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Rankin: Conquest and Trauma in our Archipelago

Keith Rankin: Conquest and Trauma in our Archipelago

Keith Rankin's Thursday Column

Conquest and Trauma in our Archipelago

7 September 2000

Tariana Turia's controversial comments about Maori being victims of "post-colonial traumatic stress disorder" and her analogy between the holocaust and the fate of Taranaki Maori raise a number of issues and deserve to be taken seriously.

Problems today relating to domestic violence, child abuse, mental illness and pregnancy outside of a stable relationship are all overrepresented among Maori. Low socioeconomic status is not enough of an explanation. Further, such an explanation begs the question of why Maori should be economically disadvantaged.

Before considering The Associate Minister of Maori Affairs' psychological theory, it is necessary to put her views on Aotearoa history into perspective.

The years 1820-1840 were years of genocide, ethnic cleansing and conquest in our archipelago. The best known culprits were Ngati Toa (led, from Kawhia, by Te Rauparaha) and Te Atiawa (Taranaki). Their victims were the indigenous iwi of the coastal areas from Manawatu to Wellington to Banks Peninsula (especially the Horowhenua iwi, Muaupoko) and of the Chatham Islands (Moriori). Pakeha were unwitting accessories to these conquests, supplying guns and ships.

In another important but little known episode, Taranaki women and children committed mass suicide by jumping from the steep cliffs of Pukerangiora (Waitara) in 1831, 30 years before that site became a battleground in the Taranaki Wars of the early 1860s. Defeated by the Waikato iwi, the Taranaki women faced a choice between death and slavery. They chose death.

Pukerangiora probably doesn't qualify as a holocaust. There are parallels with 'The Holocaust' though. The Jewish survivors of the Nazis responded by annexing Palestine, someone else's turangawaewae. Likewise Taranaki Maori. Having migrated to Horowhenua and found themselves in conflict with another group of immigrants (Te Rauparaha's blood allies, Ngati Raukawa), Te Atiawa looked further afield.

The Te Atiawa conquest of the Chatham Islands in 1835 proved to be every bit a holocaust to the Moriori tangata whenua. The Chathams annexation was pure conquest and genocide for the purpose of colonisation. Te Atiawa even used the pakeha court system to formally legitimate their conquest.

The British colonisation of New Zealand was quite different to the Taranaki conquest of the Chathams. Globalisation had begun with Magellan over 300 years before. Eventually our archipelago would be drawn in. The process could have been much more traumatic than it turned out to be. Indeed, as James Belich points out, even as late as the 1860s, the 'kupapa' ("friendly") Maori thought that the British and the settler militias were supporting them in their wars.

The reality was that the British colonisation of New Zealand was a process of settlement by a more numerous people - a settlement for the most part not opposed by Maori - and not a process of conquest. Furthermore, the fellow traveller of colonisation - disease - affected Maori less than almost all other peoples not previously exposed to the microbes of Europe, Asia or Africa.

It is true that pakeha settlers brought with them a version of Darwinism that seems crude to us today. Not understanding that it was the relative lack of immunity to disease that led to the decimation of indigenous peoples, Europeans tended to see what was happening as a superior "race" having selective advantages over "primitive" peoples. (Europeans chose to ignore their own argument when it became obvious that African slaves had a greater immunity to disease than Europeans.)

The neglect of a people who were seen as losers in the schema of human evolution is not a holocaust, is not genocide. Nevertheless, the numerical majority tends to determine the dominant political culture. Maori have been expected to adapt to an alien British culture, a culture that emphasises individual over collective responsibility; a culture that regulates through exit rather than through voice.

So Tariana Turia's main point is valid, and important. Pity then about the references to Maori as victims of holocaust and conquest.

The high rates of Maori child abuse, domestic violence, self abuse, mental illness, unplanned pregnancy etc. are a consequence of what might be called 'cultural colonisation'. There is real anger, real trauma out there in many Maori families.

We need to listen to Maori anger, rather than patronise it. Pakeha culture does impose poverty traps, and sets contradictory expectations. We expect men to be providers, but run the economy in such a way as to deny many the opportunity to contribute other than through paid work. We make individuals accountable for social problems. We try to 'solve' problems by removing the individuals deemed guilty of causing them. One way or another, we separate many Maori fathers from their children while pretending they are still responsible for their children when they pay Child Support levies not to the mothers or the children but to the government. We push them into crimes - like burglary or cannabis dealing - as the only way to get out of their debt-exacerbated poverty traps. And when the violence continues unabated, we respond by trying harder to root out even greater numbers of guilty individuals.

The individualisation of social problems affects pakeha too. But pakeha better understand and adapt to the rules of individualism and exit. Pakeha created that kind of value system. Exited pakeha tend to move on, and start new lives.

Just as the pakeha culture embraced a form of two-faced Darwinism, it also expresses double standards with respect to voice. When women commit crimes of violence, there are always excuses voiced. When men commit such crimes, there is never an excuse. The man has simply made a choice. We don't want to know about his anger. He must simply suppress his anger.

This all makes the present situation very interesting. The most recent appalling acts of violence on children have been committed by Maori women. We still blame the men though, preferring to hark back to James Whakaruru who, unlike most victims of child abuse, was abused by his natural father. We seem unable to understand that the exit of angry fathers creates spaces in children's and mothers' lives that will be filled by angry boyfriends, girlfriends, uncles, aunties, grandparents and step-parents.

Ms Turia's strategy is to treat Maori men and Maori women the same. Both are presented as victims as well as perpetrators of violence. She's absolutely right. The problem won't go away if we deny Maori women voice by making them accountable in the 'no excuses' way we make men accountable. Of course she's not excusing Maori domestic violence. Nevertheless, in her own way, she is trying to give Maori - all Maori - voice. There are deep-seated social, economic and historical traumas that lie behind Maori behaviour today.

Taranaki Maori abandoned the Chatham Islands in the late 1860s, although they did not give up their imperial rights of conquest. Te Atiawa consolidated in the 1870s in their homeland, at Parihaka. They adopted passive resistance to pakeha appropriation of their Taranaki lands. And they adopted the Moriori 'white feather' emblem. Indeed they continued to use the Chathams as an economic resource, even using pacifism to intimidate the islands' now mainly pakeha population, a situation that Michael King describes as "redolent with irony". The most important lesson though, is that a violent and traumatised group of Maori changed in a comparatively short time, when living at Parihaka under conditions of inclusiveness and collective responsibility.

The stories of colonisation and conquest in these islands have no goodies and baddies. Tariana Turia is wrong to give the impression that Maori do bad things because wicked pakeha conquered beneficent Maori. But she is right to note that Maori today live in an alien social environment; in a society whose expectations reduce to a kind of multi-choice test in which all of the answers are wrong. We know the anger is there because violence towards children cannot take place without some deep-seated anger. A willingness to listen to and acknowledge such anger is not the same as justifying it. We cannot ignore child abuse. Nevertheless anger cannot be defused if we do not even try to understand its social origins.

We - Maori and pakeha - are social beings, who need to contribute to the creation of something of social value. The answers lie in the economy, but outside the market economy.

© 2000 Keith Rankin

Thursday Column Archive (2000):

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