The Other Arts Tutorial

Last week I was invited by my friend John Dennison to speak to a small ‘alternative tutorial’ group dubbed ‘the Other Arts Tutorial’. They’re a group of mostly under-grad humanities and social science students at Victoria Uni who meet every week to discuss something relevant and topical. They also usually have a supportive self-disclosure session about ‘where I am’ and ‘what I’m learning’. It was great to speak with them.

I took as my theme ‘My story, Our story’, talking a little about my background and journey into understanding New Zealand’s history and identity. I shared some words and thoughts from a range of sources, including an 1850 letter, a poem I’d written, and a clip of Tame Iti speaking at a Tedx Auckland conference. The links for this and other things are given in the attached slide summary.

Carpenter – Other Arts Tutorial – May 16

Baxter funeral


Poetry triptych

Here are three poems I wrote in recent times that have a loose 'Waitangi' theme - in that they connect with people and places woven into history's fabric in these islands...

Boulcott Street

Where the kowhai bloomed, I remembered
that spring of discontent in
Boulcott street

Kowhai said my son is yellow
Yes I said, the tree is the colour

He goes to kindy, happy

the colours
of his world paired

between what is new, and what is old

© Samuel Carpenter, 2014

[note: Boulcott Street is a street in Lower Hutt, Wellington, that marks an area once known as Boulcott’s farm. This was the location of an engagement between British troops, who had fortified the position, and Maori groups. Land issues were involved. Gov Grey had earlier sent in a force of about 340 to clear out opposition in the Hutt Valley. See the Tribunal’s report here for the narrative, pp 207-217 in particular. A memorial to the British troops only survives today at the end of Boulcott Street.]

For Renata Kawepo

Renata, you son of vision

Kawe-po, your chief’s head carried

in the night

from Patea to Taupo-nui-a-Tia


Slave, you heard the WORD

which set you free

your body carried from Heretaunga to Waimate, Pēwhairangi

your wairua, thenceforth to

Zion, while your soul remained

rooted in memory

never forsaken


Missionary, you followed that

stubborn, headstrong man Colenso

home to Heretaunga,

He was hard of hearing

Not much time for listening to

those Māori,

yet gifted with divine energy

for a thankless task –

converting the heathen


You saw, and you, too, converted,

new Light and Peace unbidden, now

for the Kingdom

We have no kings, but chiefs

we know, and this Chief

seems different somehow


Kaitangata, you were laid

there, upon that

funeral pyre

Prepared to meet death,

but delivered by your whanaunga

when the wood was still unlit.

And you knew, you realised,

there was something more

to the making of this life. Perhaps

Some One else had

things prepared in advance, work

to do, mahi they

called it

a vocation, a calling

no giving up now, just a letting go


Whaiaipo, that woman who

struck you there,

utu for taking away her husband,

then gouged out your right-eye. What

was going through your mind

when you held her and

held back your comrades? Instead

of killing her,

you married her.

‘All who read this shall be amazed’


Land, given in hope

of a better dispensation

Embroiled in war,

for mana, conflict tetahi-ki-tetahi

Ministers of the Crown

kinsmen of ill-fated mein,

good and peaceful

hau! pai marire!

But these are men whose

thoughts and time has come

We’ve turned a corner now,

e hoa,

No going back

only forward. I hope

our fears for the future

are less worrysome

than the fear that stalked the past

Not quite what these modern-day prophets say,

give me Elisha and Elijah


‘In God’s Justice is our Peace’


Hāhi, planted a church there

at Omahu

six thousand at your tangi

Renata, you man of vision

There you lie,

witness to a city not

to be shaken.

© Samuel Carpenter, 2014

 [Note: the story of Renata Kawepo must be one of the more astounding stories of culture encounter, tragedy and triumph in New Zealand’s history. See a short bio here.]

For W H Oliver

Historian. Man of Letters.

These people gathered here pay tribute to your art, your words
that drew from depth and earth
tales of other lives;

prose singular and clear
conveying the weight, the import of minds, of actions, of laws

You let voices once embodied  speak through remnant skiens,
believable and unbelievable
Of tragedy and sorrow
Of ego, will to power, and

Some sought the world, gained it, and
In gaining it, lost their own soul
Others desired the service of some thing or Some One greater

than themselves and, in so doing,
wove the living kete
Some just existed, then died, and the record does not show it.
Still others suffered at the hands of the first –
They shall be first one day

You saw all this, and more
And sometimes you felt it,
And you wrote it down
To ward off forgetfulness
though we will cotinue to forget
To forget is human

So let the word speak
Let it resound for all ages
Let it remind and provoke and witness
To things done and left undone

Let it not be forgotten.
A memorial stone made of paper and text, of wood and ink
Reminding us we can add or subtract from the sum of things
That we can build up or breakdown
but whatever we do
We are flesh and blood
We are not alone, islands
in space or time
So let us be fruitful
here and now
Casting caution aside,
embracing love

Poet. Father.
Your son reads your poem
about an old house
when he was growing up,
it was old and capacious;
and you were lying there in
that house, listening
to the echoes of day and children,
and of night.

It is night now, Bill
So sleep the sleep of those

who know,

they have left behind wisdom
and good
they will rise again, on
the last day.

© Samuel Carpenter, 2015

[Note: W H (‘Bill’) Oliver was an important New Zealand historian and poet who died last year. See a short biography of him here.]

‘Treaty to the masses’

‘Treaty to the masses’: the challenge of a conversation without end that’s hardly begun

This is the title of a paper I gave this past week to the NZ Historical Association conference at Canterbury University.  I attach below the paper abstract. The audio file can be heard here:


Maori Parliament buildings - Wairarapa 1890s
Māori Parliament at Pāpāwai, Wairarapa, late 1890s. Ref: PAColl-1892-78. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. 
Paper Abstract:
Two decades after the first major historic-claims Treaty settlement in 1995 (Waikato-Tainui), it is timely to consider the contribution of Treaty settlements to a wider conversation on history, identity and justice in New Zealand society. While settlements have restored an economic base to iwi/hapū groupings and rehabilitated Crown-Māori relations, it seems doubtful whether New Zealand society in general has understood the reasons for settlements, including their often complex historical underpinnings. Settlements are arguably also ‘reconstituting’ iwi as modern incorporations recognised at many levels of central, regional and local government, and in such areas as conservation estate management and social service provision. Constitutional reform may yet give te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi and the Crown-Māori relationship even greater recognition. Yet these changes are not well appreciated or understood by the population at large. This paper will consider this lack of engagement as a ‘problem-definition’ requiring further significant interrogation, and will attempt a discourse analysis of recent Treaty- and settlements-related literature that addresses a wider audience.

When NZ starts to listen…

I just watched this clip tonight: Tame Iti speaking to a recent TedX event in Auckland. He starts off slow and measured, almost halting. But he continues to speak, plainly and assuredly, telling his story – or really just snapshots of his story. You can feel the audience warming to his heart and method. His theme is basically about respect, about human beings treating each other on the same level – kanohi-ki-te-kanohi/ face-to-face. The applause at the end is the measure of the way a powerful story, told simply, can move people.

Aotearoa NZ needs more stories like this, told like this.

Nga mihi nui kia a koe, e te rangatira, e Tame.

My top 10

A Reading List
I thought it was about time I shared a list of some of the books that have really shaped my thinking and inspired me in the areas of New Zealand history, identity and justice-Treaty conversations. So here's a top 10:

History & Identity Conversations:
M King, Being Pakeha Now, 2nd ed, Penguin, 1999 (or 2004).
This book is Michael King’s autobiographical account of his journey into the Maori world and how it radically shaped his perspective on ‘being Pakeha’. Foundational reading in this area, even if you don’t agree with all his conclusions.

H Melbourne, Maori Sovereignty: the Maori Perspective, Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995 AND  Carol Archie, Maori Sovereignty: the Pakeha Perspective, Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995

Fascinating reflections by various NZ personalities. Note the date: 1995. Some of this will seem dated now, but it helps to chart how things have shifted in NZ society (but have attitudes and understandings fundamentally shifted?).

Missionary and Maori biographies:
L M Rogers, Te Wiremu: A Biography of Henry Williams, Christchurch, Pegasus, 1973
The standard biography of Williams’ life. Was published in 1973 so quite old now, but still fundamentally inspirational stuff.

S M Woods, Samuel Williams of Te Aute: a biography, Pegasus 1981 (or Te Rau Herald Print, 1997)
One of Henry’s sons and another inspirational member of the Williams’ clan: missionary, pioneer agriculturalist, and founder of Te Aute college, Hawkes Bay. Well researched and written too.

J M R Owens, The Mediator: A Life of Richard Taylor 1805-1873, Victoria University Press, 2004.
An important early missionary figure influential in the Whanganui region. Written by a respected historian.

L S Rickard, Tamihana the Kingmaker, Christchurch, Cadsonbury Publications, 1996        The NZ Herald recently listed Wiremu Tamihana as one of New Zealand’s 10 all-time greatest figures. I concur. No New Zealand history would be complete without dealing with his story. Heart-rending and inspirational.  A more in-depth read is given in E Stokes, Wiremu Tamihana: Rangatira, Wellington, Huia, 2002. Note this is basically an annotated collection of Tamihana’s correspondence, with introduction.

R Walker, He Tipua: The Life and Times of Sir Āpirana Ngata, Auckland, Penguin, 2001
Surely the 20th century’s leading Maori statesman. This is quite a factually dense narrative, but worth the effort.

Treaty and Legal History:
A Ward, A Show of Justice: Racial ‘Amalgamation’ in Nineteenth Century New Zealand, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 1974
This book is probably still the best general history of policy and legal frameworks applying to Maori society in the 19th century; content-rich but very readable.

C Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi, Bridget Williams, 2011 (2nd ed)
Probably the best general history of the trajectory of the Treaty itself in law and society from 1840 to present day.

M Palmer, The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s law and constitution, Wellington, Victoria University Press, 2008                                                                                                                                                This book provides a present-day law and constitutional focus. By a leading constitutional lawyer (and son of Sir Geoffrey Palmer).

History is Now

... A people without history 
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern  
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails  
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel 
History is now and England.

T.S.Eliot, 'Little Gidding', The Four Quartets.

I grew up just down the road from Burtt Rd on the northern outskirts of Pukekohe (a town now on the southern outskirts of the City of Auckland). This fact has not struck me as important until quite recently, when I discovered that in the vicinity of Burtt Rd, at Burtt’s farm, an encounter between Maori and Pakeha settlers took place in September 1863. This was about the closest the Waikato war of 1863-64 got to Auckland. Just down the road from my place, where my parents, grandparents and uncles and aunties still live, Maori and Pakeha skirmished in a fairly minor affray of the New Zealand Wars. A minor affray, perhaps, but part of the drama that unfolded when Governor Grey gave the order for troops to cross the Mangatawhiri stream in July 1863, sparking the conflict with the King Movement that took many hundreds of lives over the two years that followed. Confiscations of prime Waikato real estate followed. The New Zealand Government or Crown only came to terms with this history in 1995 when it settled with Waikato-Tainui.

Von Tempsky – Attack on Burtts’ Farm in 1863 Hocken Library, University of Otago. Reference: 12,513

But has New Zealand society come to terms with it? The year 2014 has just closed. It marked the 150 year commemorations of many of the key conflicts of the Waikato war, and thus the NZ Wars, still to see many 150 year battle commemorations over the next few years. Yet have we, as a society, remembered these foundational conflicts in our national story? Hardly. Maori media covered the series of commemorations, but Pakeha media to my knowledge was almost silent.

It betrays a serious lack of engagement with our story that wider NZ society, Pakeha society in particular, has not turned up to remember these conflicts. As it stands, Pakeha collective memory really only reaches as far as Gallipoli and WW1/2. The nineteenth century foundations of modern NZ are like a void for most NZers. How tragic.

It was not always like this. Historian Dr Vincent O’Malley recently gave a lecture that recalled the history of NZ Wars commemorations. The 50th and 100th commemorations were largely led by Pakeha  communities – when the storyline was still couched in the semi-comfortable terms of a conflict with the brave and noble Maori (who we nevertheless beat) that somehow brought us together. By contrast, the 150th Waikato war commemorations have been led mostly by Maori.

Something needs to change. Aotearoa NZ’s case of historical amnesia needs some major psychiatric treatment before we become a people truly in sync with both the good and bad realities of our national story. Of course, there is no one ‘national story’ – both the nation and a singular story are constructs. But how we construct that story, or how we remember who we are, is an interesting reflection of how we’re living out the realities of our past in our present. The past is not ‘the past’ – it is not something other than, separate from, our present.

This is a blog about how history is now. T.S. Elliot got it right for England. But where and how can history be now and New Zealand?

If you’re interested you can read an old account of the Burtt’s farm encounter here:

Samuel Carpenter