Text, Context, and the Representation of ‘others’ Three aspects of text and context are considered here:

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 34-36)

Firstly, in this study there are two kinds of text, which are already

representations, no matter how objective they claim to be. There are the texts from which the research information was obtained, which are primarily archival documents, diaries, ship’s logs, journals, letters, reports, early ethnographies and official

statements, oral histories, orally based literature such as poetry and oral religious ‘texts’. All have their own bias depending upon the position, trajectory, and ontological worlds of the writer who chose the context in which to set them9.

Secondly, more recent histories have re-represented these documents, selecting some and excluding others, editing and giving a new bias for publication, thus producing yet another new context.

Thirdly, this attempt to incorporate them into my interpretation creates yet another new context from a multi-perspectivist approach. This, as it has been applied

to the South Island and Chatham Island material, has given insights from a fresh reading of the manuscripts by using new interpretations of the agency of people and objects from a Māori cultural perspective, as well as that of Europeans.

‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing’ and ‘many heads are better than one’. Many cultural and disciplinary perspectives are also better than one. As Stephen (Tipene) O’Regan has said, we have to bear in mind the purpose for which a text has been written, because that forms part of it’s context and determines what has been selected and what has been omitted for presentation (1992: 24-6)10. This issue is particularly relevant when one is seeking to represent the perspective of someone from a lower position in the social hierarchy. Although the following comment refers to Māori, it may equally well apply to Europeans: “Situations are forgotten, names are changed, and quite often as history evolves the senior lines are changed, are conveniently forgotten or manipulated so that everyone becomes a Chief. There are no commoners” (Jim Gray, in Steedman, n.d.: i). There is therefore no apology here for writing yet another account of human interaction in Te Wai Pounamu. High and low ranking people of all the ethnicities involved – and even other members of these societies not directly involved, may all have had multiple agentive capabilities for making

decisions or influencing decision-making. Their individual agency was not dependent only upon their traditional knowledge, social position and personal trajectory, but upon their contingent and spontaneous re-configuration of meanings when the encounters occurred and new items, meanings and observed behaviours entered the equation. When things began to go wrong during transaction episodes, particular social actors and the decisions they made were crucial to whether or not violence occurred. Such sequences of decision-making are explored in the remaining chapters of this thesis.

Adrian Bennett argues for a re-examination of primary texts to try and overcome the bias of sequential re-representations, and this has been done wherever possible (2005: 62). Supplementary use of Māori oral literature is an attempt to include Māori discourse in its various formats: whaikōrero, karakia,pakiwaitara, waiata and so on, which have been recorded by such indigenous scholars as Apirana Ngata and Pei Jones.Sadly, it has been impossible to remove the contextual filters that have already been applied by bureaucratic ‘others’ of our colonial past, but an attempt has been made to compensate by applying insights gained from contemporary Māori practices that bear the stamp of those reported in the archival material. Collection of such

contemporary material is also fraught with representational difficulties because of contemporary political power struggles. Members of different iwi and social status groups are keen to position their public views strategically in terms of collective and individual power, as Borofsky says for the Pacific more generally. However, this should not prevent us from aiming for objectivity, approaching more closely by “...negotiation, involving conversations across divergent perspectives, with challenges and counter challenges” (2000: 10). Borofsky refers to oral interactions, and would probably include discursive textual interactions also. Ricouer highlights the increased possibility of misinterpretation of text that is addressed to anyone who can read, and is polyvocal because it lacks visual cues. Once text leaves its author it can have

unintended consequences (1979: 80-90). From the anthropologist’s point of view, there are ethical dilemmas of representations thus produced – especially as they may affect those who have minimal cultural capital – if they are misused or misinterpreted by those holding the balance of power (Comaroff & Comaroff: 1992: 7-15).

Bearing in mind that for this investigation, many of the representations thus far published have perpetuated the imbalance and power relationships of past eras, it seems appropriate to raise the issues of social rank and position for this context. As Gramsci has said, the two worlds of power interacted with each other and it is between them that social history is made. The comment applies to all societies and these ‘two worlds of power’ both need to be examined for any society. None is superior or can take the moral high ground and we should not “arrogate to ourselves an exclusive, emancipatory, suprahistorical purchase on reality” (Comaroff & Comaroff, 1992: 17). However, researchers ‘have what they have’ and must continue to do their best to record what they observe of people’s behaviours, trying to interpret and give them contexts, explaining the social power relations and what ‘others’ say about

themselves. The hope for any textual discourse raised in this thesis, is therefore that (at least for the Māori, Moriori and European examples described) any possible future representations may incorporate all those social actors11 known to have participated in the ongoing ‘first encounters’ which can still be observed and experienced.

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 34-36)