Transitional ‘tipping points’ points progressing to violent outcomes

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 165-167)

The first Kaiapoi battle described in Chapter five, referred to the oratory and dreams of Te Rauparaha, and the alleged ‘mistakes’ in performance of a war dance by the Ngāti Toa rangatahi (young men). As Nihoniho has stated: “… it is a bad omen if the singers do not keep time, or some are out of tune, or some other error is committed” (1913: 54). These tohu (signs) were interpreted by the chiefs and tōhunga[s], who made decisions at various stages about the proposed course of action and this often led to violence. In some cases, such as Te

Rauparaha’s dream about the rat, Pouhawaiki, gnawing at him, the interpretation of Te Rauparaha that this indicated that they should not continue was ignored by Te Pēhi and had a violent outcome. Tipping points in inter-iwi conflict were therefore frequently influenced by interpretations, dreams, karakia for forecasting the future and explaining current

circumstances, and how these might evolve. In these interpretations and omens, weather and astronomical events were also paramount, as these constituted messages from the gods and ancestors. Cloud formations, rainbows, storms at sea and on land, earthquakes and

astronomical phenomena like meteors, eclipses and the seasonal appearance or disappearance of certain star constellations; all aspects of the natural world, were the domain of the gods and their presence during any transaction events could be noted and interpreted as guidance for actions.

European navigators were interested in these things too; for their own safety at sea, as well as for navigational purposes, and their interest in the sky and their possession of

instruments for observation did not go un-noticed by Māori, as examples in the next chapter will show. It is likely that this coincidence would, for some Māori at least imply that European interest in these phenomena and their interpretation was the same as it was for Māori. In sociological parlance they could be regarded as boundary objects55, the understanding of which was different for each, but they had some features in common between cultures (Star &

Griesemer, 1999: 509). This can serve to enable the development of inter-cultural

understanding, and also has the potential for promoting mis-understanding when either party assumes that the interest that each group has in the object or phenomenon has the same meaning for both. Furthermore, because these things were recorded in the navigational logs and date-indexed mariner’s journals, it is possible from the perspective of the present, to work out whether or not certain astronomical and weather events could have precipitated decision- making by Māori which led to violent inter-cultural outcomes in the same way as happened at


Kaiapoi. Use of the predictive capacity of 21st century computer software, also makes it possible to examine the astronomical situation pertaining on certain dates in the past, so this, when combined with mariner’s journal dates can also be a useful tool in the investigation of transition-points for violent sequences. Again, analysis of the fourteen Māori-European transactional events that turned violent has shown that all of them had in common elements of serious anxiety and threat from ‘other’ Māori groups present, and unusual weather and/or astronomical events that had the potential to have been interpreted by Māori as omens. One involved an earthquake, one a full eclipse of the sun, one a meteor, at least two extraordinary storms at sea resulting in loss of life and equipment, and one involved bad news about the death of the Tahitian arioi priest, Tupaia. The arrival of newcomers bearing bad tidings (such as being cast-away or shipwrecked), or bringing news of the death of esteemed persons was also regarded as a bad omen bringing potential danger to the community, and such persons were frequently killed or sent away, as for example after the siege of Kaiapoi (Tau and Anderson, 2008: 188).56

The remaining section documents two cases, one from 1826 and one from 1817. These European-Māori transactions turned violent, just as the first Kaiapoi conflict between Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Toa, around 1828 led to violence between Māori groups (Chapter five). This chapter examines the European-Māori conflicts for their initiating circumstances, for

personality characteristics and for the perceived decision-making of their social actors, as this has been recorded in the archives. It examines also the transition-points at which this decision- making led to violence, and it evaluates in terms of both Māori and European world-views, the possible reasons for why violence was the outcome.

The two cases described in detail both refer to European sealers, and occurred in roughly the same period as the Kaiapoi conflict. Many of the same Māori actors were alive during, and even participated in, the first Kaiapoi skirmish. Southern chiefs Te Whakataupuka, and his nephew Tūhawaiki who participated in some of the consequential events to Kaiapoi were well known to sealer Boultbee, who appears as a social actor in the 1826 example described here. Māori could therefore be expected at the time of this skirmish, to have been operating within the same knowledge framework as that pertaining at the first Kaiapoi battle – substantially free from Christian religious influences. It could be suggested that as European Christian

missionaries had begun arriving in New Zealand in the early 1800’s57, their influence would have begun to be felt amongst Māori by the 1820s and especially amongst those who had crewed on whaling, sealing and trading vessels that had travelled internationally. However,


Ballara has pointed out, and the evidence at least in the South Island situations described here, does appear to demonstrate that Māori ways of justifying and executing violence in conflict situations were not substantially modified by Christian components (2003: 72). Some southern Ngāi Tahu women had formed marriage relationships with sealers and whalers and some such as Teanau Anglem of Rakiura, had been married at Port Jackson in Christian services, but direct missionary activity in Te Wai Pounamu really only began around 1840. It has thus been possible to observe, in the period 1800-1840, Māori ways of pursuing violence with Europeans as a resolution for conflict situations at this time when a few educated sealers, whalers and traders recorded their experiences in voyage journals and ship’s logs.

May 1826. The Brig Elizabeth, sealer, at Open Bay Westland.

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 165-167)


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