Scoop Review of Books

Not an Equilateral Triangle

Kūpapa: The Bitter Legacy of Māori Alliances with the Crown
by Ron Crosby (Penguin Random House, $65)
Reviewed by Vaughan Rapatahana

Kupapa_coverThis is an excellent book: well-written, comprehensive; pictorially fine too, by which I mean there are ample explanatory maps and old photographs throughout, accentuating the author’s prime points as well as his points about personalities. Indeed, the entire volume reads rather like a large legal casebook in its close, well-argued examination of causes and effects leading to Ron Crosby’s (LLB, Hons) cogent conclusions. Nice tight compartmentalised sub-sections help us to read the multiple pages in snappy bites too. There has been considerable research and care accorded this tome, just as with his Musket Wars: A History of Inter-iwi Conflict, first published back in 1999. A similarity further accentuated by the overall kaupapa of both books as regards Māori-Pākehā relationships then and as subsequently portrayed. Which I will return to soon.

My sole criticism of this book is its sheer size, It literally is a tome, and is too bloody heavy to continually prop up anywhere. An earnest reader requires a lectern to hold it! With its four large sections and over 500 pages, Kūpapa requires an ope of its own to haul it!

The four parts, incidentally, are titled as follows – to give you some sense of the contents covering the ‘war’ years from 1845 to 1872 –

1. Early Support: Allegiance to Treaty or Crown?
2. Difficult Choices: Land Sales or Kingitanga.
3. Reaction to the Perceived threat from Paimārire.
4. Rejection of the Charismatic Titokowaru and Te Kooti.

Let’s look, then, at what the book is ‘all about’. Firstly, I want to make it clear, as Crosby himself does, that Māori are not always a united one-identity fits-all people, and never have been and never will be to the extent that historians, politicians and social commentators have dictated. Māori are not so much iwi as whānau and hapū based and there historically have been rifts/divisions/rivalries, yet also pacts between, hapū even of the same iwi – i.e. Māori with the exact iwi affiliation were and can be on opposing sides of any given conflict. Crosby places it this way – “Pre-European Māori society was based primarily on whānau (family groups) who lived together as hapū (subtribe) communities. In times of war hapū would commonly combine as iwi (tribes) based on eponymous ancestors and traditional waka links between hapū.” But this tribal bonding by no means always occurred and in some cases as specified by Crosby, iwi-connected hapū fought against and killed each other. Not that the British colonialists made any differentiation, as for example when they frequently penalised an entire iwi for a hapū perceived opposition to the Queenite’s (U.K.) rule.

A prime point Crosby makes is that not at all was black and white in terms of the so-called Māori Wars in this time frame – it was not Māori vs Pākehā, but it was a triangular scenario whereby it was very often Māori vs Māori + Pākehā – and sometimes Māori vs Māori. These were not ‘Māori Wars’ at all, rather they were varieties of civil war.

It was this overall murkiness as so well presented by Crosby that is the guts of the book; one prime example being Ngatapa. Who was most ‘to blame’ for “the most ruthless series of executions that have ever occurred in New Zealand” – Te Kooti for his earlier pillage and plunder in Turanga, Ropata Wahawaha for his supposed slaughtering of the captured, Whitmore for his condoning of it? Or Britain for having illegally incarcerated Te Kooti in the first place?

Ngā kūpapa were Māori fighting against other Māori for a variety of sub-rationales and one overall abiding cause – defence of their own tino rangatiratanga as etched into the (Māori) version of Te Tiriti o Waitangi of 1840, given that this was never signed by all iwi. The sad irony here is that the Māori whom the kūpapa fought were also defending the exact same cause, as actioned by them from a contradictory angle. Kūpapa were themselves never traitors or even ‘friendlies’ – they were Māori striving to survive the onslaught of a wider and more powerful apex – Britain and the various legislative, moral, religious and pragmatic (weaponry, for example) ballast they brought to Aotearoa. Kūpapa, led by stalwart fighting Trojans such as Tamati Waka Nene, Ropata Wahawaha and Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui then, were not fighting foremost for Britain, but for themselves, given that in some cases this meant they were indeed fighting other Māori like Te Kooti who had transgressed, trespassed, inflicted a violent cause for grievance, a need for utu (revenge), given that “an apologist for Te Kooti would say…that the Crown itself had been responsible for a long time of such wanton acts against Maori…its confiscations, pā burning and destruction of crops.” Utu for Māori was and remains very important – accentuated by the Pākehā-fostered availability of firearms even earlier in the 19th century, for some hapū and iwi only, and which led to a subsequent displacement of other more southern iwi. This is what Crosby’s earlier book covers so well.

Therefore what we read is of a fascinating series of taua, ope, skirmishes, manhunts; the latter of which lead us into a detective novel maze when we are riveted to the pages on the various pursuits of Te Kooti. There are all sorts of escapades, thwartings (such as the Te Arawa preventing passage of Ngāti Porou sympathizers to Kingitanga in 1864) and hui (such as the massive Kohimaramara Conference of 1860) – where some Māori hunted, tracked, killed, stymied other Māori, these latter often of religious permutations and persuasions that the Whiteman could never comprehend.

As noted earlier, the kūpapa became increasingly invaluable, more respected as estimable warriors, while as time wound on and Colonialist forces became stretched and/or woke up to this sheer military competence of kūpapa, these various conflict situations ended up as Māori only fighting other Māori. All this continued despite a good deal of the sheer meanness, racism, arrogance and ignorance of ngā Pākehā. Quotes Crosby of Land Purchase Commissioner Donald McLean, “the independent feelings of an Englishman could be demeaned by actually having to negotiate a lease arrangement and an annual rental with a Māori landlord.”

Then also there are the treacheries. The sad fact is of course that the Pākehā did not abide by any tenets of promised tino rangatiratanga as pledged by them, and as time wore on and as their rapacious requirement for more and more arable farmland came to the fore, the more they abnegated this fundamental right, while ironically at the same time using kūpapa with more frequency to suppress the very Māori who were resisting these British waves. Rule Britannia was very much a rather cynical Machiavellian ploy, which meant that kūpapa themselves were all too often by no means treated equitably by these Pākehā usurpers: for example they often went without pay, or received less pay than Pākehā forces fighting less competently and relying on their kūpapa scouts and superior fieldwork tactics. Indeed, it was men like McLean who also manipulated land purchases by legislating against the system of munificent land lease arrangements Māori had already informally organised and by also craftily singling out some rangatira “purporting to act on behalf of a hapū” when purchasing massive chunks of the best farmland.

It must be also noted however that there were some Pākehā like Gilbert Mair and George Preece who had tremendous respect for kūpapa forces and who at least made the effort to speak and comprehend te reo Māori.

It is this murkiness of sub-motives and ploys that Crosby so well describes. He even differs from earlier historians like James Belich and Judith Binney on occasions here, because for him men such as Te Kooti – especially – and Titokowaru were never saints either, given that these two among other so-called rebel leaders, were themselves reacting to the punitive excursions against them as initiated by the British Imperial and later Militia forces and their restrictive tenets. My continuous use of the word ‘given’ accentuates this overall cloudiness of causes and clashes, for there were always other manifold sub-factors going on in any individual series of these geographically localised conflicts, yet all were underscored by this thrust for tino rangatiratanga by all Māori.

What were some of these sub-plot rationales for kūpapa to act oppositionally, to make the effort to counter other Māori (not systematically either, for there were also mutinies and refusals to act by these very kūpapa forces, such as their not receiving support in the field or not receiving monies due them)? Crosby lists several such, including the advent of and loyalty to Christianity and thus the Crown as an important factor for some groupings, as were the obvious economic benefits for the traders/farmers of some iwi, while the British military potency also offered protection to some hapū-iwi groupings fearing retaliation or repression from other Māori. Crosby lists a few more such as, “the recognition by many rangatira that opposition was likely to be heavily crushed by British military power, increasing the risk of [land] confiscation.” This latter was a major reason for kūpapa and – as noted – such confiscations happened in some cases anyway. Just ask Whakatōhea, Ngāti Awa and Tūhoe, among other iwi.

Then there was any given rangatira desire to not have his own authority undermined, in other words, “the desire to maintain…respect for the decisions of rangatira and the order they imposed”, while yet another factor was the obvious “eternal enthusiasm of young fighting men to engage in the excitement of military adventures.”

But the PRIME consideration throughout was the promise inherent in Te Tiriti o Waitangi of tino rangatiratanga for all Māori, which ALL Māori – kūpapa and those they harried – strove to irrevocably attain and maintain.

It was this – and indeed remains this to this day – that motivates, nay makes a Māori. Very significantly, it is this that was and is still being abnegated by Pākehā who historically mistreated not only the Pai Mārire (Hauhau) and Kingitanga and others trying to hold onto their whenua, their mana – but also the very kūpapa – the so-called ‘friendlies’ or ‘neutrals’ – who never stood in their way but in fact ended up aiding and abetting Pākehā conquest, all too often for little or no or even deficit ‘rewards.’ Crosby once more summarises very well, the Māori “naïve trust that the Crown would act honourably and adhere to the promises of protection of Maori in the Treaty of Waitangi, including protection of their lands, fisheries, forests and other taonga and of their right to continue to retain tino rangatiratanga over all those things.”

To finish, a particularly percipient quote from Ngāti Kahungunu rangatira Renata Kawepo (from 1861), which doesn’t clear up his own later kūpapa position, but does succinctly set into stone why other Māori (including some of his own iwi) went the opposite, non-Crown way:

“A bird, in flying, flaps both his wings downwards. But the Governor’s [George Grey] way of flying is to flap with one wing downwards and the other up. He tells the Māori to sit quietly, with the wing that flaps downwards, whilst he beckons to the white man with the wing working upwards, to come and exterminate the Māori…Perhaps you think he is not a man, that you say should never raise his bristles when his land is taken from him? If your land were taken by a Māori, would your bristles not rise?…For behold the Treaty of Waitangi has been broken. It was said that the Treaty was to protect the Māoris [sic] from foreign invasion. But those bad nations never came to attack us; the blow fell from you, the nation that made it that same treaty. Sir, it is you alone who have broken your numerous promises.”

Mmm. Maybe not so murky after all, eh!

Kia ora mo tēnei pukapuka tino mōhio Ron. Ka nui te pai tāu mahi kei konei. Tika tāu kōrero hoki.


May I also here suggest that interested readers follow through on further manifest British colonialist deceits by reading The Blood Never Dried by John Newsinger, as well as Richard Gott’s The British Empire. Then there is the work of Mark Curtis, such as Web of Deceit – displaying adroitly just how the U.K. continues on its manipulative colonizing and infiltrating pathway even nowadays.