New Zealand’s Celebration of Cook’s Invasion Is Racist and Needs Revisiting.
Earlier this week, Australia surged ahead of us in culturally appropriate history.
The University of New South Wales’ “diversity toolkit”, which acts as a guide for appropriate language in respect of indigenous realities, came under heavy media criticism. The guide includes the most appropriate terminology for referring to the indigenous peoples of Australia, correct place-names, and, shockingly (for some) , the very factual reminder that:
“Australia was not settled peacefully, it was invaded, occupied and colonized. Describing the arrival of the Europeans as a “settlement” attempts to view Australian history from the shores of England rather than the shores of Australia.”
This includes the suggestion that Captain Cook’s arrival was an act of invasion. Naturally there was an indignant uproar, accusations that UNSW were attempting to “whitewash” and “rewrite history”, which as Alex McKinnon correctly points out betrays a profound misunderstanding of what the word “whitewash” means in historical terms.
First of all I should say that yes… history is being re-written here.
It’s called a correction.
It’s taken us a little while to be able to crack the vice-grip of the colonial lens on world history. It took marches and demonstrations. It took lives being laid on the line. It took many, many court cases, petitions, acts of civil disobedience and political resistance. It took legislative development, it took us demanding our own spaces for learning, for developing, and sharing, and promoting OUR truths, our views. Stan Grant has openly criticized the guide, saying universities “can’t tell students what to think” – he misses the fact that they already do, and this is the point of the guide, that language is embedded with inferred value statements and worldviews – and by labeling an invasion as “settlement” they are already telling people to think of it in a certain way – a colonially privileged way.
The colonizer insisted we were primitive and savage – and this has since been corrected. The colonizer insisted we were “peacefully” settled – and this has been corrected (even though nobody told John Key that). The colonizer insisted that “The Maori” killed all the Moriori (which must be super annoying to the Moriori people who are still very much alive) – and this, too has been corrected. Of course none of these lies are without agendas – they are all constructed to legitimise the colonially-privileged power frameworks.
We have fought, and fought, and continue to fight, for the right to speak our own truths, and resist the colonial voice that has tried to speak on our behalf, to whitewash our experience of colonial expansion. We have railed against, AND fought through the colonial systems and forums of knowledge, and through our infiltration, and continued, unrelenting demands for social justice, we have made ourselves heard. I BET that hurts colonial ears – it’s certainly not something that they’d be used to hearing.
So of course, criticism of the colonial golden-child, Captain James Cook, “Explorer of the Pacific” on his “Voyage of Discovery” is somewhat of an anathema for colonial sensibilities. Gananath Obeyesekere notes that Cook’s portrayal in history is a very typical colonial myth model of the “white harbinger of civilisation”, and that references to the invasion of the Pacific have undergone some kind of “silent conspiracy” to stifle work that harshly criticizes these activities. Of course, where one version of history has taught us to consider someone as the founder of a modern nation, displacing that notion, errant as it is, does not happen without a screech of discomfort. Lancing such septic, longstanding boils will naturally smart.
I applaud the University of New South Wales for their correction of the masses. And let’s be real about this – there is not one big dusty tome called “History” sitting somewhere on a shelf in Ankh-Morpork that faithfully writes itself as stuff happens. UNSW didn’t break into anywhere, grapple down a line and profanely deface those sacred self-writing pages. They wrote a guide. A guide that reminds students that the dominant worldview and social narrative is not indigenous, often offensively myopic, and should rightly be challenged. It’s reminding students to be critically self-analytical – and that absolutely IS the hallmark of GOOD tertiary institutions.
Likewise, I applaud those who have fought and successfully brought to light the true legacy of Christopher Columbus, another brutal invader, for so many years labelled an “explorer”. There is now a growing realization that the previously considered “founder” of the nation does not deserve a national holiday, and many institutions and local governments are now recognizing October 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
So how is it, that while others are finally coming to terms with the injustice of celebrating colonial acts of violence, New Zealand, who purports to be the progressive nation of harmonious race relations – is about to invest many, MANY millions into a celebration of Cook’s arrival, a celebration that will last not just for a day but for an entire YEAR (Atua give me strength) – and labeling it the “inception” of our nation? If we are so ready to call out John Key on his suggestion that New Zealand was “peacefully settled”, and condemn mainstream Australian news outlets for not recognizing the indigenous reality of colonization – where does that sit with our own multi-million dollar investment in celebrating our own invasion?
Unsurprisingly there has been a rush to “indigenise” this patently colonial event, through recruitment of Maori interests, the acknowledgement and inclusion of “Polynesian navigation histories” and being sure to add the term “commemoration” in a vague acknowledgement that maybe this might not be something everyone wants to celebrate.
Of course, it’s a little hard to escape the fact that the entire event is centered on the day the colonizer arrived – Yet again, Maori are placed on the table as the relish to the main meal. Unsurprisingly, our own council can’t even hold true to their own brownwashing and revert back to calling it “celebrations” in their official records.
The very use of the term “Te Hā” is offensive. This ill-conceived name was proffered by one of our own to relate to the sharing of hā in the first meetings of Cook with Māori – and the inception of our nation. The sharing of hā is an intrinsically spiritual notion that relates to the first breath of life, given to Hineahuone – for the inception of TANGATA WHENUA. Not Tangata Tiriti as it has been co-opted for in this instance, but Tangata WHENUA. Hā is spiritual, it is meaningful, and it is MĀORI. Stop giving our stuff away.
So here’s what ACTUALLY happened when Cook landed in Turanganui a Kiwa:
“MONDAY, 9th October. Gentle breezes and Clear Weather. P.M. stood into the Bay and Anchored on the North-East side before the Entrance of a small River, in 10 fathoms, a fine sandy bottom. The North-East point of the Bay bore East by South 1/2 South, and the South-West point South, distance from the Shore half a League. After this I went ashore with a Party of men in the Pinnace and yawl accompanied by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander. We landed abreast of the Ship and on the East side of the River just mentioned; but seeing some of the Natives on the other side of the River of whom I was desirous of speaking with, and finding that we could not ford the River, I order’d the yawl in to carry us over, and the pinnace to lay at the Entrance. In the mean time the Indians made off. However we went as far as their Hutts which lay about 2 or 300 Yards from the water side, leaving 4 boys to take care of the Yawl, which we had no sooner left than 4 Men came out of the woods on the other side the River, and would certainly have cut her off had not the People in the Pinnace discover’d them and called to her to drop down the Stream, which they did, being closely persued by the Indians. The coxswain of the Pinnace, who had the charge of the Boats, seeing this, fir’d 2 Musquets over their Heads; the first made them stop and Look round them, but the 2nd they took no notice of; upon which a third was fir’d and kill’d one of them upon the Spot just as he was going to dart his spear at the Boat. At this the other 3 stood motionless for a Minute or two, seemingly quite surprised; wondering, no doubt, what it was that had thus kill’d their Comrade; but as soon as they recovered themselves they made off, dragging the Dead body a little way and then left it. Upon our hearing the report of the Musquets we immediately repair’d to the Boats, and after viewing the Dead body we return’d on board.”
That was the first meeting – it was not an exchange of sacred breath. It was an uninvited landing, and a murder. Here, you can read the journal entries of Cook, Banks, and Parkinson – Banks himself by day two “despaired” of ever making peace with us – and after killing a few of us they decided to “name” our land (which already had a name) “Poverty Bay” because of what little was gained from their time here.
By the time Cook had finished, only a few days later, by his own account, he had killed at least 5, and wounded at least 4 more (whether they died from their wounds is not known). This is not uncommon for Cook, who with his men, killed, wounded, kidnapped and stole their way around the Pacific. They did it in the Marquesas Islands, in Australia, in Tonga, in Tahiti… until finally Cook tried it one too many times in Kealakeakua Bay, Hawai’i, and was dispatched by locals (mahalo).
Cook was a thief, kidnapper, murderer and invader of indigenous lands and it is beyond inappropriate to encapsulate his actions with the sacred term “Hā” – it’s not unlike a broad cultural case of stockholm syndrome. His activity was not something to be celebrated – and it is not a date upon which to “hang” celebrations for our tīpuna. It is an event to be ashamed of, a vital tool of imperial expansion and the forerunner of the oppressive forces that were soon to follow. It’s amoral to me that our council is spending so very much on celebrating a murderer, when those funds could be spent on restoring the near-dead waterways of those who were murdered.
I realise the UNSW position is not one shared widely across Australia but gawd – at LEAST they’re having the conversation! Hawai’i is quite clear about the role of Cook in their history – it’s negligible. He was a lying thief who tried to get away with murder, and failed. The USA is swiftly abandoning it’s culturally inappropriate references to Christopher Columbus. Meanwhile, New Zealand – spearheaded by Gisborne’s own “Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust” – not only avoids the conversation – but hoists sail, drops the engine, and hurls itself in the opposite direction of major investment in celebrating this shameful practice.
The Governor General Jerry Mateparae launched the Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust with a speech dripping with euphemisms that skirted about the brutal reality of that first interaction:
Governor General Mateparae: “I am delighted to be involved in launching the Te Ha 1769 Sestercentennial Trust, and initiate the official lead up to the commemoration and celebration of the moment when the destinies of Māori and Pākehā became intertwined.”
Captain Cook: “The coxswain of the Pinnace, who had the charge of the Boats, seeing this, fir’d 2 Musquets over their Heads; the first made them stop and Look round them, but the 2nd they took no notice of; upon which a third was fir’d and kill’d one of them upon the Spot”
Joseph Banks: “After some time Mr Green in turning himself about exposd his hanger, one of them immediately snatchd it, set up a cry of exultation and waving it round his head retreated gently. It now appeard nescessary for our safeties that so daring an act should be instantly punishd, this I pronouncd aloud as my opinion, the Captn and the rest Joind me on which I fird my musquet which was loaded with small shot, leveling it between his shoulders who was not 15 yards from me. On the shot striking him he ceasd his cry but instead of quitting his prize continued to wave it over his head retreating as gently as before; the surgeon who was nearer him, seeing this fird a ball at him at which he dropd.”
Joseph Banks again: “We had almost arrivd at the farthest part of the bay when a fresh breze came in from the seaward and we saw a Canoe sailing in standing right towards [us], soon after another padling. The Captn now resolvd to take one of these which in all probability might be done without the least resistance as we had three boats full of men and the canoes seemd to be fishermen, who probably were without arms. The boats were drawn up in such a manner that they could not well escape us: the padling canoe first saw us and made immediately for the nearest land, the other saild on till she was in the midst of us before she saw us, as soon as she did she struck her sail and began to paddle so briskly that she outran our boat; on a musquet being fird over her she however immediately ceasd padling and the people in her, 7 in all, made all possible haste to strip as we thought to leap into the water, but no sooner did our boat come up with her than they began with stones, paddles etc. to make so brisk a resistance that we were obligd to fire into her by which 4 were killd. The other three who were boys leapd overboard, one of them swam with great agility and when taken made every effort in his power to prevent being taken into the boat, the other two were more easily prevaild upon.”
Let’s just go over that last “intertwining of destinies”. Captain James Cook decided he wanted to steal a canoe – complete with unarmed people inside it. When they tried to flee – he ordered gunfire over them. When they resisted – he ordered that they be shot, and killed – and the remainder were abducted against their will. Can I get an “Arr arr me hearties”?
Mateparae goes on to talk about how the Sestercentennial will give us “an opportunity to inspire today’s youth. As tomorrow’s leaders, they need to learn about the beginnings of our nationhood, to appreciate our dual heritage and shared future. It’s an opportunity to look at how that relationship has grown and changed over time and think of how it will progress in the next 250 years”.
I don’t need a colonially centered story to inspire our rangatahi – In fact, I fully intend to inspire them to promote THEIR TRUTHS on THEIR TERMS. The truths of their ancestors – the truth of Te Maro and Te Rākau who were murdered by invaders upon their land. The truth of all those from Orakaiapū Pā who were shot and killed needlessly, and whose river lies abandoned and defiled, while their murderer is celebrated. Our relationship hasn’t grown nearly as much as it could have, certainly not to the point where we are challenging the storyteller in their rendition of the truth. And even though there are many more brown faces regurgitating the colonial version of the truth – that is not, in fact, a new story in the slightest, it’s simply the perpetuation of the dominant narrative, with a little brown relish dolloped on the side.