Thursday, April 27, 2006

Tom Hutchins: Nationhood a gradual process

Maori academic Danny Keenan claims that Maori participation in two World Wars saw "their own demise as a nation".

He spreads the myth that Maori were indeed a nation. In any accepted meaning of the term "nation", they were not a nation.

Their tribes had no central controlling political structure or power, they shared no common territory, and had no shared name for the territory they occupied in these islands.

Each tribe had its own fiercely defended territory.

They were often at war over territory and women ("the causes of war are land and women" was a common saying), and there was no commonly recognised higher authority which could be called "national" in pre-European times.

That a nation in any meaningful sense did not exist is shown by the fact that more than 520 separate chiefs had to sign the Treaty of Waitangi - no one chief could sign for anyone else but his own iwi or hapu.

The Crown signed, not with just "One Equal Partner", as often wrongly claimed by activists.

It signed, over several weeks, with several hundred independent tribal groups.

Legally, each tribe had one partner, the Crown. The Crown had about 528 partners.

Maori political structure before European settlement was a form of local government with strictly limited and often aggressively fought-over local areas. There wasn't even a single accepted name for these islands.

It is a myth, propagated by Maori and uncritical Pakeha academics, bureaucrats, churchmen and teachers, that Aotearoa is the original and authentic Maori name for New Zealand.

Why does it not appear in the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, and the 1835 Declaration of the Confederated Tribes signed by a few Northern tribes?

Both documents use Niu Tireni, the Maori transliteration of New Zealand - because there was no overall single Maori name for this land. Aotearoa is a fairly recent, trendy adoption almost unknown when the Treaty was signed.

In his seminal work, The Coming of the Maori, Sir Peter Buck has only one reference to Aotearoa - as the arrival point for the Tokomaru canoe. But he has 38 references to Hawaiiki.

He makes no claim to Aotearoa being the accepted traditional name for our land.

It was adopted by early romantically minded European ethnologists, and was given false sanction by the School Journal in 1916, its original meaning Land of the Long Twilight being candied over into Land of the Long White Cloud.

Most Pacific islands have white clouds over them - what impressed the Polynesians coming to these southerly latitudes were the long twilights.

As for "forging a nation" in the land wars, Danny Keenan forgets that, although some large and important tribes took armed resistance, they were not joined by a big majority of tribes who had signed the Treaty.

The real beginnings of forging a new nation are in Article Three of the Treaty of Waitangi.

It is often ignored by Maori activists, for obvious reasons. It states that Maori are given all the same rights and privileges, duties and obligations as the people of England - that is, by accepting the Treaty they became subjects of the British Crown. Those "nga tikanga katoa" (a strongly normative concept of prescribed and proscribed behaviours) soon developed into political representation and participation in our evolving democratic system, as a means of achieving final corrections for injustices of colonial times, and for sharing in a New Zealand nationhood that brings increasing satisfaction to our varied population and a sense of valued identity internationally.

* Tom Hutchins is a retired university teacher.

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