• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ
Fa‘afaite in the Tuia 250 commemorative flotilla. Photo/Danee Hazama/Supplied

Tuia 250: The effects of Captain James Cook's arrival on tangata whenua

Eight New Zealanders associated with Tuia 250 and other events in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa reflect on the impact of Cook's arrival as well as his navigational feats.

He came, he went. End of story? Or the beginning of many? Fifty years ago, the country marked 200 years since HMS Endeavour sailed into Tūranganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay with a 21-gun salute, an RNZAF fly-by and a parade of floats including a giant head of Captain James Cook.

For some, it was a proud occasion for New Zealand, especially for little Gizzy. For others, it was a myopic celebration that ignored an ocean-voyaging tradition that brought Polynesians to these shores 1000 years earlier, the role of Tahitian tohunga and navigator Tupaia and the nine Māori killed or wounded by Endeavour’s crew in that first encounter.

This year, as part of the Government-initiated Tuia 250 commemorations, a flotilla of two waka hourua (double-hulled canoes), a va‘a moana from Tahiti and three tall ships, including a replica of the Endeavour, will sail around New Zealand acknowledging the long history of Māori ocean voyaging, Cook’s arrival and the role of Tupaia. There will be public engagements, protests (last month, four Tūranganui-a-Kiwa iwi announced they would not hold a pōwhiri for the fleet) and, last week, the British High Commissioner expressed regret for the Maori killed in that first encounter in 1769.


In addition to Tuia 250, Gisborne is hosting a range of iwi-led activities, including the inaugural Tairāwhiti Arts Festival, the Te Paepae o Tangaroa symposium on the Pacific Ocean and the loan to the Tairāwhiti Museum of 37 taonga that left New Zealand 250 years ago.

It is a commemoration that will offer much broader perspectives on the significance of Cook’s arrival than 50 years ago. Eight New Zealanders provide theirs here:

Dame Anne Salmond. Photo/David White/Listener

Anthropologist Dame Anne Salmond, trustee of the Te Hā Sestercentennial Trust, set up to tell the wider story of those first encounters.

As a country, we treated Cook as an archetypal hero. But in doing that, we ignored a lot of things that hurt and harm local Māori in our community and in the country. This time, we want all the stories to be told, the ones from the shore as well as the ones from the ship.

Cook is not being expunged from the narrative. The first arrival of Europeans was a watershed moment, without doubt, and if you try to say let’s not think about it, that is a strategy of avoidance that usually doesn’t work. But he is there in his rightful place as somebody who arrived quite a bit later, who was a great navigator and explorer but not perfect, and who didn’t discover Aotearoa.

How much have we learnt in the past 50 years? I think we have learnt a lot, but we haven’t yet achieved our deepest aspiration – for each of our children to have an equal chance of success in life. The past might not be pretty but we can’t sweep it under the mat. When you are faced with something that has caused a lot of hurt and harm, if you just ignore it you are allowing that wound to fester. But looking at history is not just about looking at the past, it is about thinking what sort of country we are and what kind of country we’d like to be.

Glenis Philip-Barbara. Photo/Supplied

Glenis Philip-Barbara (Ngāti Porou, Pākehā), Te Hā chief executive.

Most of us were taught about Captain James Cook at school. Now, we are banking that knowledge and adopting an open curiosity about the other stories and the unexpected effects of that first and subsequent encounters. People are coming to terms with things they have learnt about the effect of colonisation – it is very confronting knowledge, the injustice of it sits in the pit of your gut, but I think as a nation we are growing through this. We still have our challenges, but people are more curious about other knowledge systems and the insights that they offer, which is why there is a focus on this 2000-year voyaging tradition that puts Cook’s arrival into context. In this expanded story, you get all this richness to be proud of as New Zealanders. It is not about setting versions of history in opposition to each other – it is how we move forward together. We are a diverse community – my father is Pākehā and my mother is Māori – so understanding the core of us rather than looking at what divides us – that’s been my philosophy.

Te Aitanga-ā-Mahaki kaumātua Wirangi Pera, head of the Ringatū faith, gave Tuia 250 its name. It means to weave or bind together.

To me, it is time for us as Māori to realise we are in the position to forgive those things of the past rather than continually pointing the finger of blame. It is like any union, any marriage – things don’t always go according to plan, and it has been a rocky road up to this point, but it’s time to put aside those errors of the past and realise the future is in our hands. Like it or not, we are both here in this country and now we are having a whole lot of other people wanting to settle here. All we are doing is saying, “I don’t like these people because of such and such”, instead of saying, “Here are these people and they have brought these skills and we can apply them to our society, to our marae and to our land.”

Cook is only the person, the catalyst, that brought change to us in New Zealand. At the end of the day, each and every one of us Māori has Pākehā blood – my great-grandfather was William Brown, a sailor from England – and now we have bigger issues. The way of life we have now is in conflict with our environment, so there are some issues from that culture that have not been kind to us, or to nature, but that is something we can all work at.

Eloise Wallace. Photo/Paul Rickard/Supplied

Two new exhibitions at Tairāwhiti Museum will display the 37 ancestral taonga and give Māori artists the chance to respond to and challenge the 250th commemorations. Eloise Wallace is the museum’s director.

The first encounters between tangata whenua and the Endeavour crew in October 1769 are a watershed moment, but there is nothing to celebrate. The first three days of encounters in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa were brief, confused and violent. The crew were quick to use their weapons – nine men were killed or wounded; three boys were abducted at sea. British colonisation followed and its devastating effects on tangata whenua continue to this day. The museum’s job is to tell the stories of Tairāwhiti. It’s not our place to tell the story of Cook, who spent only a few days here – over the past 250 years that story has been presented a hundred times from a Eurocentric perspective. To do our job, we need to turn that around and ask, “What were the views of the people on the shore and their descendants today?” The approach we are taking is to present multiple, often competing voices and ideas. Some might say we have gone too far, but I think it is more important for us in 2019 to push the pendulum by prioritising the stories of tangata whenua of Tairāwhiti. Maybe this will help promote the discussion, empathy and healing that will take us to a better future.

Anne McGuire. Photo/Cody Keepa/Supplied

Anne McGuire (Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngāti Porou and Rongowhakaata) is a sociologist, tribal historian and tour guide in Uawa/Tolaga Bay, where Cook’s welcome was made possible by the presence of Tupaia.

In all our oral histories, there was no mention of Cook; they were all about Tupaia. My great-grandparents absolutely admired him – he could tell people about Hawaiki and what was happening in the rest of the Pacific. But I don’t think [Cook] is the villain people are making him out to be. He was important in terms of mapping the world, navigating, all the science around the Transit of Venus. But Tuia 250 is not just about Cook. It is about cultures coming together for the first time 250 years ago that changed the face of this country. What developed from that isn’t always nice to know, but it happened, it is part of our history and you don’t bury that history. It is the reason why New Zealand was colonised, it is the reason why most of us are not full-blooded Māori, it is the reason why I, as a New Zealand citizen, have Māori ancestry but, just as equally, I have got a Scottish history. I don’t care how good or bad the history is, as long as we get told exactly what that history is and from all viewpoints.

Huia Pihema (Te-Aitanga-ā-Mahaki) is chair of the Hei Kanohi Ora Governance Group representing five local tribal groups. She and her husband, Joe, recently returned from England with 37 taonga that left Tūranganui-a-Kiwa 250 years ago.

To bring our taonga home to Tūranganui-a-Kiwa, to a whare full of our people, our kuia and kaumātua, our rangatahi, taiohi and tamariki, was emotionally and spiritually moving on so many levels.

We refer to our taonga as tīpuna, as we consider they are the physical manifestation of our tīpuna who lived in those times. At least 10 generations of my people have not had the opportunity to meet these tīpuna.

An area that, perhaps, our tīpuna will support their descendants is in helping to heal the grief regarding the atrocities that took place on our shores to our tīpuna, where murder, theft, kidnapping and more were committed. These tīpuna provide a platform for kōrero, they tell their own story and they inevitably fill a void in our iwi, regional and national heritage.

We are grateful for the care kaitiaki taonga in England gave our tīpuna. There is certainly a desire among our people for our taonga, our tīpuna, to remain here with us, and our governance group consider this pathway as a good starting point.

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr. Photo/Supplied

Master waka navigator Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr (Tainui) is co-chair of the Tuia 250 committee co-ordinating the commemorations, including the flotilla of waka and tall ships. He captains his own voyaging canoe, the 22m Haunui.

Captain Cook has only ever been 25% of this story. The other 75% is the story of discovery and exploration that our ancestors made 500-700 years before Cook turned up. Telling these stories gives us a chance to change that mythological type of dialogue when people talk about the arrival of our ancestors to a real narrative of Aotearoa and to give a platform to those who lost ancestors in those first encounters to bring the lives of those ancestors to an audience.

I know it is hard for people to look past the things that happened when Cook arrived, but it happened and you can’t change that.

Stopping the replica coming to places is almost saying, “If we don’t see the ship it didn’t really happen.” We know what happened, but the ship is just a ship – it is the people who did those things.

The ship that is coming now is crewed by people who sailed this vessel, worked on it, maintained it. They love it like my crew love their waka, and now they want to spend time understanding the sailing traditions of my people.

Nick Tupara. Photo/Supplied

Artist Nick Tupara (Tairāwhiti) has installed a new artwork acknowledging the waka that landed in Gisborne 750-800 years ago at the Puhi Kai Iti Cook Landing Site, as well as a separate sculptural work honouring his ancestor Te Maro, the rangatira shot by Endeavour crew on the day Cook made landfall in this country.

Cook’s history has always been one-sided and the home people have always been a little hesitant to speak their own history. But they have held it and it now feels appropriate to have a bit of balance in the storytelling.

Those characters on the beach that day need to have an opportunity to reveal their presence. The story of Te Maro gets a bit lost in the story of the last two seconds of his life, but he was a grower of food and feeder of people; he read the stars and the sun and the wind and advised people about what they needed to do to keep their families fed and well, and we wanted to tell that story. We have an understanding of a Māori chap killed by Cook’s crew – now he has a name, a character and a story we can take some lessons from in terms of growing food and keeping people’s well-being strong.

For details of the commemorative events, visit teha2019.co.nz

This article was published alongside a feature on the still-debated legacy of Captain Cook in the October 12, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener, which is on sale now. Pick up a copy to read more.