Discovering a “treasure trove” of shared history

Issue: Volume 98, Number 10

Posted: 13 June 2019
Reference #: 1H9v6k

Well-known historian and author Dame Anne Salmond has spent decades researching and exploring the first encounters between Māori and later arrivals during the nation’s beginnings.

It has been 250 years since the first onshore meetings between Māori and non-Māori during Captain James Cook and HMS Endeavour’s 1769 voyage to Aotearoa New Zealand.

The Cook voyages were imperial scientific expeditions that produced journals and other documents, pioneering sketches and paintings, and advanced western scientific knowledge for the time.

“There were artists and scientists such as Joseph Banks on board,” says Dame Anne Salmond, Professor of Māori Studies at the University of Auckland, “and some of the most vivid depictions of everyday Māori life in the places visited at the time come from them. They made tremendous contributions to knowledge in science, botany and many other areas.

“But when I first read accounts of Cook’s voyages early in my career, I realised they were all written from a European perspective that had shaped our understanding of these encounters. It was a narrow view, because there were Māori and others from the Pacific on board and interacting with Cook and the voyage at all stages.”

To help reframe our early history and bring to light Maori experiences and other migration stories, a national commemoration is taking place this year called Tuia – Encounters 250.

Dame Anne says the commemoration is a gift for learners, as well as being a chance to acknowledge and celebrate both Māori and European voyaging traditions that met for the first time in 1769.

“It is a fantastic opportunity for students to take part in uncovering that wider history, to learn about new perspectives on the beginnings of our nationhood, and to appreciate our dual heritage and shared future. It is a treasure trove.”

Missing parts of the story

Dame Anne has worked extensively with Māori and Polynesian scholars to investigate the missing parts of the story of the encounters, such as the role and work of Tupaia, who was a Tahitian chief, diplomat and navigator onboard the Endeavour, who helped to pilot the ship and assisted in communicating with Māori, using his language skills. He was also an accomplished artist whose work is part of the official record of the ship’s explorations.

She says Cook’s journeys were spectacular feats of exploration, sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent. But they’re not our only legacy of voyaging and discovery. “There were two grand voyaging experiences in New Zealand’s past, not one.”

In 1969, an extensive programme of events was held around the country to mark 200 years since Cook’s arrival. “At that time,” says Dame Anne, ”James Cook was still believed to have ‘discovered’ New Zealand. But clearly there were people here before he arrived who had already been there for hundreds of years.

“Their ancestors were great ocean explorers themselves, who invented blue water sailing. They navigated by the winds and stars, crossing one third of the Earth’s surface, and this country, at the bottom of the Pacific, was a difficult place to get to due to the currents and prevailing winds.”

New Zealand was the last major landmass in the world to be settled. “This feat by Polynesian navigators is a fabulous story that’s really exciting to explore and examine, alongside Cook’s voyages.”

Looking to the future

So how can a better understanding of the past help provide for better encounters in the future?

Dame Anne says good encounters are based on respect and appreciation of all sides’ viewpoints and history. ”My advice is to spend time on a marae, to listen and learn. Experiencing that has opened up my eyes to a different way of understanding.

“History has a lot of power by shaping our vision of the past, and we need more Māori and Pacific stories, and not just a Western framework, included in that narrative.”

From early on in her career, Dame Anne spent a lot of time on marae around the country.

“Te Ao Māori has a different way of understanding reality and the way that experiences are recorded and interpreted. Ancestors are real, and can be spoken with, and the relationship is still living, unlike in European culture.

“I often travelled with the late Māori elder Eruera Stirling to different marae and listened to him talking with his ancestors. He absorbed history, and the way his ancestors viewed it, through his skin.

“We are enriching our understanding of the past but we need to treasure the legacies of all our ancestors, whether they came by waka, a sailing ship or plane.

“We will gain a better understanding of our collective national identity by exploring our understanding of and respect for Māori and Polynesian legacies, as well as those of other cultures that are now part of our nation. It’s about thinking of how we can create a richer, more inclusive future.

“I see Tuia 250 as an opportunity to bring us together. History is a kind of weaving, and we are now in the place of weaving a whole lot of strands together to build our nation, as we try to figure out what kind of future we want to have. That gives a place for everybody because when other people arrive in the future, their story becomes interwoven too.”

The Ministry of Education is supporting the commemoration through the Tuia Mātauranga national education programme(external link). It includes access to a curated suite of education resources and support to apply them to local curriculum development, including in-class and community activities.

How to bring Tuia – Encounters 250 into the classroom

As tomorrow’s citizens, children and young people need the full picture of beginnings of our nationhood, to appreciate our dual heritage and shared future, says Dame Anne.

“Cook visited and landed at many places around New Zealand. Some whānau will have ancestors who were on the ship, and will have a memory of this passed down through oral tradition. Tap into that knowledge and cultural memory.”

She says the arrival of Cook was a turning point in our history, and life here for Māori would never be the same afterwards, so that has great potential to inspire students’ art, poetry, and writing.

“There was a huge difference between Māori and European lifestyles at the time – Māori would have been astonished at seeing a sailing ship much bigger than any waka for the first time. Many may have thought it was possibly a floating island, or a giant bird.

“An inquiry could examine how our Polynesian sailors successfully navigated across such vast distances. How did they prepare for these extraordinarily long journeys at sea? What food did they bring?”

For high school students, this is a chance to look at how the relationship between different communities has grown and changed over time, and to examine how it may progress in the future, she says.

Student inquiries could focus on what the ship would have looked like, how the sailors lived on board, or on the environmental impact. European rats came off the ship down the ropes or on rowboats, to be introduced to the country for the first time, and that has had a huge impact on native flora and fauna. “What would New Zealand be like if rats and other pests had never arrived?” she says.

“Who will add their own new migration chapter? How can we ensure they can learn about our shared past once they are here? What will New Zealand look like in 250 years’ time? Tuia – Encounters 250 throws up so many questions and rich learning opportunities.” 

Flotilla to visit significant sites

Tuia – Encounters 250 events are being held across the country, culminating in a flotilla of vessels including waka, the replica Endeavour, tall ships, vaka, and naval ships. The flotilla will voyage to sites of significance for Māori, Pacific and European interactions around the coast for three months between October and December 2019.

For more information about the Flotilla(external link) 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:25 am, 13 June 2019

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