O Dannevirke, Dannevirke

Day Whatever + 10.

73 cars at New World. They must have run out of toilet paper already. Stands to reason. People have got nothing better to do in lockdown than eat and drink and eat. And you know what.

As you drive into and out of Dannevirke, when you’re allowed to, you are welcomed and farewelled (Farvel) by a giant cartoon version of a murdering, enslaving, raping, looting, burning, thieving, pillaging and plundering all-round historical criminal of the very worst kind – a cartoonist’s representation of the marauders of the Viking Age in Europe from the 8th to the 11th Century.

Mind you, my Rangitane ancestors who were here several hundred years before the Scandis arrived were not averse to a bit of biffo themselves. But the murdering, enslaving, raping, looting, burning, thieving, pillaging and plundering crims were from other tribes of course. Especially so in the early 19th Century, before the Scandis arrived, and during the so-called Musket Wars when musket armed thugs from several northern criminal gangs came marauding through our region.

So.

There’s another cartoon character in the middle of town. These Vikings are actually representations of modern Viking mythology, not historical fact. The cartoon characters wear horned helmets when there is no evidence whatsoever that they actually did. The word “Viking” in popular mythology comes from a poem, “The Viking”. It was written by Erik Gustav Geijer and it propagated the romantic mythology of the Viking, a version that was far from historical fact. The poem was written at the beginning of the 19th Century, not long before the Scandinavian settlers came to this part of New Zealand. They brought the popular romanticised modern mythological version of their history with them.

Or perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps it’s their modern descendants in Dannevirke who have latched onto the mythology and transported a relatively modern mythological Viking mindscape into the midst of and surrounded by our ancient Rangitane landscape; now devoid of the magnificent forests it was once clothed in, thanks to the Scandinavian tree fellers, or fullas.

Anyway. Some Dannevirkians seem proud to pretend to themselves and to the world at large that they descend from these mythologised and sanitised criminals. But their ancestors who came to New Zealand were actually law abiding woodsmen and labourers, and other economic migrants.

I’m not the only one to note the incongruity of it. A tongue in cheek author has this to say about Dannevirke:

“Tararua eyesore Dannevirke has just two points of interest: a sewerage system clogged with rats and fat, and an unhealthy obsession with Vikings”.

– Author unknown, “Sh*t Towns of New Zealand”, Allen & Unwin, 2018, p 96.

Well Dannevirke did have a clogged sewerage system a while back.

And this:

“Dannevirke is one of the only places in New Zealand where you can buy second-hand dentures.”

Which I haven’t been able to confirm although I’ve been looking for a cheap set since I arrived in town a couple of years ago. There are quite a few second-hand shops and op shops in town. But no dentures.

Anyway.

I went into the Dannevirke Museum a few months ago, out of curiosity. It’s a settler museum. It celebrates a Danish heritage, Danish and other Scandinavian settlers, and generations of notable and not-so-notable citizens of a not-so-quaint country town and surrounding district. It’s pretty much like any other settler museum in rural townships across the nation, except for its focus on Danish origins. It seems that it is a major attraction for minor visitors from Denmark.

But I was mistaken about its ethnicity. Slightly mistaken. For there was actually a single display case with a small number of photographs of Maori, and a few Maori artefacts.

The tangata whenua here are the Ngati Rangiwhakaewa people of Rangitane origin. We have offices in town but our three marae are all on the margins just out of town; Makirikiri (Ngati Mutuahi), Kaitoke (Ngati Pakapaka) and Whiti Te Ra (Ngati Mutuahi). Our people have been in and around the whole area for countless generations before the Scandinavians arrived to cut down the forests. And we are still here, comprising some 30% of the population of the district I’m told. But about 0.003% of the museum display.

And looking at me, from inside that lonely display case, was my great grandmother. It was a photocopy taken from an out-of-print limited edition book of pastel drawings by a local artist. My revered great grandmother of high noble birth who raised my father here in Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua.

She looked so lonely and out of place in that place. Did anyone ask permission to put her in there? I wonder. Does anyone know or care that she lived to be 100 and now lies just south of town in our urupa at Tahoraiti, alongside her daughter, my grandmother, and amongst her many descendants and kinfolk. Or that her parents, siblings and numerous descendants were and have been around before and since the arrival of the folk from Scandinavia. And that not a single one of them is featured on the walls of that museum in the row upon row upon row of big and small notables.

None of our Rangitane chiefs, church leaders, professional men and women, holders of high office, artists, All Blacks, and other sporting greats. Not one that I could see.

We call ourselves Ngati Rangiwhakaewa after our eponymous ancestor. We call our district including the town Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua. Others call the district Tararua. We live in Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua. And in Dannevirke when we’re engaging with people who don’t know where Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua is. Confused?

To make it even more confusing, up in the Dannevirke Services & Citizens Club on Princess Street is a large glittering sign, “Dannevegas”. It’s quite a common name these days, a far cry from the Scandinavian one. Seems we’re also some sort of entertainment destination. Perhaps they come from far and wide to look at the cartoons on the roadside. Or to gamble on the pokies at the Saigon Hotel on the corner of High Street and Barraud Street. To call in momentarily at any one of the many fast food joints on High Street. To join the Viking latte set in one of our up-market cafes. Fine dining at our restaurants. And to drink, dine and be entertained at the Club of course.

So if you’re passing through Dannevegas do stop awhile and partake. You won’t be disappointed. True. Cross my heart. Visit the museum even. Even if just to check out the truth of my one-sided observations.

I’m not totally biased though for I do have a Scandinavian link myself you know.

My beloved godmother Aunty Sylvia was born to Swedish parents at Ngamoko, west of Norsewood, up on the headwaters of the Manawatu River.

She married into another of my hapu up in Hawke’s Bay. Her husband and one of my two godfathers was the great-great-grandson of Te Hapuku, chief of Ngai Te Whatuiapiti and Ngati Rangikoianake.

Aunty Sylvia befriended my mother, daughter of Grandfather Fred and Grandmother Galloping Gertie, when she was still single and working at the Te Aute Hotel.

Before I came along.