Wednesday, February 06, 2013

bible & treaty

I have been buzzing all summer over the discovery that the man (Sir James Stephen) who shaped the policy for New Zealand leading into the Treaty of Waitangi - on this very day, 173 years ago - was Wilberforce's (step) nephew and was himself a child of the Clapham Sect. Then I discover (Keith Newman, in Bible & Treaty, 140-141) that this Sir James Stephen was actually a student of Charles Simeon, one of my enduring heroes (and namesake of our middle son, Martin Charles Simeon - and we have a Stephen James as well!). I wrote about it here. As a teetotaler, this is the closest I'll ever get to being intoxicated. I have subjected so many thoroughly disinterested people to my great summer discoveries...

Anyhow, I gave myself the goal of reading Newman's Bible & Treaty before this year's Waitangi Day. Well worth the effort. In a nutshell, what this book taught me is that the early missionaries (like Henry and William Williams, for starters) built on  Sir James Stephens' good work and then people like Bishop Selwyn, the Wakefields and Governor Grey came along and stuffed it all up.

Beyond that little synopsis, I had four responses to the book.

As I read, I did some cheerleading. Both Barby and I are children and grandchildren of missionaries. One grows weary of the way the contribution of missionaries is either unfairly criticised, or just simply ignored. The writings of Philip Jenkins, Lamin Sanneh, Rodney Stark and others have done their bit to rehabilitate the missionary - but, alas, in those hallowed halls of the university, so often fed today by an anti-Christian bias, I am unsure how far this rehabilitation has reached. Newman certainly does his bit, as the subtitle infers: 'missionaries among the Maori - a new perspective'. As I lived in his pages I had this consuming desire to sit down and chat with Henry & Marianne Williams, William & Jane Williams, Octavius & Catherine Hadfield, James & Sarah Watkin, and Thomas & Agnes Grace. Along with sharing the gospel, the role of missionaries in peace-making and peace-keeping is particularly noteworthy. Then there is the role of Henry Williams in the Treaty of Waitangi process. He got involved 'in order to ensure it was as favourable as possible to Maori' (146). And in his translation of the Treaty, he was determined to 'avoid all English terms for which there was no expression in Maori, 'thereby preserving the spirit and tenor of the treaty.' (147)
If Henry Williams had not actively courted the chiefs and explained to them the importance of the treaty - specifically that the Crown was honouring their request for protection - it would never have been signed. Indeed, if he had said a single word against it, the chiefs, who had come to trust him so much, would never have agreed to it. (148)
As I read, I did some lamenting. Sure, there were missionaries that went sour - but the greater sadness lies with how quickly the original intentions of the Treaty, defended so fully by the missionaries, were betrayed. As early as 1845, there was a House of Commons decision ('the wastelands report') which asserted the rightful claim of the settlers to any unoccupied land.
While colonial advisor James Stephen, in his instructions that translated into the Treaty of Waitangi, had been adamant about the British responsibility to protect Maori, 'their lands, possessions and rights', that mandate passed through a succession of colonial secretaries. Within months of the Treaty of Waitangi being signed, it became clearer that the goodwill and humanitarianism extended by the missionaries, Christian politicians and more ethical Crown representatives was being undermined. (161)
'(The) great hopes that the New Zealand experiment would herald a more humane and just era for relationships with indigenous people in the colonies seemed to have been dashed' (200). By 1854, 'the missionary view that Maori had equal rights before God and a choice in what they did with their land was now virtually dismissed' (269). No wonder the 1860s were filled with brutal land wars - and that problems have remained ever since. One other lament? The way Governor Grey and Bishop Selwyn conspired to have Henry Williams dismissed from the CMS (Church Missionary Society). I like to interact with books as I read them, and so I think 'what a jerk' is pencilled in the margins more than once.

As I read, I did some learning. For the first twenty years after Samuel Marsden (1814), the missionaries focused on 'civilising' Maori - and then, with Henry Williams, the gospel gained priority and the 'seeds were blown in the wind'. The moving story of Taumata-a-kura (117-123) in the East Cape is one consequence. When William Williams arrives in the Cape, he is surprised that the people were not 'wholly unconverted' (121) because Maori missionaries like Taumata-a-kura had quietly gone before. I had not realised that cannibalism among Maori had lasted right into the 1830s. The governance of the colony fell between the cracks of Britain and New South Wales - 'a judicial black hole' - and Kororareka (Russell), 'one of the most important trading ports in the southern hemisphere' (78) became known as 'the hellhole of the Pacific' (79). The memorial in Tokaanu, honouring the two Maori martyrs (Manihera and Kereopa), is a place I gotta visit. The later drastic decline in the Maori population led many people to believe that they would die out eventually. 'The general attitude, which helped accelerate the official land grab, was that the race was rapidly dying out and stood little chance of recovery' (269). This contributed towards what Newman calls, 'a relentless colonial landlust' (275). Bishop Selwyn's reluctance to promote Maori for training and ordination was a lamentable mistake.

As  read, I did some puzzling. I had a couple of small misgivings about the book. It is not an easy book to enter into, if you know nothing about NZ history. For such people (and I have people in mind), it doesn't assume ignorance enough - particularly in the first few chapters. It took some effort to get hold of the storyline. While I have enormous sympathy for a paragraph in the Preface (I do, I do, I do), it seems peculiar and I wonder what was gained by including it. Surely the strength of argument is able to render these rather defensive sentences unnecessary?
I am conscious that there are many waiting to pass judgement on anyone who dares visit this vital aspect of New Zealand history, and I do not welcome academic bombardment over semantics, or lectures on the postmodernist worldview. We all have opinions; and while I am a Christian with an interest in Bible scholarship, I've tried to keep mine couched in the role of historian (12).
But I guess the author will have thought carefully about including them and had his reasons for doing so. For me, I found them distracting and even weakening of the overall impact of a book I so thoroughly enjoyed. [NB: one month after writing this post I met the author and raised this issue - giving my little plea that he drop it from the next edition!].

nice chatting



John Phillips said...

Your post has inspired me to read Bible & Treaty. While doing some extramural study through Massey,I was pleasantly surprised to discover the role played in English policy by an evangelical inspired white paper on protecting "aborigines".
Although the actions of Grey and subsequent colonial governments were shameful, in sending Hobson, the English seem to have been motivated by a desire to head off Wakefield & his schemes.
One of the alternative histories I sometimes wonder about is, "What would our country look like if Wiremu Tamehana's vision for NZ (Maori King and English Queen under 'Te Atua'), had not been destroyed by Grey, Cameron and friends.

Paul said...

Fascinating questions, John. You'll enjoy Newman's book... Read the other one I reviewed as well - Fairness & Freedom!

Garry said...

I also started reading Newman's book for similar reasons, John, and am thoroughly enjoying it! I am a slow reader, so only half way through =).

The early missionaries get a bit of a bagging elsewhere (and with some good reason), but the value of their greater efforts and achievements often goes unrecognised.

I also read early portions of Michael King's 'The Penguin History of New Zealand' in parallel with B&T. Interesting.

Also of interest: TVNZ's 'docudrama' 'Waitangi - What Really Happened' . It largly portrays the missionaries as clowns or harsh men, but is an amusing watch.

Have you read Ian Wishart's 'The Great Divide'? This is also on my reading list.

Regards, enjoyed your piece.

Garry said...

Sorry... "for similar reasons, PAUL, and am thoroughly..."

Ali said...

I don't know if this is an "out there" question, but does this book change the way you view New Zealand today, or even how you pray for the future of New Zealand?

I ask because, to my mind, knowledge of history can change our view of the present and our hopes for the future. I'm wondering if that's happened here.