Land, authority and the forgetting of being in early colonial Maori history
Thesis DisciplineMaori Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis attempts to understand the intellectual milieu of Maori society in the early colonial period through the medium of Maori-language sources of information dating from that time. A base in Maori documentary allows Maori history to exist under the same disciplines as that of other literate peoples. The thesis argues that the imposition of English meanings on Maori language has shaded Maori meanings. It offers a rereading of documents including the Treaty of Waitangi in order to restore their Maori historicity. Maori society has also been misrepresented historiographically by the creation of false distance between metropolitan and indigenous culture, including the failure to sufficiently consider the shaping force of literacy on Maori perceptions of citizenship and on the politics of sovereignty that developed at mid-century. The thesis argues that land sales were the main Maori experience of government, and that the government's ability to define the terms of the market reconstrued society in ways which destroyed its former political structure.This turned it into a land-owning collective, in which power lay not in human consequence, as formerly, but in the size of the cultivations to which an owner could prove a right in terms constructed by officials. All members of the kin-group were constutued land owners, and the status of the chief was reduced to the size of the lands to which he could prove ownership. By 1865, when the Native Land Court was instituted, power within Maoridom lay in the land itself: te mana o te whenua. This position was written into culture, and endures into the present. The premise of the thesis is that change towards western norms is the proper frame of study of colonial Maori society, but that the magnitude of change has been obscured, both by the politicisation of the past on presentist premises and by the transformation of colonial models into what is now assumed to be 'traditional Maori society'. In order to separate the colonial from the traditional the thesis looks at precontact society custom regarding authority over land and fisheries. The thesis underscores the magnitude of change when tapu disappeared as the support of chiefs' civil governance, which was played out in the migration of mana (personal power) from chiefs to, modern, land. The disappearance of tapu also, however, aided the rise of Maori civil society within the colony on the basis of the desire for modernity which kept Maori engaged with the government - and therefore still governed. This is studied through letters that detail the operation of civil life in Taranaki and among Ngati Kahungunu, with special reference to the experience of Wiermu Kingi and Renata Kawepo.