All posts by Te Putatara

Maori Television, Mihingarangi Forbes & Her Wardrobe

Once again what seems to be a dispute between past and present executives and news staff at Maori Television hits the news. This time supposedly about an allegation that Ms Forbes misappropriated her employer provided wardrobe when she left MTS. See the news report here.

Most commentators are linking this revelation back to the Native Affairs series of exposes about Te Kohanga Reo National Trust (TKRNT) and its subsidiary Te Pataka Ohanga Ltd, commented on by Te Putatara here. The Twitterati and Facebook crowd have also linked the removal of several news executives and presenters from Maori TV to the same TKRNT episode, and have assumed an ongoing feud between them and MTS, caused by the Native Affairs team taking on the Maori Establishment.

It all seems too simple to me. One thing I’ve learnt from decades of Maori politics is that nothing is ever what it seems to be.

The Indonesians have a pepeha “Ada udang dibelakang batu” which means literally “There’s a prawn behind the rock” or “There’s more to this than meets the eye“. And a long time ago, long long before TV and the Internet my grandmother taught me never to believe anything I read in the newspaper or heard on the radio, and to believe only half of what I saw and heard for myself. She might well have said don’t believe anything you read on Facebook or Twitter. Suspending judgement and waiting for the full story to reveal itself, sometimes digging for the full story myself, always works for me. I suspect there’s two sides to the real story and we haven’t heard either of them yet.

What we’ve heard is what they want us to hear. What’s more important and ultimately far more interesting is what they don’t want us to hear.

But is it really important, this spat between a minor Maori celebrity and her supporters, and some unknown and therefore unimportant detractors, presumably associated with MTS?

My advice to those who are upset by the allegation, even outraged, is to take a deep breath, to abide by the wisdom of my grandmother and don’t believe any of it; from either side. This wardrobe stuff is just a ripple on the surface of the pond. There’s a prawn behind the rock and we haven’t seen it yet.

"A Dowry for the Sultan"

Book Review – “A Dowry for the Sultan: a Tale of the Siege of Manzikert 1054” by Lance Collins

Self published by the author in Australia.
© Lance Collins 2016
ISBN 9780994540904 (paperback)

Reviewed by Ross Himona

A novel set in Central Eurasia in 1054 against the background of conflict between the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire and the Seljuk Turks. This tale is about the Battle of Manzikert in 1054 in which the Byzantines prevailed against the Turks in their attempt to lay siege to and capture the city of Manzikert. In 1071 at the next Battle of Manzikert the Turks were victorious and seized control of much of Asia Minor. The fall of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 finally ended the Byzantine Empire.

At the time of this novel the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire was Christian and culturally and linguistically Greek. Hence its citizens and soldiers were described as both Roman and Greek which is sometimes confusing. Frankish mercenaries also feature prominently in the novel. The Franks were a Germanic people from the Western Roman Empire who eventually gave their name to the modern France. The other main characters (apart from the Turkish invaders) are the Armenians. Armenia was the first state to become Christian (late 4th Century & early 5th Century) and was absorbed into the Byzantine Empire in 1045, soon after to be invaded by the Seljuk Turks. At the time of this novel Manzikert in Armenia was a key strategic city on the eastern border of the Byzantine Empire.

Central Eurasian history is extremely complex, involving the rise and fall of empires and the waxing and waning of thousands of tribes over many millennia. Although “A Dowry for the Sultan” is set in just a short period in this vast history it has obviously required a great deal of general historical research as well as specific political and military study by the author. That shows in the authenticity of the depiction of cultural, political, military and intelligence aspects of the story. The author’s own background as a military officer and intelligence analyst shines through in the detail of strategic, tactical and intelligence operations central to the story. As a former military officer and intelligence analyst myself I greatly enjoyed that authenticity. Although the central characters brought the book alive for me that authenticity added an extra layer of enjoyment.

Apart from historical, political and military authenticity there are the wonderfully portrayed diverse characters of many ethnicities with whom we are led to intimately engage. In this book the main characters are both human and animal, for in those times horses were the main mode of transport and formed an intimate warrior partnership with the fighting man. We come to know the horses in this story almost as well as we know their owners. The author’s country upbringing and his lifelong love of his own horses shines through. The detail of the partnership between horse and rider is quite astonishing. The people however, the politicians, soldiers, townspeople and their womenfolk, and their stories, are what draw us in and hold our attention from the beginning to the end of this well told story.

The unfolding love stories set against the background of warfare in which men and women often worked and fought side by side were what got me in the end. They are beautifully told. They showed that even in times of constant political intrigue and warfare, and in times in which human life was often valued cheaply, in which rape, pillage, plunder, murder, slavery and genocide were commonplace, there was also beauty in the human relationships. These love stories are islands in an ocean of human misery for this is the story of the clearance of a countryside of its people, animals, crops and treasures by a ferocious invader, and of a fierce battle to eventually defeat him. There is much death and much misery as there was in those times, and as there is still in the Middle East today. Then as now in the to and fro of geopolitical relationships the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.

A Byzantine officer, Leo Bryennius and his soldiers, accompanied by a Frankish mercenary, Guy d’Agiles and his small party, ride from Constantinople to Manzikert to bolster the defences of the city commanded by the Byzantine Basil Apocapes. At the time Manzikert was thought by some to be threatened by Tughrul Bey, the sultan of the Seljuk Turks, although not everyone agreed and it was therefore not adequately garrisoned to repel a determined invader. Bryennius and his men arrive after an incident filled journey to find an undermanned city garrison that would be greatly outnumbered by the Turkish army. The main story revolves around the creative and inventive intelligence operations, strategy and tactics employed by Apocapes and Bryennius to see off Tughrul Bey, and the collective and individual courage and heroism of the defenders of the city.

There is also much intrigue in the employment of spies by both sides. Accurate intelligence was an essential component of the eventual victory.

The novel began to form when the author heard of an incident in history involving the courage of a single soldier about whom virtually nothing was known. He has given Guy d’Agiles that role in the novel and woven the incident into this story. In this fictional account it becomes the key courageous event that finally defeated the Seljuk Turk army and enabled the Byzantine victory at Manzikert in 1054.

A riveting read.


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Silly Bugger Kiwi

A few days ago I watched a You Tube video of the 2015 Kea World Class New Zealander Awards where Helen Clark won the supreme award. Right from the beginning some of these “world class” New Zealanders were calling themselves “Kiwis”, over and over and over again. To me it sounded absolutely ridiculous. World class silly buggers more like it.

And at a wedding recently an Australian guest thought he had offended me when I told him I was a New Zealander, not a Kiwi. It was a conversation stopper but he was just being friendly. I suppose I ought to be kinder to Australians who don’t know better. New Zealanders though, world class or otherwise, deserve my opprobrium.

I’ve been doing it for years now. I do it all the time, regardless, just a gentle rebuke to those who compare me to a nocturnal, flightless and fat-arsed dumb little bird with a sticky beak. Or perhaps to an egg-shaped furry little greeny-brown fruit that used to be called a Chinese gooseberry back in the dark ages when I was a child.

I’m an oddity. One of a minority it seems who doesn’t appreciate being likened to a ridiculous bird, or to a minor ingredient in my breakfast smoothie (fruit, greenery, herbs, nuts, flaxseed oil, coconut yoghurt, spirulina, turmeric, ginger, lecithin, water and ice cubes – in case you’re interested). I’m a Maori vegan oddity as well. Or a vegan Maori oddity.

It’s probably the Maori heritage in me that gets me going on about being called Kiwi. I’m not so vegan that I object to being called Kiwi out of political correctness.

For me it’s about whakapapa or genealogy. You see, I’m tangata Maori, a Maori person. I’m not manu Maori, a Maori bird. Nowhere in my extensive whakapapa going back over thirty generations and across multiple lines into multiple hapu or tribes can I find a single bird let alone a kiwi bird. Try as I might, not one. There are a lot of distinguished rangatira or chiefs in that whakapapa and not one of them is a bird. Or even a foreign fruit. Strictly speaking my early ancestors were indeed foreigners who migrated here from Eastern Polynesia. But colloquially they would have been called coconuts perhaps, rather than Chinese gooseberries.

But I can see why most New Zealanders don’t mind being called Kiwi, and even describe themselves as Kiwi. It’s easy to understand. There’s a simple explanation. They’re silly buggers. New Zealanders are silly buggers. Except for me. And my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

On the other hand, in this highly urbanised society more and more divorced from the natural world where heaps of people don’t know that milk comes from a cow’s tit and bacon is pig’s bum, maybe they just don’t realise any more that a Kiwi is actually a flightless, nocturnal, fat-arsed and dumb little bird with a sticky beak. Mind you there seem to be a lot more fat-arsed dumb New Zealanders with sticky beaks around these days. Maybe the distinction between New Zealanders and Kiwis is not as great as when I was growing up and being taught the difference. Maybe there’s a genetic evolution in New Zealanders towards fat-arsed dumb bird-persons. I think I’d rather my descendants became intelligent fruit.

Nah. I agree with you. That’s all a bit far-fetched. I think I’ll stick with the silly bugger explanation.

Which sort of leads me to the inevitable conclusion that my forebears in the New Zealand military were silly buggers. Don’t get me wrong they were soldiers not bears, and there were a lot more than four of them (in case you’re getting confused) but they did originate this silly Kiwi stuff. In the Boer War and then in World War I a New Zealand regiment and then all New Zealand forces adopted the kiwi as their regimental then national logo.

Don’t ask me why. It defies logic. Who in their right mind would choose a nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed and dumb little bird with a sticky beak to represent New Zealand’s finest? Some stupid bloody staff officer for sure. Or perhaps it just started as a joke in the workshops and a vehicle mechanic or a sign writer with a sense of humour painted a kiwi on the staff officer’s car. In these more liberal days it would be a likeness of the officer’s head shaped like another part of his anatomy.

Now I can vouch for the fact that military vehicle mechanics and sign writers have a sense of humour. All of the Australian vehicles in Vietnam had a small red kangaroo painted on the door. Overnight they all had white kiwis painted on them, mounted on the red kangaroo, in flagrante delicto. True story.

And you never know, that staff officer might have had style and a sense of humour himself. He might have turned a soldier’s mockery into a national symbol and had the last laugh. He’d still be laughing in his grave. Maybe the whole bloody New Zealand Expeditionary Force was in on the joke. Surely the flower of New Zealand’s manhood didn’t seriously compare themselves to nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed and dumb little birds with sticky beaks. Or to a Chinese gooseberry.

Anyway, New Zealand soldiers used to be called Maorilanders, EnZedders, Fernleavers (after a badge they wore), Diggers and Pig Islanders, but by about 1917 they were being called Kiwis and were calling themselves Kiwis. The original silly buggers were our WW1 heroes. It didn’t take long to catch on and by the time the war ended in 1918 all New Zealand soldiers were being called Kiwis. I suppose it was better than Pig Islanders.

By the way did you notice that we used to be called “Diggers” too, until the Aussies stole it, like Pavlova and Phar Lap and Crowded House and Jo Bjelke-Petersen.

Then sports teams picked up on it and pretty soon all those silly New Zealanders were calling themselves Kiwis. Except for my grandfather, and my father, and me. In fact, growing up in Ngati Whatuiapiti I never once heard anyone refer to themselves as Kiwi. I guess we all knew we were tangata persons not manu birds. Either that or there were no silly buggers in Ngati Whatuiapiti. Which is stretching credulity a little. Believe me.

For me it’s about mana – dignity, self-respect, mutual respect, prestige even. In Ngati Whatuiapiti we all descend from our illustrious tipuna (ancestor) Te Whatuiapiti; the red-haired one who won many military and economic battles, regained the lands stolen from his father and grandfather, and held off marauders from the North trying to take them again, without doubt Hawke’s Bay’s most outstanding leader, warrior and statesman, ever. We bask in the inherited glow of his mana. None of us descend from Kiwi. Ours is mana tangata not mana manu. Ngati Kiwi is some other tribe, a tribe for silly buggers who think of themselves as nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed dumb little birds with sticky beaks. Or Chinese gooseberries.

I didn’t get called Kiwi until I left school, took leave of Ngati Whatuiapiti, joined Ngati Tumatauenga (NZ Army), and went off to Australia for officer training. There we were called Kiwi and Pig Islander and a whole lot more besides, including “Shaky Islander” which I didn’t mind. We were also called “Sheepshagger” which I did mind of course, although I did quietly admire the sheer audacity of the pot calling the kettle black. The inventiveness of Australian nomenclature has never ceased to amaze me. Yet somehow they have avoided being called Kangaroos or Wallabies or Dingos or Wombats or Galahs or Cockatoos or Dingbats. Except for their sports teams and their politicians of course. “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” seems to satisfy their sense of nationality. “Oi, oi, oi” their finely tuned sense of the ridiculous.

Aussie. I suppose if I had to choose between “Newzie” and “Kiwi” I’d have to go with “Kiwi”, much as I hate to say it. “Newzie, Newzie, Newzie”? Nah. The bloody Australians would laugh us out of the stadium.

I served in the New Zealand Army for twenty years “Under the Kiwi” as it were. I have to admit it. I wore a hat badge with a kiwi on it for most of those twenty years, and I’ve still got my cravat that we wore when we deployed to Vietnam in 1967; a black cravat with a small white kiwi that I never wear any more, not for decades. And I’ve still got a very artistic kiwi lapel pin that I never wear any more, not for decades. I used to wear them once upon a while ago.

A sense of humour goes a long way in the military. A joke in the form of a nocturnal, flightless, fat-arsed dumb little bird with a sticky beak is the legacy of my military forebears.

What does it say about the Royal New Zealand Air Force that they still sport a kiwi in the middle of their RNZAF badge and in the middle of the roundels on their aircraft. Silly buggers. Or are they just perpetuating the joke. My beloved Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment still sports the kiwi in the badge. That’s OK though because they’re not silly buggers; they’re good jokers.

That’s all behind me now. But I suppose a film about my own life might be called “Once Were Silly Bugger”. Ah well. I’m definitely a New Zealander now; Ngati Whatuiapiti and New Zealander. I’ve returned to my roots and there ain’t no kiwi there. Just a few stray pukeko running across the road into the swamp.

So don’t you dare call me “Kiwi” you silly bugger you. Or “Pukeko”.