There are many academic reviews of The Meeting Place and I feel confident that both high school and university students will become familiar with this text. Is this, though, a useful text for the home? I felt that my education skipped over a lot of early New Zealand history, and that it was law school where I finally began to understand our early history. This book really helped me to gain a good insight into early New Zealand history, and subsequently a better understanding of how race relations in the twentieth century played out.
The book examines the interactions between Māori and Pākehā from the earliest of contact through to sophisticated, systematised encounters. The author, Vincent O’Malley, outlines these encounters chronologically, starting from the earliest contact (and the greatest examples of culture clash/ misunderstandings) through to regular engagement around 1814, right up to the ‘tipping point’ when one culture dominated. The years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the presence of the British Government and regular settlement in New Zealand by the British meant that the European settlers were able to be more self-reliant. No longer needing Māori for trade, or being able to resolve matters through British law rather than negotiation meant that the cultures separated. Pākehā culture rapidly dominated – by 1858 there were more Pākehā residents than Māori in New Zealand. Maori adopted many aspects of Pākehā culture; Pākehā no longer felt the need to engage with Māori and previous efforts in understanding and applying Māori culture waned.
If you are reading this book for fun I suggest skipping the introduction. It took me two goes to read through and appreciate the introduction – I was concerned the whole book would be as academic and dry. Instead, there were parts of the book, particularly the very earliest encounters, that I read almost as though it was a thriller – I was keen to learn what would happen next! Stories where Māori were treated as possessions or slaves really got to me, and explanations of some early cultural misunderstandings were appreciated. The book’s strength for me lies in these explanations, as attempts by the author to obtain sources from both cultures helps to provide context to the encounters. Concepts around gift-giving are discussed in the early part of the book. At this time (1770’s) Māori gift-giving required the gift to be returned to an equal or greater amount as a way of preserving the mana of the recipient. It was not necessary, however, that this take place straight away. Early encounters of trade/ gift giving were well placed to create confusion – gifts Captain Cook and his crew gave Māori (with no expectation of reciprocity) saw gifts being made the following day. Equally, giving Māori an item and then indicating what was desired in trade was not well received.
Why should the average home own this book? The Meeting Place really helps to explain the environment, events and tensions in bi-cultural Aotearoa / New Zealand. This is our story. The stories told and context provided is one of the more balanced and nuanced explanations of our early history.
Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming
The Meeting Place: Māori and Pākehā Encounters 1642-1840
by Vincent O’Malley
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 97818694059 6