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Summary of the Open Bay conflict – transition points and actors

In contrast to the analysis of the first Kaiapoi conflict between Ngāi Tahu and the war parties of the Ngāti Toa alliance, the Open Bay conflict is but a small affair, involving far fewer numbers, and was in many ways much less complex in the way it played out. However the context was just as complex and involved two groups who were much more disparate than at Kaiapoi. Each ‘saw’ and ‘knew’ the world quite differently. They had differing life

trajectories – even between themselves – and different ideas of what constitutes honesty, honour and justice, as has been alluded to above. It was thus a simple conflict on one level and a very complex one on another. Transition points are like places where the pathway divides into two or more separate paths and an individual or group has the opportunity to choose which of the smaller branches to follow. The choice made will depend on a number of factors that include the speed at which it is necessary to make a decision, precognition, the contextual situation, prior learning, and the cultural schemas under which the person or group is

operating. Any transactional sequence may become more complex if it is inter-cultural because interpretation and decision-making would rely upon the ability to guess the ‘others’ next move. What may then happen at transition points is therefore difficult for the participants to predict. However, what must happen is decision-making; and it is contingent decision making that determines whether a sequence turns violent or not. By following the same analytical procedure as has been followed for the Kaiapoi battle sequence, examining the key actors,


their motivations and the contributions they made at the key transition points, it has been possible to understand better the role that has been played by the agency of these individuals who chose to interpret and act on received information in particular ways. It has become more clear also that in some cases they acted spontaneously out of fear and panic, rather than rationally, and that this possibility is potentially present in any inter-cultural transaction, or situation that could become violent.


Summary Chart

Transitional turning points Reasons for Action Initiator (Sealers)

Kent decides to set down boats and catch seals.

a. Strategically distancing himself from any repercussions.

b. Monetaryvalue of skins on European markets.

1.Action (Sealers)

Perkins warns crew of danger of theft and to personal

safety posed by locals. Recommends they make cartridges.

a. Paid more personally for success of job65. b. Display own pride/experienced person [cf. mana].

c. Safety of persons and property. 2. Action (Sealers)

Perkins decides to camp in a dangerous place. Neglects own rules to conceal property.

a. Wanted to keep the peace.

b. Wanted to maintain good crew relations. c. Result of risk assessment.


Reaction (Māori)

Māori watch for 2 days & decide to capture the boat. Reaction (Sealers) Boultbee decides to act against Perkins instructions & fire into oncoming Māori crowd.

Reaction (Māori)

Toko decides to kill Perkins & they all tussle for the boat.

a. Strategy for positive outcome. b. Mana of owning a boat.

c. Boat’s value in Māori exchange system. a. Panic & fear (re. Perkins’ warning, developed from gossip & anecdote). b. Pro-active defence strategy. a. Targeted the leader.

b. Enhance chance of taking the boat etc. by strategic reduction of enemy numbers. c. Utu for Nukutahi killed previously & development of kōrero about this.

d. Increase own mana by taking ‘first fish’. e. Mana of victory and mana of the boat itself.

4. Action & Suspended cessation (Sealers)

Boultbee injures Kāhaki & Māori lose control of the boat & sealers pull away still firing from the boat. (Māori) – raid the camp & challenge them by haka

with the spoils – clothes, camp oven & bread.

a. Fear, desire for survival.

b. Following Perkins’s advice to fire from the boat. a. Retreat of enemy.

b. Pleasure of mana of spoils.


Being reliant upon one primary account does not make for a balanced narrative. However, the remainder of Boultbee’s journal shows him to have been a really reflexive amateur ethnographer whose observations can be compared with indigenous and missionary accounts over a range of aspects of southern Māori life in the early to mid 1800’s. His work has been frequently quoted by Māori sources, and by the contexts in which this has happened, it appears to have been considered reputable by them66. The details of his account of the Open Bay affair appear highly probable, because they describe aspects of Māori behaviour that Boultbee, at that early stage of his arrival here clearly did not comprehend, but he recorded them just the same. However, reading them ‘against the grain’ in the light of known facts of the Māori world-view, makes it possible to better understand their implications. It also makes it possible to see why contingent decision-making by the Europeans caused their interactions to result in violence. The oral histories collected by Herries Beattie have been very useful in clarifying these matters, because the situations and people named in them concur with what Boultbee has written, and there are additional details, none of which contradict Boultbee’s narrative; they support it and provide clarity. Sahlins has said that multiple narratives “which all detail the same event but differently… would serve to confirm their authenticity” (2003: 3- 5; cf. Ricouer, 1979: 78-80).

This examination of a transactional sequence that became violent between sealers and local Māori, was chosen for its size, being smaller than the first Kaiapoi battle sequence; that it happened within about 3-5 years of Kaiapoi; that it was cross-cultural, having Māori,

European, and Pakeha Māori participants and therefore having a range of cultural

understandings about each other. Some ‘thick descriptions’ were also available that could be compared with oral history accounts. As was the case in Chapter five for the Kaiapoi battle analysis, issues of personality and decision-making by human actors, social relationships, ‘outsiders’, emotional responses, rumour and mis-understanding or mis-representation of ‘others’ have been shown as implicated where the progression of social interactions have become violent. There was always a choice that they could have had a different outcome. The choice was when, by whom, and how decisions were made at particular points in the sequence. I have called these decision-making times “transition points” (after Wilson, 2008: 25).


12th December 1817 – The Brig Sophia at Port Daniel (Otakou).