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.