Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, and other writers of indigenous descent invoke the spirit of ‘tino rangatiratanga’, which is an ethical position negotiated between Māori and the British Crown in Aotearoa-New Zealand’s 1840 Treaty of Waitangi. It

encompasses the special relationship of indigenous peoples with their land. This relationship is part of their ‘figured world’ and includes realities ‘other’ than those usually accepted by Westerners as ‘real’. As Metge has described, there are

metaphysical components to these Māori realities (ibid.). Clammer et al. quote Smith: “ It is one of the few parts of ourselves which the West cannot decipher, cannot

understand and cannot control… yet”. However, they also point out that the need to include indigenous ways of ‘seeing’ can be addressed by initiatory participation in a culture, as Poirier has done amongst the Kakatja Aboriginal people in Australia. This is not about control but about understanding and embodiment (both cited in Clammer et al: 10-11). It describes an ethical methodology that fits the requirements of ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ and is a model of the kind of commitment that Amiria Hēnare

advocates when she says: “On this view, anthropological analysis has little to do with how other people think about the world. It has to do with how we must think in order to conceive the world the way they do” (2007: 15).

Hēnare’s approach owes much to the influence of Amerindian perspectivist philosophy as espoused by Vivieros De Castro. Anthropologists need to take seriously the claim that indigenous articulations of their ways of ‘seeing’ are, at least to them, “enunciations of different worlds” (ibid.). In them, voice and meaning are given to concepts whose truth is foreign to, and not recognised by most Westerners for whom what counts as ‘truth’ therefore becomes epistemologically contested. Furthermore, no one culture has a monopoly on truth, for truth in this view is about the perception of the people whose ‘figured world’ is under consideration. This, then, makes allocating the power of decision-making and representation of such perceptions of the world a difficult matter because it involves assigning the power over deciding which

epistemological position is ‘correct’. For inter-cultural study this assignment then becomes even more problematic. However, Vivieros De Castro has recently suggested a method of comparison between anthropologies that gives full credence to the

ontologies, and to the perspectival positions of both cultures being compared. He has identified the problem as one of “translation of the ‘native’s’ practical and discursive

concepts …[in a way that] allows the alien concepts to deform and subvert the translators conceptual toolbox so that the intention of the original language can be expressed within the new one”. His proposed solution is a method called

equivocation, that “… allows communication between perspectival positions”, and the objective for the translator is to remain in with the objective equivocation, allowing space for different understandings to co-exist (2004: 5). The equivocation then

becomes “a tool of objectification” between indigenous and anthropological discourse where it becomes apparent that different people misunderstand things differently. That is, the investigator identifies an object, being, or conceptual expression, which both the ‘native’ and the ‘other’ can ‘see’. Then s/he attempts to ‘see’ and translate it from both subjective perspectives. If this is done by personal involvement anddialogue of both peoples, then the perceptual and conceptual differences in ‘seeing’ and

‘knowing’ can therefore be objectified.

Despite such methodological efforts to eliminate the tensions, they are always present, especially if one party alone is making interpretations about the behaviour of the ‘other’, and particularly if it is across time, using early documents and oral

histories, as is the case for this thesis. However, it is worth considering the opinion of Richard White:

Descendants of Europeans cannot claim a special knowledge of what their ancestors thought centuries ago simply because their ancestors in some collective sense created these documents, nor can descendants of native peoples claim privileged knowledge because of accounts of contact that survive amongst them (2000: 170).

Nevertheless, though biased and incomplete, these ‘documents’ can help elucidate what happened when Māori and Pakeha interacted in pre-colonial times. They reveal at least to some extent, how and why people behaved as they did, and, with the objects exchanged, may explicate their ways of ‘seeing and knowing’. Different behaviours and objects may themselves become equivocations, as Chapter four will illustrate. Because a ‘thing’ is ‘seen’ as inanimate by Europeans, and could at the same time be ‘seen’ as the instantiation of an atua or spiritual being by Māori, then it is an equivocation. It highlights in an objective way, differences in ‘truth’ which co-exist between knowledge systems. For the Māori and European groups being examined in this thesis, the records differ, and these differences are a reflection of their ways of ‘seeing and knowing’ as much as they are a reflection of the

was a matter of perception and conception, about their own identities, about what counts as truth and under what circumstances. For Europeans there are diaries and other archival material, and for Māori there are oral histories, oratorical practices, myths, waiata (songs & chants) and karakia (prayers & invocations), which persist and can help reveal those ways of ‘seeing’ that existed at the time being investigated. European and indigenous experts who now live in both ‘figured worlds’ can assist in their interpretation. Some form of detailed lived experience within the culture in question can also provide an ethical platform where indigenous people can guide and keep investigators under surveillance whilst they learn “how we must think in order to conceive the world the way they do”– or indeed the way they may have done in former times (Hēnare, 2007: 15; cf. Ingold, 2009: 2315). Following Hēnare’s

recommendation that no reality or truth should be privileged over any other, this then makes possible translations and representations about why situations of conflict, for example, arose between them. Moreover, just as indigenous scholars and their ‘figured worlds’ can provide insights into Western ontologies, so can ‘Western’ scholars provide insights into understanding indigenous ontologies. In true

collaboration, the method of equivocation suggested by Vivieros De Castro could well be used for translation of aspects of the ‘figured worlds’ being compared, for, in his words: “ As in stereoscopic vision, it is necessary that the two eyes not see the same thing in order for another thing (the real thing in the field of vision) to be able to be seen, that is constructed or counterinvented… to translate is to presume difference” (2004: 20).

New perspectives on truths are always valuable for any society, and food for debate. Truths can be shared, tested in both realms, and both can benefit from the insights thus revealed about human ‘worlds’. Ethnocentrism does not belong only to Westerners, and the problem that needs to be solved is actually in the domain of ethics, which is the basis for decision-making about how and by whom understandings about truth in inter-cultural transactions should be negotiated and represented. For this present time, Borofsky recommends: “... conversations across differences... as a way of collectively thinking with the region’s varied pasts, [is]... a way of weaving new narratives and new conversations” (2000: 29-30).

Hau’ofa repeats that this has always happened in the Pacific and elsewhere – humans are forever constructing various kinds of narratives – “… every generation rewrites its history... ”. He urges Oceanians to participate in these historical

reconstructions and interpretations, that they will gain from them a greater autonomy. The Māori and Polynesian way of seeing ‘nga wa o mua’ (times gone before) as being alive in us, is a promising and reflexive way for all inhabitants of Oceania to interpret our lives moving forward into the future (2000: 454-6).

Therefore, in the spirit of having ‘conversations across differences’, and across time, the next two sections of this chapter seek to outline the two ways of ‘seeing and knowing’ which contributed to much ill-informed decision making by Māori and European participants during early transactions on the real and metaphorical beaches of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Aotearoa-New Zealand (cf. Dening, 1980; 2004).

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 69-72)


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