Book Review: Galleries of Maoriland, by Roger Blackley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_galleries_of_maoriland.jpgGalleries of Maoriland is a study of the people, works and objects of what would become known as ‘Māori art’, and the genre’s heyday between 1880 and 1910. It is a new appreciation of the value of the works produced, circulated and displayed during those years, and how they found a place in the fabric of our national identity.

While the focus is on the complex interactions between Māori art (art by or about Māori), its makers, collectors and traders, Māori themselves (as subjects or consumers), and the public, it is also an amazingly detailed glimpse into many other aspects of New Zealand life at the time.

It is an insight into how Māori and Pākehā saw themselves and their neighbours, as both adjusted to a shared future, and how an art and story appeared to express the spirit of this cohabitation, as the realisation slowly dawned that Māori would remain a living part of New Zealand.

Blackley recreates the wild hunt for authentic and exotic relics of a Māori past, so-called curios, and the many ways of obtaining them: trade in ceremonial gifts, tomb-raiding, or excursions to maniacally rake up the land to find buried treasures. The curios collected were often displayed (as the book’s remarkable collection of images shows) in incongruous, sometimes ghoulish arrays, of huia feathers and weapons, pounamu and disembodied heads.

Blackley explains how these displays also helped to revise the country’s pre-European material culture and its inhabitants into a more acceptable (though not particularly factual) story for the Victorian mind, enabling collectors to place these items (and perhaps their makers) on a scale of development towards the apex of supposed British superiority.

Curios also allowed Pākehā to make sense of Māori and their culture, although often with little relation to how Māori actually understood and lived it. Despite this, Blackley observes that the creation of this Māori-inspired folklore by Pākehā for themselves laid some of the groundwork for the bicultural imagery that distinguishes New Zealand today.

The book’s biographies of portrait subjects and other figures demonstrate how Māori adeptly navigated the art market, not only as suppliers of curios but also by availing their romanticised image. By recreating sittings for Goldie’s ostensibly melancholy Māori portraits, Blackley underlines this pose was agreed and negotiated, rather than disingenuous or manipulative.

Blackley explains how portraits were valued by Māori as a new taonga, and by Pākehā as an art form with uniquely local features. He details how for Māori, portraiture was a revelation, reproducing the awe of Māori in city galleries and including grateful comments to the artists in visitors’ books of the time. While Blackley recognises portraits did help reinforce prevailing beliefs of Māori fading away, he counters Māori also saw in them a medium to reach out to their descendants. As a descendant of the subject of a Goldie portrait, I appreciated this balance.

Blackley’s investigation of traders, artists, and their subjects reveals a remarkable biculturalism among Pākehā in this world and a worldly sophistication of Māori subjects, often nameless in titles of the works, who rather than brooding elders in decaying pā, were frequently influential, well-travelled, sophisticated citizens of the world. He notes these subjects felt Pākehā artists belonged to them, upending preconceived ideas of relationships between artists and these subjects.

On the other hand, Blackley observes biculturalism allowed traders to use their knowledge of Māori lore and custom to manipulate Pākehā purchasers and Māori suppliers of objects. Similarly, public figures we imagine as honourably representing the Crown, after receiving hugely significant gifts with due solemnity, did not hesitate to dip into the profitable side business of trading taonga that had been gifted with the expectation they be returned in like form.

While the period’s ongoing transfer of Māori land is not his focus, Blackley provides interesting links between the whittling away of Māori land and Māori art. Māori attending land courts were inspired to contract portraits as they passed strategically placed galleries. Pākehā legal representatives with knowledge of te reo and tikanga represented claimants and claimed healthy commissions, later funnelling them into the profitable patronage of Māori art or trade in Māori gifts.

While the book provides examples how the colonial gaze could crush innovations in Māori art that challenged the narrative about what Māori art should look like, it also provides counter examples of the fruit this fertile cross-cultural environment could produce.

In one example, idyllic visions of how Māori lived in pre-European kāinga were cobbled together to create a performative culture for visitors, the inhabited model pā. Although these did not prosper like other manifestations of Maoriland, they were surprisingly empowering for Māori, who took ownership of this idealised past, reclaiming it to fortify and revive their tikanga. We also learn how it was a Pākehā artist that brought to life a symbolically rich new flag for the Māori King – the embodiment of aspirations for Māori self-determination.

Towards the end of the period, Blackley shows how the gloomy gaze into an uncertain future so commonly associated with the pose of Goldie’s subjects could more appropriately apply to early Pākehā commentators on Māori-inspired art. The days of freewheeling theorising gave way to a more formal and structured approach, and the curio mania too became a thing of the past, although its images remained thoroughly embedded in the national psyche.

Although Blackley reveals much of so-called Māori art was Pākehā fantasy, he does not deride its makers. He recognises Pākehā collectors, amateur scholars, and artists reinterpreted or embellished Māori art not only for profit, but also in the spirit of nation building, in search of what made New Zealand unique. Māori also found a means not only to preserve their images, but to ensure their material and immaterial culture remained central in the imagination of the colony.

The resulting hybrid folklore still dwells in our national subconscious, and Blackley’s work helps to identify some of its origins. His book subverts our understandings of history, art, engagement, ownership and appropriation. It is layered and diverse as it delves into the minutiae (not to say curios) of the times it studies and does so in the spirit of those times.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Galleries of Maoriland
by Roger Blackley
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869409357

 

Book Review: Ko Taranaki te Maunga, by Rachel Buchanan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ko_taranaki_te_maungaIn this short but powerful text, Rachel Buchanan uses the tools of an archivist to scale what she calls the paper mountain – the records and documents surrounding the events at Parihaka – to give new meaning to the echoes of invasion that still sound throughout Taranaki.

Buchanan describes the personal journey she undertook while her essay on beating shame began to take on a life of its own. The story, like Buchanan, her family, and her iwi, moves back and forth between Wellington and Taranaki. Taranaki the maunga, a misty presence on Wellington’s horizon; Taranaki the people, whose presence in the capital is seen not only in the odd selection of fringe lands returned to them, in street names that recall the lofty peak, but also in the people who say ‘we used to be here – this is our place’.

The story unfolds around the passing of the author’s father, Leo Buchanan, paediatrician, advocate for his people, and meticulous record-keeper. Working through the records of the brutality at Parihaka and a parent’s illness and death, Buchanan is guided by an enigmatic ancestor, who unexpectedly reveals himself to be a talented interlocutor between peoples at war, a man of traits Buchanan comes to recognise in herself and in her father.

A key symbol in this work is the koru, a metaphor gifted to the author by former MP and Parihaka descendant Mahara Okeroa to describe the proximity in the present of people and events in the past. Buchanan’s research traces this pattern, binding time, place and people, unravelling in an unexpected twist and then winding together again, in a spiral that expands and contracts.

Buchanan’s is a close, personal history of the events at Parihaka, of the impact of flawed apologies on those who give and those who receive them, and of the ripples that continue to radiate from the injustices of the past. It adds new colour to the landscape of wartime Taranaki and to portraits of well-known figures– Te Whiti o Rongomai, Tohu Kākahi, Tītokowaru, while also revealing new personalities, like the author’s translator tupuna, Charles Wallace.

Buchanan’s contribution to Parihaka is to resignify the legacy of invasion. By immersing herself in experiences of trauma conveyed through waiata and other first-hand accounts, Buchanan turns shame on its head and shows that the only result of disingenuous apologies for perpetrating past wrongs is to further compound the shame of those who truly bear it, who live with the pain and the consequences of this loss.

This is a tale of separation and return illuminated by experience. The experience of being a woman, a daughter, and a curator of a feminist great; of belief and disbelief in the official version of facts; of the burial of shame; and of the healing of the spirit and the rebirth of awareness, self-knowledge and pride.

As an archivist Buchanan asks what becomes of memory painstakingly shared and then reverently filed away? What does it matter if it is denied a living place in our national life and consigned to death by archive?

Buchanan’s answer is record-keeping as resistance. And, as is often happens when archives are opened, it is a discovery. A proudly cherished ancestor reveals how deep his influence runs, a daughter offers a poroporoaki to her father spanning more than a century, and the breath of life continues to flow, at Parihaka under the maunga.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Ko Taranaki te Maunga
by Rachel Buchanan
Published by BWB Texts
ISBN 9781988545288

Book Review: He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao by Tīmoti Kāretu and Wharehuia Milroy

Available in selected bookshops nationwide. 
cv_he_kupu_tuku_ihoIf te reo is the door, as in the title of this compilation of the words of Tā Tīmoti Kāretu and Tākuta Te Wharehuia Milroy, it is the threshold between the wharenui of the past and the open courtyard of the future. Standing at the paepae, these kaumātua describe the transformations they have both witnessed and led in te reo me ōna tikanga, the language and its customs, creating a taukaea, a bond, from past through present to firmly anchor the future.

Kāretu and Milroy’s work to revitalise te reo me ōna tikanga could be compared to the restoration of poupou (carved panels) in the wharenui of te reo. Guided by knowledge handed down to them, Tā Tīmoti and Tākuta Te Wharehuia carefully bring the faded panels to life, revealing the figures within that will guide new generations of orators as they breathe life into almost forgotten words.

It is fitting that He Kupu Tuku Iho is written entirely in te reo. With its conversational style and personal stories grounding the discussion of core tikanga, the language reaches out even to the learner. Lively discussions between the pair hold the reader’s attention by deftly varying spoken rhythm and subject matter, from the lofty heights of spirituality to earthy humour.

The transcribed words of the authors reflect their voice, cadence, and favoured turns of phrase and expressions leaned upon and brandished for emphasis like tokotoko (walking sticks). This is a written record of an eloquence rarely heard, let alone read.

Tā Tīmoti and Tākuta Te Wharehuia have kept the linguistic fires burning despite passing showers of pessimism about the future of te reo. Now, ka rite ki te kōpara e kō nei i te ata, like the bellbird singing in the morning, te reo rangatira resounds throughout the motu, adorned by vocabulary restored and reintroduced by these kaitiaki reo.

Tā Tīmoti is known for arguing te reo is in better shape than often feared, though he recognises it is changing. Whatever shape those changes finally take, this book preserves the language wielded by these tohunga reo for future speakers, teachers and learners.
Yet this book is a door to far more than language. In chapters on wairua and tapu, Te Wharehuia leads readers through the mist into the world of his childhood, of kēhua (ghosts), tohunga, and a white-feathered guardian morepork that dodges stones thrown by mischievous boys.

And as befits the sharing of such knowledge, there are stern words about treading neither on tikanga nor on the wrong place in an urupā that will echo in readers’ ears long after turning the final page. But on the other side of the kapa (penny), there is warm and helpful advice on how to find the right balance between humour and remembrance when speaking at a tangi.

Complementing Tākuta Te Wharehuia’s kōrero on tikanga, Tā Tīmoti shares his lively but piercing analysis of te reo of yesterday and today. He spots English words dressed in Māori kākahu, and observes the changing flow of the language as it is channelled into the thought patterns of speakers whose first language is English.

Their book sits in a unique space between wānanga and a talk between koroua; between history, current affairs and musings on the future; between autobiography and chronicle. It is informative, never dull, and sometimes hātakēhi (hard case).

As a path in te reo to the pou (pillars) of te ao Māori, this work has few rivals. It is the fruit of two lifetimes of gathering and sharing knowledge. Although the language may challenge some, the rewards of taking this wero and opening the door are many. Ka mau te wehi!

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

He Kupu Tuku Iho: Ko te Reo Māori te Tatau ki te Ao
by Tīmoti Kāretu and Wharehuia Milroy
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408800

Book Review: Maea te Toi Ora Māori health transformations, by Simon Bennett, Mason Durie, Hinemoa Elder, Te Kani Kingi, Mark Lawrence and Rees Tapsel

cv_maori_health_transformationsAvailable in selected bookshops nationwide.

Maea te Toi Ora Māori Health Transformations is an introduction to a framework for thinking about and transforming Māori mental health based on Māori values, and a strong case for the transformative potential of practice guided by this framework. It is a history of the assessment and treatment of mental illness in Aotearoa, and the policy transformations that have arisen from the realisation that a Māori response may be best suited for Māori mental health needs.

Although oriented towards Māori mental health, the text is absorbing for anyone with an interest in mental health, health policy-making, indigenous conceptions of health and treatment models, or the use of case studies in research. Although six authors collaborate in this work, their shared commitment to this framework means the text is a cohesive whole. Some of the authors are architects of this framework, and all are recognised practitioners.

From their respective disciplines, the authors analyse the impact of alienation from and reconciliation with identity on different dimensions of well-being. Some areas are addressed by several authors from their respective disciplinary backgrounds, and this iteration helps to ground concepts unfamiliar to the non-specialist reader.

The text can also be read as a handbook for steering policy change, and provides an insight into the philosophy behind the Whānau Ora policy. One of the authors, Mason Durie, chaired the Whānau Ora taskforce.

Before they illustrate their application of the framework with individual cases, the authors trace the whakapapa of this philosophy grounded in Māori values with its roots in traditional practice. They acknowledge the trailblazing practitioners who have ensured this model’s long-term viability, despite changes in government policy.

Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā, or four cornerstones of wairua (spirit), hinengaro (mind), tinana (body), and whānau, is the conceptual heart of the book and its unifying thread. In this framework, mental illness is not isolated dysfunction, but an imbalance between emotions, relationships, spirituality and body. The ultimate goal is mauri ora –a life force flourishing spiritually, mentally, physically and socially.

An example of a model presented in the text is Hinemoa Elder’s Waka Oranga/ Waka Kuaka, presented in a chapter solely in te reo. Combining metaphors of waka and flocking godwits (kuaka), practitioners and whanau work together towards health goals and provide mutual support to reach the destination: the well-being of patient and whānau. To translate (and paraphrase) some of the principles behind the model: The whole whānau is the patient, mātauranga Māori is a source of remedies, identity is at the heart of well-being, making contact with a person’s roots is medicinal.

These principles recur throughout the text, as does the outcome of healing wounds in the psyche by reconnecting the patient with their identity. This process is nurtured through bonding with the professional, applying the wisdom transmitted through whakataukī (traditional knowledge encapsulated in sayings) and healing rituals. Case studies are the preferred analytical tool and methodological foundation, and ensure the reader does not lose sight of the purpose of this framework: the well-being of people and their communities.

The case studies emphasise positive outcomes and transformative potential. They are either direct adaptations of an individual interaction or the merging of several cases to create an archetypical patient. This knowledge arises from whakawhanaungatanga with the tangata whaiora (identification of common ground between practitioner and patient). Elder even extends the application of case studies to geographical places, incorporating the impact of historical scars on the landscape on the mental health of those who live nearby.

Some make for fascinating reading, such as one case in which mental illness coexisted with deeply held Māori spirituality. In this case, the guiding philosophy described in this text facilitated a treatment able to secure the patient’s well-being without undermining their beliefs.

The authors prefer tangata whaiora, literally “health seeker,” over patient or consumer. However, the authors recognise that the purchasing model of health has enabled Māori providers to flourish and means government can contractually require health providers to incorporate Māori priorities, such as whānau engagement, te reo and tikanga, karakia, rongoā (medicinal herbs and therapies), and access to tohunga or healers.

A central theme is that Māori well-being can be achieved by considering a Māori worldview, which the text broadly conceptualisies as one in which personal identity makes sense beyond the individual. The authors stress that not all Māori have or wish for the same connection with te ao Māori, which is why the text does not advocate for a universal approach for all Māori.

Although the overall tone is optimistic and inspiring, the authors acknowledge the challenges of implementing a Māori framework for Māori mental health. Rees Tapsell speaks of the burden Māori practitioners can bear if they are an institution’s sole source of mātauranga Māori. He recognises the benefits of cultural programmes, but highlights that often only a few knowledgeable staff can implement them. He also warns of treating these programmes solely as a didactic tool rather than a guiding treatment philosophy.

Similarly, Elder meditates on the challenges of meeting legislative provisions to engage whanau, hapū and iwi, and observes that they can only bear fruit if the practitioner has the knowledge and commitment to engage with these groups on their own terms. She poses questions for practitioners that help them understand tangata whaiora and their communities, and her case studies demonstrate the rewards for both practitioner and patient when these provisions are fulfilled in the true spirit of the concepts they invoke.

This text is compelling because it puts its philosophy into practice: it acknowledges history of people and place, it is built on dialogue, and its recommendations are guided by mātauranga and supported by whakataukī. Encouragingly, it shows even timid steps towards biculturalism in service provision can support and empower giant leaps by visionary practitioners towards a more responsive framework for Māori.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Maea te Toi Ora – Māori health transformations
by Simon Bennett, Mason Durie, Hinemoa Elder, Te Kani Kingi, Mark Lawrence and Rees Tapsel
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502975

Book Review: Urban Māori, The Second Great Migration, by Bradford Haami

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_urban_maori.jpgUrban Māori, The Second Great Migration describes how over a short time, many Māori moved from iwi homelands to predominantly Pākehā urban spaces. It also examines the creation of new social structures to create a familiar space in this new environment. Haami’s work is unusual among New Zealand histories not only because it focuses solely on this migration, but also because it grounds each chapter of this history in personal and whānau experiences.

Haami details each phase of the journey from papakāinga (settlements on ancestral lands) to urban areas, the economic and social impact for the migrants, the response of towns and cities to their new residents, and the reaction from government and mana whenua iwi. By illustrating each phase of this move with whānau memories, Haami transforms this history from a faceless, passive response to unstoppable historic forces into a conscious decision in the lives of whānau and individuals. Unlike a more distant approach, these stories also show the long-term outcomes of this decision for individuals and whānau, their descendants and their new communities.

These stories help the reader understand that migrants did not necessarily leave in despair and ruin, although the book recognises a reduced land and resource base and a lack of work were important drivers especially at the early stages. The personal accounts reveal that for many, the departure was a promising and hopeful time, and others were relieved to leave behind oppressive belief and social structures, such as the restrictions of tapu or local kehua (spirits).

Their stories of the towns and cities where they arrived evoke a New Zealand difficult to imagine now. A New Zealand where some Māori learnt English on the factory line, where recent arrivals gathered eels and store Māori delicacies like kānga pirau (fermented corn) and kina in the streams of central Auckland, where the streets were lined not with the million-dollar villas of today, but decrepit relics of the city’s Victorian past.

In the early days of this migration, relatives living in these crumbling houses welcomed new arrivals to the city. While the former poverty of Central Auckland is well-known, the stories of those who lived there are not. Despite the dire conditions, Urban Māori reveals that this area was home to a supportive (if tightly-packed) Māori community, torn apart when these inner-city suburbs were demolished. Their residents made a further migration south to the new suburbs of Ōtara and Māngere, poorly designed and lacking the community of Central Auckland, or State houses where Māori families were “pepper-potted” amongst Pākehā to ensure assimilation, as long as they met Pākehā norms.

The book highlights the strong networks built by each wave of newcomers, from the trailblazers who later helped their relatives to find work and their feet in the city, to later initiatives such as the Māori hostels that recreated a whānau environment for young Māori women and men. The newcomers began to forge familiar spaces in these mostly Pākehā cities, and many well-known leaders rose from their ranks. Even so, the pull of the identities they had left behind, the idea of someday returning home and the lack of a true tūrangawaewae meant a reluctance to symbolically cutting ties with ancestral homelands by gestures such as burial in their new homes. Haami tells of improvised returns to papakāinga, with tūpāpaku (bodies) returning to marae for tangi sat at the back of a bus for lack of any other means of return “back-home”.

Urban Māori traces the emergence of urban interpretations of traditional Māori forms of organisation and socialisation. Haami documents the creation of community and cultural groups, the first discussions about urban marae and their meaning in an urban setting, new expressions of traditional authority structures such as Māori wardens, and new expressions of whānau, including workplaces, neighbourhoods, church groups, political or cultural groups, or even gangs. Through the memories of their founding members, the reader learns how these diverse expressions reflected a search by Māori for a way to live as Māori in a new place.

The book is also a study of the political and economic circumstances that were the dramatic backdrop to individual and whanau experiences, including economic upheaval and shifts in the State’s approach to Māori from paternalism, including housing schemes and trade training to ease the transition into the cities, to the free market and the end of many stable and well-paid local manufacturing jobs. While Urban Māori describes the well-known shock of these reforms and the social devastation that followed, the voices it contains also tell of how whānau were able to recover thanks to the tightening strands of the new support networks they had been weaving.

Neoliberalism also brought devolution of some government functions to Māori, especially iwi. Haami describes how “retribalisation” galvanised nascent urban Māori authorities to ensure urban Māori (who lived away from their iwi and were now the majority of Māori) were not left out of the new economic and power structures being forged. This was the spark for the political awakening of urban Māori and recognition by State and traditional iwi.

By linking historical events with personal and whānau experience, Urban Māori describes not only the rise of these authorities, but the impact of a strong, urban Māori voice on the lives of whānau who had made cities their homes for generations, who no longer knew their iwi or felt alienated when they returned to their grandparents’ papakāinga. It describes how new organisations such as Te Whānau o Waipareira (the West Auckland Urban Māori Authority) cared for those most left behind by the removal of government support structures, providing a path out of the dire circumstances that shocked the country in films and books, but that were otherwise ignored.

This is the strength of a history where individuals and whānau reflect on their own stories: we know the statistics, but now we also learn what it was like to live as one of these statistics, to be welcomed into a new whānau, and to build new lives with this support from what might otherwise merely seem to be a corporate service provider. The book traces the emergence of something new, not an iwi or a corporation, not a cultural centre, but a new expression of the urban fabric, its people and their way of living as Māori. This new voice has also made this new world a more Māori place, since, as Haami’s study shows, much of the bicultural landscape we take for granted today is thanks to the work of urban Māori. These new expressions of Māori community are also absorbing non- Māori and becoming a central part of the wider urban community.

Haami likens the situation of urban Māori to that of the first arrivals to Aotearoa, and the adaption of their customs to a strange new environment, while holding tight to the iti oneone i kapua mai Hawaiki, grain of sand from Hawaiki. Weaving together his study of political and economic context with an understanding of its impact on whānau and individual life paths, Haami maps a path to carry this grain of sand forward, where urban Māori know and connect to their iwi roots, but also to their urban tūrangawaewae, and move forward confident in their urban identity.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Urban Māori, The Second Great Migration
by Bradford Haami
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506285

Book Review: Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation, by Margaret Mutu et al.

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_ngati_kahu.pngThe summit of Rangikāpiti Pā in the Far North town of Mangōnui overlooks the wide expanse of Tokerau Moana (dubbed Doubtless Bay by a quickly convinced Cook) and a vast swathe of Ngāti Kahu’s rohe (territory). Similarly, Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation, sure to become an equally imposing landmark on the northern landscape, is a sweeping overview of this iwi’s physical and emotional topography – its memories and heartaches, struggles and victories.

Just as Ngāti Kahu draws its strength from its many different hapū, so the Portrait is made richer by its wide range of sources. These include irreplaceable oral histories gathered by the project’s historians, documentary evidence of wrongful land purchases, maps, quotations from an extensive bibliography of other works, excerpts from letters, and testimonies presented during the settlement process. Each of these constituent parts come together to trace a remarkable hakapapa of resistance.

True to its title, the Portrait is a nation building exercise. In scope and reach, covering the long haerenga (journey) from distant beginnings to the challenges of the present, it is not unlike Ranginui Walker’s Ka whawhai tonu matou, Struggle without end. Similarly illustrating events with first-hand experience, and steeped in Ngāti Kahu’s understanding of itself and its place in the world, this work is a pou (a marking post), carved with pepehā (identifying sayings) and hakataukī (proverbs), and kōrero o mua (traditions).

This journey cannot be understood without an awareness of the values that have guided and sustained Ngāti Kahu along the way. The Portrait immerses the reader in this iwi’s worldview with a concise yet complete introduction to its stories of origin and to its unique understanding of principles such as mana, tikanga and rangatiratanga.

An aspect of this work I appreciate as a descendent of a northern iwi is its faithful reflection of the spoken language of the North, for example using hakapapa rather than whakapapa. This small choice makes the Portrait a waka huia (a carved box for the huia feather, a prized possession) for our northern language and an expression of our identity for the rest of the motu (nation).

The Portrait does not overlook the heke (rafters) that sustain the roof, the hapū that form Ngāti Kahu. The inhabitants of kāinga (settlements) nestled in valleys or dotted along the coast all have their time on the paepae (speakers bench). With the deep love of place that comes from generations of continuous occupation, stories of back country rivers and hills and the riches within are told, as only those who have kept the ahi kā (home fires) burning for so long can.

However, what of the stories told by others? The Portrait can at times seem dismissive of claims by neighbouring iwi over lands and resources Ngāti Kahu considers its own. However, it also acknowledges the long-standing kinship among the iwi of Muriwhenua before the borders and labels demanded by the settlement process were laid down. It considers these disputes part of a strategy by government to exacerbate and manipulate the minor quarrels that inevitably arise between close neighbours. How these will be resolved remains to be seen, but if other iwi in the North (including my own) replicate this Portrait to make their case, the compilation and the preservation of these stories will make us all the richer.

The Portrait’s collaborators include Margaret Mutu, leader and professor of Māori political practice, history and tikanga at Auckland University. Her influence can be felt not only in the text, but also in her photos of significant sites for the iwi. While these whakaahua (images) are stunning, in conjunction with the text they enable the reader to appreciate the true meaning of these places for the local people. In this way, we learn that the blindingly white sands of Karikari Peninsula are not just inviting beaches, but they are also wāhi tapu – resting places for the kōiwi (remains) of ancestors, we understand why the peaks along the backbone of Ngāti Kahu’s lands are known as Maungataniwha, and we discover that the dense bush on the slopes of these hills is in fact a veritable apothecary of rongoā Māori (Māori medicine).

These are timely reminders of what comes of short-sighted exploitation of these resources. The realm of Tangaroa has been emptied of its bountiful kaimoana – scallops, mussels, and fish; the realm of Tāne can no longer sustain the fat kukupa (kererū) in numbers able to sustain great feasts; and the realm of Tūmatauenga has been cleared of the fruit of human labour, the massive gardens that once fed the North with a rich variety of foods. As one kaumātua ruefully observes: “There were many gardens back in the day, but since the Pākehā came we now have PAK’n’SAVE instead.”

The portrait offers a tangata whenua perspective on the arrival of “our guests from England”. In a tone which would be bemused exasperation if not for the injustices that followed, the Portrait observes the difficulties of the first Pākehā in “living according to the laws of this land”. Despite its dispossession, Ngāti Kahu tells of the arrival of these guests not with anger, but with sadness at how the generous hospitality that was shown to the new arrivals was repaid.

Treaty settlements are generally accompanied by a Deed of Settlement, which sets out an official version of events and of the injustices that are partially remedied. In the absence of an agreed path towards settlement with government, Ngāti Kahu’s Portrait pre-empts this and presents its truth on its own terms. This act of self-determination denounces the failings of the settlement process in Muriwhenua, the flaws of an approach that seeks tidy outcomes within arbitrary deadlines, and the return of divide-and-rule tactics.

This Portrait is more than a testimony to Ngāti Kahu’s tenacious struggle to hold on to its home, it is also a defiant cry of independence, identity and love for the people and land, founded in a deep awareness of the past and hope for the future. It is a rewarding read for anyone with an interest in history, identity, and how memory shapes not only our sense of self, the landscape we live in and the way we imagine our future.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Pāoa, Te Ātiawa)

Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation
by Margaret Mutu, Lloyd Pōpata, Te Kani Williams, Ānahera Herbert-Graves, Reremoana Rēnata, JudyAnn Cooze, Zarrah Pineaha, Tania Thomas, Te Ikanui Kingi-Waiaua
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN  9781775503040