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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Thinking about the Maori wars

December 2nd, 2012 · 4 Comments · History, Politics

Now that we’re back in Kaaawa, I have to admit my ignorance about New Zealand’s history.

On Friday (Thursday in Hawaii), we walked to Auckland’s War Memorial Museum, which stands in the middle of a large park on a hill near the University of Auckland. We missed the proper paved walkway leading up through the park, and instead ended up on a network of small trails. Using maps on my iPhone, we managed to keep going in the right direction until finally meeting up with the main part of the park and the final walk to the museum.

And what a fine museum it is, featuring exhibits on all aspects of New Zealand and the Pacific. We wandered around for several hours, and would need several more days to do it right.

This is where I have to admit that I entered New Zealand knowing little about its history, which in important respects parallels Hawaii’s experience. Both were “discovered” during voyages of Captain James Cook, both destinations for missionaries, both with native populations decimated by measles and other introduced diseases.

But it was the decades of inter-tribal warfare, and armed resistance to the influx of settlers, that caught my attention.

In Hawaii, for good or ill, Kamehameha was able to crush internal resistance and establish a central government relatively early in the process. In New Zealand, it looks like local groups retained much more autonomy, and fought each other as well as the westerners.

What I’m wondering is how New Zealand’s history of the long Maori wars has shaped its modern society and politics, and in what respects modern Hawaii differs because we went through a different kind of evolution without that extended period of warfare.

Any suggestions for appropriate readings would be much appreciated.

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  • inoaole

    have you read Isaac Walker’s Waves of Resistance or Ty Tengan’s Native Men Remade? They both do analysis of how the “warrior” persona was articulated in the colonial Maori setting and how it has been adopted utilized in Hawai’i among some Hawaiians. Walker also quotes your dad somewhere in the middle of his book on another topic.

  • maunawilimac

    On your return flight last night on Air NZ there were returning members of a three-week cultural exchange program between Native Hawaiians from Molokai and the Maoris that included a side-trip to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. My daughter-in-law Malia (a Cathcart decendent), her husband and kids were aboard.

  • Russ Lynch

    You must have come across references to the Waitangi Tribunal and the $1 billion or so in lands, goods and rights that have been handed back to the Maori since the mid-1970s in settlement for violations of the 1840 treaty. Worth some study I’m sure — admitting that the pakeha (haole) stole the land was a big step. All this happened after this Kiwi left New Zealand so my knowledge is limited. Makes for good reading in the news though.

  • compare and decide

    Comparing New Zealand and Hawaii’s colonial history would seem to be an extremely messy business.

    One note: The Maori apparently allied themselves with the British when the French began to colonize the area. Perhaps, without the political centralization brought by Kamehameha, various chiefs would have allied themselves with different Western powers (or a rising Japan).

    Here’s different question in regard to these colonial histories: How do they contribute or detract from a spirit of creativity in contemporary New Zealand or Hawaii?

    I understand that there is a sociological body of work that profiles those who are creative as opposed to those who are innovators. Innovators tend to be from elites, either affluent or educated, and they adapt to change readily. (For instance, birth control is distributed to help the lower classes keep their families to a manageable size, but it has been adopted instead more readily by the educated and the rich.) In contrast, creative types tend to be immigrants, and somewhat eccentric, and the rules of the surrounding society remain the rules of strangers to some degree for them. The US has always been the land of immigrants, and in urban areas in particular these immigrants can find the freedom to create.

    First, how does New Zealand fit these profiles?

    New Zealand is roughly 78% “white”. There is a strong link with the British Isles because of that. Australia and New Zealand are very Anglo-centric, even today. One gets a sense that they are always trying to negotiate a way between being English and being so far from England. Canadians are like that, too, in a way (although their greatest battle is dealing with the American influence). In contrast, denizens of the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands off of Argentina are really, really pro-Anglo and are in denial about their location. Americans are at the other end of the spectrum, in denial of their British origins (even though their form of government and ideology are 95% derived from that of the British).

    What about Hawaii?

    Hawaii is around 25% white. Moreover, many of the whites who move to Hawaii are from southern California. (I once heard about two-thirds of mainland in-migrants to Hawaii were Californians, and two-thirds of them were southern Californians.) So that’s a six-hour plane flight to another sunny, coastal society. That’s not a totally radical dislocation. Moreover, a lot of those “Californians” are rootless wanderers (much like Barack Obama’s family). Ironically, it’s the most rootless and restless wanderers from an American society — which is perhaps the most rootless society in the world — who wander on over to Hawaii … only to encounter perhaps one of the most rooted societies in the US. Those kind of wanderers generally don’t experience real anxiety being a fish out of water. If they long for a ‘home’ (the way Barack Obama did once), they simply move back to the mainland (in Obama’s case, he moved to Chicago, where his family originated from, in order to rediscover his roots). More complicated might be Pierre Omidyar, a French-born Iranian who lived and lives on and off in Hawaii. (Perhaps Obama and Omidyar fit both profiles, that of classic well-educated innovative adapters, as well as potentially creative outsiders.)

    In sum:

    At first New Zealand would not seem to fit the profile of a creative or innovative society: isolated, provincial, agricultural, and more suburban than high-density urban. On the surface, it seems like a rather orderly, 1950s-style society (where what passes for “graffiti” are pre-made stickers that read “This normality is madness”). But it’s generally a well-educated society, and it’s also an out-of-place society, an Anglo culture in the cold regions of Polynesia. In contrast, Hawaii does not seem like a highly educated society. And, as it has been noted by one local writer, Hawaii is not ‘paradise’ for those who live here; rather, it’s home. It’s a very comfortable and comfort-oriented place. But discomfort is the mother of invention.

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