Book Review: Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885, by Michael Belgrave

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dancing_with_the_kingGrowing up with the late night time sounds of the steam trains puffing their way around the Raurimu Spiral – a sound interspersed with the melancholy cry of the Ruru (Morepork) – I had no idea of the significance the main trunk railway line had to the politics of the post Waikato War and the shaping of New Zealand politics. That is until I read Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885.

Author, Professor Michael Belgrave, from Massey University, has an extensive list of titles, many of them related to the Treaty of Waitangi and has also has carried out much research and written many substantial papers for the Waitangi Tribunal. Understanding this background is to understand why this book provides an extremely authoritative account of the post-Waikato War, rise of the sovereign authority of the Māori King within Rohe Pōtae and then the gradual loss of sovereignty and influence 20 years after its birth. The fall was symbolised by the first sod being turned for the main trunk line at the aukati – the boundary – between Māori controlled King Country and the Victorian Empire conquered Waikato. As the main trunk line pushed into the King Country, it served not only to open up the Rohe Pōtae but create a wholly new relationship between Māori and Pākehā eventually leading to united New Zealand Aotearoa.

The story of what happened after the sod was turned is well told in Vincent O’Malley’s, The Great War for New Zealand, which traces the political consequences of the Waikato land confiscation, or Raupatu, right up to 2000. Within Belgrave’s 428 page masterpiece of research is an illuminating account of how the Kīngitanga established itself strategically, economically and politically and prospered in peace – for a time.

Dancing with the King opens with an account of the defeat of Rewi Maniapoto and his small band of supporters of the Māori King at the battle of Ōrākau, marking the end of the Waikato War. The second Māori king, Tāwhiao, led the defeated Waikato tribes into armed exile within the Rohe Pōtae, where the Queen’s writ did not extend and Pākehā dared their lives to cross the aukati.

They established towns such as Te Kuiti and Ōtorohanga. While there was much hardship and deprivation among the Waikato refugees, these towns had a degree of prosperity, even without the aukati, with trade from local Māori in wheat and kumara, even without the aukati and with Pākehā.

The book’s title is a reference to what happened next, described by Belgrave as “diplomatic history”. War gave to a long period of negotiations. “Māori leaders and colonial government negotiators both adopted, however reluctantly on the European side, the language of sovereignty and diplomacy in their dealings with each other”. But it was not just negotiations between two sides: there were many layers of interest on each side. On the Māori side, Tāiwhiao could only move as far as the many iwi, hapu and whanau would let him. The political structure of Tāwhiao’s kingdom can be likened to a federal structure with each different iwi chief having a part to play. Over time Tāwhiao’s power to call the shots became subdued.

On the Pākehā side, there were in fact two governments, the New Zealand Government in Wellington and the British Government in Westminster, and they were not always in agreement with regard to Māori issues While the British parliament had given the colony self rule in 1852 by way of the New Zealand Constitution Act, Britain was still the ultimate power. Tāwhiao quite often stirred the pot of argument between the two, especially when he and his band went off to see the Queen in London. He didn’t actually see the Queen but made a very good impression as to the rights of Māori with the people and government of Britain. The story of that visit is one of the highlights of Belgrave’s work, as it is a good example of how the British Empire was managing issues with indigenous peoples in many countries they had conquered, rightly or wrongly.
It is the detailed accounts of the negotiations between the various layers of the Māori side which for this reviewer proved fascinating. Belgrave’s research brings to full view the impact on traditional Māori land ownership. This was based largely on the establishment by an iwi by war of occupation, food gathering or conquest with collective ownership imbued within the authority of the chief.

On the European side, land ownership was established by survey and registration, sale and purchase with individual rights of ownership. The colonial government set up the Native (later Māori) Land Court essentially to establish, the European method of ownership by deciding among competing chiefs as to which iwi owned which areas of land. But within the Rohe Pōtae, no trig stations were allowed to be built for some time. Any attempt to erect them often met with them being destroyed. And there was great resistance to allowing the Māori Land Court to operate within the King Country. Much of this resistance was due to the involvement of lawyers and surveyors in establishing tribal boundaries.

This reviewer, as a young newspaper reporter attended a Māori Land Court hearing in Tokaanu in 1966 where the process of deciding on a dispute of 600 acres on the side of Mount Ruapehu was decided by the judge on the authenticity of the waiata (chant) carrying the iwi’s history. Whanganui and Tuwharetoa were the claimants. Tuwharetoa’s waiata was considered to be the most accurate and thus the title of the surveyed block of land was awarded to that tribe.

And so the dancing and feasting went on and the accounts of the four hui held between, former Governor and now Premier Grey and Tāwhiao between 1878 and 1876 are as colourful as any court ball.  “The dancing that took place did not involve traditional Māori haka or poi, but waltzes, Schottische, polkas and quadrilles.” But in the meetings before the dancing there was also the deep seriousness of political dancing with high stakes. Tāwhiao, as he always did, demanded the Waikato be returned wholly and Grey responded that that could not happen. But Grey did offer a settlement which according to Belgrave “Grey immediately went on to make what would be a substantive and detailed offer of peace, to settle the issues of King and Queen.”

There would be three more hui involving Tāwhiao and Grey and it would be a spoiler if the outcome was revealed here. Eventually though, the first sod for the railway at the boundary of the King Country was dug with three spadesful by Chief Wahanui on behalf of Māori loading them into a former children’s’ toy barrow which Premier Stout wheeled down a short plank “turning the sods onto the grass”. While the ceremony signalled the start of the opening up of the King Country it ended the independent sovereignty of the King Country.

A disappointing footnote: Having grown up in the Ohakune, this reviewer has always proudly stated as being from the King Country only to discover, while reading Dancing with the King, that the southern boundary of the Rohe Pōtae crosses westward over Mount Ruapehu’s highest peaks, Te Heuheu and Paretetaitonga leaving Ohakune on the wrong side of the aukati.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

Dancing with the King: The Rise and Fall of the King Country, 1864-1885
by Michael Belgrave
Published by Auckand University Press
ISBN 9781869408695

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Book Review: Maui and other Maori Legends: 8 Classic Tales of Aotearoa, by Peter Gossage

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_maui_and_other_maori_legendsThis bind-up collects eight classic Maori myths, the original picture books of which form some of my most visual memories from when I was a child. Six of the books that are reproduced here were published between 1975 and 1985, with the others from the early 2000’s. I remember clearly, sitting on the floor of the library at St Brigid’s Primary School, poring over these potent celebrations of Maori mythology, spellbound by the swirling style of the art within.

The first six of these stories are based on the mythology of Maui, arguably our most famous cultural ancestor. Many wonderful authors and illustrators have ensured our Maori mythology has endured, but Gossage’s bold, colourful art is the real joy of this collection, while his lyrical tellings are a pleasure to read aloud.

But Maui was still alive!
The wave children of Tangaroa and Hine-moana bore him on their backs.
The clouds shielded him from the fierce sun,
and Tawhiri the wind cooled him.

This collection is published beautifully by Penguin, and the handy bookmark ribbon has been a source of entertainment to my son Dan, who has happily started reading it to himself, making sure to keep his place with the ribbon provided.

My family is Pakeha, and my children’s main access to Maori myth is in essential books like this. It is a joy to re-read these old favourites and share them with my children. Please make sure you have this book in your library; it is still relevant and important.

Maui and other Maori Legends: 8 Classic Tales of Aotearoa
by Peter Gossage
Published by Penguin NZ
ISBN 9780143309291

Book Review: For someone I love, by Arapera Blank

cv_for_someone_i_loveAvailable in selected bookshops.

Spanning over 40 years of writing, of history and culture, of love and life, For someone I love moves in phases, shifting through its sections. The poetry begins with the title poem, a collection of love poetry flowing forth beautifully on the page, complimented by the photography of Pius Blank, to whom most of these poems are addressed to or about. The pictures of the two in wedding clothes set the tone for the written words, but slowly this shifts. The photography becomes more focused on places, and the poetry moves along with it. The romantic love becomes more subtle, and instead we are confronted with feminism and the issues surrounding Māori culture.

The central concern in the longer pieces is that of the Māori way of life as their culture and people were becoming more and more ingrained in European society. The shift to the cities, the European schooling and religion influencing the younger generations as well as the older. The writing is reflexive, asking about the meaning of Māoritanga (‘Yielding to the new’), the integration of Māori children into Pakeha schools and the possible loss of culture and language that comes with this, and the influence of Christian values on Māori culture (‘Innocence of sin’ and ‘Ahakoa he aha’). The informal style of the prose, short sentences, realistic speech, the mixing of Māori and English, all lend themselves to creating a believable depiction of this transitional time for Māori. The characters range from a child starting his first day at school to a girl leaving home for the first time to move to the city, and the range represented here, from childhood to young adulthood, paints a picture of a generation dealing with these changes.

Arapera’s essays deal with the same issues that are dealt with in her prose fiction, mainly those of the Maori culture and its confrontation with the dominant Pakeha world. But here we see a framing through the lens of feminism, and the question of the place of not only Māori, but Māori women, is explored in detail. Motherhood and the upbringing of children in the split world of the 1960’s and 70’s is challenged. This reflexive and critical analyses of both Māori and Pakeha culture and integration is still relevant today, many issues having been lessened, but not necessarily solved. These pieces, written in the 1970’s and 80’s, contain thoughts and ideas that are useful in developing our own understanding of both our society as it was in the past, and what problems and issues we face today in continuing the change that was wrought during Arapera’s time.

For someone I love collects together the writing of a New Zealander whose thoughts are centred on the Kiwi way of life, and especially on the relationship between Māori and Pakeha. Her own relationship with Pius is a romanticized ideal of this, shown through her poetry. But the issues she tackles in her prose and her essays are important for a New Zealand public, as they help us to confront the past, and think about how we deal with the present, and the future.

Reviewed by Matthias Metzler

For someone I love
by Arapera Blank
Published by Anton Blank
ISBN 9780473299187

Book review: Rangatira by Paula Morris

This book is in stores now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Paula Morris has been deservedly nominated as a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2012 for Rangatira. It’s an essential read for anyone who loves historical fiction or has an interest in early colonial New Zealand.

Based on the story of Morris’s ancestor Paratene Te Manu (Ngati Wai), the historical reach of the story covers Paratene’s youth while on military campaigns with Hongi Hika in the early 1820s through to his old age in the 1880s (Paratene died in 1896), with the bulk of the narrative covering Paratene’s trip to England in 1863. Morris has done her research thoroughly, and immerses the reader in both muddy, aspiring 1880s Auckland and the grimy, poverty- and pollution-ridden cityscapes of England in 1863.

Using the device of an imagined portrait sitting with Gottfried Lindauer (who did in fact paint Paratene’s portrait, although probably from a photograph), Morris has Paratene tell of his journey to England. The journey, led by Wesleyan William Jenkins, had multiple purposes and the participants differing plans and desires; combined with language barriers and distrust amongst Māori from differing hapu and iwi, these often divergent agendas led to much of the drama that occurs.

There’s something that Morris has done with the phrasing of Paratene’s story that is very familiar; I couldn’t tell you exactly how she’s done it, but it was very easy to hear the voice of kuia and kaumatua I have listened to on marae over the years in Paratene’s voice, an odd but familiar mix of the querulous and the authoritative. If Rangatira is ever picked up for radio adaptation or an audio book – and I think it’d be great – it really needs George Henare to read it.

In 2012 New Zealand, with many Treaty of Waitangi claims, water ownership and access to the seabed and foreshore still to be resolved, the subplot of the Land Court hearings in 1886 regarding ownership of (Hauturu) Little Barrier Island is illuminating – perhaps we haven’t come as far in righting historical wrongs as we like to think. Although the Treaty of Waitangi claim to Hauturu has been since been settled, the post script to the story about the treatment of the owners in the 1890s is uncomfortable reading.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore.

Rangatira
by Paula Morris
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN  9780143565758 (Paperback) and 9781742532219 (Ebook)