Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Kia Kaha

This picture comes from "The Story of new Zealand" by Arthur S Thompson. Published London 1859.

Now of course it is impossible to know exactly what was going on in the cultures and individual minds that Europeans came into contact with in the early days - it's hard enough to grapple with what was going on with the Europeans themselves.

However the picture here reveals some elements of how the Maori were so successful in the early days when dealing with Europeans. Before I get into the picture itself, here are a few things to keep in mind:

When Cook on his first Pacific voyage traded and exchanged gifts with Maori, among the things traded were iron nails. Maori at the time had no knowledge of any metals, but when the expedition returned, they traded back some of these nails which had been reworked into such things as fish hooks, chisels etc. Cook noted the contrast with the Australian aborigines, who, when he left cloth, mirrors and pieces of iron for them up in Queensland, he found upon his return that they had been poked at but left alone. All during that journey up the East coast, Aborigines watched their progress, but more often than not made little or no effort to make contact - a stark contrast to Maori.

That pattern more or less continued until about 20-30 years of first contact for each Australian tribal group. Aborigines for the most part seemed happy to let the Europeans come, but didn't really want a bar of them or their goods. There are probably many reasons for this, among them: They were thought to be spirits; They had been living in Australia for thousands of years and were doing fine thanks; The nomadic tribes among them didn't want encumbrances; they were bad for your health. It's after the first few decades when you see the fighting emerge as more Europeans arrived and started encroaching on the aboriginal land and lifestyle. There was rarely any understanding between the two races - even at a personal one-to-one level.

Maori had right from the beginning an interest in Europeans and how they could be used to better their lives and status among other Maori. They integrated European technology into their own culture. They also travelled widely on European ships and visited Europe and her colonies in larger numbers than what people probably realise.

This allowed them to make predictions on European behaviour: For example a Maori visiting Calcutta with Peter Dillon in the 1820s commented on the British colonists and their Indian servants, saying that the Maori fate may well be the same. It didn't quite pan out that way, though obviously he and others were conducting their own politico/cultural/anthropolical studies on Europeans.

Maori also set up timber and flax trading, started ship building along European designs and used these to hunt whales and seals in the European manner, as learned when acting as crew. It also got them retail prices. The impounding of an NZ-built ship (for having no registration) in Sydney in 1829-1830 was one of the catalysts for the creation of the confederated tribes and creation of a national flag in 1834 and the Declaration of independence in 1835. Maori were also land cultivators and had a strong conception of territory and land ownership (albeit at a group, not private level), which was vigourously fought for amongst themselves and often collectively defended from foreigners.

Europeans could work with this - they had much in common. As for the British cultural state of mind, when New South Wales was annexed in the late 1700s, there was internal opposition and an uneasiness of concience about it (as discussed in my previous post). However, needs must - the prisons and hulk on the Thames and around the Southern coasts were full to bursting, there was little money in the coffers due to wars with France, America, Holland, Denmark, Spain (allied with France), etc, etc around the globe. Things weren't going so well either in Scotland and Ireland. Raw materials were at an all-time low, with ship-building materials in Britain all but cut down. So they took Australia before the French did (La Perouse, although not on a mission of colonisation, arrived in Botany Bay days after Britain's first fleet in 1788. They may well have planned to at least raise the flag and claim annexation).

By the 19th century, Britain had no taste for the colonisation of New Zealand, with successive New South Wales governors refusing to countenance the idea of extending their area of authority. The British government only came around to the idea after a multitude of factors decided it in 1840. In the end, it was either them or someone else, and that was what forced their hand (not a moment too soon - the French at that moment had a small fleet on their way to claim the South Island).

Anyway - back to the picture. The war party is performing a haka, though instead of taiaha they're armed with muskets. The great thing about this is that a taiaha is about the same size and weight as a musket, which in battle can be used in exactly the same way in hand to hand combat once the at close quarters. Muskets took an age to load and were not very accurate so were only really any good when firing at a tight group of people, as European armies did when arranged in ranks. The Maori generally when in open battle let off a volley before engaging from several directions to fight at close quarters. This was one of many methods which gave them the advantage in battle over the British during the first decade or so of the Land Wars during the middle of the century (the Americans worked similarly to great advantage during the war of independence).

The Maori were well-practiced at hand to hand combat where the British forces were not. In fact until the second decade of the 19th century there were no real British military manuals on hand to hand fighting. The ones that did appear were ridiculed by experienced campaigners. This, combined with their experience gained in fighting each other during the 1820s and 30s led to strong victories for Maori campaigns against the British. As usual, it took a while before the Brits got their act together. Although Maori won most of the battles and sucessfully defended their pas, in the end it was the attrition of numbers which saw the British win these wars.

However, the Maori Iwi still have a great deal of strength and influence in New Zealand. Far greater than that of the natives of the Americas or Australia. Kia kaha.

1 comment:

Karlos said...

Hi Gavin,

The macron broke the Iwi link, try this...

Maori Iwi