A university professor of English denounces our wicked ways — as he sees them! 

Māori colonised a country inhabited only by birds.’ –Professor Jacob Edmond

By Bruce Moon

In Stuff for 16 July 2022, Jacob Edmond, a professor of English at the University of Otago, wrote an “Opinion Piece”.  In it, he says:

“mainly Pākehā writers and scholars speak out against what they claim is the inappropriate use of such words as ‘racism, ‘colonisation’ and ‘science’, [reflecting] a common fear: the fear of confronting the complexities and uncomfortable truths of this land, of coming to terms with their position as Pākehā in Aotearoa  … and their failure to confront the difficult history of colonial settler society [which] are Pākehā problems.”

Well, well, well!  Most of that will come as quite a surprise to most of us! Just for a start, it might be news to him that many of us, descended from colonists from Europe, find his use of the term “Pakeha” complete with the mandatory bars over some vowels to be culturally offensive.  

Second, he appears to be ignorant of the plain fact that “Aotearoa” was never a name for New Zealand in pre-colonial Maori usage, but was simply concocted as such by a couple of white men in the 1890s (with a few loose occasional references earlier). If he doubts this, he could try looking for it in the Treaty of Waitangi where the Williams, seventeen years in New Zealand and fluent in the Maori language, would certainly have used that name had Maoris been doing so. 

 But these, when all is said and done, are merely fashionable, but silly, peccadilloes.

The nonsense of the concept of race and first colonists

He goes on to a loose discussion of the concept of “race” which is freely enough acknowledged today to be faulty in a biological sense, but we all know what we mean by it in a general sense and after all, our esteemed Parliament “defined” a “Maori” as a “person of the Maori race and includes any descendant”, albeit that was, and continues to be, sheer nonsense.

Edmond goes on then to claim that “Māori colonised a country inhabited only by birds. They were colonisers only in the sense that they were the first people to discover and settle in Aotearoa despite [being] thoroughly debunked but persistent myths to the contrary.”  

Well, that of course is the fiercely claimed official view, but what about the megaliths at Waipoua, clearly products of a pre-Polynesian culture, to which public access is forbidden, with those who dare to enter being fiercely opposed by local Maori? There is plenty of other similar evidence for those who have the eyes to see.  

Edmond could try reading Barry Brailsford’s Song of Waitaha to discover that there was quite a variety of people in our country, some clearly not of Polynesian descent, before the Maori colonial immigrants in their seven canoes got here.

The country before colonialism was ‘paradise’!

A this point we note an illustration within Edmond’s article, proclaiming in large bold letters “IMAGINE AOTEAROA WITHOUT RACISM, HOMOPHOBIA, SEXISM, TRANSPHOBIA, OPPRESSION THIS WAS  AOTEAROA BEFORE COLONIALISM”. 

Really? With continual inter-tribal warfare in pre-European settlement times, there was cannibalism and slavery on a massive scale for which plenty of evidence exists, with “almost unbearable anxiety” (to quote E. Sagan) among almost all Maori, conscious of attack, often at night, by war-parties from other tribes, the Maori equivalent of racism.  Female infanticide was well-established while women did most of the menial work such as was not done by slaves.  Warrior males were dominant.  That is sexism in my book!

The catastrophic effects of inter-tribal wars

That inter-tribal warfare reached a new pitch in the so-called “Musket Wars of ca 1807-1837, with cannibalism continuing on a colossal scale as its grim associate.

By John Robinson’s careful estimates, 43,600 lives were lost through battle in a population numbering 127,000 at the start.  That is more than one third of Maori people died at the hands of other Maoris.   Poor population structure led to continued decline in the early years of the colonial era in which extensive interbreeding with the colonials led to a gradual recovery.  Is Edmond aware of any of this?

Colonialism saved Maori

Colonization – or “colonialism” if you prefer — saved Maoris from disasters of their own making, make no mistake.  

So, while the placard might have been the choice of the editor of Stuff rather than that of Edmond, it is racist propaganda, stark evidence of the efforts of rampant racists and their fellow-travellers, bent on dividing our country along racial lines to their own advantage and in the process destroying democracy, for which many New Zealanders, including the Maori battalion, fought and sometimes gave their lives.  

Countries where democracy has been lost seldom prosper.

Edmond notes that in 1853 Governor Grey expressed a sense of British superiority.  The hard facts of Maori practice – endemic warfare, cannibalism, slavery, violent land grabs and infanticide surely demonstrate that he was justified!  But it is quite false to deduce that he and others “assumed the right to dispossess Māori of their land, resources, and culture in part because they viewed themselves as racially and culturally superior.”  In fact, Grey was very active in his efforts to do good to Maori people, with sustained efforts to introduce them to the many superior foodstuffs of the Europeans and guidance in their cultivation.  Grey too, showed remarkable patience and moderation in his negotiations with the Ngati Maniapoto and associated rebel tribes.

The government reverses unfair land deals

As one example of the good intentions of the British towards Maoris and also the superiority of their technology to anything Maori,  on the day after his arrival, Hobson issued a proclamation printed by the missionary press, to review all earlier land sales which the chiefs had eagerly undertaken in exchange for European trade goods.  

By and large, colonist eagerness to buy land was equalled by Maori eagerness to sell which indeed sometimes exceeded it.  Thus an 1850 Maori offer “to sell off the residue of Maori land lying south of the Molyneux River towards Foveaux Strait … to the White men for ever” received a courteous but firm refusal.  

Protection of Maori owners against unscrupulous land dealings was explicitly stated in article second of the Treaty of Waitangi.  Edmond ignores all this.

Lies about the Taranaki rebellions

He proceeds to discuss what he calls falsely the “Taranaki Land Wars”, more accurately the Taranaki tribal rebellions, with a claim that they “were a deliberate attempt to destroy the independence and culture of Taranaki’s Māori.” Far from this being the truth, they arose from a much more complicated sequence of events.  

  • One was the return under the benevolence of “Pax Britannica” of a thousand or more Taranaki Maoris who had been taken as slaves to the Waikato following their successful brutal invasion some years earlier.  
  • Another was the return of a similar number who had fled south (and subsequently invaded the Chatham Islands with almost indescribable brutality towards the peaceful inhabitants).  Almost inevitable conflict arose between the two returning groups with murder and other brutalities amongst them.

Fitzroy’s poor decision leads to more Maori violence and pillage

Another complication was Governor Fitzroy’s ill-judged decision to nullify the purchase of much land by the colonists, herding them back into a small area around New Plymouth town.  The tribes fought over the land abandoned and then in 1860-1, 177 settler homes and farmsteads were destroyed by tribal violence.  

As missionary Samuel Ironside, resident there at the time, noted “I … was an eyewitness of the patience with which the settlers there bore repeated instances of outrage, and insult, and wrong at the hands of the natives.”

And Taranaki was the source of the Hau Hau rebellion with its many atrocities and of course the Parihaka cult with many false stories of brutality of the troops when it was subdued.

So what does Edmond know of all this?  Very little, it seems.

But to proceed…

The appalling legacy of colonialism

I quote him: “Firstly, the effects of the initial wave of colonisation live on in the experience of generations of Māori families who have struggled against but inevitably been affected by the theft of land and resources, physical and psychological brutality, cultural destruction, and language loss.”

Oh yeah?  Was there no end to the barbarism of the colonists – almost pathological in their desire to brutalise the innocent Maori people, if Edmond is to be believed?

I quote (again): “the same colonial legal, educational, and governmental institutions that did the damage in the first place live on and continue to do damage today (witness the problems with Oranga Tamariki).” So no Maori, it would seem, have any responsibility for their own health and well-being – ensuring that their children go to school, for instance, truancy among Maori children said to be approaching one half [probably higher —Eds].  How dearly would Muslim girls in many countries love to have the opportunities that too many of our part-Maoris squander today!

Te Reo useful?

But language loss?  Nothing precludes anybody speaking today one of the thirteen or more pre-Treaty dialects of Maori, unwritten of course but adequate for small isolated societies in the South Pacific.  But English is the language which will get them almost anywhere in the world.  Today’s synthetic language “Te Reo” will hardly get them out their own back door.  

How wise indeed were Wi Te Hakiro and 336 others who petitioned Parliament in 1876 that “there should not be a word of Maori allowed to be spoken in the [native] school”.  Much is sometimes made of the fact that Maori children might unwittingly forget this edict when adopted and received corporal punishment but brutal as indeed this was, it was the practice in those days, and in my own schooldays it still applied to us all when school rules were broken.

Matauranga — embedded in archaic circumstances

So then, Edmond proceeds with “several prominent scholars have objected to mātauranga Māori’s place within the school science curriculum.”  Well, thank goodness, seven such courageous people did just that to the howls of outrage of many others, some alleged scientists among them. 

Now actually, it was only when scientific knowledge began to extract itself from the web of religion, superstition and hearsay, led by such scholars as Roger Bacon in the thirteenth century and Galileo Galilei, with due acknowledgement to some Persian and Arabic scholars, that it began to progress towards the brilliant and complementary conjunction of theory and experiment which we know today – and which incidentally has brought with it almost all the material and recreational benefits which Edmond and Maoris enjoy today.  And, like it or not, these magnificent achievements are primarily those of the European or “Western” world.

In sharp contrast, such empirical scientific knowledge as exists in “Matauranga Maori” remains embedded in those archaic circumstances from which real science has been liberated.  One only has to look at the list of pseudo-reasons concocted by the grossly biased Waitangi Tribunal in its “interim report” on alleged Maori rights to water to recognize this — motivation in part, no doubt, for the current sinister “Three Waters” adventure.  Simply put, it is politically motivated nonsense to claim that “Matauranga Maori” should be accepted into the school curriculum and elsewhere into scientific activities.  This is not to deny any of it which proves itself to be an addition to real scientific knowledge its place in that great universal achievement which is modern science.  That we may await with interest.

The English professor needs to close wide gaps in his own knowledge

There is no “troubling double standard” among “writers, scholars, and scientists” whose criteria for acceptance as scientific knowledge are the same for “Matauranga Maori” as for that from any other source.  

Edmond could well do something to close the glaring gaps in his own knowledge and then take his own advice in a move “towards the humble pursuit of understanding”.  Something better could surely be expected from one with the rank of professor.

Bruce Moon, Fellow, The Institute of Physics (UK); Hon. Fellow, Information Technology Professionals.

Full references are available on request.