Huia Histories of Māori: Nga Tahuhu Korero, edited by Danny Keenan (Huia,Wellington, 2012) 350 pp., $49.99.
This handsome book features the essays of sixteen Māori scholars including: a retired justice of the High Court, a professor and assistant vice chancellor, a film and television producer, a principal of a consultancy organisation and former director of the Waitangi Tribunal, and a research fellow at Auckland University of Technology. The essays cover a wide range of topics most of which have been studied and written about by Pākehā but here, we are offered the rare opportunity to be immersed in a Māori context. This is an exciting difference and a welcome one.
Most Māori will be familiar with the contributors. We are a relatively small community and our hapū and iwi connections link us on multiple levels. Those of us who attend national and regional hui often will have had the privilege of hearing Eddie Durie for example, who has long been prominent in the judiciary arena. His brother Mason has written extensively on Māori health and education and is often heard on national media. Maria Bargh, Teurikore Biddle, Brendan Hokowhitu, Margaret Mutu, Poia Rewi, Rawiri Taonui, and Te Maire Tau are all involved in researching Māori and indigenous studies at tertiary level. Jo Diamond lectures in art history and theory, Aroha Harris and Danny Keenan in history. Bradford Haami is a multi-talented film and media practitioner, and Buddy Mikaere is well known as a cultural and resource management adviser. Hana O’Regan is dedicated to retrieving and promoting the Kāi Tahu dialect. Mere Roberts researches how Māori interacted with and incorporated nature into every aspect of life. Bringing these scholars together in one volume is a wonderful idea.
There are four hundred pages to this book, which could be somewhat intimidating, but the essays are comparatively short, absorbing and accessible enough to hold the attention of a general reader. For more academic and research-driven readers there is scholarly depth and complexity. The book is divided into four parts, organized in chronological order and tracing events in our distant and recent experiences. Within each part there are three to five chapters covering a wide range of topics. Most of the chapters include beautifully reproduced photographs, drawings and paintings.
Part One, ‘Love of their Native Place’, covers the period prior to and during the 19th century and explores how early Māori related to the land, how society was organised, the importance and function of language, art, and performance in an oral culture, and the considerable contribution waka tradition played, and continues to play, in our on-going story. Many of the photographs in this section show an abundance of food and organised communities with industrious and energetic people, who appear healthy and strong. Faces gaze into the camera with confidence and pride and a sure sense of who they are: these are people secure in their place in the world. Mere Robert’s chapter on the whakapapa of tuatara and kumara illustrates how important and deep the link between nature and people was to our tipuna.
Part Two, ‘Inveterate in Their Adherence’, deals with the initial shock of colonisation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the most dreadful period in our recent history. That we have survived as a people, separate and unique, is indeed remarkable. The introduction of muskets, European diseases, new laws, a radically different value system, and the rapid influx of settlers was almost our undoing. The ‘holocaust’, a term used by Tariana Turia to describe this period of colonisation, was a many-pronged attack on our tipuna, and those of us who are here today must be thankful for their resilience and determination to survive. The chapters in this part of the book are, at times, painful to read, but out of those terrible circumstances came the warriors, motivators, intellectuals, and political leaders who brought us into the latter stages of the 20th century stronger and better prepared for future struggles.
Part Three, ‘Take My Faith to the Mountain’, traces the progression towards a new political and economic awareness. The intellectual giants and intrepid warriors in this chapter carried the mana of their ancestors. As descendants of those who survived the initial and subsequent waves of colonisation we are duty-bound to ensure that their efforts were not in vain. We also see the rise of women as leaders and motivators during this period. Men such as James Carroll, Peter Buck, Maui Pomare, Apirana Ngata are followed by Te Puea Herangi, Whina Cooper, Eva Rickard, Titewhai Harawera and Tariana Turia. There are so many others mentioned here who have taken up the taiaha and who continue to work to improve and advance the lives of our people. Without their determined resistance to assimilation and cultural obliteration we would not be the force we are today. The chapters in this part remind us that we were, and continue to be, survivors led by wise, far-seeing, and innovative leaders.
Part Four, ‘Cherished for the Mana They Embody’, looks to the future. While all may not be as well as we would like, there is much to celebrate. The work by our artists, navigators, academics, politicians, and historians will continue to inspire the next generation. Writers such as Patricia Grace, Witi Ihimaera, Hone Tuwhare, musicians and artists such as The Herbs, Howard Morrison, Kiri Te Kanawa, weavers such as Puketapu-Hetet, and sculptures, painters, and carvers such as Fred Graham, Maureen Lander, and Darcey Nicholas attract both national and international respect and admiration. The final section in this book points to the beginning of the next chapter of our remarkable story.
Huia Histories of Maori: Nga Tahuhu Korero is an important addition to the large and every-growing body of work that is re-examining and re-evaluating the history of Aotearoa. But more importantly, the assertion here is that there is a Māori version which often differs markedly from that of Pākehā: the angle and focus is different. The histories are not filtered through a Pākehā lens, so they expose a harsher reality and tap into a sharper sense of injustice. Continued analysis of the last two hundred and fifty years of our history, by both the coloniser and the colonised, is crucial for a better-informed and educated New Zealand. As Māori we have always had to fight to assert our place as tangata whenua, and the contributors to this book clearly demonstrate that we see our place in history, society, politics and the future differently from Pākehā. Collectively these writings support and give evidence for our claim that we are distinct and unique; as Pat Hopeha points out in his endorsement on the back cover, this book presents our point of view ‘unfettered by Pākehā’.
The inclusion of a large number of photographs (over 100), and other images, adds to the pleasure of reading the text. Close analysis of these photographs reveals much about the times and conditions of a people going through radical, complex, and often destructive changes. A great deal of care and thought has also gone into presentation including the quality of paper used, the colourful cover, the size, shape and weight of the book, as well as the way the material is organised. This is a high-quality artefact.
Huia Histories of Maori: Nga Tahuhu Korero, as a contemporary revision of colonial history from a Māori perspective, deserves a place on every New Zealand book shelf. As a landmark publication it is a fitting successor to Ranginui Walker’s 1990 major work Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Struggle Without End. It should be made available in every school and university library, and is an invaluable resource for teachers at every level. It would also be instructive and useful reading for all New Zealand diplomats and every new immigrant.
REINA WHAITIRI (Kāi Tahu) is a former tutor and lecturer in English at the University of Auckland and assistant professor at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. A writer, and a researcher of Maori writing, she co-edited the anthologies Whetu Moana: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English and Mauri Ola: Contemporary Polynesian Poems in English II, published by Auckland University Press in 2003 and 2010 respectively.
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