Monday, April 20, 2015
We feature each week Nicholas Reid's reviews and comments on new and recent books.
“ENTANGLEMENTS OF EMPIRE – Missionaries, Maori, and the Question of the Body” by Tony Ballantyne (Auckland University Press, $NZ39:99)
The writing of history is always a matter of refining or rebutting the history that has been written before. Once upon a time, such history as was written in New Zealand spoke in terms of missionaries and colonisers in the nineteenth century “civilising” Maori and bringing them the benefits of the modern world. That view has long since passed away (or been blown away with gales of laughter). In its place, however, there emerged an equally simplistic view. Missionaries and colonisers expropriated Maori, violated their culture and imposed narrow norms upon them. Both views assumed passivity – a lack of “agency” – in Maori, and uniformity (“two worlds”) in Maori custom and culture. In the last couple of decades, the best New Zealand historians have been trying to insert a greater degree of nuance into how we see the pre-colonial and colonial past. Nuance includes an awareness of the variety of Maori responses to Pakeha settlement and the variety of Pakeha motives and intentions in settling.
In this outstanding and very readable book, Entanglements of Empire, Professor Tony Ballantyne, who currently chairs the University of Otago’s History Department, is on the side of nuance. Covering the period from 1814 to the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, he rejects the terms “encounters” or “meetings” as a way of imaging Maori-Pakeha relationships, and opts instead for “entanglements”. In the pre-Treaty period, indigenous people and the newcomers related to one another in many different ways, and their respective cultures were modified each by the other. Being dynamic, they were enmeshed and entangled in each other, in compromises and in selective adoption of each other’s norms. And the most pervasive way in which this cultural entanglement occurred was in conceptions of the human body itself.
As Ballantyne explains in his introduction: “In this book I examine the cross-cultural debates and entanglements set in motion by the establishment of Protestant missions in New Zealand in 1814, especially those arguments and engagements that turned on the ways in which the human body was understood and organized.” ( p.2) Further “… missionary sources from early New Zealand are punctuated by a deep and recurrent concern with the body, its meanings and its regulation, and these reflections are frequently contradictory, ambivalent or ambiguous.” (p.8). Ballantyne goes on to argue that “the image of the repressive missionary is well established in New Zealand historiography, and is firmly embedded in the nation’s popular imagination”. But (calling on Michel Foucault as his witness), he says this “repressive hypothesis” is belied by the frequent awareness of, and dwelling upon, sex and sexuality in missionary archives. (p.8) Missionaries were not oblivious to human corporeality.
This leads naturally to another important concept, which informs this book. Ballantyne does not subscribe to either a unitary or an idyllic view of pre-Pakeha Maori existence. As he says: “It has been commonplace to contrast the complex laws and strong regulation of sexuality that shaped missionary mentalities with the supposedly more ‘natural’ place of sex within the Maori world, but it should be clear that Maori understandings of the body were just as highly enculturated as those of their missionary counterparts. We must recognize that the Maori body does not belong only to the realm of culture, but is amenable to historical analysis as well. Maori ways of organizing the body were not rigidly constrained by an unchanging culture, but rather were adaptable and dynamic.” (p.13)
Further, he is determined to treat the entangled cultures even-handedly: “I have attempted to treat both evangelical missionaries and Maori equitably, imagining both of these collectives as complex agglomerations of individuals and interest groups whose actions and worldviews were conditioned by both culture and history.” (p.15)
Thus much for the theoretical underpinnings of Entanglements of Empire.
In construction, Entanglements of Empire divides into six long chapters, each considering one aspect of the Maori-missionary interface. The issues are respectively
* Missionary conceptions of Maori life prior to their settlement here
* How the Maori sense of space and its ordering was in tension with the missionaries’ sense of space and its ordering
* The mingling of Maori and missionary concepts of time and its construction in relation to labour
* Sexuality and sexual codes
* Maori and missionary concepts of death and the rightful disposition of the dead
* The changing of missionary attitudes towards Maori, which were part of the prelude to formal British colonisation.
In his opening chapter, as he outlines pre-settlement Pakeha conceptions of New Zealand, Ballantyne emphasises that European exploration of the Pacific at first gave priority to finding new resources, then (especially after the voyages of Cook) added the desire to “civilise” by means of implanting (in New Zealand and elsewhere) European crops and introducing European animals. Even before missionaries were part of the story, then, the urge to “civilise” (establish European norms) was strong.
As the first leader of a Protestant mission to New Zealand, sponsored by the Church Missionary Society (CMS), Samuel Marsden formulated his plans to woo Maori with skills and technology (“civilisation”) before evangelising them. But, says Ballantyne, Marsden developed this view through his contact with Te Pahi, Ruatara and Hongi Hika, who were desirous of such technology. And “it was the mana – the authority and charisma – of these high-ranking leaders that made the mission possible: the establishment of the mission was entirely dependent on Maori patronage, material support, and protection.” (p.57). This dependence, which lasted for most of the period before 1830, meant that missionaries were in no position to “impose” their norms upon Maori. Materially, they were very much in the subordinate position. To make any impact upon Maori at all, they had to accustom themselves to, or at least put up with, Maori norms. The matter of trade also meant much mutual conference and compromise. In Ballantyne’s interpretation, this meant a long period in which missionaries and Maori exchanged and adapted, piecemeal, their received ideas about the body.
For all that, even in the earliest period of missionary activity, when the missionaries’ watchword was still “Civilise, then evangelise”, there was already the assumption that Maori would eventually be absorbed into an imperial system. Says Ballantyne: “While Marsden was a vocal opponent of some of the consequences of imperial activity – especially the mistreatment of indigenous crewmen on European ships and British sailors’ sexual exploitation of indigenous women in the Pacific – he considered the empire to be a potent vehicle for the dissemination of Christianity and Christian missionaries to be agents for the extension of commerce around the globe.” (p.64)
In this early period, the dominant issue of “cross-cultural engagement” was (Chapter Two) how space was used. Ballantyne begins his consideration of this by quoting from Charles Darwin’s approving comments, in his 1835 visit, on how missionaries had, as if by an “enchanter’s wand”, transformed the physical conditions of Maori life. On the contrary, says Ballantyne, such changes as had been made were achieved only after a long period in which missionaries had to accept Maori direction on where and how they lived. “Mission stations were never simply planted by the missionaries at locations they deemed desirable; the fundamental contours of the CMS mission to New Zealand was dictated by the mission’s deep implication in kin-group politics and rivalries.” (p.77) Mission stations were set up only at places approved by rangatira, so that the very first station, at Hohi, was hemmed in by infertile land. This was the deliberate strategy of Hongi Hika and others, to ensure that the missionaries remained dependent on Maori goodwill and trade to ensure their supply of food. It was only later – and then at the pleasure of rangatira – that missionaries were able to set up stations at Waitangi and Kerikeri where there was more arable land.
More important, in this matter of the disposition of space, was the way dwellings were designed, missionaries at first having to accustom themselves to more communal (rather than private) living space. Tapu ruled Maori handling of food and contrasted with how missionaries’ kitchens and dining rooms functioned. This could contribute to tensions with those Maori girls who were given domestic duties in missionary houses. Whether or not the sexes should be segregated when missionaries instructed them was another issue. So was the degree to which land could be fenced in. And how one behaved in space – with reference to what was tapu and what was noa – was often at odds with missionaries’ conceptions of decorous behaviour. In this connection, Ballantyne notes how many phrases in Thomas Kendall’s 1820 Grammar and Vocabulary of the Language of New Zealand are concerned with the right disposition of the body – avoidance of farting in company, spitting and so forth.
Turning to the matter of how the first missionaries, in their attempts to “civilise” Maori, wished to inculcate industriousness and an efficient use of time (Chapter 3), Ballantyne remarks “this chapter can be read as a contribution to a long-running debate over the connection between Protestant missionary activity and the globalisation of capitalism” (p.100). Pace Judith Binney and others, he refutes the view that missionaries imposed their ordering of time upon Maori, again noting that they were perforce living in an “indigenous socioeconomic context”. Those “mechanicals” who were the first missionary settlers (non-ordained laymen) usually found that they had to do their own labour rather than relying on Maori labourers to whom they could, as they had planned, teach trades. Furthermore, in the Maori disposition of labour, slavery flourished in the early missionary period, in part because some tribes took increased numbers of slaves to trade for European goods with those tribes in proximity to missionaries. By the 1830s, some missionaries, such as Richard Davis, were frustrated at the failure of Maori to adopt European economic patterns. There was a widespread Pakeha misconception of Maori “laziness”. But as Ballantyne notes, the reality was that Maori labour tended to be task-specific rather than ruled by the clock, and attuned to the rhythm of the seasons. There was, however, one area in which Maori had, by the mid-1820s, conceded to a missionary ordering of time. This was in the widespread acceptance of the Sabbath – Sunday – as a day of rest and worship. In a masterly analysis of attitudes to the Sabbath (pp.132 ff.), Ballantyne discusses how missionaries combined their notions of Sunday observance with Maori respect for tapu. There was also the circumstance that by the mid-1820s, missionaries had achieved a slightly more independent status in their more fertile stations (such as Paihia) and were themselves more in a position to preach the importance of the tapu day.
When he comes to the matters of sex and sexuality (Chapter 4, called “Containing Transgression”), Ballantyne excels in not submitting to stereotyped views of missionaries as repressing their sexual urges. He notes that “despite Marsden’s stress on the primacy of the Christian conjugal family, sexual restraint, and social discipline, from the outset the CMS mission was plagued by recurrent conflict and sexual relationships that contravened the boundaries of marriage. Mission families and their associated workers struggled hard, but routinely failed, to achieve the goal of making the mission stations models of Christian happiness and order.” (p.138)
Inevitably, then, we have the stories of missionaries who failed to live up to their Christian – and especially evangelical – sexual ideals. Thomas Kendall fathering a child out of wedlock and Kendall’s wife bearing a child by the convict labourer Richard Stockwell. The drunken Wesleyan missionary William White who may have been guilty of rape. [William Colenso’s fall from grace is outside the timeframe of this book]. It is perhaps equally inevitable that the case upon which Ballantyne dwells longest is the most problematic, that of “the unfortunate” William Yate. Ballantyne spends over twenty pages on his case, because it involves so many conflicting issues.
He notes early in his analysis “I do not attempt to frame Yate as a kind of cultural ancestor in the way in which some New Zealand writers have been drawn to Yate as a figure who chafed against sexual repression and racial boundaries. Rather, I place him at the centre of a series of overlapping debates about the ways in which missionaries should modulate intimacy, the consequences of certain types of sexual acts, and how such transgressions could best be managed.” (p.140)
This appears to be a polite way of saying that it is anachronistic to see Yate – as he has been seen in some recent works of historical fiction – as a proto-gay martyr. Ballantyne notes “As teacher, preacher, spiritual guide, and ‘father’, Yate believed in his own ability to lead Maori out of heathenism, to transform their beliefs and practices. However, Yate exploited this position of authority to initiate a series of sexual connections that seem to have involved duplicity and coercion.” (p.140)
Boldly contradicting Judith Binney (p.154), Ballantyne says that there is solid and reliable evidence that Yate coerced and bribed Maori youths to have sex with him, and the accusations against him were not fabrications. At the same time, it is clear that what most irked the other missionaries was Yate’s boastful and egotistical tone in a published memoir he wrote of the mission; and their accusations would not have been made had he not been so publicly intimate with a male Pakeha friend as he returned from England to Australia. And yet Yate never got the public hearing about his transgressions which he so desired. Clearly the CMS was in damage-control mode, wanting to be rid of Yate but not wanting the case to garner too much publicity.
If I have any criticism of this chapter, it is that it seems to stray a little from the theme of comparing/contrasting/showing the interrelation of Maori and missionary attitudes. It tells us of the missionaries’ constant anxiety of sexual misconduct corrupting their mission and hindering their spiritual outreach by setting a bad example to Maori. But it does not give us a clear and complementary exposition of Maori sexual norms. Or am I underrating the way Ballantyne quotes from Maori witnesses against Yate, showing how they too were perturbed and shocked by his behaviour?
The chapter on attitudes to death and the disposition of the body (Chapter 5) has no such flaw. Ballantyne contrasts clearly the interacting worldviews. While the evangelical attitude to the approach of death was that it was a time for making peace with God (and accepting Jesus fully), this does not mean – in spite of the views of some superseded authors – that evangelicals did not express grief when the people they loved died. Missionaries did have to learn not to violate tapu sites when it came to burial. They also suffered for some years the inconvenience of not having consecrated burial grounds. They tended to bury their dead next to each mission station – in effect, in the grounds of their homes. Missionaries had great difficulty in accessing traditional Maori religious beliefs about the afterlife, as such esoteric knowledge was tapu and tended to be reserved for tohunga. At first, this meant missionaries assumed Maori had no structured religious beliefs. Only gradually did CMS personnel come to understand the role of rank and mana in Maori funerary and interment rites, the reburial of the bones of rangatira and others of rank, and the mourning rituals (counterpointed by the routine killing and disposal of slaves). Haehae, the ritual self-wounding and cutting of mourners in their grief, and suicide in mourning were common.
Ballantyne does not edit out the less attractive features of Maori customs.
There was an implicit conflict between Christian notions of heaven (and hell) and the Maori image of the departure of spirits from Cape Reinga. For a while, some Christianised Maori were able to hold the two concepts together in their belief system. By the time the Reverend William Puckey made a journey to Cape Reinga in the 1830s, however, younger Christianised Maori were indignantly rejecting their ancestors’ tradition. Says Ballantyne “These incidents are potent reminders that although the presence of missionaries precipitated cultural change, Maori were primary agents in the actual spread of Christianity, and that the growing authority of the Bible was dependent on the willingness of converts to openly challenge tikanga (rules, protocols) and ritenga (custom).” (p.206)
In his final chapter, “Bodies and the Entanglements of Empire”, Ballantyne argues that by the 1830s, missionaries were increasingly representing Maori as an enfeebled race, threatened by lawless (or diseased) Pakeha visitors – notably sailors involved in buying sex - and hence in greater need of formal “protection” by the British government. This was the tone of innumerable pamphlets produced by missionaries for British consumption. It was credible in the age of the notorious Elizabeth affair (in 1830), in which the unscrupulous Captain Stewart transported Te Rauparaha and Te Hiko down to Banks Peninsula to carry out their slaughter of Ngai Tahu. The missionaries’ appeal coincided with the age of humanitarianism and abolitionism in England and found a ready audience. In presenting Maori as the helpless victims of European inhumanity, missionaries were in effect stripping Maori of “agency” and denying twenty years of Maori-Pakeha interdependence, with the missionaries mainly in the subordinate role. Be that as it may, missionary representations were instrumental in leading first to the appointment of James Busby as British “resident”, then to the Treaty of Waitangi. So, says Ballantyne “the formal colonization of New Zealand was ultimately sanctioned by a treaty that framed the alienation of sovereignty as an act of protection, designed to defend the interests of an enfeebled people.” (p.249)
As you will have noted, my procedure in this review has largely been simply to summarise what the author has to say. I do this because I believe he breaks new ground in putting so many cultural interactions together in one coherent argument. At various points, Tony Ballantyne has the confidence to challenge the interpretations of Keith Sinclair, Judith Binney, James Belich, Ranginui Walker and others who have commented on matters near to this book’s central concerns. This is never done in a blunt or dismissive way. Usually Ballantyne is asking for more nuance in interpretations that threaten to become dogma. This reminds us of one central fact about the writing of history. It is always an interrogation of, and negotiation with, both primary and secondary sources. Its conclusions are always provisional. Given that, this is a profound and close reading of an essential period of cultural interaction in our history.
Curious, if trivial, footnote: One trivial but interesting point that caught my eye. In the introduction to Entanglements of Empire, we are told (p.17) that “the image that adorns the cover of this volume” was devised by the Maori artist Cliff Whiting and symbolises the impact of imperial encounters upon Maori culture. Actually, this image appears opposite the title page. The image on the cover is an idealised picture of the CMS missionary station at Rangihoua. However, the Cliff Whiting image appeared on the cover of the edition of this book published by Duke University in the USA in 2014. I assume this means we are getting exactly the same text as in the American printing.
Bibliographical footnote: Some of the concepts in Entanglements of Empire overlap with those of other books that have been discussed on this blog and that can be looked up on the index at right. For a specific case of a settler Pakeha dependent on Maori goodwill to function in New Zealand, look up Jennifer Ashton’s At the Margin of Empire. For the physical conditions in which early missionaries worked, look up Angela Middleton’s Peiwhairangi: Bay of Islands Missions and Maori 1814 to 1845. More distantly related to the above, but still concerned to re-evaluate Maori-Pakeha relations in colonial times and to be even-handed about it, look up Peter Wells’ idiosyncratic The Hungry Heart and Journey to a Hanging. I also add that I recently had the pleasure of reviewing, for Landfall Review on Line, Vincent O’Malley’s stimulating collection of essays Beyond the Imperial Frontier, which has much to say about colonial Pakeha and Maori cultural interaction.