Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History - review

by Nic Low / 18 May, 2015

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

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.

Latest

The last straw: Can anything end our love affair with plastic?
92498 2018-06-21 00:00:00Z Environment

The last straw: Can anything end our love affair w…

by Charlotte Graham-McLay

Wellington is making moves to become NZ’s first straw-free city and the govt is considering phasing out plastic bags. But can such bans really work?

Read more
Sunshine is important for both mental and physical health – here's why
92634 2018-06-21 00:00:00Z Health

Sunshine is important for both mental and physical…

by Ruth Nichol

Exposure to sunshine at this time of year not only lifts our mood but also strengthens our bones.

Read more
Why chef and restaurateur Sid Sahrawat is king of the Auckland restaurant scene
92566 2018-06-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

Why chef and restaurateur Sid Sahrawat is king of …

by Leisha Jones

To watch Sid Sahrawat at work at his fine-dining restaurant, Sidart, is to witness an artist in action.

Read more
1947 eatery restaurant review: Metro Top 50 2018
92182 2018-06-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

1947 eatery restaurant review: Metro Top 50 2018

by Metro

A review of Metro Top 50 2018 restaurant 1947 eatery.

Read more
Amano Britomart restaurant review: Metro Top 50 2018
92232 2018-06-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

Amano Britomart restaurant review: Metro Top 50 20…

by Metro

A review of Metro Top 50 2018 restaurant Amano.

Read more
Apero restaurant review: Metro Top 50 2018
92396 2018-06-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

Apero restaurant review: Metro Top 50 2018

by Metro

A review of Metro Top 50 2018 restaurant Apéro.

Read more
Augustus Bistro restaurant review: Metro Top 50 2018
92401 2018-06-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

Augustus Bistro restaurant review: Metro Top 50 20…

by Metro

A review of Metro Top 50 2018 restaurant Augustus Bistro.

Read more
Azabu restaurant review: Metro Top 50 2018
92422 2018-06-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

Azabu restaurant review: Metro Top 50 2018

by Metro

A review of Metro Top 50 2018 restaurant Azabu.

Read more