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On Writing Maori History

September 6, 2012

In a talk titled “On Writing Maori History” (“A talk given as part of a panel discussion, Te Papa, 2001), Michael King states:

“Essentially, Maori history is the same as any other kind of history, in that it has the same purposes and the same methodology to achieve those purposes. Those purposes are, of course, to illuminate the past – to tell us how things happened and why things happened. And in good history, they are carried out disinterestedly, objectively.

Good history is not written to enlarge the mana of Maori in general, or the mana of iwi, hapu or individuals. It’s not written to score points, to put down one party and elevate another. It’s not written to show that one people or one culture is inherently more virtuous or more sinful than another. All that is propaganda. History may be used or misused in propaganda. But it is not the same thing as propaganda.” (65)

“Having talked about the congruence of Maori history and history in general, however, I should just mention one major respect in which the two genres differ. In Western or non-Maori history, the subjects of history are seen as being the property of the community at large. When I wanted to write a biography of the wartime Prime Minister Peter Fraser, for example, I didn’t need anybody’s permission to do so. …When it comes to writing iwi history, however, or the life of a Maori person, especially a person seen as rangatira, it would be unthinkable not to have iwi, hapu or whanau permission to proceed. This is because within Te Ao Maori, those things – lives and histories – are seen as being corporately owned. Hence I would have received no cooperation from Tainui when I wrote about Te Puea Herangi, or from Moriori when I wrote about their iwi, had I not had formal and explicit permission to do so Does such permission imply other obligation? It can and it does [he does not get into the details of this statement in this essay, though].” (66-67)

Texts and authors he advocated for include: “Buddy Mikaere’s splendid book on the South Island prophetic leader Te Maiharoa” (66), “Ranginui Walker’s magisterial and authoritative biography of Apirana Turupa Ngata” (66), “Paul Tapsell’s riveting book on Pukaki, the Te Arawa tupuna and carving” (66) as well as Anne Salmond, Angela Ballara and Judith Binney (67). He also notes: “Others would be almost all the Maori essays in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.” (66)

Ref: (blue bold emphases mine; italics in original) Michael King (2011) The Silence Beyond: Selected writings by Michael King: With an Introduction by Rachael King. Penguin Books: Auckland. [A GREAT READ!!!]

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