Why did violence happen? A New Zealand case

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 132-135)

… even more basic is the question of what these resources themselves mean and how they come to be resources in the first place. For one society this may be land, for another game, for yet another the sacred places and paths that particular spaces contain and, indeed embody… questions that involve… understandings of identity… and the relationship of people to the physical world… (Clammer et al., 2004: 4).

The previous chapter has described how an understanding of tāonga as social actors assists in any interpretation of social interactions where they are presented or exchanged. It has also emphasised how tāonga represent and embody relationships amongst persons and with the land. Hence Tapsell has described how many of them represent “authority over estates”, and therefore they have an economic value to Māori that is enhanced by their perceived spiritual efficacy. Earlier studies of conflict have often used models where competition for economic resources was the main framework within which violence was thought to operate. However, more recent anthropological studies are moving away from the earlier approach and have begun to analyse the triggering factors (including context) for violent behaviour and ‘violence as a social process’.

This chapter describes the first attack on the Ngāi Tahu pā of Kaiapoi, North Canterbury, in about 1828. It demonstrates that issues of land and pounamu resources were component factors in the violent episodes there between the Ngāti Toa alliance and the Ngāi Tahu defenders. However, newer approaches to investigating the causal factors in violent sequences will also be utilised here. The newer models consider that the responsibility, agency and action of individuals as members of a society, and not only economic resources, can initiate and continue the process of violence (Brass, 1997; Schmidt & Schröder, 2001; Wilson, 2008). Wilson’s view is that the “points of transition in a conflict need to be analysed” (2008: 25). These points of transition are places in a violent sequence where decision making about on-going action happens. The decision making is often contingent, but also based upon the agency and

perceptions of particular individuals, who may sometimes be misinformed about the people and context with whom they are engaging. Ontological disjunctions between


knowledge systems may be one aspect that determines the points of transition. Schmidt & Schröder’s view that “no violent act can be fully understood without viewing it as one link in the chain of a long process of events” supports this stance (2001: 7). Brass sees that in some societies there may also be a “grand interpretive framework” in which the violence is played out (1997: 8), whilst Schmidt & Schröder emphasise that contextual features of violence are “social imaginaries that shape collective practice” which is “performed [and] imagined by reflexive, socially positioned human beings under specific historical conditions for concrete reasons” (2001: 19). The actors who play out the violence ‘live’ it, as part of their ordinary lives – an issue that has been raised by Das et al. (1997). Trnka (2008) in her study of the year 2000 Fiji coup has shown how the ‘social imaginaries’ of rumour and gossip become urban myths, in small communities that are trying to cope, and find meaning in their lives, amongst the trauma of conflict. Rumour and gossip have the potential at every transition point, of reinforcing errors and magnifying them, so that discourse influences any rational judgements or contingent actions that participant individuals may make during the course of the sequence. This frequently historicises and perpetuates violence through narrative, which can, in its turn, be “used to animate feelings of hate and anger” (Das et al, 1997). Additionally, it emphasises the point made by Wilson, that the transition points are what need to be examined in any study of the process of violence (ibid.).

The authors of all these recent works therefore consider that violent episodes have overarching structural features present as part of the context, whether these structures be “ grand interpretive frameworks” of meaning as Brass describes for the religious ideologies of his 1983 study in Uttar Pradesh, or “social imaginaries” as Schmidt describes for worldviews of cannibalism as they apply to the Caribbean (2001: 76). Yet all these writers also emphasise the agentive role of human social actors, who are the ones who do the social imagining. That they create action, as Blok said, is one of the key things; and interpretation and imagination is part of that action (ibid: 21). The action is also frequently performative and theatrical, “in which things are ‘said’ as often as they are done”, and what is being said often has some connection with honour, status, identity and reputation, represented as morality (Blok, 2001: 49, 111; cf. Parkin, op.cit: 3). Morality, in the situation of inter-cultural (and intra-


cultural) violence is one way of casting the ‘other’ as different or inferior and a suitable target of violent action.

For specifically New Zealand contexts there is a long history of historical and ethnographic writing about Māori warfare. Most of it has been interpreted from a colonial perspective, and was reviewed with its deficiencies and strengths evaluated by Angela Ballara in her book on musket warfare (2003). From the perspective of this time and thesis her critiques seem fair, timely and culturally accurate and the aspect of her own thesis that musket warfare was, until about 1860, carried out within the traditional framework of warfare where traditional hand to hand combat had occurred, is not questioned here. Her criticism of Lyndsay Head’s (2001) proposal that musket warfare had become a ‘modern’ phenomenon in which the traditional roles of mana and tapu had become diminished appears, from my reading also, to be a valid one (cited in Ballara, 2003: 64-5). Both Ballara and Head fully explored the roles of cultural schemas using understandings informed by Māori ways of being and interpreting the world. This world included mana, tapu and utu, in an integrated world-view and “system for regulating affairs” that differs markedly from nineteenth and early twentieth century European ones (Head, quoted in Ballara: 2003: 63). I too, have explored this perspective in a different way in Chapter three of this thesis. My conclusions on this structural/functional aspect of interpretation concur with Ballara’s because evidence I have examined confirms that the traditional belief system

including the retention of tapu persisted as a motivating factor in decision making and action until later than Head claims. However, neither Ballara nor Head have

emphasised the significance of human agency, and the way that particular persons and personalities gave differing interpretations to their own cultural schemas, rules and practices, and therefore influenced the outcomes by their alternative responses, even though they could be seen as operating from the same general world-view. It is clear that they exercised choice in their judgements and actions and sometimes chose to do otherwise than following their cultural schemasin the usual way. Furthermore, as in all conflict situations, decision-making was not only motivated by rational thinking, but by emotional response, and some individuals, not always of high rank, mature age or male gender, acted contingently and spontaneously to produce consequences that were unforseen when the actions occurred. These kinds of responses to perceived threats are not restricted to ‘individuals’ of the ‘modern’ kind, but I claim that they are


part of a universal human capability for action that we have all inherited from our very distant socio-biological past. Human beings have the capacity to create action as Blok has said, and this capacity had operational and socio-political outcomes prior to the adoption of European ways-of-being, as much as it has since.

In this chapter the aim is to identify within particular violent sequences, their evolution, spread, transition points and cessation; as well as the actors, their

motivations, behaviour, the discourse they generated, and the socio-political outcomes of the episodes. It examines firstly some inter-iwi Māori conflict situations in which Māori customary practices of ‘doing violence’ in eighteenth and nineteenth century Southern New Zealand are considered. These will then be compared in subsequent chapters with trans-cultural situations where Europeans were involved, and in their turn with two early Pacific cases. Comparing violent transactions across cultures and times should enable a better understanding of any universal features and also any cultural or local variations in the rationale for violence in transactions when the possibility exists for them to have peaceful outcomes.

In document Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions (Page 132-135)


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