Between people and things: understanding violence and theft in early New Zealand transactions
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
In this thesis some Māori-Māori and Māori-European transactions in pre-colonial New Zealand are examined in detail to establish why physical violence resulted although violence had not been the intention. A methodology adapted from those developed by Brass (1997) and Wilson (2008) for investigating violence has been used. The aim was to identify who were the social actors at key turning points in the sequences, what initiated the sequences and what eventually caused them to stop. Thus the focus of the analysis was to find which motivating factors influenced the actors’ decision making and caused the situations to evolve in the way they did. Using archival material, sailor and missionary journals, indigenous narratives, oral literature, genealogical and artifact records both Māori and European ways of ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ the world have been compared for evidence that ontological disjunction may have been a source of poor decision making. Competing notions of what constitutes theft are explored as one aspect of such disjunctions, because in all the transactions the initiating circumstance involved an action that could have been perceived as theft. Yet in addition to being a source of misunderstanding in the local cases described, theft is also shown to interfere with the social relationships of individuals and groups, diminishing their self-esteem and affecting their mana. It is this component of decision-making that is shown to have been crucial in provoking violence in all the New Zealand cases described. In turn the relationships between mana, honour and theft have been linked to contemporary records about the character and personality characteristics of the social actors who have been implicated in the violent actions. This suggests that Anton Blok’s notion of “Honour and Violence” applies cross-culturally, and equally, to early New Zealand as it does to the Northern Hemisphere examples he has used, and that further cross-cultural investigations of this connection may “allow us to reach some measure of transcultural understanding” (2001: 11). Furthermore, the results of this study also strongly suggest that preventing physical violence, promoting and negotiating peace require that mana and honour should be acknowledged.