Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The past doesn't define us

I wrote the following letter to the editor of the Dominion Post in response to a lengthy article in which journalist Joel Maxwell, writing about an apparent reluctance to give Maori names to sections of the former SH1 on the Kapiti Coast, somehow contrived to mention killings perpetrated by James Cook. The Dom Post published the letter this morning and a reader of this blog suggested I post it here:

Joel Maxwell (Kapiti coasts around Maori road names, May 7) gratuitously reminds us that James Cook’s crewmen killed several Maori at what is now Gisborne in 1769.

He could have mentioned, but didn’t, that 10 crewmen from the Adventure, sister ship to Cook’s Resolution, were killed, butchered, cooked and eaten in the Marlborough Sounds in 1773. Cook resisted the urging of his men to take revenge.

My own namesake, Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne (actually, no relation) was killed and cannibalised in 1772 in the Bay of Islands, along with 26 of his men, although most historians seem to agree that the French explorer was totally benign in his dealings with local Maori. He unknowingly caused offence by breaching tapu and paid the penalty.

The point is, things happened 250-odd years ago that look appalling when viewed through a 21st century lens. But as long as we allow ourselves to be defined by those awful events, we’re not going to get anywhere.

Karl du Fresne, Masterton


David McLoughlin said...

Good god, Karl, what a good letter. Ka pai. I am surprised, but pleased, that the DomPost printed it.

I read the article on Saturday with growing incredulity, because I am familiar with the road renaming issue, and was expecting an update on it. Instead it was some kind of doctrinaire attack on nasty old whitey.

For what it's worth, I had thought the problem with the renaming proposal -- it is for the old SH1 from Raumati through Paraparaumu and Waikanae to Peka Peka replaced by the expressway close to the coast -- was that it wanted seven names for seven different parts of it. But it is a single well-defined and almost-straight road end to end. After the expressway opened, Judith started calling the stretch Ladies Mile, because of the abrupt drop in traffic along it, making it much easier to drive along. I translated that to Ara Wahine, because of my preference for Māori names when possible, which we have both called it ever since.

The tirade in Saturday's DomPost has prompted me to write to K Gurunathan (the Kapiti mayor, he who appears to have no first name beyond his K) and suggest our "one name not seven" idea for the road. I doubt our semi-facetious Ara Wahine would jump the hurdles, so my serious suggestion is Ara Whenua (as it is the inland road as opposed to the expressway which is an ara moana).

Kia kaha.

Odysseus said...

It's the victimhood, grievance thing Karl by which quite a number of born-again Maori like to define themselves these days. Mr Maxwell appears to be in that mould. Rather than promoting reconciliation and healing it seems the Treaty process and "settlements" these past 50 years have encouraged the opposite.

Cook bitterly regretted the shootings in that early encounter at Gisborne, but understood his men had acted in self-defence.

Kiwi Dave said...

Judging the past by the standards of the present is fraught with difficulty.

Perhaps, given his interest in the past and naming rights, Joel Maxwell could tell us who were the murderers at what used to be called Murderers Bay; or, since the focus is Kapiti, tell us how Ngai Toa acquired Kapiti and subsequent naming rights; or why one of the road names went to Te Rangihaeata, the guy who massacred surrendered prisoners at Wairau. We can all play this game.

David McLoughlin said...

one of the road names went to Te Rangihaeata

Thanks for reminding me. Ngāti Toa has officially renamed the new Transmission Gully motorway as “Te Ara Nui o Te Rangihaeata” (The Big Road of Te Rangihaeata), because it passes by Battle Hill, named after an 1846 battle involving Te Rangihaeata. I don't think the new name has caught on yet, and there are still official signs at some of the on-ramps saying "Transmission Gully Motorway."

I will make a note to get some photos of those signs this week as a memento, as I suspect they will be removed as soon as somebody notices them.

Richard Arlidge said...

Yes, a good letter Karl and nowhere from any reputable source have I ever seen anything of Capt.James Cook personally killing, much less hurting anyone, which is a far cry from those others whom Joel Maxwell unquestionably and continually reveres.
The real shame of all this is that with the likes of some hospices now faced with closure, here we have well over a $100K wasted on a pure vanity project. Such is even more disgraceful than Maxwell's understanding of history and the disrespect he shows a vastly greater individual than he could ever hope to aspire to, which surely says something.

Chris Morris said...

I don't think David needs to bother with the photos. People will continue to call it Transmission Gully no matter what the official title is. Look how the Maori names for cities have taken off - not.

Gary Peters said...

"But as long as we allow ourselves to be defined by those awful events, we’re not going to get anywhere."

Oh silly you Karl.

These people are definitely trying to get somewhere but it is nowhere that you or I would choose to go.

Reconciliation is for fools and there is no money in letting the past lay where it belongs.

Rick said...

Context is essential since it turned out that Cook had not wandered into tree-hugger Smurf Village but a hotspot of death.

The first thing the Maoris did was try to kill Cook's children and a warning shot did not put them off. To save their kids from being speared to death Cook's crew shot and killed a Maori.

It's not all as 'Smurfy' as contemporary revisionists would have it.

Ref. http://ahnz.anarkiwi.co.nz/1769-cook-rediscovers-new-zealand/

Anna Mouse said...

Joel Maxwell is always a difficult read. He attended a total emersion Maori course in the last two or three years and he has spoken of it.

IMO he is what would once be ascribed to a religious zealot who had found Christ, he is a 'born again' Maori.

That said, there is nothing wrong with that as long as your zealotry is an internal belief but like all zealots the newly born need to convert you to their belief whether you like it or not.

What we are seeing in the likes of Mr. Maxwell and his form of zealotry is the conversion of your thinking to their dogma at the expense of historical fact.

They have an insatiable need to write the book of Maori and call it a bible but like the bible their book too is filled with inaccuracy, fantasy, falsehood and ignorance of truth and ommission of fact and reason.

We see it daily in all or MSM, our government, our public service, our corporate wokes, our educational and scientific agencies.

It is a dangerous disease like all relio-political ethnic dogma. Look to the Taliban for your outcomes to societies cohesion.

Doug Longmire said...

Let's be brutally frank about this:-
The Nazis and the Japanese imperialists committed huge slaughter, rape, torture, genocide on millions of innocent citizens.
That was 70 -80 years ago. But we (the civilised world) has moved on. We do not punish Japanese or German people of today for those war crimes.
There is no future in living in the past and blaming current generations for past wrongs.

Karl du Fresne said...

What's with these references to "Cook's children" and "kids"? The people involved were Cook's crewmen. Let's try to stick to the facts.

David McLoughlin said...

Rick: The first thing the Maoris did was try to kill Cook's children and a warning shot did not put them off. To save their kids from being speared to death Cook's crew shot and killed a Maori.

In fact, from Cook's accounts of the time, it seems warriors approached Cook's crew with a traditional challenge of the kind we are all familiar with today, but the crew thought they were being attacked, and opened fire. It was a sad clash of cultures, neither knowing what the other was intending. Cook had his Tahitian translator, Tupaia, on board, but Tupaia was not with that first shore party. Once Tupaia came ashore and spoke with the local iwi, a better understanding was gained by both parties. It was not a simple matter, hence it is still being debated all these centuries later.

Doug Longmire: The Nazis and the Japanese imperialists committed huge slaughter, rape, torture, genocide on millions of innocent citizens. That was 70 -80 years ago. But we (the civilised world) have moved on. We do not punish Japanese or German people of today for those war crimes.

Every now and then, one gets a truly blazing flash of insight from places like this blog of Karl's. Very well put, Doug. I'd honestly not thought of it that way till you said it. I've long been a student of modern German history (as I am of New Zealand history) and I am aware from my travels in Germany and friendships with Germans how many of them feel sincere guilt to this day over what Germany did under Hitler, who was actually legally elected and who ruled with acclaim until the bombs started falling on German cities. But we countries whose peoples stood up and fought Hitler (and fought Japan also of course) have moved on and we don't blame today's Germans (or Japanese) for the brutality of their grandparents and great-grandparents.

For 30 years now, we have been settling and making amends for past injustices in Aotearoa New Zealand; it's sad that some people -- especially in the media and academia -- want to ensure the flagellation of Pakeha continues no matter how far the Crown goes in righting past wrongs. It goes far beyong matters Treaty -- to hear the cacophony, you'd think all the great battles for such things as equal rights for women and gays, the huge advances in health and standards of living, the opening of higher education to all, and all the rest (make your own list), had never happened or didn't matter, as the offence-takers seek ever-smaller groups of offended to blame the rest of us for. It will never end, if they have their way.

Anonymous said...

Aboard the Endeavour were crew who aged around 14, barely beyond puberty. Today, they would be considered children, or kids. As ships boys, in a time before the term ‘teenager’ was used, one went from boy to manhood in a short space of time. Those boys were tasked with defending the longboats on the beach at Gisborne on the first fateful day of Mr Maxwells so-called “killing spree”. Confronted by hostile warriors, they reacted by firing shots in defence of their position. Cook and other crew were some distance away from the action.

Rick said...

"The people involved were Cook's crewmen. Let's try to stick to the facts."

Some of these 'crewmen' were children as were the cabin boys we're talking about here. But please correct me if you know otherwise.

It's a bit of a stretch, David, to say it was a 'traditional charge'. The Maoris were out for blood and given a clear signal to back down from child slaughter but kept on to the death.

Eamon Sloan said...

Recently I came across a PDF document published jointly by the Ministry for the Environment & Statistics NZ. For anyone who is interested it is titled Environment Aotearoa 2022 New Zealand’s Environmental Reporting Series.

It is riddled with the required politically correct environmental and Maori references - including an untranslatable introduction written in Maori. There is an overblown reference to the star clusters of Maori astrology, Matariki - “We chose to adopt Te Kāhui o Matariki, the nine stars of the Matariki cluster (also known as Pleiades), as an organising structure for the report”.

I have scanned through the document and gave up on a full reading when I happened upon this heading which reads, no kidding: “I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on my past”. There is no attribution accompanying the quote so we might never be able to identify its author.

To me that sums up perfectly all of what presents itself as today’s Maori culture and the problems it brings to all of Maoridom. And, the problems it brings to the wider culture. If we proceed on the current path it can lead only to absolute cultural chaos.

Stephen Rae said...

The crewmen attacked by Māori including Te Maro were definitely children not “teenagers”. Historian Anne Salmond in her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog refers to them as “four small boys in charge of the yawl who had wandered from their post to play on the beach”.The warriors advanced to attack and presumably take the yawl. After at least two warning shots Te Maro began to hurl his spear at the children. He was then shot by the coxswain.

Karl du Fresne said...

Thanks for clearing that up.

D'Esterre said...

Oh....Joel Maxwell. I have for some years avoided reading his articles, because of their content and "tone". I read the above link, and it was drearily predictable.

I have in recent years frequently been obliged to correct commenters' revisionist accounts of Cook, in particular what happened during his visit to the Gisborne area.

Cook was a remarkable man. It was thanks to his bringing goats, pigs (Captain Cookers) and chickens to NZ on subsequent visits, that the indigenes survived. Those animals, along the potatoes, cabbage and carrots brought by early European explorers, provided sorely-needed food sources. By the time of Tasman's visit, and Cook's first visit, food was running out. The large flightless birds had been eaten to extinction by about 200 years after the first arrivals (the Royal Society has an article about this online), and other protein sources were under severe pressure. This is doubtless why cannibalism had become normalised. A relative who did research in this area remarked that Cook would have seen cannibalism in the Pacific Islands, where it was a ritual practice. But he would not - at least at first - have realised that in NZ, it was of necessity.

In any event, I note that Maxwell fails to mention this:

This was an actual massacre: probably the largest number of Europeans killed and eaten by Maori, and doubtless beats into a cocked hat any killings of Maori by settlers.

Purely on the basis of personal qualities and contribution to the development of global exploration, navigation, survey and and cartography, I'd have Cook's name, rather than that of any 19th century Maori chief, on roads and other public works, any day.

With regard to the old SH1, KCDC can give it as many Maori names as it likes: we'll carry on calling it "old SH1". And as to Transmission Gully, we'll continue to call it "T Gully". It's not a bad stretch of highway, though pretty steep in places.

Tom Hunter said...

Whenever I see these debates I often think of the wonderful final words from Simon Schama in his episode, The Two Winstons from his series A History of Britain (now twenty years old... shudder):

But history ought never to be confused with nostalgia. It's written, not to revere the dead, but inspire the living. It's our cultural bloodstream - the secret of who we are.

And it tells us to let go of the past even as we honour it, to lament what ought to be lamented, to celebrate what should be celebrated.

And if in the end that history turns out to reveal itself as a patriot, well, then I think that neither Churchill nor Orwell would have minded that very much.

And, as a matter of fact, neither do I.

Rick said...

@Tom if you enjoy Simon Schama and history that sticks to the facts you might appreciate Anarchist History of New Zealand.

See here

Paul Peters said...

Stuff and its pool of activists (journalists?) are determined to forge ahead with the ultimate goal of some form of tribal based leftwing state . Today we have an article May 19 in Stuff about a drive to rename streets in South Taranaki, starting with Chute . Yes, apparently he attacked villages that were bases for tribal fighters and took few prisoners (they fought back) However we get over the top comments by a local activist Bonita Bigham that... Although at the time the soldiers were just doing their job, “that job was to oppress and suppress and wipe us off the face of the earth”, she said. Actually there was never any plan to wipe Maori off the face of the earth. Chute's campaign was to crush Tikokowaru's own somewhat brutal rebellion (or freedom fight to those who see it thus) . We have about 800,000 part -Maori today including many of my relatives... This constant unquestioning ''reporting'' of ideologically fitting bollocks with neither context nor accuracy is disappinting but a sign of the times. Many of my former colleagues are totally on board with it and deny that any killing or massacres by tribes against settlers or against other tribes took place....I am told it is all made up