Power, Ownership and Social control

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 89-92)

Christian notions such as the Great Chain of Being were combined with contemporary debates on the ‘nature’ of humanity, and with secular and religious views of their spiritual relationships in Georgian and Victorian Society. These

discourses were used to justify the making of new property law, and to exercise social control, by those most privileged and educated. Though common law dating from ‘time immemorial’ (AD.1189) existed for the protection of commoners as well,

property ownership laws in Europe and Britain favoured those of higher rank and birth such as the nobility who, in Māori Society would have been seen as having the

greatest mana and tapu. In the European concept of the Great Chain of Being, and of Linneus’s classificatory system these people would have been both ‘superior’ and have more ‘soul’. However, some Enlightenment discourses also challenged these notions of ‘truth’, and the Divine Right of Kings had already been abolished. In the European system ownership of land and resources reflected rank and birth, but the property was not protected by the mana and tapu of its owners, but by laws based upon a Roman concept of privilege.

‘Theft’, and its associated ‘punishment’ are repeated components of the Māori- European exchanges described in this thesis. They are implicated in Georgian and Victorian ideas of ownership, ‘law’, ‘human nature’, and what constitutes a good person in the Christian sense, so what follows, immediately raises issues that probably influenced people reporting their cross-cultural experiences in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century New Zealand. They also, contributed to misunderstandings on the same occasions, and the utu that they engendered could not be interpreted as ‘punishment’ in the European sense. For example, it would not have entered the heads of European mariners, that verbally insulting a chief, and not being punished for it might be understood as diminishing his spiritual powers, and be a justifiable cause for utu.

Entwined with eighteenth century discourses on human nature (some persisting today in Western popular discourse), is the understanding of how ownership relates to our concept of the human person. Pocock traced these ideas via Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776) to Tacitus and the “biblical paradigm”. He saw the “history of any society… as part of the search for its natural law… the history of its jurisprudence… land tenure and… property” (Pocock, 1992: 34). In the early seventeenth century it was thought that ‘natural humans’ in their primeval state were individuals with no rights, property, justice or government and therefore not ‘fully human’. The assumption was that to be fully human, a legal system to arbitrate and a technology such as a plough to demarcate the land were required to provide a sedentary lifestyle. This would then promote sociality, language and government. People without these were not fully human and this “discourse of possessive

individualism… a great deal older than market relationships… can be found in Roman jurisprudence.” A Roman citizen owned his land, slaves, weapons and home. The Enlightened equivalent of this person was paid money for services and property and could spend time on public duties and artistic pursuits. This idea caused problems for some like Rousseau, who thought that a ‘self’ too socially engaged would lose its individuality (ibid.). There was a choice between savagery, and corruption, as the next section of this chapter suggests. Many educated eighteenth-century people thought the savage individual was the “… original individual born on the earth and living on it”, a conflation of the “wild men of the woods” and hunter-gatherer peoples without western agricultural technology or “civil government by consent”, whom Westerners saw on their travels (ibid.). If people had no property, law or government to reinforce its ownership, exchange or commerce, then they were savages (ibid: 34-5)23. Some voyagers to New Zealand gave Māori the opportunity to become ‘civilised’, but doubted their capacity to be ‘improved’:

We also gave them two young pigs, male and female, hen and a rooster… if they know how to take care of these things there are enough of them to reproduce… But the laziness of these people is so great that it is to be feared that our seed fell on very unproductive ground (L’Horme, 1769, in McNab, 1914, Vol 2: 343).

But naturalist J. R. Forster, surgeon-ethnographer Savage, and missionary Marsden all described how Māori could be to be trained (‘improved’) to raise themselves above the savage level, and made efforts to help them to do so:

I shall now proceed to notice the first dawn of the rising of the sun of righteousness upon the poor benighted heathen of New Zealand… I have always considered this circumstance as one of the first apparent steps, adopted by divine providence, to prepare the way for the

introduction of the gospel to New Zealand… He [Governor King] saw them safely landed amongst their friends… gave them some hogs… instruments for agricultural purposes… axes, spades, &c… as he thought conducive to their future good.

(Samuel Marsden, 1814 in McNab, 1908: 333)

[T]he natives of New Zealand are of a very superior order, both of personal appearance and intellectual endowments [p16]… their intelligence is such as to render them capable of instruction, and I have no doubt that they would prove as essentially useful to a colony established in their country, as the natives of India prove to our Asiatic Dominions. (John Savage, 1807: 93)

Gasgoigne says that ‘improvement’ was a goal in which agriculture would civilise people, and was “at the heart of landed society” (1994: 185). Savages could become human by gaining possessive individuality and then civil government, but fully human beings could also lose these characteristics by practising a nomadic lifestyle. Goguet’s gentiles in De L’Origine des Loix des Artes et des Sciences (1758) forgot their morality, natural laws, agricultural and pastoral practices as they

wandered and became nomads like the Kaliharians and Tasmanians. They could even have become cannibals (the ultimate form of savagery). For Goguet, hunter-gatherers were savages and civilisation was promoted by agriculture, because it kept people in one place, making possible the exchange of ideas and things through language and socialisation (Pocock, 1992: 36). It is this kind of exchange which some mariners and missionaries attempted to achieve as their writings above suggest. The notion of individual property ownership accompanying Enlightenment discourse about the ‘natural laws’ of humanity, helps explain the misunderstandings their participants had, about Māori-European transaction behaviour in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century New Zealand.

Europeans grew up with this property ownership discourse, and its legal implications. Some had experienced the consequences of not abiding by those

implications, despite not always having the real possibility of doing so. However, they knew about them, no matter how unjust they felt them to be. Moreover individual property ownership ideas were enshrined in the bible, which, through Puritan sects and dissenters like Methodists, became increasingly accessible to ordinary people. Their programme of developing an‘inner compulsion’ to keep the ‘ten

commandments’ developed a fine sense of guilt that reinforced the still harsh legal system and enforcement of property rights (cf. E.P. Thompson, 1968: ch. 11). I am

referring here to a system that condemned fourteen-year-old George Bruce to death for stealing two handkerchiefs (in Whitley MS., 1898: 8-10), a phenomenon quite an everyday occurrence in Georgian Britain. Māori initially had no idea of these things. They had different notions of ownership and of theft, based on different discourse altogether: the concepts of mana, tapu and utu.

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 89-92)

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