new zealand electronic poetry centre

 

Murray Edmond


essays
[Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, footnotes]

    

THEN IT WAS NOW AGAIN:
NEW ZEALAND POETRIES AND COLONIAL HISTORIES


continued

 

Playwright, poet, short story writer, and actor Apirana Taylor recognised the similarity of these two bloody, rambling, intense, fragmented conflicts when he took Bertolt Brecht's play Mother Courage, which is set in the Thirty Years War and turned it into a play, 'Whaea Kairau', which was first performed at Taki Rua Theatre in Wellington in 1995. Whaea Kairau, the name of the central, Mother Courage character, who is a Pakeha woman, has been translated into English as 'Mother Hundred-Eater,' although 'whaea' is the word for 'mother' or 'aunt' and 'kairau' is normally the word for 'prostitute'.

'Whaea Kairau' contains a character called Black Jack. In Scene 10 Black Jack appears in 'a demented lunatic looking state' seated at the foot of a road sign which gives the distance to a number of well-known sites of nineteenth century battles and twentieth century protests ('Bastion Point 5 miles, Orakau 150 k, Rangiriri 26 miles' and so on). Chained to the sign is the dead body of the Reverend Walmsly 'his eyes have been gouged out' and a placard with a quotation from the book of Proverbs, written in the Reverend's own blood, hangs from his neck. As Whaea Kairau and her daughter Puawai approach the crazed Black Jack, he speaks in a strange speech, a kind of 'blind and blinding' language:

Uuuuiiiiiiieeee Ihu Ihu Ihu Karaiti pai. Aroha sailing boat hiii hau hau big sail boat horse gun pu pu pu puhia puhia puhia white ma ma house whare God toto mangai toto to to hau hau haaaa haaaa haaa haaa drinkdrink drinkdrink church. (33)

This is an amalgam of Maori and English: words such as 'pai' meaning 'good' or 'aroha' meaning 'love' are Maori, whereas others are common transliterations from English into Maori such as 'Ihu Karaiti' for 'Jesus Christ'. What we hear is the voice of a man being torn in half by language, which accurately represents the compromised position Black Jack occupies in the play. Taylor precisely mines Black Jack's words from specific sources: Christianity, European technology, war and the new Maori religion of the mid 1860s, Pai Marire, which arose in Taranaki and was commonly known among Pakeha as 'Hauhau' (after 'hau' for 'wind' or 'breath', as in the inspirational wind of the angels Gabriel and Michael). For Black Jack his Maori world and the new Pakeha world have collapsed in a heap of words. As Hyde had shown through the eyes and voice of Heaphy, the end point of this conflict would aim to be, from the Pakeha side, 'To tell the cities there was no such world' that there was only one world and not two, one language and not two.

By the end of the 1850s Heaphy had become 'an enthusiastic propagandist in favour of the war in Taranaki.' Taranaki was where the first fighting of the 1860s began and continued right through the decade. Heaphy surveyed the military road into the Waikato, which precipitated the fighting in that region, fought as an irregular in the Waikato War of 1863 - 1864 and, when the fighting stopped and the confiscations began, Heaphy surveyed the confiscated Waikato land and laid out the town of Hamilton, where I grew up. He was still looking for that big break, and 'after some agitation on his part' about an act of bravery in 1864, he was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1867. This was 'the high point of his career . . . but within two years he was privately expressing disappointment with his life in New Zealand, regretting that he had not tried one of the larger emigration fields'. Heaphy's career traces the typical 'quick buck' dream shared by early colonists and recent New Rightists alike and this dream's most typical outcome. Perhaps he deserves the fate that has come to rest on him, that this propagandist for war in Taranaki is now best remembered for his 'unforgettable, distinctly impressionistic [painting] "Mt Egmont [Taranaki], from the southward"', which he painted on his first visit in 1840, and which has 'become in a sense a national icon'.(34)

New Zealand's 'Thirty Years War' disappeared from view, and from memory for most Pakeha, for a long time: 'The children played old-world soldiers at Waterloo, not Rangiriri, and new-world soldiers at the Wagon Box, not Ngatapa'. (35) Keith Sinclair, poet and historian, who wrote The Origins of the Maori Wars (1957) and the first modern History of New Zealand (1959) highlighted this state of affairs a hundred years after the Taranaki War in a poem he published in 1962:

Visiting North Carolina
And hearing the Civil War fought again,
Defeats revised, victories unwon,
At cocktail parties, by academic men,
'I cannot understand,' I said,
'This picking of buried scars.
One rarely hears, at home,
Of the Maori wars, fought in the same years.'
'Ah! But you won" they said. (36)

But, in the 1980s, the accepted truth of the last line of this poem began to be questioned by and for Pakeha. James Belich's 1986 military history of the wars, The New Zealand Wars, raised plenty of doubts as to whether Pakeha could claim to have won the fighting at all. Rap artist Dean Hapeta and his group Upper Hutt Posse packed the new knowledge into the lyrics of 'E Tu' (1990) as a call to continue the struggle in the present:

Cos Titokowaru him too smart you see, guerilla warfare, huh, Maaori
The British raided the pa, they thought it would be a victory
But Kawiti had fooled the enemy
The British raided the pa, yeah, but they got shot down
Cos Kawiti had a plan and it was sound

E tu, stand proud, kia kaha, say it loud
(37)

What was clear was that the Pakeha won the peace, by means of land confiscations and a massive wave of immigration in the 1870s. In 1985 Koro Wetere, the Minister for Maori Affairs in the fourth Labour Government succeeded in having legislation passed which gave the Waitangi Tribunal, under the Treaty of Waitangi Act, 'retrospective jurisdiction back to the signing of the Treaty in 1840'. (38) This legislation allowed numerous claims from Maori, which had been unceasingly pressed since the wars, to be heard at last. This process, which is still in progress, brought into the open, for Pakeha, the extent of widespread grievance within the Maori community. The 'news' about the wars became subject of a television series in 1998, with historian Belich as frontperson, and the impact on the wide cross section of the population which television reaches was immediate letters and faxes of outrage and delight from opposite sides. The past was back.

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Last updated 10 July, 2001