View from the hilltop, Rawiri Taonui

State of the Maori Nation: Twenty-first Century Issues in Aotearoa
Malcolm Mulholland and contributors
Reed, $39.99,
ISBN 0790010429

Ngapua: The Political Life of Hone Heke Ngapua
Paul Moon
David Ling, $39.99,
ISBN 187737802X

The Maori population doubled during the two decades between the first hui taumata in 1985 and the second in 2005. This latter part of the Maori renaissance, which began with the first Nga Tamatoa protests at Waitangi in 1971, has witnessed a glittering array of Maori development, proliferation and diversification of ingenuity, initiative, industry, innovation and independence. State of the Maori Nation: Twenty-first Century Issues in Aotearoa is a celebration of the conceptions, narratives and reflections that underpin this momentum.

The 22 chapters penned by 25 Maori writers (an achievement in itself) range across now common Maori issues such as economic development, health, pre- and post-settlement tribal structures, youth, environment, and crime and justice, along with newer ones including sport, sexuality, kapa haka, literature, art and music, local government, biotechnology and broadcasting media. The latter perspectives are fresh, bright, considered and involved – something that reflects well on the achievements of the renaissance.

Chapters are useful collectively in the way they canvass the range of approaches that Maori utilise in deciding how best to understand, adapt and apply the beliefs, values and tikanga of ancestral Maoridom in ways relevant to a world driven by relentless modernity. All writers are also concerned with the impact of colonisation, the contribution of the protest movements, the need for Maori to improve in all areas and the need for this improvement to be driven by Maori, and the quest for greater control by Maori in decision and policy making. There is much to learn from the crossover in perspectives and experience.

State of the Maori Nation is a reflection of the Maori struggle for self-determination through tino-rangatiratanga, a threefold sense that Maori can provide the best solutions for issues concerning Maori, that self-determination is an inalienable right, and that the Treaty of Waitangi never ceded Maori sovereignty to the Crown, regardless of what the courts and the Waitangi Tribunal say. There is some variation on these themes. For some, decolonisation is a return to the essential identities of tribe. Maori weren’t a national people in pre-European times. Some reject pan-Maoriness in favour of being Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Porou or Tuhoe. This is a reflection of strength within the renaissance.

State of the Maori Nation is also very much a post-election reaction to the one-law-for-all-people, needs-versus race-based policies that fuelled a resurgent National Party. For these reasons, it is a good book. Whether or not it constitutes a declaratory or definitive state-of-the-nation address is another question. In my opinion it does not. This is not to say there isn’t good stuff here, there is an abundance. Nevertheless, the book lacks structure and theme. There is no logical chapter organisation along the lines of economic development, governance and representation, and this disguises an overall shallowness.

The book is ambitious and visionary but lightweight. The array of talent is good to start with – “three professors, two associate professors, six doctors” – after that, it gets slim – “two PhD candidates, two masters graduates, two master enrolments”. This is hardly the stuff of nationhood. Where are the likes of Emeritus Professor Ranginui Walker – Maoridom’s greatest living historian; Mason Durie, the guru on Maori health; Tariana Turia and/or Pita Sharples from the Maori Party; and Minister of Maori Development Parekura Horomia? Nevertheless, as the author rightly points out, the book is a reflection of the spirit of a people who just over 100 years ago were facing extinction.

Paul Moon is one of New Zealand’s most prolific publishing historians, having written 11 books between 1992 and 2006, including this new biography of Hone Heke Ngapua. The grand-nephew and namesake of Hone Heke Pokai (famous for being the first to sign the Treaty of Waitangi and infamous for chopping down the flagpole at Korerareka), Ngapua was born in 1869 the eldest of 12 children. By his early 20s, he was regarded as a gifted political speaker, making his mark first in 1893 at the assembly of the independent Maori Kotahitanga Parliament.

In the same year, this talent saw him elected to the House of Representatives where he and other Maori MPs introduced the Native Rights Bill seeking a separate Maori constitution and parliament under the Treaty of Waitangi. The Bill ultimately failed, in the first instance because of prejudice – all Pakeha MPs walked out at the first reading, and, secondly, because of a failure to gather support from Tainui and Te Whiti’s followers in Taranaki, despite the co-ordination of outside support through Tureiti Te Heuheu of Tuwharetoa.

Moon’s book reveals some interesting history. Ngapua was responsible for averting armed insurrection on two occasions, once during a triangulation survey in Urewera in 1895, and again in the Waima valley in 1898, when some of Te Mahurehure refused to pay the dog tax. Always a good speaker, Ngapua was also admired by European parliamentarians. He in turn enjoyed their lifestyle. Ngapua’s contribution to the Maori community and the country at large would have been even greater, had he lived longer. He died prematurely of tuberculosis in a private hospital in 1909. About 8,000 people attended his funeral in Kaikohe.

Moon’s use of Ngapua’s personal papers is a triumph that allows this book to transcend other biographies, such as those in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage’s Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and A H McLintock’s 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. However, there is also a sense that the book overstates its contribution. The declaration that it is “long-awaited” is dubious. So too is the claim that the book is an “epic journey”. Certainly it is a fascinating record of political events between 1890 and 1910, but not much more than that. The scholarship is studious – the usual hallmark of Moon’s work – but not remarkable. It does not offer “a major reinterpretation of Maori politics”.

The life of Ngapua is a credit to his talent and that of his people. However, its brevity leaves this Nga Puhi reviewer uncomfortable with the claim that he was “one of the greatest Maori leaders of the last two centuries”. That seems a slight on the careers of other notables, such as Apirana Ngata, Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) and Wiremu Tamihana. In my opinion, the latter is the greatest New Zealand leader since Abel Tasman made contact with Kupe’s descendants. Tamihana’s is a biography someone with the diligence of Moon should focus on – a really good one is well overdue.


Rawiri Taonui is head of the School of Maori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury.


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Posted in Biography, Māori, Non-fiction, Politics & Law, Review
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