The ongoing stream of history, Ranginui Walker

The People of Many Peaks, 1769-1869
Claudia Orange (ed),
Bridget Williams Books and Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington, 1991, $35.00

This book contains the biographies of 161 notable Maori leaders between 1769 and 1869 who appear in the first volume of The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. They have also been translated into Maori and published under the title of Nga Tangata Taumata Rau. Some of the essayists were members of the research team but where possible, the editors engaged descendants or kin of those people selected for inclusion to write on their own ancestors. Freda Kawharu (née Rankin), for instance, writes on Hone Heke, Tairongo Amoamo on Mokomoko who was unjustly executed for the killing of the missionary Volkner. These connections establish that the living are part of the ongoing stream of history, and that events of more than a century ago have repercussions in our own time. A case in point was the exhumation of Mokomoko from Mount Eden Prison in 1989 and the return of his bones to his tribe for reburial in Whakatohea territory. Another example is the essay on Tiramorehu by the historian Harry Evison. Tiramorehu wrote to E J Eyre in Wellington saying ‘we shall never cease complaining to the white people who may hereafter come here’ over the Government’s failure to reserve the ‘tenths’ of the South Island to Ngai Tahu. This continued into our own time before the Waitangi Tribunal where Evison gave evidence on their behalf.

A sub-committee of Dictionary staff and Maori advisors selected those to be included. While notable historic figures such as Hone Heke, Te Rauparaha, Hongi Hika and others were automatic choices, the panel ensured that biographies included representatives from most major tribes, from Northland to the Chathams. This even geographical and tribal spread yields two notable features. Many men and women are mentioned who were not known outside their tribal areas but nonetheless made worthy contributions. Further, the lives of many people intersect one another in historic events such as tribal battles, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, inter-tribal assemblies, government meetings, land sales, as allies or adversaries in the New Zealand Wars and in peace-making. People of Many Peaks besides being extremely readable is also an invaluable resource for both students and teachers of history.


Ranginui Walker is Head of Maori Studies at the University of Auckland and is well known as a commentator and author of several books.


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