Week in Review

Being Pākehā: the Ben Fagan experience

Performance poet Ben Fagan continues his investigations into being Pākehā in 2019.

View the latest video of Ben Fagan's reading here

Tuia 250 is designed to look like it's not actually celebrating the ravages of colonisation. Unlike previous anniversaries of the Endeavour’s arrival, there will be no naval visits from fellow colonising nation states, no parade, and no giant model of Cook’s head. The name of this year’s commemoration includes te reo Māori, and waka hourua are voyaging along with the Endeavour replica. It looks different, so it’s easy to think that this one really is different.

But how can it be, when the underlying power dynamics haven’t changed? The Crown still dictates that Cook’s crime spree of 1769 is fundamental to the public’s shared heritage, decides it’s worth spending more than $23 million dollars of shared wealth to commemorate, and insists on bringing back the replica Endeavour to re-enact invasion as a centrepiece of the events. Hapū, iwi, and hāpori Māori are then given the choice to either participate on the Crown’s terms or receive none of the funding to share their crucial knowledge and perspectives.

In perhaps its most breathtaking display of arrogance, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage presumes the 250th anniversary of a European ship’s destructive arrival is the appropriate context to celebrate an entire millennium of Moana Pacific voyaging. That vast history of exploration - including the true discovery of these islands and migration journeys of the first peoples to make their homes here – is subsumed within an event marking the relatively recent arrival of the government’s own predecessors.

It's true that 250 years ago, many whānau and hapū encountered a renowned adventurer from across the ocean - a navigational genius of expansive knowledge, an ambassador gifted in diplomacy, whose coming was indeed momentous.

Their name was Tupaea. (Gender neutral pronouns have been used to refer to Tupaea, reflecting the gender neutral pronouns of Tupaea’s own language, reo Ma’ohi.) The arioi from Ra’iātea made such a powerful impression that they became famous throughout Aotearoa and many regarded them as the captain of the Endeavour.

But the official Tuia 250 website “acknowledges the first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākehā” - and erases Tupaea and Taiata.

Where Tupaea came in peace, Cook and crew came with violent entitlement to the lives, lands and possessions of tangata whenua. The subsequent betrayal of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Crown’s assumption of absolute authority on these lands impedes iwi and hapū from being able to treat directly with other societies - so any apparent duality is an enforced one.

With these commemorations coming six months after a terrorist took the lives of 51 people in Ōtautahi, we must acknowledge that 250 years ago, the Endeavour crew committed the first white supremacist shootings in Aotearoa. Their own diary entries make it clear that when whānau would not give consent for the ship to enter their waters, the crew – and their captain - would shoot to kill with a sense of absolute entitlement and impunity.

For a shared future of genuine, peaceful relations between all peoples and Papatūānuku, Matike Mai Aotearoa outlines the project of transforming current structures of power into non-colonising spheres of influence. This isn't done in isolation, but requires a broader effort to get to know our collective history as part of clearly articulating where we as a multi-faceted society come from, who we are, and where we want to go. As Moana Jackson writes of this journey, “The future we shape is the past we take into it. The future we shape is what we imagine.”

View the latest video of Ben Fagan's reading here

The polemic was written by Patsy Matheson, a teacher based in Taranaki; Dan Kelly,  an aspiring poet, gardener, and anarchist academic; Ella Grace Newton, a pākehā organiser in support of constitutional transformation and people’s resistance against the colonial project; Lillian Hanly, who looks to New Zealand’s colonial identity to inform her work in journalism; Kate Matheson, who lives in Te Tai Tokerau, and works in public health; Mikesh Patel, an educator and organiser; and Jess Mio, who lives in Ahuriri Napier and is researching tauiwi anti-colonialism for their PhD at the University of Auckland.

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