Refusing to come quietly, Nepia Mahuika

Ngai Tahu: A Migration History –  The Carrington Text 
Rawiri Te Maire Tau and Atholl Anderson (eds) 
Bridget Williams Books with Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, $69.99,
ISBN 9781877242397

The Beating Heart: A Political and Socio-economic History of Te Arawa 
Vincent O’Malley and David Armstrong
Huia, $60.00,
ISBN 9781869693077

The late John Rangihau wrote that “[e]ach tribe has its own history.” He staunchly declared, “I am a Tuhoe person and all I can share in is Tuhoe history.” Although this might seem a straightforward statement, it highlighted then, as it does now, a need to look beyond narrow essentialisations of Maori identity as a supposedly homogenous construction. Both these tribal histories do just that, and in their own ways interrogate the binaries and complexities within, and between, Maori and Pakeha, native and settler, rebels and loyalists. More importantly, these different yet similar books investigate the intricacies existing within tribes, confronting prominent issues in Maori history, with significant relevance to the way Maori and iwi histories might be researched, presented, and understood.

These books portray two tribal groups with intersecting histories, but the books themselves have very separate emphases. Ngai Tahu: A Migration History – The Carrington Text considers the movement, intermarriage and settlement of its people with a focus on how the Carrington text sits in relation to other commentaries about the tribe’s past. While clearly a history of politics, trade and war, it bears little resemblance to The Beating Heart: A Political and Socio-economic History of Te Arawa, which recounts the Te Arawa journey through an exposition of responses to events such as the Treaty of Waitangi, the conference at Kohimarama, the beginning and flourishing of its tourist industry, and the devastation of the Tarawera eruption. Ngai Tahu deals with the tribe’s early history from oral traditions collected in the Carrington text, while The Beating Heart concentrates on the 19th century to the present with an emphasis on evidence in government documents. Both, at their core, highlight self-determination, yet are distinctive in the telling and presentation of these stories.

Once upon a time tribal histories appeared to recount the past by simply committing to print the various oral traditions available. These contributions to the canon of writing on Maori were all too often presented by non-Maori researchers, and were imbued with subtle implications that the Maori past was a relic of a people who would in time distance themselves from those “horrid practices” to become New Zealanders. Maori, thanks to professional history makers, were able to put their savage and mythic past behind them, joining the civilised and progressive narrative that aligned with a Frontier of Dreams and the search for a New Zealand identity. However, Maori refused to come quietly, and with a burgeoning Treaty industry fell into the resistant mode of grievance histories, which has in recent times overshadowed most other narratives.

With these trends in mind, the authors of The Beating Heart claim early on that their book is “more than just a grievance history” but an opportunity to provide readers with a “nuanced appreciation of what ‘loyalty’ meant in practice [rather] than merely cardboard cut-out notions of blind adherence to the Crown.” As a descendent of Ngati Porou, another group who has sometimes been described as loyalists, this book struck a chord in more ways than one. I could certainly sympathise with the Te Arawa position, and specifically their desire to make decisions on their own terms. This is one reason this is such an important book for their descendents. It is not just a history about how they were victims, but an affirmation of how they contested and fought for their own autonomy.

Ngai Tahu has a very different focus. Hugh Carrington’s 20th century manuscript, which is the centrepiece of the book, draws on invaluable interviews with the esteemed Hariata Beaton-Morel, and is presented alongside the work of earlier Ngai Tahu scholars, including H K Taiaroa and Thomas Green. As such, it is a history of many layers and must be read with these complexities in mind. Like the Te Arawa story, it steers away from grievance, but allows other competing histories to intersect and tell the story from varying perspectives.

The editors of Ngai Tahu, Atholl Anderson and Rawiri Te Maire Tau, begin their book with two introductions: one a brief preamble to the text, how it has been presented and might be read; the second, a short discussion on the idea of migration. They comment on the problem of validity and the “actuality of the past”: how we can know for sure that what we are reading is true. Of course, this is never a certainty, and, as they note, “there is much we cannot be sure of in historical terms”. There is hope, though, and it is comforting to hear the editors express a desire for the reader to “enjoy the imaginative space between metaphor and fact”. It would be impossible to read any Maori history without this appreciation.

The opening chapter, so originally titled “The Beginning”, introduces a rich genealogy, from prominent Polynesian names like Whatonga and Toi to important protagonists in the Ngai Tahu story such as Tahu Potiki. Affiliations, “absorptions” and other  intertribal relationships are also highlighted, including the Ngai Tahu links to Kahungunu, Takitimu, Rangitane, and of course Ngati Porou. The Ngai Tahu story, as expected, differed slightly from East Coast interpretations, but demonstrates Maori history in practice, with acknowledgement of differences in opinion between tribes.

The intricacies of Waitaha and Ngati Mamoe in the Ngai Tahu story are also acknowledged, and as the story progresses, these relationships become clearer. Although there is a strong chronological structure, the focus is on various people and events, including the important lineage of both Tuahuriri and Rakaihautu, the questioning of Te Huataki, and the debates surrounding the battle of Tetewhai. This book then remains true to the old stories of love and war, deception and alliance that so intrigued me in my youth. This similarity with oral tradition is a prevailing feature of what makes the stories seem at once disjointed yet essential components of a broader history that is crucial to the tribe’s identity. Indeed, because the book is layered and meant to be read that way, it succeeds in opening up the history, and should be read and reread just as the oral histories were told and retold.

The Beating Heart should also be read and re-read, but for different reasons. It does not offer competing views, or extra commentaries outside of the footnotes, but has a wealth of information that takes some time to digest. It begins with the story of the emergence of Te Arawa as a confederation of tribal groups, which each trace their descent to one or more of the eight children of Rangitihi: “the eight beating hearts of Te Arawa – nga pumanawa e waru o Te Arawa.”  Like all families, they have had their fair share of internal disputes, and there are examples of this dynamic interchange throughout the book, with the “Fenton Agreement” one of the more absorbing illustrations. Although the authors attest that this is not a grievance history, it seems impossible to read this history without being confronted by the injustices the tribe has endured. If anything, in magnifying their agency, the book highlights even more the realities of colonial oppression, and how in Te Arawa it has continued and been transformed over time rather than dissipated with the dawn of nationalism and New Zealand identity.

Vincent O’Malley and David Armstrong have years of experience with the Waitangi Tribunal, and their combined skills and knowledge are woven together to produce a well-researched and written account. This expertise is evident in their masterful blending of tedious legislative and documentary data with important oral evidence. The wonderful illustrations also help this process, and I found myself wandering back to memories of my grandfather and those of his generation who lived through many of these remarkable times, especially WWII.

The Beating Heart, though, is not a Maori history, but a history about Maori – and the difference is important. It is a history that addresses the narrative of a tribal group, written by two Pakeha researchers, who spend the entire book emphasising Te Arawa agency. This paradox is somewhat ironic. The inclusion of a chapter that highlights their positions, and provides a self-reflexive discussion on where they are situated in relation to the evidence, the iwi and the notion of Te Arawa self-autonomy is much needed. Without this, a realisation of the agency that is a feature of the book is skewed by their omniscient narration.

Tau’s and Anderson’s history is not exempt from similar criticism, although Tau’s intellectual whakapapa, both inherited and achieved, is of significant worth, if not in the Pakeha community then certainly within the Maori world. Nevertheless, I was struck by one part of the book where Tau and Anderson make the outrageous declaration that the Carrington family can be perceived as a potential “metaphor for New Zealanders” today, and can claim tangata whenua status on the basis that:

genetically and culturally there is little difference between the descendents of the early European settlers and modern Ngai Tahu. Both have a story that tells of a people who crossed the ocean to a new country, and who became tangata whenua – people of the land.


This is a momentous statement to make in Maori history and scholarship. The implications are far reaching and undermine Maori efforts to resist continuing colonisation. In an effort to understand how the authors could make such a bold declaration, I hurriedly turned to the brief section in the appendix that chronicled the Carrington family history, and left those pages with more questions than answers. This is a history drawn from the Carrington text, but not a history of the Carrington family. Whether they could be afforded the status of tangata whenua is an assertion that awaits further evidence and debate.

Despite these issues, Ngai Tahu and The Beating Heart are exceptional histories. They are books that descendants of each tribe should enjoy, embrace and celebrate. For Te Arawa, The Beating Heart magnifies the underlying self-determination that is vital as they seek to “walk backward into the future”. They may have fought “for God, for King, and for country”, but even that fight was part of a strategy to retain their own mana. Similarly, Ngai Tahu is at once an affirmation of their identity and rights, while simultaneously a conscious effort to assist its readers in understanding the nuances and complexities that make the history as rich as it always was in oral tradition.


Nepia Mahuika is a lecturer in the History Department at the University of Waikato, teaching Maori and iwi history and oral history.  


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Posted in History, Māori, Non-fiction, Review
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