craig Potton Publishing, 2011), 439 pp., $49.99.
New Zealanders may feel anger and betrayal at reading Nicky Hager’s latest installment of their country’s secret history. But for those described by the former United States ambassador to New Zealand Charles Swindells as ‘first worlders’ – the military and foreign affairs officials, business people and politicians who regard New Zealand as a US ally – the anger will stem from the fact that the lid has been lifted on their activities so comprehensively.
The rest of us, those who applauded then-prime minister Helen Clark’s decision to stay out of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, will feel betrayed to find we went anyway, as the diplomatic and military establishment took every opportunity to suck up to the US.
New Zealand in the Twentieth Century – The Nation, The People, by Paul Moon (Harper/Collins 2011) 672 pp. $49.99.
Conscientious historians worry about periodisation — that is, in historical terms, when can we say an ‘age’ or a period in a country’s history begins or ends? Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s Music Makers ode may be a very bad piece of Victorian poetry, but it’s surely correct when it declares that ‘Each age is a dream that is dying/ Or one that is coming to birth’. Historical periods overlap; attempts to divide history into discrete segments are always artificial; and only hundreds of years later do historians simplify with neat labels like ‘The Middle Ages’ or ‘The Age of Enlightenment’. Yet the attempt to periodise is still an essential skill when narrative historians choose to do a ‘broad sweep’ of a century or so. There has to be at least the effort to explain why one set of circumstances and beliefs and customs gradually changes into another. In other words, history isn’t history without a grasp of causation. The alternative is a more chronological approach, where history gives way to chronicle: one unexplained, de-contextualised event after another. Regrettably, it’s this latter approach that informs Paul Moon’s New Zealand in the Twentieth Century. Doggedly, each of its ten chapters confines itself to one decade, out of which Paul Moon cherry-picks what seem to him the most noteworthy features. [Read more…]
Once Were Pacific: Māori Connections to Oceania, by Alice Te Punga Sommerville, (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 288 pp., $61.99.
Their knowing the use of this sort of Cloth doth in some measure account for the extraordinary fondness they have shew’d for it above every other thing we had to give them.” [Cook, Edwards, Beaglehole 1955/1968]
‘For Māori at Uawa in 1769, the usual European trade goods and trinkets that had been prepared for exchange by the Europeans on board the Endeavour were trumped by large sheets of tapa recently acquired in Tahiti … As they interacted with navigator-explorers Tupaia and Cook, Māori communities drew on existing narratives of connection and exchange with the broader Pacific.’ [Sommerville, 2012]
Alice Te Punga Sommerville’s important thesis is that not only do all Polynesian peoples share a Pacific Ocean heritage and ethnicity, but that it is well past the time that mo ngā iwi Māori o Aotearoa and Polynesians from elsewhere started to share a lot more than they currently appear to do, whether in the tight urban-suburban boxes they tend to inhabit within New Zealand, or in their increasing intermingling in diasporal sorties.
The Meeting Place: Maori and Pakeha Encounters, 1642-1840, Vincent O’Malley (Auckland University Press, 2012), 284 pp., $45.
Vincent O’Malley’s meeting place is a common ground where members of different societies can find ways of interacting which bridge their cultural differences. He has borrowed the notion from an American historian Richard White whose term for it is ‘middle ground’. People have adopted it but often misapplied it. They use it to refer to situations where one society overwhelms the other. In a true middle ground, or meeting place, each group adjusts its own social practices in light of the other’s, but doesn’t abandon its own culture.
It is O’Malley’s contention that in New Zealand the Bay of Islands was such a place between 1814, when the missionary settlement was founded, and 1840 when New Zealand became a British colony. He offers this as an alternative to what he considers ‘the conventional wisdom at one time’: that, after a period of initial resistance, Maori culture changed profoundly – it more or less collapsed – and Maori were assimilated into Pakeha society. He sometimes calls this the ‘Fatal Impact’ view and identifies Harrison Wright, an American who wrote on the subject in 1959, as its leading exponent.
A Simple Nullity: The Wi Parata Case in New Zealand Law and History, by David V. Williams (Auckland University Press, 2011), 288 pp., $49.99.
Grossly misunderstood in both its legal context and factual matrix, Wi Parata v The Bishop of Wellington (1877) is the single most infamous case in New Zealand legal history.[i]A solitary passage in the joint decision of Chief Justice James Prendergast and Justice William Richmond (most likely written by Richmond) to the effect that the Treaty of Waitangi was ‘a simple nullity’ has rendered it the whipping boy of modern biculturalism, a deformity of the common law recurrently surfacing to spook liberals until our present Chief Justice Sean Elias finally euthanised it in the 2003 Ngati Apa decision.[ii]
Wi Parata revolved around a Whitireia land grant of approximately 500 acres engineered in 1847–8 by Ngati Toa as a gift to the Bishop of New Zealand, George Selwyn. The intermediaries for the gift were were Octavius Hadfield (‘Te Harawira’, from 1870 the Bishop of Wellington) and two young Christian rangatira, Katu Tamihana Te Rauparaha (son of Te Rauparaha) and Henare Matene Te Whiwhi-o-te-rangi. Under the doctrine of Crown pre-emption, the Governor had a monopoly on all land dealings with Māori. Any such gift required the Governor first to accept the land gratuitously from Māori and then grant it to the Bishop on trust. The terms of that trust, known as the Porirua Trust, were that the Bishopric establish a college of higher learning and religious instruction for the education of all races: ‘hei Kareti mo nga tamariki Maori Pakeha’. When the College did not eventuate, later generations of Ngāti Toa unsuccessfully sought return of the land in Court, following the refusal of Parliament and various Commissions of Inquiry to provide a remedy.