Saturday, 9 June 2018

Imprisoned In the Past

Tribal New Zealand

The tribalism of modern Maori has largely ebbed away, with a few occasional exceptions.  Life and times in the early 19th century in New Zealand was another matter.  

Everything changed when a northern paramount chief, Hongi Hika managed to get passage to England.  Harold Miller, former Librarian of Victoria University takes up the story:
In 1820 Hongi got himself carried to England to see for himself the wonders of the western world.  He was truly astonished by what he saw but one thing especially stuck in his mind: over all England there was only one ruler!  One King George over all England--why not one King Hongi over all New Zealand?  On his way home he turned the rich presents with which he had been loaded into muskets and prepared to apply the lessons he had received. . . .

Already before 1820 the Northern tribes had ravaged as far as Cook Strait; but now things were worse.  Thousands were killed or enslaved and whole tribes were driven from the lands that their ancestors had occupied for centuries.  In 1820 when a missionary visited the Waitemata district it was teeming with people.  From the top of a hill he could see ". . . twenty villages in the valley below, and . . . the largest portion of cultivated land I had ever met in one place in New Zealand".  There were, he estimated, at least four thousand people.  . . . The people were friendly but uneasy.  They asked for missionaries and were disappointed when he spoke of delay; "Our eyes," they said, "will be all dark before that time arrives and we shall never see them. . . . " In a few months, Hongi came down upon them with two thousand men and a thousand muskets swept them away.  Within a short time the whole Ngati Whatua tribe had vanished and not a living soul remained on the tribal lands. . . . And so it went on through the 1820's [Harold Miller, New Zealand (London: Hutchinson's University Library, 1950), p. 11f.]
 On the surface, tribalism appears dead and buried amongst modern Maori.
  This is certainly the case with respect to inter-tribal violence, a la Hongi style.  Yet we wonder how much Maori v. Maori is still alive at the level of competing amongst each other for government restitution, acknowledgements and favours.  If so, it is leveraging off the baggage of past centuries and can only be characterised as a New Zealand form of Balkanization.  No-one wins in such a world.

No comments: