Ko Te Whenua Te Utu: Land Is the Price by M.P.K. Sorrenson (Auckland University Press, 2014) 344 pp., $49.99; Beyond the Imperial Frontier: The contest for colonial New Zealand by Vincent O’Malley (Bridget Williams Books, 2014) 280 pp., $49.99
Professor Emeritus M.P.K. Sorrenson is one of the people most qualified to write ‘Essays on Maori history, land and politics’, as his collection Ko Te Whenua Te Utu is subtititled. For over 30 years a leading light in the University of Auckland’s history department, he was also for 25 years a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, weighing submissions and contributing to those voluminous reports which, in his Epilogue, he calls New Zealand’s ‘largest exercise in public history ever undertaken’ (p. 299). Considering the matter of whether Pākehā can ever validly write Māori history, Sorrenson concedes in his introduction that ‘the most outstanding Maori history written in recent years’ was written by a Pākehā, Judith Binney. Nevertheless, being himself of mixed Māori and Pākehā descent, Sorrenson also claims to have a ‘personal motive’ in his long scholarly engagement with Māori politics and land ownership, ‘since I had been nurtured on stories of the alienation of the last remnants of my mother’s Maori land’.
Ko Te Whenua Te Utu comprises 13 essays, public lectures and commissioned reports, which Sorrenson has written over more than half a century, between 1956 and 2011. The earliest, from 1956, is ‘Land Purchase Methods and their Effect on Maori Population, 1865–1901’. It is modified section of Sorrenson’s MA thesis, and argues that the loss of land and disruption of the social cohesion of tribes were major causes of the decline in Māori population in the late nineteenth century. The most recent, from 2011, is ‘Folkland to Bookland’, examining the career of the nineteenth-century bureaucrat F.D. Fenton (first chief judge of the Native Land Court), who likened the loss of Māori customary tenure of land, and its transference into personalised title, to the loss of the ‘commons’ in Tudor England. [Read more…]