Monthly Archives: July 2013

Maori Policy: Whanau, Hapu, Iwi Mythology

Maori policy is based largely on ideology rather than evidence, and that ideology is often pure mythology. The whanau-hapu-iwi construct and the way it is promoted in policy is pure myth..

The Basis of Some of the Mythology

There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the early history of Maori in Aotearoa. Much of it stems from historical accounts written by Pakeha in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many of these early “experts” were poorly educated men who set themselves up as experts and became authoritative sources. All of them set out to situate Maori history and Maori culture within simple fixed frameworks that would make complex migration and settlement history easily understood, and complex relationships between groups simple. It is doubtful that they themselves ever fully understood the reality of Maori before European settlement, and not much more post settlement.

What they did do was collect a great deal of still valuable oral history including whakapapa and stories of the ancestors and they recorded it in writing. They also had access to written accounts by Maori, which they translated and recorded. Most often however they applied their own interpretations to that information and constructed their version of our history and their version of our social, economic and political lives. The big picture they constructed was often wrong, but the detail they collected remains a valuable resource.

The early ethnologists sought to discover and promote a Grand Design within which they might conveniently posit all of Maoridom and all of our history. As part of this grand design they collected volumes of whakapapa hoping to create a single forty or fifty generational whakapapa for all Maori everywhere linking us all back to our single origin. Some of them even constructed such a grand whakapapa, making alterations and interpretations where the evidence didn’t fit the grand design.

A glaring example of mythological construct is the Great Fleet of migration waka from the Pacific Islands to Aotearoa New Zealand. This myth says that the seagoing migration vessels or waka, sometimes called canoes, Aotea, Arawa, Kurahaupo, Mataatua, Tainui, Takitimu and Tokomaru, all departed and arrived together. It’s a great story but pure fiction. There were many more waka than those seven and their arrivals were spread over a long period.

Buying into the Myths

The problem for Maori is that advanced learning about our own history was confined to the Whare Wananga, houses of learning, and to those few adepts accepted into their curricula. They were usually only rangatira or chiefs and those gifted individuals destined to become tohunga or priests. As in all pre-Enlightenment societies worldwide before the introduction of mass schooling, information and education were restricted to the ruling class and to those who served to protect their power. The people relied entirely for their information on those who held the information.

Thus it was that with the demise of the power and influence of old time rangatira and tohunga, and with the rise of the missionaries and other European “experts” as the holders of knowledge, Maori themselves were introduced to the Pakeha version of our history and reality.

Once you displace the holders of one version of knowledge it is easy to impose an alternative version of knowledge. Disastrously we came to believe it. And so in my grandparents’ generation right down to my children’s generation these myths were believed and passed on. The Great Fleet is perhaps the most outstanding example that has hopefully almost been expunged from the record in the last twenty or thirty years.

Social, Economic & Political Structure

The chiefly authority of the Maori was direct, but the descent of that authority was just narrowed to the one hapu and it may even be to one whanau.”  –  Sir Apirana Ngata

A huge misconception is the whanau-hapu-iwi construct in which Maori society is perceived as a fixed hierarchy with each iwi consisting of a number of hapu and each hapu of a number of whanau. The model can be more complex when some hapu might consist of a number of smaller hapu and they in turn have a number of constituent whanau.

The early European commentators then ascribed the names tribe (iwi), sub-tribe (hapu) and family (whanau) to this neat and tidy hierarchy. Whanau could also be described as (simple or basic) whanau or extended whanau. This model of Maori social structure provides a simple and easily understood framework.

It is however too simple and does not reflect either past or present reality. The problem is that the model has become widely accepted by both Maori and Pakeha, including Maori academics and scholars. The model is used by politicians and policy makers and is one of the bedrock assumptions upon which Maori policy and Maori affairs are based. Much modern Maori policy is aimed at “iwi” with resource allocation, programme delivery and claims settlement made through a modern construct that I and others have labeled corporate iwi.

The iwi-hapu-whanau construct is just another myth. I have to acknowledge that I too have often used this model as a lazy short-cut way to describe Maori society.

The Reality

Firstly in most instances the concept of a unified iwi was and is not possible to sustain in reality. For reasons of distance, travel time (by waka or on foot), and communication, the hapu was the largest workable social, economic and political entity with up to 1000 people but usually less, most often much less. It could contain less than 100 people. The only exceptions are those iwi which were quite small and confined to a relatively small area. In the past each hapu was entirely autonomous acting within its own boundaries containing its own food and other essential resources, under its own leadership and acting in its own interests, especially in its own interests. It might or might not join forces with related and neighbouring hapu, or go to the aid or support of related hapu descended from a common eponymous ancestor. But that was never guaranteed. There often had to be something in it for them to do so.

There are no early records at all to indicate that hapu ever thought of themselves as being subordinate to an iwi in any social, economic or political sense. They would of course acknowledge common descent and regard themselves as being identified with other hapu of common descent in the sense that they were “iwi” or “bones”. But they never functioned as a corporate iwi entity in any sense at all.

The “hapu” was the “tribe”, rather than a sub-tribe. By labeling hapu as “sub-tribe” in the English language the early Pakeha ethnographers and policy makers altered forever our perception of ourselves. Hapu were autonomous “tribes”, not “sub-tribes”. Some hapu functioned as autonomous sub-tribes of other hapu – hapu matua. Clusters of hapu also functioned together in cooperation.

Hapu were formed and reformed all the time. Groups of people might split off and move away for a number of reasons including overcrowding, disputes over land and resources, personal and leadership disputes, or curiosity wanderlust and exploration. As they moved away, migrated and settled elsewhere they might at first just regard themselves as a splinter group of the old hapu and would eventually adopt a new hapu name to describe themselves. They might regard themselves as a new hapu from the very beginning.

If there were previous inhabitants in their new location they might have overcome them and absorbed them into themselves, they might have been absorbed into the other, they might merge with the others into a completely new hapu entity, or they might have co-existed as separate entities. There was no fixed process at all. In this way, as people dispersed, moved, migrated, settled and merged, hapu formation was happening all the time (generationally speaking) in a rather random fashion as circumstances dictated. Over time with strategic and non-strategic inter-marriage between unrelated groups many hapu were descended from two or more major eponymous ancestors – hapu aho rua.

On the other hand they didn’t all move away in order to redefine themselves. As hapu got larger, groups within that hapu might remain in place but name themselves after a closer eponymous ancestor, and be accepted by others as such. In so doing they would proclaim their autonomy.

This was an organic and continuous process with old hapu ceasing to exist and new hapu coming into existence throughout history, most but not all of them autonomous.

Maori society was a shifting and fluid system of contracts, alliances and power balances giving rise to that organic and continuous process. It involved territorial boundaries and the control and exclusive use of food and other resources within those boundaries. It involved agreements to share and allow access to some resources, and the exchange of foodstuffs and other goods such as stone implements. The whole system was governed by the principle of utu or reciprocity, peaceful or otherwise. Differences and disputes arose from time to time, sometimes leading to warfare which may have been an effective and conclusive solution for one side at least, but was often ineffective and inconclusive. Strategic arranged intermarriage, especially between the chiefly families, was effective as a deterrent to warfare and in peacemaking after warfare, at least for one or two generations, and was widely practised.

The protagonists in this fluid system were the chiefs, not iwi and not even hapu. These were arrangements, contracts, alliances and power balances between chiefs. The power behind the chiefs was the number of followers they were able to attract and hold through the ties of kinship, through their personal leadership qualities, through their dedication to the quality of life of their people, and their ability to provide that quality of life.

It is often said, “Ko te kai a te rangatira he korero”, but I maintain, “Ko te mahi a te rangatira he kai”.

Hungry people will find new chiefs. The better fed the people, the larger the hapu and the greater the power, influence and ability of the chief to maintain hegemony over the land and the people.

The local environment and the number of people the environment and its resources could sustain was a huge factor in the whole process, and often a constraint. It was not an entirely human process.

The need to feed the people and the fluid and shifting arrangements, contracts, alliances and power balances between chiefs largely accounted for the ebb and flow of hapu formation and dissolution, and migration and settlement, throughout the generations. That was not a fixed hierarchical society in which the iwi could function in any way, shape or form as a social, economic, corporate or political entity.

Within my own rohe identification as a distinct “iwi” did not occur until the 1830s when the musket wars and invasions by marauding bands into the rohe killed what has been estimated as half the population of Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, and forced most of the rest of those descended from Kahungunu to seek protection and refuge at Nukutaurua on the Mahia Peninsula. There they came under the protection of Te Wera Hauraki from Ngapuhi in the distant north. He had the muskets to provide protection in return for a grant of land for himself of course. While there they traded to obtain muskets for themselves and eventually returned to their lands.

During that period at Nukutaurua a distinct Ngati Kahungunu iwi identity across the whole rohe was forged for the first time ever. The chiefs of the different hapu at Nukutaurua formed alliances and in many instances helped each other to repel the invaders. However they were independent and autonomous chiefs acting together rather than submitting to a common entity under an overall leadership. When they returned to their respective areas they continued to act autonomously. The “iwi” didn’t happen in reality until the era of the modern corporate iwi, greatly influenced by government policies requiring that Government deal only through “mandated iwi”.

The myth of the iwi became entrenched into mainstream Pakeha and Maori thought through the theories of the early Pakeha commentators, through the compliance and ambition of some Maori leadership, and through the judges of the Native Land Court, later the Maori Land Court, seeking to simplify their own understanding. The Department of Native (later Maori) Affairs also fostered the myth by seeking to lump disparate hapu into iwi in order to deal with and sometimes exert control or influence over larger entities. The myth found fertile ground in our own ignorance and compliance.

Mythology and Policy

The whanau-hapu-iwi construct is the prevailing perception and it has been applied retrospectively to non-existent iwi entities of the past. It is a bedrock belief upon which a great deal of Maori policy has been and is being based. Regardless of that it remains a post-colonial construct, a myth.

What is happening in the present however with the emergence of corporate iwi cannot be denied and is part of the ongoing transformation of tribal structure towards something perhaps that might eventually reflect the social structure of our mostly urban and increasingly global dispersion. Or it might not. There is a great gulf between present invented tribal structure and present social reality. There are no guarantees at all in this political evolution, and it is political rather than social or cultural.

I tend to think however that this whole impetus based on the whanau-hapu-iwi construct and other mythology is leading Maori policy down a blind alley where the Maori political and business elites are the main beneficiaries. Meanwhile the rest of us 810,200 Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia know that we are beholden to the wider global and national polity and economy for the unfolding of our futures. We know that Maori policy whether based on mythology and ideology, or on real evidence, will ultimately have little or no influence on those futures. Only the elites believe. The rest of us are getting on with our lives.

And while the Maori policy paddlers keep paddling, the waka is dead in the water. Indeed, if you look at Maori social and economic statistics you could be forgiven for thinking it’s going backwards.

Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits?

In March Pita Sharples and Chris Finlayson launched a discussion document written by a panel set up to review Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993:

“Mäori land is a taonga and resource which should be able to be used for the benefit of the owner, their whänau and future generations, free from unnecessary obstacles created by legislation.

“That is why this review of the functioning of Te Ture Whenua Mäori Act 1993 was commissioned. The expert panel was asked for suggestions on how to improve the Act for the benefit of Mäori land owners.

“Mäori land tenure and the system for administering Mäori land has been considered many times over the years. One of the central challenges has always been to find a way to allow for the effective management and development of a communal heritage asset which is held by individual interests, and is increasingly fragmented”.

OK so far.

“Research shows that the existing legislation does not achieve this. Eighty percent of Mäori land is currently underdeveloped and ignored by some disengaged owners. Through this review, we have the chance to put hundreds of millions of dollars extra into the hands of whänau, hapü and iwi while ensuring better guardianship of this taonga”.

A step too far I think ministers.

You have invoked once again the false dogma of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi construct that has informed Maori policy for decades. The iwi-hapu-whanau hierarchy was invented by early Pakeha commentators and officials keen to confine Maori cultural, social and economic complexity and diversity into a simple easy to deal with construct. I shall write more of that in a later blog. Suffice to say that as a result of that false construct driving policy in other areas of economic activity, Maori assets are now passing into the hands of “corporate iwi”, collective economic super-entities that did not exist at all, at any time in our history, until the advent of the fisheries settlements and Treaty settlements.

For the moment individual Maori landowners and whanau landowners should be very wary of the notion that their dividends (“hundreds of millions of dollars”) might end up in the “hands of whanau, hapu and iwi”. Landowners should be vigilant to ensure that their land assets do not also pass into the hands of these new corporate entities.

Having said that one cannot but agree that something needs to be done to bring as much Maori owned land as possible into the productive sector of the New Zealand economy (as opposed to the fanciful notion of a “Maori economy”), and to encourage Maori agri-business to engage in the global economy. The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected.

The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected.

I have watched the evolution of Maori development or Maori advancement since my teenage years when in 1960 my father discussed with me the Hunn Report on the Department of Maori Affairs. At the time it was a landmark study on the place of Maori in New Zealand society. I still have our copy in my archives somewhere. Since then there has been an evolving and often cyclical and repetitive raft of ideology and dogma, legislation and policy, programmes and projects, delivery mechanisms and providers. I participated in much of it from about 1980 onwards.

I have drawn two main conclusions from over fifty years of observation and participation. Firstly, that little of the ideology and dogma, the policy and legislation and few of the programmes and projects have been based on evidential research, and that none of it has been followed by robust evaluation to measure effectiveness. As a result most of it has been ineffective. Secondly, that all of it purports to be on behalf of and for the  benefit of “Maori”, a nebulous generalization that takes little account of the complexity and diversity, and increasingly the urban and global location, of Maori society. As at December 2012 there were 682,200 of us in Aotearoa New Zealand. Who among us benefits? Tell me their names.

Investigative journalists often “follow the money” to find the truth of a matter. I have long asked the question, “Who benefits?” It is a question that gets right to the core.

Who benefits from this new push, as one participant describes it, to work with owners to protect and build their land and other assets, and to assist the overall improvement of the [mythical] “Maori economy”?

With the retirement of my generation from much of the governance and management of Maori owned economic assets the next generation is taking over. In the main it is better educated and better qualified, and more suited to the task in the modern New Zealand and global economy, than both my generation and my father’s generation. There has emerged among them a new Maori political and economic elite replacing a tired old elite, We used to refer to the top tier of that old elite as the “Brown Table”.

In ancient times all resources were in the hands of the hereditary chiefs, the original elites who were themselves deposed by the missionaries and by the Native Land Court. Nothing much changes.

The transition to the new elite has not always been gentlemanly, sometimes politically brutal, but that is the way of transitions from elites to elites. Some remove themselves gracefully and some are pushed. The transition has been helped by the Maori Party’s influence in Government and many of the new elite are Maori Party members and/or nominees. As is the case with all elites some are deserving of their new found influence and some are not. Some live up to their own PR and some do not.

The new elite is now in control or in the process of gaining control of “corporate iwi”, incorporations, trusts and other entities  including a wide range of publicly funded service providers. Its members form a managerial class of employee, whether at the governance or management level. Many of them are in secure employment in a sector that did not exist twenty years ago. And that employment might for many of them provide life-long careers. Some of them will springboard from there into politics. Like their counterparts in the broader corporate sector and in the disastrous global finance sector their interests are not always compatible with the interests of the owners. Salaries and bonuses are often more important than dividends. Management will built bloated and costly empires and over-reward itself if allowed to.

And although the role of management is ringawera rather than rangatira, the distinction is almost always lost in the fog of ambition.

I stated earlier that in relation to the review of Maori land law, “The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected”

No-one should suffer under the illusion that the interests of the managers, the new elite, are the same as the interests of the landowners, or the same as the interests of all “Maori”. They are the interests of the elite. As it ever was, mai rano.


Sun Tzu on The Use of Spies

Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese master of strategy. He wrote his “The Art of War” circa 2,500BC. To this day it is considered a masterpiece. He had this to say on the use of spies.

Sun Tzu said:

Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labor.

Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.

One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory.

Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge.

Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes:

  • Local spies;
  • inward spies;
  • converted spies;
  • doomed spies;
  • surviving spies.

When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called “divine manipulation of the threads.” It is the sovereign’s most precious faculty.

Having local spies means employing the services of the inhabitants of a district.

Having inward spies, making use of officials of the enemy.

Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using them for our own purposes.

Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes of deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to the enemy.

Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from the enemy’s camp.

Hence it is that which none in the whole army are more intimate relations to be maintained than with spies. None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should greater secrecy be preserved.

Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity.

They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness.

Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports.

Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business.

If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, he must be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told.

Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm a city, or to assassinate an individual, it is always necessary to begin by finding out the names of the attendants, the aides-de-camp, and door-keepers and sentries of the general in command. Our spies must be commissioned to ascertain these.

The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted spies and available for our service.

It is through the information brought by the converted spy that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies.

It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy.

Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be used on appointed occasions.

The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first instance, from the converted spy. Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmost liberality.

Of old, the rise of the Yin dynasty was due to I Chih who had served under the Hsia.

Likewise, the rise of the Chou dynasty was due to Lu Ya who had served under the Yin.

Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results.

Spies are a most important element in water, because on them depends an army’s ability to move.

So sayeth the Master.

Wayfinders 4

to think
outside the square
against the tide
of opinion
received wisdom
common sense
knowledge mindset
haramai te toki

Dive beneath
the shallow currents
seek the deepest truths
dredge to the surface
hidden secrets
assumptions agendas
expose them
to the bright light
of day
ki te whaiao
ki te ao Marama

the lonely path
of the outsider

in mindspace
tihei mauri-ora

© Ross Nepia Himona

Mai i Hawaiki ki Hawaiki: The Evolution of Maori Culture

A long essay.
by Te Putatara

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Stated very simply culture is the narrative or story that explains where we came from, or where we think we came from, who we are, what we believe and how we live. It is expressed and transmitted in proverb, storytelling, mythology, legend, poetry, music, dance, art and religion.

Daniel Quinn, author of a series of novels about culture and worldviews, describes a culture as “a people enacting a story”. A story is “a scenario interrelating man, the world, and the gods”, and to enact a story is “to live so as to make the story a reality”. The story usually describes the act of creation and builds a model of the universe and the world according to the particular culture (1992, “Ishmael, An adventure of the mind and spirit”, Bantam, New York).

A worldview and the culture it produces is based on a set of continuously reinforced ideas; the story. The ideas are not immutable laws of nature but human constructs that shape the way humans live within their culture.

The story might persist over long periods of time but it does evolve, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly. This essay speaks of the evolution of our Maori story and of how over the last two hundred years there have been new storytellers and compelling new stories to describe to us who we are and where we came from.

Cultural evolution involves three central processes; adaptation, remembering and forgetting.

Cultures adapt and change over time in response to climatic change, migration and settlement in new environments, interaction with other groups or cultures, changes in the availability and types of resources especially food, technological, artistic and religious innovation, and many other factors. Culture has undergone great change throughout the history of Homo sapiens, modern human. It is important to note that all cultures continue to adapt and change over time and that none is fixed or static. What is more important though is the rate of adaptation and change.

As I depict below cultural adaptation was relatively glacial for most of the first 50,000 years of the history of humankind out of Africa. It was so slow that change was probably largely unnoticed, until the advent of the agricultural revolution about 12,000 years ago in the Middle East, China and South America, spreading then to the rest of the known world. The agricultural revolution brought with it new ways of living and being after countless millennia of hunting and gathering. It brought with it new gods and new religions. That revolution was followed by the scientific revolution of the 14th century through to the 18th century, the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the technological revolution of our time.

The agricultural and scientific revolutions did not reach into the lives of the ancestors of the Polynesians though, in their journey out of what is now called Asia into and across the Pacific. Perhaps the major changes in the lives of the Polynesians were as a result of sea going wanderlust, voyaging, exploration, migration and settlement as they peopled the Pacific. Whilst the Polynesians did travel huge distances the culture probably traveled with them from island to island without undergoing radical or even significant change.

The migration from Eastern Polynesia to Aotearoa New Zealand certainly brought about much cultural adaptation as that new homeland demanded radically different ways of living, and as those in the new land became isolated from the mother culture. Despite that much of the Polynesian culture was retained and over time was adapted to the new environment. But the major and most dramatic adaptation and change occurred after the arrival of the Europeans. They brought the agricultural, scientific and industrial revolutions with them, as well as their religion and worldview. We met them head on and rapidly adapted.

Whether the adaptation is slow or rapid the culture is passed on from generation to generation to generation.

I have called this transmission of the cultural story the remembering.

The remembering is spoken from mother to child and from grandmother to grandchild. The story is told by teacher to student, by writer, poet, journalist and cartoonist, by actor, songwriter, singer, musician, performer and film maker, and by painter and sculptor. It is passed by sporting coach to player, priest to congregation, and by political and corporate public relations and advertising propagandists to a gullible public. We say that no one believes politicians any more yet like viruses their insidious messages infect the minds of hundreds of thousands and become part of the remembering. The great and powerful whether prince, priest, warrior or merchant, have always sought to implant and imprint their worldview as the dominant or only worldview.

In this modern and increasingly complex and globalised world there are many thousands of strands to the story that is now our culture. The culture has vastly expanded in content and reach and it now comprises many sub-cultures, or cultural strands within an overarching globalized culture. The progression of scientific discovery and technological innovation is having a huge effect on bringing about cultural adaptation and change faster than at any other time in history. Most of us are culturally schizophrenic, being different persons in our different situations and areas of interest; ethnicity, religion, family, career, work, politics, hobbies and so on. It wasn’t always so in ages past before the advent of printing, books, newspapers, telephone, radio, film, TV, air travel, the internet and smart phones.

It used to be that the story was told face to face, kanohi ki te kanohi, from mouth to ear, and by comparison it was a very simple story. It used to be that we all had the same skin colour and similar physical build and features, we all thought the same and we all shared the same relatively simple story. Physical, mental and spiritual conformity, or sameness, was our permanent state of being. The culture evolved ever so slowly; so slowly that change was imperceptible; unnoticeable and undetectable. Things were as they always were. Or so it seemed.

Except for the forgetting.

Consider this whakapapa of the Universe, the Earth, and life on Earth; this big history. These figures are of course approximate and subject to change as new discoveries in physics, cosmology, archaeology and palaeontology are made, and as new DNA evidence emerges. What is important is the vastness of the timescale. To put some perspective into this whakapapa it would take you 50 years to count from one to a billion if you worked at it for 10 hours a day.

We begin with the narration of the Creation, the long unfolding.

Ko Te Kore (the void, energy, nothingness, potential)
Te Kore-te-whiwhia (the void in which nothing is possessed)
Te Kore-te-rawea (the void in which nothing is felt)
Te Kore-i-ai (the void with nothing in union)
Te Kore-te-wiwia (the space without boundaries)

Na Te Kore Te Po (from the void the night)
Te Po-nui (the great night)
Te Po-roa (the long night)
Te Po-uriuri (the deep night)
Te Po-kerekere (the intense night)
Te Po-tiwhatiwha (the dark night)
Te Po-te-kitea (the night in which nothing is seen)
Te Po-tangotango (the intensely dark night)
Te Po-whawha (the night of feeling)
Te Po-namunamu-ki-taiao (the night of seeking the passage to the world)
Te Po-tahuri-atu (the night of restless turning)
Te Po-tahuri-mai-ki-taiao (the night of turning towards the revealed world)

Ki te Whai-ao (to the glimmer of dawn)
Ki te Ao-marama (to the bright light of day)
Tihei mauri-ora (there is life)

And on into the scientific narration.

  • 13.8 billion years ago Universe birthed itself.

” ….. matter, energy, time and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang. The story of these fundamental features of our universe is called physics” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari, “Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind“, Harvill Secker, London).

  • The universe expanded rapidly from the nothingness and after 400,000 years was ten million light years across. By then it had cooled sufficently to allow the next phase of its evolution.

“About 300,000 years after their appearance, matter and energy started to coalesce into complex structures, called atoms, which then combined into molecules. The story of atoms, molecules and their interactions is called chemistry” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari).

  • For more than 1/2 of the life of the universe there was no Earth;
  • 6 billion years ago the Earth was born;
  • 3 billion years ago life on Earth began;

“About 3.8 billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms. The story of organisms is called biology” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari).

  • Then a mere 13 million years ago, after billions of years of biological evolution and after the emergence of animals, the African ancestors of the modern human and the orang hutan diverged onto separate evolutionary lines from their common ancestor.
  • A few million years after that the ancestors of modern humans and the gorilla diverged, and about 6 million years ago the ancestors of modern chimpanzee and the modern human diverged onto separate evolutionary lines from their common ancestor.

We modern humans are still members of the great ape family sharing a distant ancestry with the orang hutan, the gorilla and our nearest cousins in the ape family, the chimpanzee;

However this evolutionary history does not mean, as some mistakenly take it to mean, that we humans are descended from monkeys. What it does mean is that we humans, gorillas and chimpanzees are all descended from a common ancestor and we don’t know what that ancestor looked like. From that ancestor gorillas evolved to look like gorillas, chimpanzees evolved to look like chimpanzees, and humans evolved to look like humans about 4.5 million years ago when animals much like the modern human first appeared.

For countless generations they did not stand out from all of the other organisms that inhabited the Earth. They were not the dominant species but just one of a multitude of evolving species.

  • 4.5 million years ago the first human like species appeared (Australopithecus ramidus) followed by Australopithecus anamensis about 4.2 million years ago;
  • 3.5 million years ago both of those species were replaced by Australopithecus afarensis;
  • 2.5 million years ago Australopithecus africanus appeared;
  • 2 million years ago Homo habilus appeared, the first members of the Homo lineage. Homo habilus carried tools and stone artifacts. Human ancestors became meat eaters;
  • 1.8 million years ago Homo erectus or Homo ergaster appeared and the first exodus of humans out of Africa occurred. Homo erectus appeared in East Africa, Middle East, China and Java. They existed for about 1.5 million years before becoming extinct;
  • 900,000 years ago the early species of human, Homo erectus or Homo ergaster developed into the Archaic Homo sapiens species. Archaic Homo sapiens are the ancestors of Modern Homo sapiens. We are modern Homo sapiens. The Archaic ancestors existed for about 800,000 years and persisted alongside modern humans until about 100,000 years ago;
  • 420,000 to 840,000 years ago, the second human migration out of Africa (to Asia). All now extinct;
  • About 140,000 years ago a catastrophic event, probably related to climate change, decimated the population of modern humans or Homo sapiens, all living in Africa. The entire population reduced to just a few hundred, from whom we are all now descended.
  • 80,000 to 150,000 years ago there was a third major exodus out of Africa of species of Homo that also became extinct. It included Neanderthal Man (Homo neanderthalensis) in Europe, and Denisova Man (Homo denisova) in Asia. They persisted alongside modern humans for a short time before becoming extinct. Modern Europeans and others retain a small amount of genetic inheritance from Neanderthal Man, and modern Asians and Polynesians retain a small amount from Denisova Man, indicating a limited amount of interbreeding between the species;

“Seventy thousand years ago, Homo Sapiens was still an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari).

And then we modern humans made a momentus break from the rest of the animal kingdom.

“About 70,000 years ago, organisms belonging to the species Homo sapiens started to form even more elaborate structures called cultures. The subsequent development of these human ciultures is called history” (2011, Yuval Noah Harari).

  • The science is still not specific but somewhere between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago saw the advent of the Cognitive Revolution and the emergence of language, story-telling, music, art, mythologies, religions, legends, worldviews and cultures. At about the same time modern human first invented clothing. From that time onwards humankind began to live in a dual reality; the objective reality of the natural world and imagined realities created in the collective mind. The Cognitive Revolution signalled the emergence of the modern mind and the new realities it created. The human mind made a giant leap out of its previous mode of non-symbolic thinking into the representation of knowledge through the use of symbols.
  • We now call ourselves from this point onwards Homo sapiens sapiens, or “wise wise humans”.

The human mind marks us out still from the rest of the animal kingdom. Whilst biologically our genetic structure is still largely identical to those of the gorilla or chimpanzee our cognitive structure, that is the human mind, has evolved a great distance away from the rest of the family of great apes.

In the evolution of humankind this giant leap was not so long ago. After billions of years of biological evolution this marked the beginning of cultural evolution. It is the point where biology and history diverge. Prior to the cognitive revolution our story or pre-history is only about our biology.

Humans differ from other animals – even their closest cousins – by the richness of their culture and the importance it is accorded.

Culture enables us to accumulate prior discoveries and helps us profit from experience transmitted by our ancestors – knowledge that we would not have on our own“.

– (2001, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, “Genes, Peoples and Languages“, Penguin, London).

  • 50,000 to 75,000 years ago there was a dispersal of modern humans out of Africa. The people of this small migratory group, perhaps as few as 150 people, are the ancestors of all of humankind now living outside of Africa. Their siblings and cousins who remained in Africa are the ancestors of indigenous Africans. All of us on earth are cousins, descended from these people.

We Homo sapiens or modern humans were not the only humans to have inhabited the Earth, having had many cousins in the Homo genus, but they all disappeared, became extinct, and we survived to people the Earth.

  • 45,000 to 60,000 years ago modern humans arrived in Australia. They reached Asia on their way to Australia 24,000 years before any other humans (including the ancestors of the Polynesians). DNA research confirms that the Australian Aboriginal culture is probably the oldest continuous living culture on Earth;
  • 35,000 to 40,000 years ago modern humans arrived in Europe;
  • About 20,000 years ago the glaciers moved south bringing a 5000 year ice age and emptying Europe and Siberia of people. This may well have been a factor in the migrations of the ancestors of the Polynesians out of mainland Asia;
  • 12,000 years ago modern humans were well established in North America;
  • 11,000 years ago they were well established in Central and South America;
  • 12,000 years ago saw the start of the period of Agricultural Revolution in the Middle East, Asia and South America. This was a major cultural, social and economic adaptation. Over time humankind in the Middle East and Europe genetically adapted to eating wheat and other grains. This genetic adaptation did not occur in the ancestors of the Polynesians;
  • 10,000 years ago in a weird genetic mutation blue eyes appeared somewhere near the Black Sea, and today there are about 300 million blue-eyed people, and many fake-eyes wearing blue tinted contact lenses (2011, Steve Gullens and Juan Enriquez, “Homo Evolutis”, Ted Books);
  • 8,000 years ago some populations in Northern Europe, notably in present day Denmark, genetically adapted to consuming milk beyond the age of weaning. This adaptation did not occur in the ancestors of the Polynesians;
  • 5,000 years ago female ancestors of modern Polynesians moved out of mainland Asia towards South East Asia and eventually into the Pacific (some male ancestors travelled by a different route and many of them originated in the Melanesian population of a much earlier migration);
  • Between 5000 and 3000 years ago writing was invented in Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Mexico. All writing as we know it today stems from one of those inventions. At the end of that period the Phonecian script was invented. It was the first great alphabet in human history and it was eventually borrowed and adapted for use in Aramaic, Persian, Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, and all of Europe.  The written word came to Aotearoa New Zealand less than 300 years ago.
  • 3000 years ago the ancestors arrived in Western Polynesia;
  • 2500 years ago they arrived in Eastern Polynesia;
  • 1000 to 3000 years ago saw the development over that 2000 year period of a distinctive Polynesian culture. of which Maori is a sub-culture;

For a summary of that ancient Polynesian culture refer to archaeologists Patrick Vinton Kirch & Roger C.Green, 2001, “Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia, An Essay in Historical Anthropology“, Cambridge University Press.

  • About 800 to 900 years ago the ancestors (much later identified by their tribal names and much later still as Maori) arrived in Aotearoa and occupied the land for about 400 or 500 years before the arrival of the first European, a very short period of time in the great sweep of human history;

The Maori colonization of New Zealand was, in a sense, the final step in a 50,000 year journey“. (2006, Nicholas Wade, “Before the Dawn, Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors“, Penguin, USA).

  • 500 years ago the Scientific Revolution or Revolutions began in Europe. First came the Copernican Revolution which overturned the notion that the Earth was the centre of the Universe, then the Darwinian Revolution which heralded our modern understanding of evolution, and then the discovery of the “unconscious” mind by Freud. Humankind discovered that “he is nothing else than evolution become conscious of itself” (Teilhard de Chardin quoting Julian Huxley).

The Scientific Revolution brought with it new narratives based on empirical observation and evidence. These narratives have ever since then been displacing the old cultural narratives based on mythology and authority.

  • 1642 (371 years ago) Abel Tasman arrived, new faces;
  • 1769 (244 years ago) James Cook arrived, new technologies and knowledge;
  • 200 years ago the Industrial Revolution began in England;
  • 1814 (199 years ago) On Christmas Day Samuel Marsden preached the first Christian service, bringing a totally new worldview to Aotearoa New Zealand;
  • 1840 (173 years ago) Treaty of Waitangi;
  • 1975 (38 years ago) Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal Act enacted.
  • 1993 (10 years ago) Homo smartphone appears.

This Big History is the mega-narrative of our cultural evolution as Maori.

“History makes little sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes little sense without biology. Knowledge of prehistory and biology is increasing rapidly, bringing into focus how humanity originated and why a species like our own exists on the planet”.

  • Evolutionary biologist and Pulitzer Prize winner E.O.Wilson, “The Meaning of Human Existence”, 2014, Liveright Publishing, New York.

The last 50,000 years of this story is about the 500,000 Maori and the 7 billion other humans on Earth, with our numerous and diverse beliefs, concerns and cultures. This story however started with the birth of the Universe. What do we now know about the Universe?

After about 13.8 billion years of evolution and expansion, the Universe has now grown to an incomprehensibly vast region of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each containing hundreds of billions of stars like our own Sun. We do not know if there is sentient life beyond Earth. We do know however that we are not the centre of the Universe as was once believed.

How much of that long journey and the greater context do we remember as part of our own story, our Maori culture? Some of you weren’t even around when the 1975 Act was passed into law, some 3 billion years after life on earth began.

On a human scale one comparison I draw from the whakapapa is absolutely humbling. In the Western Desert of Australia or in Arnhem Land an aboriginal person today can stand in an ancient dwelling place or ceremonial site, sometimes embellished with rock paintings tens of thousands of years old, knowing that her ancestors had lived there for 1500 generations, perhaps as many as 2000 generations. When I made my pilgrimage to Marae Taputapuatea on Ra’iatea I was standing where perhaps 50 to 60 generations of the ancestors stood. When I stand at any of the ancient sites of my many hapu in Aotearoa I stand in the footprints of a mere 20 to 30 generations of the ancestors.

Vast then is the forgetting compared to the remembering.

We consign that vastness of forgetting to our creation stories, our mythology, our religious beliefs and our legends; metaphors for all that we have forgotten. Those stories represent the vast forgetting that until the discoveries of science we didn’t even know we’d forgotten. We nominate Hawaiki to be the ancient homeland or homelands, and having long forgotten its location it becomes a spiritual homeland rather than an actual place, a metaphor for a forgotten place of beginning.

Roughly two hundred years ago, after contact and collision with representatives of the other world of the colonists and settlers, and with the missionaries, our cultural evolution went dramatically into overdrive. In two hundred years we have transformed ourselves and have been transformed from a disparate loosely connected collection of hunter gathering, partly horticultural, mainly autonomous hapu or tribes. We have become just a tiny part of a global agricultural, scientific, industrial, commercial, technological, material, and economically and digitally connected super culture.

For about 50,000 years after coming out of Africa the rate of change was so slow that change went unnoticed and almost all that went before was forgotten.

The last 200 years have by comparison been as a cultural tsunami of towering height. The future has come upon us as a giant unstoppable wave. It swamped the present and washed away much of the past. It sweeps us onwards into an unknowable future whereas once the future came upon us so slowly that it didn’t exist beyond the knowable tomorrow and the eternal parade of seasons. We used to say in another time that we walked backwards into the future with our eyes and minds firmly on the past, or that small part of it that we remembered.

From the time before the tsunami we remember our whakapapa, tikanga, kawa, pepeha, aoteatea and moteatea. Perhaps the most scholarly exposition of tikanga is by Professor Hirini Moko Mead (2003, “Tikanga Maori, Living by Maori Values”, Huia Publishers, Wellington). We remember also our language, Te Reo Maori, which is part of the larger family of Polynesian languages, which is itself part of the much larger Malayo-Polynesian group of languages. When the language was in danger of becoming part of the forgetting we devised ways to revive the language, for the time being at least, lest it too be washed over the abyss and into the void of the Great Forgetting.

Our understanding of that which we remember has also been transformed under the influence of Christianity, modernity and nostalgia, in ways that we rarely if ever appreciate and acknowledge. The further we ride the wave from the cultural beliefs and ways of two hundred years ago the greater the transformation in our understanding. None of us has a living parent or grandparent from the time before the tsunami to whisper the remembering as it was whispered to them. So our remembering tends to the nostalgic, a yearning for a romantic past that exists mostly in our imaginations.

That is the way of all cultures. We reshape the past to accord with our vision and explanation of the present and our dreams of the future. The collective cultural mind mimics the individual human mind, selectively remembering and conveniently forgetting.

Collectively we Maori have forgotten a great deal over the last 200 years.

We remember little of our time in Eastern Polynesia, before the migrations, and nothing before that apart from our metaphorical and mythological remembering. We can reach some way into that past through the writings of others such as Teuira Henry (1847-1915) the renowned authority on ancient Tahitian society (2004 edition, “Tahiti aux Temps Anciens”, Publications de la Societe des Oceanistes, Musee de l’Homme, Paris). Few bother. For most of us history and culture began in Aotearoa with the arrival of the migratory waka, and even that remembering has been distorted by early Pakeha pseudo scholarship into a Great Fleet and many other myths.

Having universally adopted the Christian story and practice as our own we push to the back of the mind, into the unconscious, the fact that we once had our own brand of religious story, belief, superstition and magical thinking. We retain some of the ritual from before the tsunami, often intermingled with Christian ritual, and always shorn of its deep mystical and magical foundations.

We forget that our ritual, like the ritual of many other bygone cultures across the world including that of Eastern Polynesia, involved human sacrifice. There were for instance 5000 human skulls discovered in the great stone marae of Polynesia at Taputapuatea on Ra’iatea. And that was just one of many hundreds of sacrifical marae throughout Eastern Polynesia.

We forget that we, like many other and perhaps most past and present cultures, placed a relatively low value on human life beyond our own kinship group and often within it. We forget, and become offended and agitated, when reminded that our culture condoned kaitangata (cannibalism) as both ritual and food. We brush it off and remember only that it was for ritual purposes rather than food. Recorded history says otherwise, not just for Maori culture, but for all or most cultures on earth. Infanticide, especially female infanticide, as a form of gender selection and population control is an absolutely verboten subject despite it being a worldwide practice in times past, and even in the present.

It has been said as part of the forgetting that inter-tribal warfare was an intermittent and minor activity something like a weekend rugby match. The evidence says otherwise and our own oral histories record the widespread killing and enslavement of men, women and children as a result of frequent warfare. The threat of warfare was a constant, evidenced by the construction of numerous fortified pa strongholds throughout all tribal areas.

We selectively remember that we are all descended from chiefs, and forget that Maori society was structured into social classes with ariki and rangatira at the top, supported by tohunga and the knowledge they employed in the service of chiefs. Below them and their immediate families we were tutua or commoners. Beneath them were pononga or taurekareka (slaves). Slavery was once the primary form of energy in all cultures, including our own. Such was the ubiquity of slavery that the philosopher A.C.Grayling writes that everyone on earth is probably the descendant of both slaves and slave owners (2009, “Ideas that Matter”, Orion Books, London). None of us in this modern post tsunami age willingly admit to being the issue of commoners or slaves. We prefer to cloak our commoner nakedness in the korowai of chieftainship.

We fondly believe that ours was an egalitarian society. We vehemently deny that women were often chattels. The widespread practice of gifting daughters as wives to other chiefs for political and economic reasons is transformed into make believe romantic love and matchmaking. They were enforced strategic marriages with women as the currency of diplomacy and trade. We fondly believe that children were always treasured and forget the infanticide. We believe that decision making was a consultative and consensual process and forget that many chiefs ruled by decree and that mind washing was a high art form as it is to this day.

We forget that we did not think for ourselves and were not permitted to think for ourselves, our minds moulded into a group mind by chiefs and tohunga, and their oratory, their stories and their rituals. In Eastern Polynesia the Arioi class functioned not only as priests and entertainers, but also as thought police and enforcers.

Mind control was the universal way of being in all structured societies and is still. In some places in the world today religion is still used to control the minds of whole populations, holding back the tide of progress that results from liberated minds. In recent history the world has witnessed the wholesale slaughter of the educated in some countries (i.e. in Stalin’s Russia and in Pol Pot’s Cambodia) to remove the threat of thinking. Mao banished China’s thinkers to the countryside. Modern society has developed public relations, advertising, and other forms of propaganda to achieve the same purpose.

Most Maori imagine that before the tsunami we were free thinking individuals in an egalitarian society, whereas thinking autonomously was actually the private domain only of rangatira and tohunga, including those who studied in the wananga. Attendance at that curriculum was strictly limited, for knowledge in the hands of the masses was and is a dangerous thing.

We also forget that life was short, often harsh, and sometimes brutal. And we forget much more besides.

Convenient is the great forgetting.

There is no good reason to reshape the past and to deny the reality of the pre-tsunami age. We do it to counter the widespread racism that feeds upon the negative aspects of our past judged by today’s values, and some do it out of unwarranted shame. But we shared those distant beliefs and practices with all cultures on earth at some time in their own evolution, despite their own selective remembering and convenient forgetting. Despite also the ingrained belief of our cultural partners here in Aotearoa New Zealand that theirs was a pristine culture of great goodness compared to ours. The efficacy of that Pakeha belief rests on forgetting much and remembering little. For instance, they forget that they finally abandoned human slavery at about the same time as we did.

What is the lesson we draw from this remembering and forgetting, viewed within the perspective of the vast sweep of human history. Human culture at any point in its evolution is but a fleeting moment of remembering before the great forgetting. It is a transient understanding of who we are, it is what we believe and how we live now. It is not fixed in time and does not foretell who or what we might become. Even with the enormous cultural impact of the modern institutions of memory including books, film, sound recording, libraries, museums, archives, digital storage and the World Wide Web we are still much inclined to selectively remember and conveniently forget. We are still much inclined to imagine the past as we would like it to have been. And we imagine a future just like the present, ignoring the reality that the future is an unknown foreign land on the great migratory journey of humankind through time and space.

And in a thousand years’ time what will we have remembered and what will be forgotten. Such is the speed of cultural evolution today that we cannot imagine what will be in a thousand years. What then in 200 years time, just 400 years on from the tsunami.

It is clear that the rate of cultural change will continue to increase in the future. Communication forms the basis of cultural change, and we are currently in the midst of a communications revolution“. (2001, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza).

Our absorption into the rapidly evolving global super culture is going to increase exponentially with global connectedness and as the global economy develops. Transnational corporations are driving towards a single global market; a single global market controlled by the corporations themselves beyond the control of nations and their governments. It is already happening with the transnationals now operating outside and around national taxation regimes. The continuing impact of scientific and technological advance is going to be enormously life changing. Those advances are in computer science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotics, neuroscience, the genetic sciences and many others. Consider the mind-blowing possibility of human directed biological and cultural evolution as a result of research in the genetic sciences alone. Or cringe at the mere thought of it.

Apart from that impossible to imagine future the near term future is much easier to prophesy with some degree of certainty. We have three of the four most populous countries in the world to our northwest in China, India and Indonesia. They are all going to be global super powers and they are going to profoundly influence who we are and how we live for centuries to come. At some time in the coming Asian millennium we might all become Asian, or whatever evolves from the Asian cultures. They could simply absorb us and the remnants of our culture. We know from Statistics NZ projections that Asians will comprise about 14% of the population by 2026, just twelve years from now. Maori will be just ahead on about 14.6% of the population.

One thing is for sure. In a thousand years, or five thousand years, or even 200 years, we will have forgotten much and remembered little. And our strand of a new global culture will have evolved into a form we might no longer recognize as Maori. And that has been the way of things, mai rano.

Another thing seems to be sure. The cosmologists tell us from the evidence they can now see across the galaxies, that in time perhaps in about 7 billion years our own Sun will die. And we will be gone with it.

All stars die, some more violently than others. Once our own Sun has consumed all the hydrogen fuel in its core, it too will reach the end of its life. Astronomers estimate this to be a short 7 billion years from now. For a few million years, it will expand into a red giant, puffing away its outer layers. Then it’ll collapse down into a white dwarf and slowly cool down to the background temperature of the Universe(Universe Today).

And although they are making giant strides in understanding the Universe no-one yet knows what there was before the Big Bang, before Universe birthed itself, and no-one yet knows what will become of this Universe of ours. Both the Beginning and the End remain in the realm of the Unknown. Perhaps the Universe itself will come to an end.

The ancestors truly did walk into the future with their eyes fixed firmly on the past for the past was the present and the present was the future. On that journey out of Afrika, eventually into and across Pasifika and finally to Aotearoa, they slowly adapted and changed as they went and the culture they brought with them was the end state of 50,000 years of adaptation and change. The culture was just the final small remembered part of the story of that long migration through time and space. Almost all of that journey was consigned to the forgetting; to our mythological, religious, legendary and historical narrative, our culture.

By contrast we in a rapidly changing world can now see further back into the past and at a future coming at us both on a human scale and on a universal scale. The future is most definitely not a continuation of the past or the present. We live in a state of constant and rapid change.

We will come to think more clearly about ourselves on a human scale as well as on a vast Universal scale. We will think of ourselves not just as a distinctly separate Maori identity but as the end result of billions of years of evolution more closely related to the other races and cultures on Earth than to our unknown ancestors of 50,000 years ago. We will think of ourselves not separated from the Universe but as an infinitely small part of it. That thinking will become a more common feature of our worldview as science reveals more and more about the Universe and about ourselves. It will surely change the way we think about humankind, about ourselves as Maori and about our culture.

I started this essay with a definition of culture:

Stated very simply culture is the narrative or story that explains where we came from, or where we think we came from, who we are, what we believe and how we live. It is expressed and transmitted in proverb, storytelling, mythology, legend, poetry, music, dance, art and religion“.

Does our narrative or story, our Maori culture, yet reflect our present or future reality. Or is it still a remembering and a yearning for the unchanging reality of 300 years ago.

We all invariably view our culture from a comfortable perspective from within the culture itself. In this narrative I have pushed far beyond that comfort zone to the very beginning and the very end of time and indeed to the edges of the Universe. It looks a bit different from out there doesn’t it.

* Download: Rethinking Polynesian Origins – Human Settlement of the Pacific by Michal Denny & Lisa Matisoo-Smith

reflections on running – a journey through mythological time

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A Wicked Look at Politics in the News

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Tens of thousands of words have been spoken and written about nothing much by dozens of talking heads and pen smiths. Here’s what happened in as few words as possible.

Maori Roll Option

Politician say
Enrol enrol.
Rangatahi say
Vote for you?


Meka Labour first
Te Hamua Mana second
Na Maori third
Marama Green fourth
Most people not vote
Not for them anyway
That the real result.

Labour Campaign


Mana Campaign

Look at me
Look at me
In love
Wit myself.

Maori Campaign

Look at me
Look at me
In love
Wit National

National Campaign

Don’t look at me
Look at Maori Party.

Green Campaign

Wake up you fulla
I the one worth lookin at
Too much Bromance
Not enough Romance

Maori Party

He rangatira no more
Kaitoa, haere ra
Te Ururoa
He rangatira now
Big paddle, no waka.

E Pem Te Chair
Haere ra
E Naida Te Chairess hou
Kia ora
E ki ra George Ngatai
Maori Party
Not Destiny Party

Musical Chairs Party
Sky City Party
Bourbon and Coke Party
But not Destiny Party George.

Kiss and Make Up Party

Hone say
You fulla join my Party
Me rangatira.
Te Ururoa say
You kiss my kumu
You big waka, no paddle.

Labour Party

Who rangatira?

United Future Party

No rangatira

NZ First Party

Same old rangatira

Green Party


Pakeha Party

Look at me
Look at me.

Urewera Raid

Now Te Ururoa
No got inquiry.
Course not.
Police Rule #1
Admit nuttin.
Politician Rule #1
See Police Rule #1

GCSB Committee Hearing

Rule #1
We no risten
Rule #2
See Rule #1
Rule #3
See Rule #2
Rule #4
See Rule #5
Rule #5
Blinds and curtains illegal.

Peeping Tom Society

E hoa ma
Now illegal
Pull your blind
Draw your curtain
You got nuttin to hide
You got nuttin to worry bout.
Your house.
Your castle no more.

Kim Dotcom

My house, my mega castle
I gonna get you John Key.
You got nuttin to hide
You got nuttin to worry bout.

John Key

Dotcom who?

Trust me
You no need
Blind and curtain
Baby safe now
Hack your Babycam
I said
Yes you
My friend Ian
Got you on Babycam.

National Party

Big John
He the rangatira

ACT Party

To market
To market
To buy a fat pig
Hey Dotcom
You rangatira
You pay for pig?
Smile Banksy
You lucky
You not on Courtcam
I think
You on Gonecam

E hoa ma, isn’t politics interesting.
Well it is if you got a sense of funny.

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Wayfinders 1

are the Wayfinders of old
steersmen for the waka
through these stormy seas
beset by colonial tides
and constant racist currents
a cultural tsunami
driving at all sides
never ending
year after year after
through the longest ever journey
of peril danger uncertainty
threatening with every dawn
and every nightfall
through all the days
and long dark nights
century after century after
assimilation integration obliteration

are the star charts
guiding currents
gentle winds at the cheek
whispering direction
soothing encouragement
across te ara moana
broad clear sea path
to certain landfall

are Paikea and Kuaka

are the inheritors of
Kupe, Toi, Hoaki, Ruatea,
Ruawharo, Tupai, Te Rongo Putahi

are the Wayfinders

© Ross Nepia Himona


The Old Man arrived today,
rushing in from over the Strait,
across Tapu-te-Ranga, and
sweeping all before him,
sand-blasting cars and lawns,
making new dunes behind
fences far from shore, and
in my hair and down my neck;
Winter’s here.

Saw your clouds gathering,
and quickened my step Old Man,
remembering you do this every year,
hiding out there behind the horizon,
your version of humour no doubt,
to spring your blustery ambush,
on summer clad runners (and walkers),
telling us who’s boss around here;
Now you’re back.

And I sprint for home but not before
you plummet the temperature,
and try to freeze my balls off, then
with sand in my hair and icy crutch
you send it down in buckets,
knowing you’ve only got five minutes
to finish the job before I reach refuge,
and laugh at you behind thick windows;
And chattering roof.

Welcome back Old Man, you’re late.
That drenched young girl down the road said,
“Isn’t Winter terrible”, but I said, “Not for me.
He comes every year, and at my age,
he’s an old friend, and even though,
he’ll try to overstay his welcome, for a time
there’s comfort in his presence, and
anyway, your friend Spring is not far away”.
She thinks I’m mad.

© Ross Nepia Himona

Let's Talk Democracy

A Permanent Royal Commission on the Protection & Promotion of Democracy
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“I’m not ready to talk about the constitution. I want to talk about liberty, and freedom, and rights, and privacy, and participation. I want to talk about democracy”. – Te Putatara.

Our representatives in Parliament don’t talk much about democracy although I’m sure all of them profess to value it. But actions speak louder than words. Left to their own devices they have legislated and regulated to diminish democracy in the name of security and law enforcement. And for nearly thirty years the Parliament has meekly subscribed to the harsher anti-democratic aspects of the New Economy, pandering to the rich and to the corporates, granting more and more tax relief to those who can afford to pay (and usually don’t). Parliament has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plight of the poor, both the working poor and the unemployed.

The organs of the Fourth Estate value the benefit they gain from democracy, their freedom of expression, but have stood by and uncritically watched and accepted the anti-democratic slide. Few media outlets, if any, have stood back from the 24-hour media cycle and critically analysed where it is all heading and what it means for democracy. They have abdicated their role in democracy, the reason they enjoy their freedom of expression, which is to act as the watchdog of democracy on behalf of us all. Now it seems the dog meekly watches only the interests and profits of the corporate proprietors.

We citizens have also abdicated our role in democracy through low voter turnouts and through our apathy and mute compliance. Politicians court our votes but rely on our apathy and mute compliance to pursue their own agendas, invariably these days the agendas of the elites.

“Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it”. – Thomas Paine.

“But you must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing”. – Andrew Jackson.

These were men who were there at the birth of the modern liberal democracy and who knew the price that countless thousands had paid to achieve it. They knew its value and understood its fragility. In our terms democracy is a priceless and fragile taonga; hei kuru kahurangi. If we want to keep it in the whanau for generations to come then we must actively protect it, for it will surely be stolen from us.

“If a nation values anything more than its freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is if it is comfort and money that it values more, it will lose that too.” – Somerset Maugham.

“Democracy is a device that ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve”. – George Bernard Shaw.

So how do we exercise our vigilance, make our voices heard, and encourage others to speak up for their democratic rights and freedoms. How do we make ourselves as a nation deserving of good democratic government.

Reliance on parliament and the media, the first and fourth estates, hasn’t worked for us. Many or most liberal democracies have two estates or houses in parliament, the one to watch over the other. New Zealand’s upper house was abolished in 1950. However bi-cameral parliaments in other democracies haven’t been all that effective in modern times in protecting democracy from the avalanche of post 9/11 anti-democratic legislation, regulation and practice.

What did work for a time in New Zealand was a single dedicated constitutional lawyer in a position of power and influence in Cabinet. Sir Geoffrey Palmer was responsible for the Constitution Act, the New Zealand Bill of Rights, the Imperial Laws Application Act, and the State Sector Act. He was also responsible for establishing the Royal Commission on the Electoral System (1985-86). The Commission’s recommendation to adopt an MMP electoral system changed the face of politics and made the parliament more representative, less liable to capture by vested interests, and less vulnerable to extremism from both ends of the political spectrum.

Sir Geoffrey’s constitutional initiatives made us more democratic but did not put in place any mechanism to actively protect and promote democracy, to foster participation and vigilance. Even his Bill of Rights has not been able to put a brake on anti-democratic legislation. Something is still missing.

I start from the premise that despite present public opposition to the granting of increasing powers to the regulatory, law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies they will continue to exist and operate. The opposition is not widespread and in exercising democratic vigilance the public is still mostly mute and apathetic. I assume that over time those regulatory, law enforcement,  security and intelligence agencies will probably gain even more powers in direct proportion to the rate of development of communication and data storage technologies.

Given that somewhat cynical view of political reality what I think would best fill the gap is a Permanent Royal Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Democracy.

It would have some executive functions but none that would encroach upon the powers of the democratically elected government. It would act as watchdog on behalf of the people. It would be empowered to investigate, report and recommend. It would report and recommend to the people of New Zealand through the Governor General, who would of course refer its reports and recommendations to the Parliament. The Commission would however be legislatively required to make all of its reports and recommendations public, without exception. It would be empowered to refer matters to the relevant investigation and prosecution agencies if its own investigations uncovered unlawful activity. The Commission would also have the responsibility to consult, receive submissions and complaints, and to educate and promote.

Many of the components of a permanent Royal Commission are already permanently in place. What is needed in an umbrella structure with more standing to focus their myriad roles on the central purpose of all of them, the protection and promotion of democracy. Those that have a direct impact on democracy are:

  • The Ombudsmen
  • The Privacy Commissioner
  • The Human Rights Commission
  • The Law Commission
  • The Electoral Commission
  • The Local Government Commission
  • The Independent Police Conduct Authority
  • The Inspector General of Intelligence and Security
  • The Commissioner of Security Warrants
  • The Remuneration Authority
  • The Commerce Commission

The last of them raises some interesting issues. The regulation of commerce to curtail its excesses and any behaviour that is not in the best interests of the nation is a key function in a democracy. The free market does not mean that commerce is able to do whatever it wants to do in order to further its own interests. The freedoms and rights inherent in liberal democracy are the freedoms and rights of individual citizens and not the freedoms and rights of corporations. Therefore nothing that is done in commerce ought to impinge on those individual freedoms and rights. The regulation of commerce is essential in a democracy.

I would also add a new Commissioner of Warrants, which might be the same person as the present Commissioner of Security Warrants with expanded responsibilities.

The Commissioner of Warrants would receive requests for review from members of the public, or from their legal representatives, who wish to challenge the legality or reasonableness of any warrant obtained by any investigative or enforcement agency including the police. Given the recent history of unlawful warrants, and anecdotal evidence from within the judicial community of police laxity in obtaining warrants, there would undoubtedly be an initial heavy workload for the Commissioner of Warrants. However once the police and district courts realise that they should no longer pay lip service to the law concerning warrants the workload would decrease markedly. It might also encourage the Police Commissioner to pay more attention to his democratic responsibilities as far as warrants are concerned.

There would need to be new law concerning the swearing of affidavits to obtain warrants. Anyone, including police officers, who deliberately, negligently or incompetently swore false, inaccurate or misleading evidence would be liable to legal sanction including reprimand, dismissal, prosecution and imprisonment. The violation of citizens’ rights through the unlawful, negligent or incompetent use of warrants is a serious crime against democracy. It is not just the misdemeanor that police and politicians think it is.

And perhaps in there we might add a Commissioner for the Constitution.

Other agencies that have an impact on democracy and whose functions might be transferred to a Royal Commission include:

  • The Commissioner for the Environment
  • The Families Commission
  • The Children’s Commissioner
  • The Health & Disabilities Commissioner
  • The Retirement Commissioner

And so, hopefully, to a national conversation on democracy.

The Royal Commission would engage with the public on any and all issues concerning the protection and promotion of democracy, and would periodically report on that conversation. Engaging with the public is what Royal Commissions do well. Outstanding examples include the Royal Commission on the Electoral System and the Royal Commission on Social Policy in the 1980s. As a permanent royal commission it would not be under any time constraint as most other consultative bodies are. It would also have wide terms of reference to enable it and the public to explore all corners of democracy.

Engagement with the public to encourage and empower them to take up their democratic responsibility to participate and to exercise vigilance would take years, but years is what a permanent royal commission would have.

Right now I want to talk about liberty, and freedom, and rights, and privacy, and participation. I want to talk about democracy; and about a Permanent Royal Commission on the Protection & Promotion of Democracy.

Previously: The Constitutional Review & Democracy

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The Constitutional Review

putataraDoes a constitution protect and promote democracy?

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A constitutional advisory panel is considering a range of matters and seeking views and opinions regarding the New Zealand Constitution. The matters under consideration are electoral matters, Crown-Maori relationship matters, the Bill of Rights and whether there is a need for a written constitution. The unwritten New Zealand constitution has evolved organically based on British, New Zealand and United Nations convention, and piecemeal legislation. It has never really been ratified by gaining the informed consent of the people of New Zealand to the whole constitution as a complete body of convention and law.

This constitutional conversation is long overdue. But is it the most important conversation we should be having.

The foundations of the constitution are said by the panel to be the rule of law, representative democracy, responsible government, and the separation of powers. A written or unwritten constitution for a liberal democracy should indeed embody those ideas of democracy. But should we not have a conversation about democracy itself before the conversation about the constitution. Should we not explore what is that we require of our democracy before we consider how to define it or to enshrine it.

The basic idea of democracy is “majority rule” tempered by the need to protect the interests of minorities against what is sometimes called the “tyranny of the majority”. That idea underlies the system of electing representative governments and having checks and balances to ensure responsible government. The rule of law encompasses respect and protection for civil liberties and human rights, due process, and the freedom for civil society to organize to represent their own interests and to meet their own needs.

The modern liberal democracies of Europe, North America and Australasia arose out of five centuries of struggle for liberty and rights. The first step was the breaking of the hegemony of the church over the minds and lives of individuals, followed by the replacement of absolute monarchies by representative government and citizen participation. That alone took place over centuries and many hundreds of thousands of people died in the struggle. Advances following the achievement of freedom from church and kings included freedom from slavery, universal education, rights for working people, the enfranchisement of women and the codification of human rights.

The concept of rights has become the central organizing concept of those nations where constitutionality, democracy and the rule of law prevail. The seminal writings of theoretician John Locke (Two Treatises of Government, 1690) form the foundation principles underlying documents such as England’s Bill of Rights (1689), America’s Declaration of Independence (1776), France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), the US Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution, 1791), the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and New Zealand’s Bill of Rights (1990).

The rights and freedoms we now enjoy as citizens equal in democracy are the rights and freedoms once enjoyed only by the aristocracy of 16th century Europe, and by the hereditary chiefs of 17th century Aotearoa. In that sense we are all now princes or chiefs, at least in the eyes of the law if not in practice.

Most people would be completely unaware of that 500 year struggle, or what life was like before democracy. Many Maori wrongly believe that traditional society before colonization was democratic and egalitarian. The reality for Maori was much the same harsh and often brutal existence as that experienced by Europeans before democracy. In ignorance and amnesia we consequently take our democratic freedoms and liberties for granted and value them less than we should. The World War II generation was perhaps the last to fully appreciate the fragility of democracy and to truly value it. Our modern politicians certainly do not, often treating the core tenets of democracy as inconvenient and as subservient to the needs of security and law enforcement.

Philosopher A.C.Grayling wrote, “A condition of genuine and effective democracy is a thoughtful and informed electorate, and one that actually bothers to vote” (2009, Ideas the Matter – a personal guide for the 21st century, Orion Books). He might have added “and one that actively protects and promotes the democracy it has”.

Which leads me to the central question of this essay, does a constitution written or unwritten guarantee the protection and promotion of democracy?

This question is especially pertinent in these post 9/11 times when in all of the modern liberal democracies including New Zealand there has been a marked erosion of liberty, freedom, privacy and rights in the form of anti-terrorism law, electronic crimes law, and search and surveillance law. This body of law has been adopted without an informed national discussion about democracy. Added to that have been the recent revelations about the previously unimaginable secret population-level electronic surveillance in some of those democracies; unimaginable in a true democracy that is. New Zealand is presently debating the granting of new surveillance powers to its own GCSB.

“An important feature of liberal democracy is that government should be transparent, because it is accountable to the people; the people cannot hold it to account unless they can see what it is doing”, (A.C.Grayling, 2007, Towards the Light – The Story of the Struggles for Liberty & Rights That Made the Modern West, Bloomsbury. London).

However we now rely on whistleblowers, criminal lawyers and a German entrepreneur to reveal to us some of what our supposedly accountable governments are up to. Widespread secrecy has crept upon us to become another organizing principle of democracy. The mantra of the new secretive democracy is “If you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to be afraid of” – except for a slow slide out of democracy, or at the flick of a switch, a very rapid slide.

All of the liberal democracies are constitutionally established with the UK and New Zealand the two with unwritten constitutions. Yet in none of those democracies has the constitution prevented the serious erosion of democracy by politicians, police, security and intelligence agencies and a compliant media. In none of those democracies has the electorate been sufficiently informed and concerned in sufficient numbers to challenge and perhaps halt the anti-democratic tendencies of the establishment.

In New Zealand in recent years we have learned of repeated instances of illegal warrants, illegal surveillance, illegal search and seizure, and illegal detention and arrest by the New Zealand Police. That has become a consistent assault on the democratic freedoms of the people by the police yet government has not taken measures to protect the democracy and has instead legislated to extend the powers of police. Through their actions as opposed to their rhetoric the New Zealand Police have openly become an anti-democratic force in society, and politicians seem to be encouraging rather than restraining.

It was Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the much vaunted American democracy, who said that “he who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither” (or something similar).

Do we not urgently need as a society to begin a conversation about how much freedom we are willing to forego in the name of security and law enforcement, lest by default we lose more than we collectively agree, before we realise it.

Following the great depression of the 1930s and on into the post World War II era the government and people of New Zealand entered into an unwritten compact that defined our democracy for a time. That compact put the well being of the people at the centre of government policy, with full employment, universal education and healthcare, and a welfare safety net the means to the fulfillment of that policy. During that period the greed of the wealthy was constrained, and the need of the nation as a whole given priority. In the years immediately after 1984 that compact was discarded as part of a new economic paradigm. In the nearly thirty years since 1984 the gap between the wealthy and the rest has widened enormously to the point that a massive inequality of wealth now also defines our democracy.

New Zealand lies at 10th on the list of income inequality in developed countries, just behind Australia.

We are in the process of replacing the princes and chiefs of old with an aristocracy of the rich. They are served by a compliant political, bureaucratic, economic and corporate priesthood of the Church of the New Economy. In these modern times rather than using brute force they maintain their hegemony over the people and over their minds through political and corporate propaganda (public relations and advertising), and a shallow and compliant media. Those of us who have the means have become mindless consumers and smart phone addicts, apathetic slaves to the consumer economy, rather than active and vigilant participants in a democracy. Those who do not have the means remain out of sight and unheard, both politically and economically distant from participation in the supposed benefits of a democratic society.

Should not the economic direction of the nation and the division of national wealth also be part of the conversation about democracy for reasons of fairness and concern for all of our citizens. And surely the lesson of history is that the greater the inequality of wealth (and power) the greater the discontent and propensity for political upheaval. Is this not a matter of democracy rather than economy.

For those who think that I am being alarmist about these matters of government surveillance and secrecy, and economic inequality, witness what is happening around the world as people express their discontent about those and other matters. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Turkey, Brazil, Greece, the UK and many other places we have seen the trend towards mobilisation of the people through crowd media. The flash protest that is quickly organized through social media, and that sometimes escalates into a series of flash protests then violent confrontation, is becoming the primary means of citizen participation, given the deaf ear of governments.

The liberal democracies are not immune to this rapidly evolving trend. The Occupy movement in the liberal democracies was not a short lived aberration; it was just the beginning. It was a trial run if you will, as new ways of political participation and activism are developed around new ways of communicating. It can’t happen in New Zealand I hear you say. Well it did happen in the anti-apartheid anti-Muldoon civil uprising of 1981 and that was without the multiplying effect of social media.

Are the agencies of the Peeping Tom society routinely monitoring all social media and other electronic communication to detect terrorists, or is it to guard against civil activism and flash protest. In New Zealand we have ample proof that the police have placed civil activism high on their list of potential threats to society, or at least to the political and corporate elites, which is not quite the same thing.

I’m not ready to talk about the constitution. I want to talk about liberty, and freedom, and rights, and privacy, and participation. I want to talk about democracy.

Coming Next:
A proposal to protect and promote democracy.
NZ Parliament: Abolish the Pakeha Seats
The Treaty of Waitangi

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