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English-on-line November 24th

English-on-line knows something is going on when Tainui can’t agree among themselves to accept $13m from the Government. We can fairly conclude that while people do fight over money, this must be a fight over something far more important than money.

Tainui’s financial difficulties have been treated to exhaustive coverage by the media, but the real issues have also come to public notice. Tainui people have talked quite openly in the media about the role of the Maori Queen, Dame Te Atairangikaahu, and of Kingitanga within Tainui. To quote one media report from Tainui sources:

“A move to prevent the Maori Queen from sacking Tainui’s ruling executive is being called a direct challenge to her authority and a threat to traditional Maori leadership”.

Sir Robert Mahuta said himself his ousting is an attack on the Maori Queen.

Sir Robert is no slouch. He is the adopted son of the 5th Maori King Koroki (1933-66), who was the father of Dame Te Atairangikaahu. He served in the army, got an MA and did post-grad anthropology at Oxford. He is, as he says, working with a system which is neither autocracy nor democracy.

Right now the whole imbroglio seems to be primarily in the hands of the Courts.

Why this argument matters so much can be seen in the history the Kingitanga movement has written about itself. In 1958 King Koroki published a History of the King Movement which was written by Dr Maharaia Winiata. It describes the origin of the movement in practical terms.

Some chiefs who visited England were greatly impressed by the British monarchy and brought the idea home. Eventually Matene Te Whiwhi of Ngati Raukawa took up the initiative.

“With great foresight Te Whiwhi saw that the chaos and disorder in the Maori communities created by the coming of the pakeha would continue without the help of a central figure to which some form of common loyalty could be expressed and from which a strong lead can come.”

Paramount chiefs in turn refused the honour and sought to have others made King. The process of selecting the first King Potatau reveals the full refinement and richness of Maori tikanga as a path of diplomacy. It far surpassed the general standards of diplomacy in Europe at that time.

The expectations of the King’s role in 1858 were clear from the records of the discussion at the time.

“The Governor does not stop fights and murders among us. A King will be able to do that. Let us have order so that we may grow as the pakehas grow. Why should we disappear from the country?”

By 1958 the role had greatly changed -

“.. the fundamental function of the Maori King in New Zealand society is not constitutional and political. ... but it is rather social and cultural. King Koroki stands as the embodiment of Maori ideals and cultural values, qualities like hospitality, generosity, consideration, etc. He is a focus of the social values that constitute Maori aristocracy and his existence tends to underline the significance of such. Koroki’s leadership is not one of active participation in political and other movements but it is rather one of symbolism – a symbol of the past glories of the Maori people - that reminds them of their heritage and status in the modern world, and that guarantees the conservation of those values for the country as a whole. There is a similarity between this idea and the position held by Queen Elizabeth, and a symbol of the unity of the British peoples for though she reigns she does not govern things in a world too prone to evaluate events purely in economic terms.”

Elsewhere the King Movement is described as Mauri o te Maoritanga, a bulwark for Maori ideal and values.

These are the words of the Movement itself. So the King, or Queen has a position of enormous mana. Mana which would undoubtedly be undermined if he or she was drawn into the business of governance. That leaves a role for someone to do the doing, the fighter of wars, the financier, and the political operator. Sir Robert Mahuta appears to have that role, as Princess Te Puea did. A close relative of the Maori monarch seems to deal with the routine affairs of the tribe and movement and handle the rough and tumble at times of tension. There are other roles too including a King maker position.

The King Movement and Tainui have been subject to political tension before, particularly in the 1920’s . Michael King’s book on Te Puea shows her role as the “doer” when many Maori turned away from the current Maori leadership and Members of Parliament to Ratana, partly out of frustration that the leadership was not delivering, a dissatisfaction not dissimilar to that expressed among Tainui now. Te Puea made an alliance with Eastern Maori MP Sir Apirana Ngata for example to contain the Ratana movement.

That tension is evident again this week. On Wednesday morning a Tainui woman, Angela Grensell, spoke on National radio about the modern expression of this internal tension between the Kingitanga and the people. She said the Tainui Trust Board at the time of the Treaty settlement required all those who wanted to share in its benefits to sign a pledge of loyalty to Kingitanga. She refused to.

The Maori Queen is also the paramount chief of Tainui, and so she appears to be inescapably caught up in Tainui matters in that capacity. However the idea of taking the Queen to court is indeed startling. Tainui are like two people wrestling on the edge of a cliff and occasionally they almost go over the edge. No wonder feelings are high and $13m doesn’t look quite so important.

The public battle then appears to be about the council contesting the role of Sir Robert Mahuta rather than the role of the Queen. It’s a struggle to be the courtier rather than the monarch.

And the role of the Government seems just as confused. On Wednesday Sir Robert’s daughter revealed that Margaret Wilson had taken his advice in not advancing the $13m payment. Ms Wilson denied taking any role in the internal politics of Tainui. However her action did add to the talk in Maoridom that Labour ministers and Maori MP’s in particular have a tendency to take positions in tribal politics.

Upton-on-line suggested on 3 November that Margaret Wilson is perhaps none other than that dreaded classical personage, the Sibyl. English-on-line as a mere mortal concurs with this lucid and learned pronouncement from Apollo-on-Line. It seems that on this occasion, however, the Sibyl spoke clearly on behalf of one of the parties in contention.

Or was the only too-well publicised refusal to hand over the $13m just racial politics, reassuring the pakeha electorate that the Government is willing and able to be tough with Maori?

English-on-line has observed another trend in the way Labour deals with difficult Maori issues. Helen Clark seems to have a good grip of the concept of whakamä, or shame. Dover Samuels went down as soon as he looked like he might be a problem. She ensured that Tariana Turia apologised not once but twice.

Under only a bit of pressure on the “Closing the Gaps” policy, the Prime Minister announces that Maori are no longer the priority. For one so committed to Maori this demonstrates a remarkable reluctance to publicly support Maori when there is any political pressure on. Sandra Lee showed she at least was not going to put up with it, deliberately provoking the Prime Minister with a rocket attack of “H” words. The Prime Minister simply avoided the confrontation this time. In that respect she showed a fitting sense of whakamä, if not plain prudence.

It would pay the Prime Minister to remember how her spiritual predecessor Peter Fraser offended the King movement. In 1949 Labour presumed to unilaterally lift the dry-zone on liquor sales in the King Country. King Koroki considered the dry-zone was a condition the Kingitanga movement had won from the New Zealand Government in the 1880s in return for opening up the King Country. Dr Michael King notes that ministers’ statements from 1884 seem to confirm that New Zealand government accepted there was a pact (see Te Puea:-A Biography p 253).

The Fraser government quite sensibly lifted the dry-zone and it may have made sense to withhold the $13m whatever side of the argument the Government is on. However, treating the movement or Tainui without respect is bound to lead to trouble


A Cultural Oxymoron – Gore and Global Arts

English-on-line had the opportunity to open an exhibition last Friday evening of paintings by Barrie Cooke. I had only heard of his friends, Ted Hughes the late poet laureate and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, the latter of whom has written with real passion about Cooke’s work. So he’s a bit global, but he’s also vernacular and very “local”. Cooke is an Irishman, who has fished and painted on the West Coast and eastern Southland for a few months, just as he does in Co Clare Ireland.

Now if he was an Irish architect with the same famous friends, painting street scenes in Wellington it certainly would be culture. But Gore - a fisherman painting Southland rivers and exhibiting in Gore?

The Big Culture money has gone to the big organisations in Auckland and Wellington. And what goes with that is a kind of wildlife park notion of New Zealand culture – put our arts and our artists behind a high fence and protect them from malign influences like business and global culture. Dr Michael D. Higgins, the former Irish Arts Minister, articulated this view eloquently to adoring, some might say fawning, audiences in Wellington last year. Dr Higgins' own electorate of Galway contains a considerable wildlife sanctuary for the Gaelic language, welfare funded Bantustan known as the Gaeltacht.

Well in Gore we see it differently – we can learn more about ourselves through dialogue with other cultures and influences, than by pursuing New Zealand's fundamentalism. We aren’t Luxembourg in the middle of 250 million people, we are an island at the end of the world, which can’t rely on passing traffic.

The Cooke exhibition is the last in the Eastern Southland Art Gallery before its major transformation into the Dr John Money Museum of Art. Over 2001 they will build a new wing to house a personal art collection donated to the Gallery by Dr John Money. He is an expatriate New Zealander born in Morrinsville who has lived in the USA for 50 years. Readers may recall controversy over Money’s professional views as a psychiatrist on people born with indeterminate gender. He appears also in Michael King’s biography of Janet Frame Wrestling with the Angel as the psychologist who treated her. Now an Emeritus Professor at John Hopkins University, he has donated a collection of New Zealand paintings and indigenous African works of art to The Eastern Southland Gallery. Dr Money visited the Gallery in 1999 with his friends, Ralph Hotere and Michael King, to announce the gift.

Earlier attempts to return the collection to New Zealand had failed 11 years ago over cultural fundamentalism – no-one wanted the African bits. So Jim Geddes the curator said he’d take the lot. Now in Gore we will have paintings by Theo Schoon, an Indonesian born Dutchman who painted Ngai Tahu people and culture in the South, Rita Angus paintings, carved wooden African art, Arnhem aboriginal art and works by Lowell Nesbitt who was among many other things the official artist of the Apollo XIII expedition. The art gallery in Gore is an Edwardian brick rotunda funded by Thomas Carnegie, the Bill Gates of the early 20th century. The new wing will accommodate Dr Money’s life-long reflection of what the encounter with indigenous peoples means to him and his life's work.

It’s not as if Gore or Jim Geddes has ignored local culture. This is after all the home of the Gold Guitars and the capital of country music. We recently opened the Hokonui Heritage Museum, an institution in the best tradition of social history capturing the original story of Hokonui whiskey and of the Prohibition through the eyes of characters who lived in the area.

New Zealand is slowly coming to terms with a new relationship to the global economy. In a small regional town of Gore, the arts community, lead by Jim Geddes, have found their way of relating to global cultures.


Hard Economics

The aggregate net worth of New Zealand households stands at $206 billion, some $3.4 billion less than one year ago according to the WestpacTrust Savings Indicator. Net Worth has now declined for five of the last six quarters due to falling house prices and rising debt levels. English-on-line thinks that falling house prices, combined with rising prices and the prospect of increasing interest rates, will dampen the kiwi spirit for a while yet. Will trickle down economics work - where enough farmers get rich enough that it spills onto the streets of West Auckland? Until it does, household net worth will continue to decline.


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