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Maoriland: New Zealand Literature 1872–1914

Conclusion: The Ends of Maoriland

page 268

Conclusion: The Ends of Maoriland

When the Pakeha-Maori narrator of Frederick Maning's Old New Zealand makes his undignified landing in the Hokianga Harbour in the early 1830s he finds himself on 'Maori land': New Zealand at this stage is still a land belonging to and identified with Maori people. By the early 1860s when the book was published, military campaigns were being conducted that would make the universal application of the term obsolete. After the New Zealand Wars were concluded in favour of the settlers, the term began to reappear as a single word meaning an English settler society whose distinctive character was provided by its native people. Maning uses Maoriland synonymously with the phrase 'Old New Zealand'. He means by both terms the world of the Maori before colonisation and Christianity had worked their transformations. It is a world which he regards with a mixture of admiration, affection, amusement, condescension and nostalgia. Above all, it is a world which he regards as doomed.

Maning's narrator laments: 'in the good old days, long ago, [when] …I first cast eyes on Maori land … [i]t was Maori land then; but alas! what is it now?'1 That moment of recognition signals a beginning of the conversion of the country from a place owned and controlled by Maori to one known as 'Maoriland', a place where Maori have been translated out of the realm of the present into that of myth. This process is marked, in Maning's account, by the intrusion of formal law, governance, property and civilisation so that the ancient timelessness of Maori life is obliged to cohabit with the time-conscious world of the Pakeha. Over the next half-century that Pakeha world would extend its dominion over the present, imprisoning Maori within an imagined past. Was this process ever complete or convincing to those who accomplished page 269it, far less those who were its subjects? What was the place of Maori in Maoriland? Martin Blythe suggests that there is a way of recovering the Maori presence behind or within the sentimental racism of Maoriland:

Though most historians would rather write the term off completely as sentimental racism, I prefer to think that Maoriland can also refer to those many Maori attempts at reaching a conciliation with the expanding British-Pakeha nation. Thus I would include those figures usually cited by Pakeha historians — Princess Te Puea, Sir Apirana Ngata and the Young Maori Party — but also the more dubiously regarded, Te Whiti and Rua Kenana, Ratana and the Morehu, and Te Rauparaha and Te Kooti Rikirangi, who came to assume the image of the Ignoble Savage in Pakeha eyes.2

That presence in Maoriland may also be heard in the assertive words spoken by Young Maori Party men to Sir John Gorst at the 1906–7 Exhibition in Christchurch expressive of Maori desire for a share in modernity and political authority.3 We hear it in Ngata's poem, 'A Scene from the Past', where Maori culture is confidently contained within Victorian poetic form. We hear it in the silences or misinterpreted responses of those represented in Maoriland writing: Lawson's August, Grace's 'decadent' Maori, Baughan's Pipi, Satchell's Pine, Mansfield's Maata and the Urewera woman.

Steven Webster in a study of contemporary Maori culture points out that 'since the 1960s most students of Maori culture (including many Maori themselves) have focused on traditional culture rather than everyday Maori society as they encounter it or live it. Although Maori are everywhere, Maori "culture" is assumed to occur elsewhere in some sense, even somehow outside history.'4 This is to extend the Maoriland habit of splitting the present from the past, the actual from the ideal. Patricia Grace's cry in Cousins, 'everything new belongs to us too',5 offers a reproach to the Maoriland habit of placing the essence of Maori life outside lived reality. How far has 'bicultural' New Zealand/Aotearoa come from this placing of Maoriness at a distance from the everyday and how far have modern Pakeha come from the habit of sentimental identification with this sanitised version of Maoritanga? Having a lump in your throat when you hear 'Pokarekare Ana' or being stirred by the page 270All Blacks haka express precisely the appropriative mechanism of self-definition.

Settler writers, rather than memorialising their own past like Ngata in his poem, were manufacturing one. Maoriland writers adapted the literary frames they inherited to the local setting and infused them with appropriated mythology: Domett looks back to Britain while employing Maori material as a demonstration of the universality and unity of all mythologies; Mackay's Celticism creates a past of heroic grandeur as a means by which a tawdry present might be infused with nationalist purpose; Baughan gives the international spiritual movements of the time a local habitation while historicising the recent settler past; Grossmann infuses the colonial sublime into the romance form which is nonetheless pregnant with current feminist agendas; Grace and Satchell insert cross-cultural encounters into popular adventure stories yet, especially in Satchell's case, find that the content frets against the form; Lawson and Mansfield both make the subject of their colonial writing the inadequacy of the literary forms and of the conventions which govern representation of the other — in moving beyond the recognised limitations of Maoriland writing they indicate the larger potential that lay within it.

The writers of Maoriland used the sublime to compensate for the barrenness of their unmade condition — figured by Baughan's bush section. In modernist writing sublimity evaporates and becomes unapproachable: in Baxter's 'Poem in the Matukituki Valley' the speaker is forced to retreat from the grandeur of the mountain. For the modernists the colonial sublime is replaced by Curnow's 'land of settlers / with never a soul at home'.6 Curnow rejected Maoriland for what he saw as its avoidance of the actual in favour of the romantic, the belated and the decorative, yet the stance implied by this rejection is stern and self-mortifying. In Janet Frame's 1966 novel, State of Siege, the artist-narrator recalls one of her former pupils who possesses privileged access to the mythological world of the Maori. The pupil is able to enter where the narrator herself feels she can only visit, hampered by a sense of inauthenticity and distance.7 The pupil is of Maoriland, the teacher a proto-modernist.

'Poetry in New Zealand, nearly everyone agrees, came to birth around 1920, or 1930, or 1940; in fact, round about when those who are now the grand old men of New Zealand letters were boys.'8 Writing page 271in 1968, Tony Kingsbury echoes the judgments of those 'grand old men' who first made them in the 1930s and '40s. Even a later detractor of those same old men, Patrick Evans, repeats the judgments. What this dismissive chorus holds in common is the view that the literature before 1930 looked backwards to stale English literary modes and habits of thought and thus failed to develop. If by development we understand an improvement in technical expertise, this position has only limited truth. Even for a Victorian poet, Domett may not have grasped the virtues of economy, but Ranolf and Amohia is not a negligible technical accomplishment. There is, however, another sense shaping the judgment of generations of critics as to what constitutes 'development': the belief that a nation, like the individual humans of which it is composed, undergoes a growth in its self-consciousness and with that an evolution in the ability of its writers to express the reality of place.

Maoriland is taken to be a false dawn of national self-knowledge, an embarrassing colonial confusion about identity, in which nothing significant of the local was noticed because the eyes of the lookers were fixed so firmly on absent realities. To describe Maoriland thus is to affirm that there is a true national consciousness — fashioned by the exacting attention to the world to hand, geographical or cultural — from which it falls short. Modernism and postcolonialism have defined the nation by rejecting the meanings established in the colonial period, in the process throwing up their own versions of national identity which still address Pakeha concerns by drawing on Maori cultural sources. The nation, however, remains bothered by the old quandary of identity. Unsure what to attach itself to, the sources in European settlement and identity making or the Maori part which offers to guarantee an identity rooted in the local, the land itself drifts like the smoke in Bill Manhire's poem 'Zoetropes', threatening to become Aotearoa, reverting jealously to New Zealand, uncertainly joining the two with a nervous oblique.9

We would argue that literature is not evolutionary, although there are periods of more intense and concerted activity than others — moments that have a longer afterlife. Cultural nationalism in the 1930s and '40s was certainly one such moment, and Maoriland was not. But the latter, like the former, was one in which writers sought to respond both, as Northrop Frye puts it, to the question 'Who am I?' and more importantly to the question 'Where is here?'10 Moreover, in the colonial period literature was much more mainstream and middle-brow — that page 272is to say, it had an audience — than in the elitist modernist 1930s. Thus when Jessie Mackay felt outraged about government actions at Parihaka she wrote a poem on the subject and published it in the newspaper. The writers of the 1930s, however acutely conscious of the political urgencies of the decade, did not in their serious writing aim to address a broad public audience, for which they felt contempt. Indeed, disdain for the middle-class values of progressivism and optimism that colonial writers valued was a hallmark of the 1930s generation. As Bruce Mason said of Sargeson in 1978:

Sargeson was bold enough to say, 'Look! Listen! Mark! This is all it has amounted to. Against your growth, your progress, I place these bleak and stunted lives; against the blare of self-congratulation, the tiny music of the numb and spiritless.'11

Mason here signals one of the key markers of difference between Maoriland and modernism: the former's sense of social and material optimism and the conviction of closeness to a general audience. This optimism did not survive the Great War, and was wholly out of place in the Depression-gripped 1930s. Edward Tregear writing to A. G. Stephens in 1914 marks the end of the faith in the future and thus of colonial culture:

The optimism that bore me up superbly all my life creeps 'on a broken wing'…. The [Waihi miners'] strike began it, the war has finished it. Religion and civilization, science and culture — harlots all! I suppose, being a believer still as to there being an Intelligence at the Heart of Things, that it is necessary I should see my life's efforts wasted and the human race 'reel back into the beast' but I feel like Arthur in his ruined kingdom with the tide that laps the faces of my dread.12

Alongside the intellectual struggles of Victorian doubt, Tregear puts a general sense of fracture and meaninglessness. The incoming tide of emptiness and dread he refers to looks back to Arnold's 'Dover Beach' and the outgoing sea of faith. For Arnold 'science and culture' would compensate for the loss of faith. But for Tregear all the consoling narratives, human as well as divine, have been vitiated.

page 273

Instead of being embarrassed by Maoriland — embarrassment signalling resented self-recognition — we might come to see Maoriland as having been part of the solution to being modern, albeit one that denied modernity to Maori. Maoriland writers, like the Celtic Revivalists or Longfellow or Lonnrot or the brothers Grimm, took the archaic into the modern, granting themselves thereby a way of being real. For colonial New Zealand writers this reality was appropriated from Maori sources and is still being used now to define the nation. This is a problem not just for Pakeha. When modern Maori seek the authentic sources of cultural knowledge they must do so through culturally translated sources. There is no unmediated way back to the past; there are only versions and stories of the past which speak to the present in different ways at different times.

Embarrassment about Maoriland writing continues to cripple our ability to attend to it in terms appropriate to its own time and production. This is no longer the case in the fine arts and decorative culture. Even the kitsch aspects of late-colonial culture are being taken seriously by artists and museums. In a discussion with several artists in 1995 in the magazine Midwest the matter of 'Maoriana' was raised:

[Robert Leonard]: Where are the museum collections of Maoriana material?

Megan [Tamati-Quennell]: All museums have stuff.

Judy [Darragh]: But they just don't know what to do with it.

George [Hubbard]: Because they're embarrassed.

Megan: They're not embarrassed. It's just that nobody's ever looked at this stuff. No-one has seen it for what it is. It's fallen between the cracks. It's not Maori in the strict sense, but it's also not seen as history. It's not art, it's all decorative and applied art, but it doesn't fit into craft history all that easily either. It doesn't fit the usual museum categories. But there have been major changes in the way our museums operate, over the last five years really. They're trying to open those areas up, to catch the stuff that falls between. They're only just catching up really.13

While the populist forms of Maoriana are now being attended to by a more culturally inclusive art-historical community, the academic work of Goldie has enjoyed major attention over the last decade and page 274a half. Goldie is the painterly equivalent of Maoriland writing, using Maori subjects located in the past. His elderly figures in abject positions wearing beautiful tiki assert their relation to the past and deny their place in the present (except perhaps the 1905 portrait of Te Aho-o-te-Rangi Wharepu in bowler hat and suit with a gold fob watch, a pounamu pendant and moko, where the title, '"All 'e Same t'e Pakeha"', draws attention to the incongruity of tradition and contemporaneity). The sentimentalisation of Goldie's studies is characteristic of Maoriland representation. However, in the exhibition of his work that toured New Zealand in 1998–99, descendents of the subjects whose heads he was memorialising in the 1900s were able to sidestep the Maoriland frame and connect directly with their ancestors, infusing the portraits with an owned presence. Leonard Bell speaks of the way Goldie's paintings are highly regarded by Maori: 'they could, and can, in particular contexts of use represent not loss and subordination but continuing difference and resistance to assimilation'.14

Roger Blackley observes that the works of Goldie and other colonial painters inhabit two realities, that of 'the nineteenth-century academic genre of orientalism, within a fascinating sub-category we could term colonial orientalism' and 'a Maori reality … as taonga, or Maori heirlooms'. He points to 'considerable evidence that Maori have always taken an intense if uneasy interest in the production and collection of such images'.15 In 1990 the National Art Gallery purchased two Goldie paintings, 'Darby and Joan' and 'The Widow'. On their subsequent return to New Zealand, they were greeted as embodiments of the sitters, Ina Te Papatahi and Harata Rewiri Tarapata. A descendent was quoted as saying: 'I took one look at them and I knew they were part of me.'16 When a Goldie exhibition was held at the Museum of Sydney in 1998, curator Blackley likened it to 'a Maori shrine, with around 1500 local Maori gathering in an all-day festival to visit and share information about their tupuna, or ancestors'.17

Alexander and Currie show their awareness both of the attractions of Maoriland appropriation and its incipient problems in their introduction to New Zealand Verse (1906), where they place the struggle of New Zealand poets with the local in a comparative imperial context

The life and history of the Maori, again, give a wide field for poetry, which has not been tilled with success as yet. His page 275romance has more than the pathos and soul of the Red Indian, and his long tale of legends of peace and war, lovers and heroes, not less than his quaint and beautiful mythology, is treasuretrove that belongs to the New Zealand poet by right of the soil. But though many writers have attempted to versify the legends, all have manifestly found them extremely difficult to deal with … 18

If, under the guise of recording and preserving the ancient world of the Maori, Maoriland writers sought to fashion their own history, they were nevertheless aware of the limits of this manufacture. A century later such awareness still needs encouragement among Pakeha. In banishing Maoriland from memory they run the danger of repeating its appropriations of Maori to their own purposes; in seeking to expunge the embarrassments of their colonial past, they continue to invent a history for themselves rather than encounter an actual one.

1 Maning, Old New Zealand, p. 3.

2 Martin Blythe, Naming the Other: Images of Maori in New Zealand Film and Television (Metuchen, N.J., and London: Scarecrow Press, 1994), p. 17.

3 Gorst had been Sir George Grey's Civil Commissioner during the Kingite actions, and was expelled from the Waikato by Rewi Maniopoto in 1863.

4 Steven Webster, Patrons of Maori Culture: Power, Theory and Ideology in the Maori Renaissance (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1998), p. 8.

5 Patricia Grace, Cousins (Auckland: Penguin, 1992), p. 235.

6 Allen Curnow, 'House and Land', Bornholdt, et al. Anthology of New Zealand Poetry, p. 399.

7 Janet Frame, A State of Siege (New York: Braziller, 1966), pp. 122–3.

8 Kingsbury, 'Poetry in New Zealand, 1850–1930', p. 1.

9 Bill Manhire, 'Zoetropes', Collected Poems (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2001), p. 132. In Anne French's 'Cabin Fever' New Zealand viewed from the air is like a J boat 'sailing bravely south away from/Europe and towards the ice, or a waka, small as a room, unstable/in a big swell, blown off course and heading nowhere in particular', Cabin Fever (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1990), p. 33.

10 Northrop Frye, The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination (Toronto: Anansi, 1971), p. 220.

11 Bruce Mason, Islands, 6 no. 3 (March 1978), p. 243.

12 Edward Tregear, letter to A. G. Stephens, 4 October 1914, cited in Jones, Writers in Residence, pp. 255–6.

13 Robert Leonard, et al., 'Maoriana', Midwest, 7 (1995), p. 24.

14 Leonard Bell, 'Looking at Goldie: Face to Face with "All 'e Same T'e Pakeha"', Double Vision: Art Histories and Colonial Histories in the Pacific, eds. Nicholas Thomas and Diane Losche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 183.

15 Roger Blackley, 'Surviving Goldie', in Pre/dictions: The Role of Art at the End of the Millennium: Papers Presented at the Conference of the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand, Victoria University of Wellington, 2–5 December 1999 (Wellington: Department of Art History, Victoria University of Wellington, 2000), p. 140.

16 Quoted from a newspaper report by Leonard Bell in 'Two Paintings by C. F. Goldie: Their Brilliant Careers', Art New Zealand, 59 (1991), p. 89.

17 Robert McDougall Art Gallery Exhibitions Archive 1998, http://www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz/Exhibitions/1998/CFGoldie.

18 Alexander and Currie, introduction, New Zealand Verse, p. xxvii.