Letters – Issue 15

Letters, September 1994 

Not in judgment

As an historian I welcome criticism, but I am obliged to answer to charges of bias and error. Dr Peter Tremewan (NZ Books, August) accuses me of writing Te Wai Pounamu the Greenstone Island with a pro‑Ngai Tahu, anti-Crown bias. However, my theme is colonialism and its effects on Southern Maoris, not “the Crown’s case” or the Ngai Tahu claim. I show Ngai Tahu chiefs pursuing personal interests and family jealousies and Europeans treating Maoris as inferiors and Crown officials cheating. I recount the ideas and beliefs which motivated these people. I do not sit in judgment on them. I leave that to the reader.

Dr Tremewan rubbishes my use of Horomaka as a Maori name for Banks Peninsula, and cites a JPS article of 1946 by McEwen as proof that Horomaka is “a little island off Banks Peninsula, not the Peninsula itself”. Actually Horomaka Island is near the head of Port Levy, not “off Banks Peninsula”. But the name was used for Banks Peninsula as well, long before McEwen’s article was published. The great Ngai Tahu authority Teone Taare Tikao, born in 1850 and a lifelong Banks Peninsula resident, himself called the Peninsula Horomaka. His descendants confirm this. Dr Tremewan says my map No 17 “omits many Maori settlements”, but the map key shows it is not about “Maori settlements”.

Dr Tremewan says I am “very hostile” to missionaries “like” Stack and Wohlers. My book gives the first published account of the Wesleyan missionary James Watkin drawn unexpurgated from his journal and shows him in a good light despite his bigotry. Stack, an Anglican and former vicar of Fendalton, has of course always had admirers in Canterbury. But I show that he wanted the beleaguered Maori communities of Canterbury dispersed and that he spied on Ngai Tahu as a paid Government informer. Wohlers, like all Lutherans, despised the “savage” way of life as evidence of the fall from divine grace foretold by St Paul in Romans 11, 22. He described the unconverted Maoris as “wild, stinking, heathen cannibals”. He conceded nothing to the Maori way of life by recording their religious beliefs, for he dismissed them as “myths”, a prejudice which Dr Tremewan re-echoes.

Dr Tremewan suggests I should explain why the Kaiapoi runanga thanked Governor Browne for “a fair payment” for their lands, The Crown had paid them £500 for nearly a million acres of prime North Canterbury pastoral land, much of which the Government had already sold at 10 shillings an acre. Even Stack said the payment was “ridiculously small”. The later Kaiapoi petition of 1874 described such payments as “The crumbs which fell from the white man’s table”. The “thanks” were probably sarcastic.

Harry C Evison


Tomorrow’s fish

In NZ Books (Issue 14) Nicholas Reid, in reviewing Lloyd Geering’s Tomorrow’s God suggests that Geering is “no devotee of the gaia-cult”. (Please, a capital G for Gaia!) On two occasions at the finish of Lloyd Geering’s public seminars I have asked that precise question “Can you envisage the new god(dess) as Gaia?” On both occasions Geering answered in the affirmative. Also, Geering was the principal speaker at the Greens’ annual conference in Wellington this year. I am not quite sure of the details of the parable of the fishes, but Nicholas Reid seems to be dragging in dead fish to serve up as tomorrow’s fish … the topic was Tomorrow’s God.

A Dudley Kelly


Fileable format

Might I put forward once more a plea for the reconsideration of the format of New Zealand Books. Like the New York Review of Books and its London counterpart, it is virtually impossible to file satisfactorily and therefore exceedingly difficult to use as a reference source. The original idea was indeed modelled on the above journals for economy’s sake, but as newsprint was never employed this rationale lost its purpose. A five‑year index for publication in 1996 would help to make the contents more visible but only a change of design will really work. Librarians (and readers) would welcome a more manageable journal.

J M Thomson

[New Zealand Books is printed on the cheapest paper available for the printing process used, which is the cheapest for the length of print run. The design has been simplified to minimise layout costs. A redesign ‑ to A4? ‑ would be prohibitively expensive ‑ Editor.]

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