Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History - review

by Nic Low / 18 May, 2015
mt0515Writersmisc-(2)TANGATA WHENUA
Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney, Aroha Harris
(Bridget Williams Books, $100)

 

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once spoke of “the danger of a single story”. “Show a people, over and over, as one thing, and that is what they become.” In the history of Maori history, there have been plenty of single stories.

S. Percy Smith’s Lore of the Whare Wananga (1915) bludgeoned complex oral accounts into a single narrative of how Maori become tangata whenua. His tale of Kupe, the Great Fleet, and the extermination of a pre-Maori race found its way into school textbooks. As history goes, it’s inauthentic, unreliable and careless with what Bishop Williams kindly called “literary artifice”. As a story, it’s memorable.

A sales assistant in an outdoors store recently told me Maori shouldn’t complain about colonisation because of what they did to the “Hurihuri”. I found myself rehearsing arguments from Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History.

Tangata Whenua has been lauded as the definitive statement on Maori history, and with good reason. It’s magnificent as accessible history and as a coffee table centrepiece. Spanning the earliest ancestral migrations through to contemporary music, it looks at identity, language, descent and culture with a keen eye to politics and land.

But rather than fixing a definitive story of its own, the book’s power lies in its multiplicity of voices and viewpoints. Five hundred exquisite images extend its breadth; informal snaps and formal portraits sit beside images of taonga, maps, sketches and artwork.

Opening the book at any point is rewarding. Page 260 shows a seated man with full moko in the old style: deep incisions catching the light. He wears a tweed suit and looks up at the camera with an expression of mild annoyance. His face is familiar.

This is Wiremu Patara Te Tuhi, who was painted wearing traditional dress by Goldie. Here he’s not fixed in oils but alive in photography, the papers in his hands blurred by movement. He was editor of the first Maori-run newspaper, Te Hokioi, printed on a press donated by the Emperor of Austria.

Histories unfurl in all directions. There is no single story in this book, just as there can be no single story of Maori. Tangata Whenua is a rich and essential addition to the debate.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and present lend their support
86105 2018-01-19 15:45:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and pres…

by RNZ

Politicians from at home and abroad are reaching out to offer congratulations to the Prime Minister mum-to-be.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND a mum
86091 2018-01-19 12:36:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND…

by Katie Parker

New Zealand’s newly minted PM and bizarrely cool and normal lady Jacinda Ardern has announced that she and partner Clarke Gayford are expecting a baby

Read more
Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy
86074 2018-01-19 11:11:36Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy

by RNZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that she is pregnant, with the baby due in June.

Read more
What the media silly season taught us
85933 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

What the media silly season taught us

by Graham Adams

To the eternal gratitude of media chiefs, each holiday period seems to throw up at least one minor scandal that runs in the absence of anything newsy.

Read more
Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyranny of events
86009 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyra…

by Richard Prebble

I predicted Bill English would lose the election and the winner would be Winston Peters. But no forecaster, including the PM, predicted her pregnancy.

Read more
Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’
85966 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z World

Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’

by Justin Bennett

It's known as a 'suicide forest', but Justin Bennett found Aokigahara's quiet beauty outweighed its infamous reputation.

Read more
Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more