WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Editorial: be awake to the lessons of history

One does not have to read very far into Michael King’s The Penguin History of New Zealand (2003) to realise how much of a back foot Māori are on in terms of preserving their culture.

Police raids in mid-October on the homes of a number of Māori Tuhoe and Ruatoki and some pakeha under the Suppression of Terrorism Act 2002 sent me to this excellent history to find that in 1917 Rua Kenana of Tuhoe was sent to prison for resisting arrest. Judge F R Chapman voiced much pakeha sentiment in saying

You have learned that the law has a long arm, and that it can reach you, however far back into the recesses of the forest you may travel, and that in every corner of the great Empire to which we belong the King’s law can reach anyone who offends against him. That is the lesson your people should learn from this trial (222).

 There was little understanding of how Māori might feel about what they perceived to be a dishonouring of the Treaty of Waitangi in the Crown’s seizure of confiscated territories, for example.

Many Māori would have remembered and others heard talk of the arrest of Māori leaders at Parihaka in 1881. The prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi had led a non-violent protest against European occupation of confiscated land near Parihaka in Taranaki. The pacifist movement barely survived the deaths of its leaders Te Whiti and Tohu in 1907 (223).

In the Urewera Māori support for the prophet Te Kooti and Ringatu was met with a scorched-earth policy by colonial troops.

Michael King points out that for Māori who were adversely affected by the land wars of the 1860s and subsequent land confiscations, ‘life would be considerably more difficult physically because of the loss of economic resources which had previously allowed them to feed themselves and to trade with Pakeha and in some instances with the wider world.’

Māori housing was, in pakeha eyes, substandard and the lack of toilet facilities, running water or ventilation, overcrowding and unhygienic conditions for food preparation made Māori vulnerable to communicable diseases. Michael King points out that these conditions were not ‘self-evidently inimical to Māori lifestyles … and there was little immediate incentive for communities to change them’ (245).

With the introduction of European diseases, such as tuberculosis, typhoid fever and dysentery, Māori, who had little resistance, quickly succumbed and by the turn of the century the population was almost wiped out.

This history may be a mystery to many older pakeha for whom history lessons at school comprised the kings of England and the European wars, but in Māori oratory tradition each detail would have been discussed at length on marae up and down the country.

It is in this context that young Māori bravado leads to talk of amassing weapons. An example of this sort of talk appeared in the Dominion Post last month (14 November) from police evidence for the October ‘anti-terror’ raids.

As we begin the season of Advent, the readings this Sunday are calling us to awareness of God’s reign when weapons of war will be melted down for instruments of agriculture (Isa 2:1-5) and to follow Jesus’ example in finding peace with one another.

One way to do this would be to read the history of this country and find out why so many Māori are disillusioned with colonisation.