This same period in which the Ngāi Tahu-Ngāti Toa conflicts were happening was also a period when contacts with European traders, whalers and settlers were taking place. Many inter-iwi conflicts were contemporaneous with these Māori-
European conflicts. As it is the purpose of this thesis to examine these conflicts, and to consider the role of misunderstandings of objects within them, it is relevant to
examine how Māori and European people at that time understood both the objects transacted, and what would be the ‘appropriate’ protocols for peoples’ behaviour towards them. The relatively small conflict that has come to be known as the “Wairau Affray”, and which was described in the colonial literature as the “Wairau Massacre”, is therefore an appropriate one in which to observe ‘things’, both Māori and European, and their roles as social actors within that framework. This altercation has already
been foreshadowed in the Introduction of this thesis. The aim in the current chapter is to observe how the ‘things’ were understood, in order to tease out some of the
understandings and mis-understandings of their roles as social actors, and how they contributed to the violence.
Because the Wairau affray involved an attempt by New Zealand Company officials to force Ngāti Toa to sell land, which they were reluctant to part with, and understood that they had not been paid for, Māori and European eyewitness accounts of the conflict, and the historical contextual situations, have been well documented by colonial officials and by Ngāti Toa. There is no intention here to detail these
complexities in this section, but to consider only the ‘things’ that were co-actants in the conflict, and how they were understood by both parties to the actual violent incidents. Examining these ‘things’ and their ‘actions’ exposes very well the
understandings and misunderstandings that members of each party had of the other’s intentions and actions.
The leading human protagonists in this affair were: the Ngāti Toa chiefs Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata, and Rāwiri Pūaha (who was a Christian); as well as the Nelson magistrate Thompson, and the New Zealand Company officer Captain Arthur Wakefield (Wiraweke). In this thesis I propose to examine both the personalities and characters of these people, and their understandings of each other’s motives and meanings. I am trying to understand these motives and meanings firstly, through the way they used ‘things’37. Each party was accompanied by fighting men. In the case of
Ngāti Toa these were trained warriors, but those accompanying Wakefield and
Thompson were really civilians commandeered for the job. Caught in the middle were some Māori women and some European surveyors, including Cotterill, and Barnicoat who wrote an eyewitness journal about the affair. As indicated in the Introduction, Māori had been resisting the sale and occupation of their lands, so, after attempting to dissuade the English by unsuccessful dialogue, they began a tactic of non-violent but physical resistance. The objects involved in the fray were:
A large military cannon, guns, pistols, cutlasses, tomahawks, mere, some surveyors ranging rods and survey pegs, ‘things brought from England’, a bible, a watch, a white handkerchief, a European coat, a document, 2 boats (a brig and a whaleboat), some sea-going waka, a hut and a piece of damper bread.
Tāmihana Te Rauparaha claimed that Captain Blenkinsopp (Kāpene
Piringatapu) had given the cannon to Te Rauparaha who did not understand the full impact of the documentthat accompanied it, because Blenkinsopp had told him to show it to any passing ship’s captains “so that [they] may see that Te Rauparaha and his friends are chiefs”. The document was written in English. Wakefield correctly thought it to be a contract for the sale of the Wairau. Te Rauparaha, checking with his European flax buyer, found that this was true, so he and other chiefs ripped the document up, burned it, and went to Wairau by waka with a party of warriors, to check out whether there were any signs of surveying going on there (T. Te Rauparaha MS: 110; in White, 1890, Vol. 6: 43). This is the first series of misunderstandings of ‘things’. Initially, Te Rauparaha did not understand the meaning of having accepted the cannon, or the meaning of the discourse surrounding it (in the form of the document). Blenkinsopp fully understood it because he mortgaged the document in Sydney and told deliberate lies to Te Rauparaha about what it meant. Arthur
Wakefield and magistrate Thompson thought it to be a legal contract, that they had a right to forcibly buy this land because Māori were not using it for agricultural
purposes, and that this could be achieved by giving a few presents: “… I maintain it is in your deed & also in Mrs Blenkinsopp and that I shall only give presents upon settling as in the case of Motueka” (Arthur to William Wakefield, March 1843).
Arthur Wakefield was operating on quite a different value system – that of English law, involving a misunderstanding which categorised the Māori as ‘savages’ because they were not cultivating the land, and therefore had no right to claim it as their own – a philosophy originating in 18th century Britain (cf. Burns, 1980: 240). The Māori concept of ‘ahi kā’, where occupation of lands did not necessarily involve permanent habitation or cultivation was obviously foreign to him.
When Rauparaha and his party arrived at Wairau, they found that the European surveyors had erected a hut and begun the survey, so Rangihaeata told his men to remove the ranging rods, and equipment from the hut including “things brought from England’, and put them outside. He then burnt the hut. Surveyor Barnicoat said that it was “… built of raupo and poles put loosely and hastily together” (in Burns, 1980: 240). Rangihaeata correctly interpreted the hut for what it was – a structure that was, along with the surveying equipment acting as part, of a land claim. Yet he appealed to any sense of justice that the Europeans might have by claiming that the materials it
was made of were his, and not paid for: “Do not be angry. This toetoe belongs to me; it grew on my land... it is right that I should burn it. All the things belonging to you Europeans have been taken out of the house, and I am acting in accordance with just law” (T. Te Rauparaha, in White, 1890: 138).
The Christian chief Rāwiri Pūaha had fallen out with Te Rauparaha and headed away towards the mouth of the river where he came across Wakefield, Thompson and about 50 others “armed with guns, pistols, and cutlasses”. Some of them tried to bully him into revealing the whereabouts of the Ngāti Toa, but he managed to elude them and warn his people (Tāmihana Te Rauparaha 1890, in White, Vol. 6: 141). When they finally met, the altercation was initially a verbal one, where Thompson, Wakefield and company tried to arrest Te Rauparaha as being responsible for the burning down of the hut, and attempted to persuade him to go on board the
government brig. At this point Pūaha leapt to his feet with a New Testament in his hand and announced that most of them “ professed to be bound by [its] precepts… and did not wish to fight” (ibid: 143). This of course suggests that all the ‘things’ present at this stage were not equally understood by both parties in their roles as social actors, any more than were the cannon, the document, and the surveying equipment. The guns, pistols and cutlasses were weapons to Māori and to Europeans, but it seems doubtful that these weapons of a group of largely untrained men would have been perceived by the Māori warriors as having any other purpose or agency than the ability to kill or maim in the same manner as a pātītī or hatchet. They are unlikely to have been thought of as having the mana and efficacy attributed by Māori to the mere pounamu “Heketua” which Rangihaeata had with him, for example (in Temple, 2002: 317). Heketua’smana would have enhanced Rangihaeata’s ability to dispatch Arthur Wakefield and others, as utu for the death of Te Rongo from a stray bullet at the outset38. At least it could have been perceived as such. It is unlikely that this notion would have entered the imagination or understanding of Arthur Wakefield, for whom the symbolism of the New Testament and peace may have had more of an equivalent meaning, as would also their raising of a white handkerchief as a sign of peace – something widely understood in the Pacific and from the previous century39 (Te Rauparaha, Morgan, 1890, in White Vol 6: 145, 147). After Wakefield had been killed, Te Rauparaha’s party did not follow their usual procedure of stripping the bodies of the slain but took Wakefield’s watch, and buried it with Te Rongo.
Wakefield was left on the field with his skull split open and a piece of damper bread for a pillow – something that would have puzzled the Europeans who found him, but from Māori, was the ultimate insult: to degrade his mana (and that of those whom he represented ie. the New Zealand Company)by putting some noa cooked food in close contact with the most tapu part of his body. The concept of burying with one’s family member an object that had belonged to the enemy seems an unlikely thing for a European to do, but for Māori, as the trajectories of objects already mentioned would suggest, is an understandable form of utu.
It can therefore be seen by considering the “Wairau Affray” that European objects and Māori objects had at least some characteristics that differed in terms of how they were understood between Ngāti Toa and the English settlers. Even at this late stage in the interactions between Māori and Europeans, there continued to be differences in comprehension of each other’s behaviours and discourse, around the meanings and significations of objects. None of these were as straightforward as is usually assumed. Tracing the trajectories of some of these objects as well as observing the manner in which they are treated at different stages of their life histories, enables them to be ‘read’, because they embody not only their physical selves, but also the kōrero or discourse surrounding them elucidates their actions, and the social lives of their human co-actants.
This chapter has described various facets of how material objects such as
weapons, clothing, and ornaments, were (and are) perceived differently by Maori than by Europeans. Because of this, transactions and interactions between them frequently led to misunderstandings and violence. Examples of this have been described. An examination and comparison of the life trajectories of a number of Maori tāonga has been used to illustrate the ways in which they are understood to embody relationships amongst people, and between people and their lands and gods. Tāonga can therefore be considered as ‘vehicles for mana’, which accumulate mana by association with people, events and places where they have been present. Thus, in conjunction with the consequent kōrero that comes to surround them, such objects aquire an agency and efficacy of their own that is additional to any agency that they may have by
socio-religious force. Because they may sometimes be misrepresented in stories where they are used to enhance the mana of persons, even if the stories are not ‘true’ they may continue to perform a socio-political role in interactions between iwi. How they are used helps to expose the meaning behind the actions in which they are social actors, and this is how they are being used in this thesis – to help clarify why Maori behaviour was frequently misunderstood by Europeans, and violence was so
frequently the result.