Monday, November 23, 2020

Something New


We feature each fortnight Nicholas Reid's reviews and comments on new and recent books.  

“HE PUKAPUKA TATAKU I NGA MAHI A TE RAUPARAHA NUI / A RECORD OF THE LIFE OF THE GREAT TE RAUPARAHA” by Tamihana Te Rauparaha. Translated and Edited by Ross Calman (Auckland University Press,  $NZ59:99); “BILLY APPLE* LIFE/WORK” by Christina Barton (Auckland University Press,  $NZ75)

            It is a great pleasure to read a work of real and precise scholarship, bringing to light an intriguing text which has never before been presented to the public in authentic form.

            He Pukapuka Tataku I Nga Mahi A Te Rauparaha Nui / A Record of the Life of the Great Te Rauparaha is a 50,000-word text written in the 1860s by the chieftain’s son Tamihana Te Rauparaha. It focuses on the years between 1819 and the 1830s, the years of the so-called “musket wars”, when Te Rauparaha was most active. Tamihana’s hand-written manuscript has been stored in the Auckland Public Library’s Sir George Grey Collection since the nineteenth century. Editor and translator Ross Calman explains in detail, in his 40-page introduction, that the text has been translated and published a number of times in abridged or otherwise mutilated versions, including one crude version in 1980 which wilfully played up sensational aspects of Te Rauparaha’s story. All versions so far published have relied on defective copies of the original text and have usually mistranslated much of the original Maori. Hence Calman’s determination to get it just right.

            Some major obstacles stood in Calman’s way – not least the sometimes erratic spelling that Tamihana employed, although Calman notes that his handwriting is usually excellent.

            Calman gives much thought to the manuscript’s provenance, dismissing Sir George Grey’s suggestion that it was dictated to Tamihana by Te Rauparaha himself. Not only is it written in the third-person, but the text was clearly written years after Te Rauparaha’s death. Calman discovered that the very paper on which Tamihana wrote had watermarks dating from the 1860s. Tamihana’s text often explains various Maori customs that no Maori of Te Rauparaha’s generation would have found necessary to explain, and it sometimes expresses a world view that Te Rauparaha would not have shared. Influenced by the Anglican missionary Octavius Hadfield, Tamihana (“Thompson” – his original name was Katu) was a baptised Christian who briefly studied theology at St John’s College in Auckland, but who did not take holy orders. Tamihana later helped his father build the famous Rangiatea Church at Otaki after Te Rauparaha had been freed from imprisonment. The old warrior was never formally baptised, but did adopt many Christian values before he died.

            Calman also essays to explain why Tamihana may have written this text. He could have been encouraged to do so by Grey, or perhaps by a member of the House of Representatives W.T.L. Travers. Possibly, in an age when Maori oral culture was waning and literacy was taking over, Tamihana wished to preserve, as a sort of aide memoire, oral traditions that had been passed on about his father. Perhaps he also wished to counter negative images of his father that had been encouraged by the New Zealand Company and Wakefieldian agents. Tamihana’s 50,000 words are generally an admiring view of his father, but they are not a hagiography.

            Ross Calman claims descent from both Te Rauparaha and leaders of tribes whom Te Rauparaha fought, saying he is in part the result of a “peace marriage” between iwi in the early nineteenth century. He has something personal invested in this text; but as a good scholar he is not blind to the defects of his famous ancestor. In his Editor’s Note, referring to massacres and unprovoked warfare, he declares: “There are… aspects… that many of us will find difficult to stomach from a modern perspective. However, I believe that it does no good to hide this history away and pretend it didn’t happen.” (p.3) He also notes in his Introduction that not all Maori regard Te Rauparaha as a great man: “He is venerated by his own descendants among Ngati Toa and Ngati Raukawa and, it is fair to say, widely reviled by those tribes who were on the receiving end of his military campaigns during the ‘musket wars’ of the 1820s and 1830s, most notably Ngai Tahu.” (p.6)

            As well as aiming for accuracy in his translation, Calman aims for readability. He sets out his principles on p.36, which include “Creating a clear and accurate English translation, using plain, modern language as much as possible that does justice to the original, but also reads well in its own right. For people with little or no te reo [which includes this reviewer], I have tried to craft an English text that I hope gives, in its own way, the flavour of Tamihana’s narrative.”

            And so to the text itself.

            After a generous gallery of images, the text is presented with Maori on the left-hand page and the English translation on the right-hand page. It opens with the words: “This is a record of the life of the great Te Rauparaha, from childhood to old age. Written by his own son, Tamihana Te Rauparaha, so that it is not forgotten.” (p.49). Tamihana begins with a truncated whakapapa and moves rapidly on to his father’s military achievements. It has to be noted at once that the text consists of brief, declarative paragraphs, often beginning with the weak connective “Well” (“Na” in the original Maori). This is not a carefully-crafted work of biography, but a work in which events are recorded often in a rather jumbled form. It is not in strict chronological order. As Calman’s careful notes make clear to us, Tamihana will not hesitate to introduce earlier events after he has already narrated later events.

            Even so, the story that is told is vigorous and vivid. After whakapapa, it moves on to Te Rauparaha’s iwi, based at Kawhia, taking revenge in the Waikato tribes that have invaded their land, and finding an ally in the Ngapuhi chief Tamati Waka Nene. He it was who first suggested to Te Rauparaha that it would be wise to settle near to Pakeha so that he might acquire guns. Later, Te Rauparaha migrates with all his iwi to Wairarapa, challenging and fighting other tribes en route. In this migration, members of his immediate family are caught sleeping by enemies and are murdered. Te Rauparaha takes great revenge. Later still, when he is settled on Kapiti, he does greater trade with Pakeha, basically selling pork and potatoes for guns and building up his arsenal. It is then (in 1830) that he seeks overlordship of all Te Waipounamu (the South Island). He descends upon the Ngai Tahu, thanks to Captain Stewart who transports Te Rauparaha and his warriors across the strait in his ship the Elizabeth. The most animated and sustained narrative Tamihana gives (pp. 178-193) is of Te Rauparaha’s taking of the Ngai Tahu pa at Kaiapoi – a siege in which the Ngai Tahu were essentially burnt out of their strong-point and then slaughtered. After this, there was the taking of Akaroa by subterfuge. Later, after many battles and campaigns in which Pakeha did not intervene, Te Rauparaha challenged the so-called “Wairau purchase” by the New Zealand Company, which is son clearly depicts as a matter of Pakeha trickery (pp.252-257), and it is for this he falls foul of Pakeha law and is eventually made a prisoner. (His son, however, depicts Te Rauparaha as trying to stop the killing at Wairau and blames Te Rangihaeata for the death of Pakeha.)

            Reading the text, we are often aware of how Tamihana explains things for the (Pakeha) uninitiated. Thus he explains caste: Among Maori it was the preserve of high-born girls and boys to invite guests and travelling war parties to visit their home in order to uphold their father’s reputation. Through this they became known as the daughter of so and so, or the son of so and so.” (p.51) After introducing huia and kotuku, he notes that they are “the famous birds of the land. The albatross is the famous bird of the sea. The feathers of these birds are used as ornamentaation, they are inserted into the hair. Among Maori, only chiefs are entitled to this taonga, the feather of these birds.” (p.71)

            Clearly, too, he wishes to present a more positive view of his father to Pakeha. So we get this statement: “Ngati Awa killed a number of Pakeha; some were killed at Waikanae and some Pakeha were killed by Ngati Awa, by Te Whakau, at Taitapu. Te Rauparaha’s was the only tribe who did not have a reputation for killing Pakeha, for murder. On the other hand there were these other tribes who at that time lived in ignorance and went about murdering Pakeha.” (p.265) Even as Te Rauparaha migrates with his iwi to Wairarapa, and fights battles en route, his son goes out of his way to emphasis his peacefulness; “… the migrating party was able to travel in peace… They did not kill in retribution one person here or two people there, they let them be. Nor did the migrating party resort to plundering food, they travelled in an orderly manner. When they were starving, they dug fernroot for themselves, collected karaka berries and tenderised paua to eat with the fernroot. There is no way that the people of the migrating party would have misbehaved as they had been instructed by Te Rauparaha to travel in peace: ‘Do not set about killing people in retribution or taking food, this will give the local people grounds for attacking the migrating party.’ ” (p.107)

            At the same time, Tamihana cannot gloss over all the savage things that Te Rauparaha ordered or oversaw. At his command, a child was strangled for making noise that would give his iwi away in the night (p.85). After fighting with tribes in Taranaki, and with Te Rauparaha’s approval,  Ngati Tama carried on to cut up the bodies and carry them on their back to cook in the hangi. This was the Maori way…” (p.87). Taking revenge on iwi in Taranaki, for those of his people killed at Waiorua, Te Rauparaha acted and “three pa were taken and two hundred men were killed; as for the eight hundred women and children, they were taken back to Kapiti as slaves…” (p.143). So, if you wish to be as sensationalist as the non-scholar who produced a Te Rauparaha book in 1980, there you have infanticide, cannibalism and slavery.

            Tamihana is situated between approving and apologising when he writes of Te Rauparaha’s predation upon Te Waipounamu.

            At first he writes matter-of-factly when he deals with the first attack on Ngai Tahu: “When night fell and it was dark, Te Rauparaha’s one hundred and forty boarded the ship’s boats and the canoe. When it was light they attacked the villages whose people were occupied in scraping flax fibre and catching fish with nets. They overcame them, two hundred men were left lying dead; women and children added a further three to four hundred.” (p.167)

            Then he praises Te Rauparaha’s cunning and says others praised it too: “The people were wholehearted in their praise of Te Rauparaha. Who else indeed could have come up with Te Rauparaha’s plan, a plan that would become known by all the chiefs of this country, that involved brazenly asking this great devil, the Pakeha, to allow his ship to be used in warfare to attack people[?]” (p.169)

            But eventually he has to admit the devastation of Te Waipounamu: “…the killing continued along the coast… The human population was drastically reduced. It was arranged that the survivors be left there as serfs. They were not taken back to Kapiti. Te Rauparaha had already taken two hundred captives back to Kapiti to become slaves.” (p.177)

            Throughout this whole narrative, we are aware of the huge difference that muskets made to Maori warfare. Tamihana notes of Te Rauparaha’s first expedition in 1818-19 that “Guns had not been acquired in those times, traditional Maori weapons were still in use.” (p.61) Of a conflict in 1821, he notes “Te Rauparaha’s weapon was a pouwhenua, his son had a taiaha and Tangahoe had a paiaka.” (p.83) But after 1823, when Te Rauparaha makes Kapiti his headquarters, the musket becomes his winning device and slaughter of enemies follows. It is also notable that other Pakeha technology helped him . Tamihana remarks (p.185) that in expeditions to Te Waipounamu, Te Rauparaha had the advantage of Pakeha spades and shovels which he had acquired at Port Jackson, and which were far more efficient when it came to entrenchment than anything his enemies had.

            Tamihana mentions that, as an infant, he himself was taken on some of his father’s campaigns. He also, very late in the narrative, tell a few anecdotes about being rebuked by his father for playing with, and inadvertently setting off, some gunpowder before a battle. This, however, is a book based on his father. It presents vividly a very capable soldier who lived by the rules and norms of his society and culture, no matter how different from, and repugnant to, our norms and culture they are. For this reviewer it stands as one of the liveliest accounts of the musket wars era.

            The scholarship that enfolds it is impeccable.


*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

            This is one of those horrible situations in which I have to admit that I read somebody else’s review of a book before I read and considered the book myself. And I so fully agree with the earlier reviewer’s comments that it is hard for me to adopt a different perspective. Briefly, in reviewing Christina Barton’s Billy Apple@ Life / Work in the 31 October 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener, Andrew Paul Wood tactfully suggested that Billy Apple is not the towering artistic figure his New Zealand admirers would like to portray; remains a little-known figure outside New Zealand, despite the many years he spent working (and sharing exhibitions) in the UK and especially the USA; and in the end does not present anything more innovative than a worked-out form of Pop Art and self-promotion. Andrew Paul Wood’s review is a bit more nuanced than my crude summary of it, and does make a number of approbatory comments, but that is the general gist of it.

            Noting that Billy Apple is now 85, I wondered if this meant Billy Apple@ Life / Work was really a ritual embalming of the man.

            Having expressed my general approval of Wood’s view, I’m nevertheless conscience-bound to say how I reacted to the book itself. 

            First I note that Christina Barton, respected art historian and director of Wellington’s university art gallery, is a real scholar. Her nearly-400-page text is a work of minute and careful research and the labour of many years. As she says in her preface, she has been studying Billy Apple’s work since the 1980s and has been working on this book since 2011. Nearly everything that has been said or written by or about Apple features in her text and is duly noted in her bibliography. One text she misses, however, is Antony Byrt’s TheMirror Steamed Over (reviewed on this blog earlier this year). Presumably it appeared when Billy Apple@ Life / Work was already on its way to being published. The Mirror Steamed Over deals with Apple’s early days in Britain and his association with David Hockney. Andrew Paul Wood also noted its absence in his review, and added the comment that, unlike Byrt, Christina Barton misses some of the details of people who were, at that stage, important influences on Apple’s early work.

            This aside, Billy Apple@ Life / Work is as comprehensive a book about Billy Apple as anyone could wish – a sturdy hardback reproducing in full colour many works from each phase of Apple’s work and in effect functioning as a curated gallery.

Barton divides her text into six sections, following the development of Apple’s career – first his life as Barrie Bates in New Zealand and his art-school years in England where, in 1962, he reinvented himself as “Billy Apple”; then his first forays into the USA and his transatlantic existence before seeing the USA as a better bet than England; and then, after some success in New York and elsewhere, his definitive return to New Zealand c.1990. Having fully embraced American Pop Art, Apple had separated himself from his New Zealand roots. His methods remain those of advertising-influenced Pop Art, sometimes with texts supplied by the art critic Wystan Curnow. (Here, of course, one wonders how much Wystan Curnow is the real talent behind some of Apple’s later work.)

            I have no quarrels with the prodigious work Barton has done, but not being sympathetic to the subject matter makes it difficult for me to assess this book fairly. Here we have pages of Apple’s playing with neon lights; reworking found images; playing “subtraction” games with spaces provided in art galleries and mass-producing posters indistinguishable from run-of-the-mill posters. At one point Barton remarks:

            Unlike his fellow pop artists, Apple embraced the methods of the advertising industry. His conceptualism is in large part stimulated by the central place of the idea in the adman’s methodology; his use of language has retained the clever brevity and double entendres of the sophisticated copywriter’s wordplays, and the graphic designer in him has always invested in the signifying potential of typography.” (p.109) In other words, he immsersed himself in advertising and, pace Barton, what results is of no greater profundity or perception than advertising per se. Copywriter’s wordplay? Brevity? Sure – and saying nothing of greater importance than they do. Then there is that relentless self-promotion, especially in the phases where Apple, as well as copyrighting his assumed name, fills galleries with images of apples, in effect branding himself like any other product.

            Later, Barton asks “why, exactly, does Billy Apple matter?” and answers her own question by saying “he demonstrates what art can do to help us understand the fundamental nature of being, particularly in our contemporary era.” (p.358). Really??? Not when his art offers only the shallowness of any other ad. I suppose at this point I will be accused of not understanding the swathes of irony in Apple’s word. I protest that I do get the irony, and it is still shallower than a footpath puddle.

            Oh dear. I have rather overstated my case, haven’t I? But these are negative comments about Apple and his art, not about the book, which will doubtless be essential reading for those who admire Billy Apple.

No comments:

Post a Comment