Mokena and Macaulay
Cultural geographies of poetry in colonial Aotearoa
in Worlding the south

This chapter examines the ways in which Thomas Babington Macaulay’s verse was used to articulate the cultural, literary, and political aspirations of nineteenth-century Māori in Aotearoa. The chapter centres around the Ngāti Porou rangatira (chief) Mōkena Kōhere (?–1894), a leading figure in the politics of late-nineteenth-century Aotearoa, and the way in which Kōhere’s words, actions, and legacies were framed via lines from Macaulay’s poems. It treats poetry generally, and Macaulay’s poetry in this instance, as a literary example of what the legal historian Mark Hickford has called ‘portals of communicability’ in Aotearoa’s colonial relationships.

In October 1926 the Māori-language periodical Te Toa Takitini featured some lines, in English, from Horatius, a poem in the English MP and writer Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome (1842):

To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or late.

And how can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his gods? (st. XXVII, lines 3–8)1

It was not unusual to see English poetry published in this particular Māori periodical. Regular readers of Te Toa Takitini would have been familiar with Rēweti Kōhere’s series of essays ‘He Kupu Tohunga’ (Wise Sayings), which was designed to introduce English literature to Māori readers. Educated in English at the prestigious Māori boys’ school Te Aute College, Kōhere produced writings throughout his career that were peppered with quotations from his favourite poets, including Burns and Shakespeare, which he almost always gave to readers in both English and Māori. It is likely that Kōhere encountered Macaulay’s poem at Te Aute; Horatius, while not well known today, was a widely anthologised poem that formed a core part of the settler canon discussed in the introduction to this collection. The range of Kōhere’s quotations is impressive; he rarely repeats himself, and instead produces new illustrative examples of apt English verse depending on the topic and argument of the essay in question. The exceptions to this pattern are the lines quoted above. Kōhere returned over and over again to Macaulay’s lines in the course of a long and bitter negotiation with the New Zealand government over his traditional lands and the legacy of his grandfather, the renowned rangatira (chief) Mokena.

Macaulay was a suitable interlocutor for Kōhere not simply because he authored a poem that was well known in Aotearoa New Zealand in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He had also produced one of the most memorable nineteenth-century images of New Zealand and its inhabitants in his famous formulation of a fallen London, in which ‘some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s’.2 This image is often read as conjuring up a Pākehā New Zealander, a settler who has returned from the periphery to a fallen centre.3 But in 1840, the year in which Macaulay composed these lines, the term ‘New Zealander’ referred not to all residents of the islands of New Zealand, but rather to Māori as the sovereign people of Aotearoa. This sovereignty was a topical question in 1840 New Zealand as well as 1840 Britain, since this was the year of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the agreement between the British Crown and Māori chiefs that had led to British sovereignty in Aotearoa New Zealand. As a member of parliament, Macaulay might have been present in the House of Commons on 7 July 1840, when British MPs debated the nature of the new arrangements in the colony. His awareness of a Māori figure, of the sort he describes, would have emerged from within the political discourse around this new international treaty and the visits to Great Britain of various Māori intellectuals and leaders. Macaulay’s Māori was mobile, traversing not only the geographic space between England and Aotearoa, and the temporal space between the flourishing Empire and its inevitable fall, but the cultural space between Indigenous and European art forms. He was able to articulate his thinking about past, present, and future via the idea of a mobile Māori, a character called into being in part by the recent political activity at Waitangi. But in Kōhere’s appropriation of the lines from Horatius, it is Macaulay who is figured as mobile and exotic, his texts reaching Aotearoa and undergoing various translations, appropriations, and reinterpretations. Kōhere repurposes Macaulay’s verse as a site to reimagine timescales, histories, languages, and geographies, just as Macaulay himself had done when he placed a ‘New Zealander’ at the centre of a reimagined metropolis.

The Treaty of Waitangi was a significant historical context for Kōhere’s land grievance. It was, and is still, a deeply contested document, not least because the English and Māori versions do not say the same thing.4 As Indigenous literary scholar Chadwick Allen has argued, the Treaty of Waitangi can act as:

a ‘silent second text’ against which contemporary Maori works can be read as allegory. But because this silent second text speaks in two distinct, conflicting voices, the resultant allegory always explicitly rehearses the difficulty of reconciling the Treaty’s divergent Maori- and English-language versions. However strongly a particular allegory might promote one version, it cannot suppress the other. Even in those works that never allude to treaty documents specifically, tension between competing Maori and Pakeha versions of the ‘truth’ often is suggestive of treaty allegory. This effect is only enhanced in bilingual and dual-language texts.5

While Allen’s framework is designed for the analysis of post-World War II creative writing by Māori, it is nevertheless a useful one for considering an earlier example like Kōhere’s integration of English texts into his writing. The mobilisation of the two languages and their respective literary canons, ostensibly expressing the same sentiment but also operating in entirely different epistemological frameworks, mirrors the foundational diplomatic moment of the Treaty of Waitangi. To move between English and Māori in this way is always, as Allen suggests, to evoke the treaty and the partnership it both emerged from and encoded. ‘Treaty allegory’ is a productive way in which to read what Kōhere strives for when he cites Macaulay: a reminder of the Treaty of Waitangi and its complex linguistic and political status, and a reanimation of the relationships it envisaged.

This chapter, like others in this volume, challenges the periodisation implicit in the volume’s title and picks up on Sarah Comyn and Porscha Fermanis’ idea of ‘necessary disorientations’ in their introduction. While the texts I consider come from the early decades of the twentieth century, they are located within a literary and legal relationship formed in the nineteenth century. By repurposing Macaulay, Kōhere drew not just on a nineteenth-century British figure and his writings, but also on nineteenth-century New Zealand history and important tīpuna (ancestors) in his own family. The literary culture of the nineteenth century was still of great significance in the early twentieth century, and the textual and legal relationships between Māori and the government were infused with it.

Macaulay and Māori law

When Rēweti Kōhere quoted these lines from Macaulay, he was responding in part to a resonance between the cluster of literary ideas they express – ancestry, bravery, the defence of one’s homeland, and the importance of remembering the past – and Māori conceptions of land and identity. Whakapapa (ancestry or genealogy) is central to Māori identity and provides one basis by which ownership of land might be confirmed. The significance of genealogy to identity is conveyed, to some extent, in the word iwi, which means both tribe and bones. Present-day affiliations are shaped by the metaphorical bones of one’s ancestors. Another related concept in conversations about land tenure and ancestry is ahikaaroa (literally, long-burning fires), a word which indicates that long-term occupation of land – the occupation by one’s ancestors as well as oneself, in other words – constitutes a legitimate indicator of ownership.6 Macaulay’s poetry was quintessentially English, but it sounded right in a Māori framework.

Kōhere’s 1926 gloss on these lines emphasises not their foreign or English quality, but their obvious significance for his Māori readers. In the Māori prose that accompanies the poetic quotation in the 1926 article, Kōhere addresses his readers directly: ‘Waihoki e te iwi whakaohongia nga toto tatou tipuna, kia mau ki o tatou morehu rangatira, ki nga tikanga rangatira’. (Kōhere himself provides no translation of these comments, since he was writing for a Māori-speaking audience, but in English they read: ‘Also, to you all, awaken to the blood of your ancestors, hold on to the vestiges of our greatness, to the ways of greatness’.7) There was clearly something urgent about Macaulay’s words that Kōhere wished to convey to his readers, something that went beyond a sense of similarity in underpinning cultural concepts. Kōhere’s readers were being exhorted, in the present moment, to heed the lesson of these nineteenth-century poetic words. Kōhere speaks to his Māori readers of a collective vision of present-day activity that draws on past knowledge and successes.

For Kōhere, this context was especially topical in 1926, but dated back to nineteenth-century cross-cultural relationships. A 1913 ruling by the Native Land Court had vested ownership of the Marangairoa 1D Block of land in a rival claimant group, in contradiction to Rēweti Kōhere’s testimony that his grandfather Mokena had secured the land for his descendants by helping the British forces in the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s.8 There had been a further investigation of the title in 1919, which resulted in the Native Land Court ruling that the land should be subdivided into twenty freeholdings. Kōhere then began a long campaign of petitioning the government for the return of the land. He authored two petitions in 1920 and a further four in 1922, none of which led to the resolution for which he hoped.9 By 1926, his persistent efforts at diplomatic engagement led the government to introduce the Native Land Amendment and Native Land Claims Adjustment Bill, which aimed, among other things, to clear up the question of ownership of the Marangairoa 1D Block. The bill was accompanied by the announcement of terms of reference for a Royal Commission on the confiscation of Māori land.10

It was at this point that Kōhere began the process of repeating Macaulay’s lines. Parliament debated and passed the Native Land Amendment and Native Land Claims Adjustment Bill in the months leading up to October 1926 and Kōhere’s first quotation from Horatius.11 Late 1926 was thus a period of intense engagement between the Crown and Māori on the subject of land ownership and its history in New Zealand in general, but also a period of engagement that attended to the Marangairoa 1D Block specifically. The lines from Macaulay not only underscored Māori sophistication and cosmopolitanism, but also served as a blueprint for and a warning about how Māori might respond to legislation that interfered with their land rights, or to a Royal Commission’s invitation to testify on confiscations. The bones of one’s ancestors and the fires of ahikaaroa could be invoked and mobilised not only via Māori law, but also via English poetry.

Kōhere might have hoped that the legislative and administrative developments of 1926 would lead to the resolution of his grievance, but, unfortunately, the cycle of repetitive petition simply continued. The hearings into the Marangairoa 1D Block in 1927, prompted by the 1926 legislation, did not resolve the issue in his favour. For the rest of his life, Kōhere continued to petition parliament for redress and continued to draw on both the actual words in Macaulay’s poem, and the cluster of values that those words suggested within a Māori epistemological framework, as the legal, moral, and emotional grounds for his case.12

Kōhere’s petitions work within the standard formula for such documents. They outline his people’s case and, as the body of evidence builds up through each new inquiry, they cite more and more material from earlier decisions, histories, and commentaries, bringing in the verbatim language of elders, judges, and parliamentarians. Kōhere’s petitioning is thus always an exercise in citation, in the repetition of words that he believes constitute the agreement he has with the government about his people’s legitimate title to the Marangairoa 1D Block. They come back, again and again, to the central points of ancestry and occupation, conveyed in Kōhere’s prose by images of bones and fire. In a 1935 letter to the Prime Minister, Kōhere lamented the 1913 ruling by the Native Land Court: ‘We, by it, lost three burial-grounds in one of which my own father rests – if it be rest. […] In order to keep the matter alive or as a Maori would say, “To keep the fires burning on the land” we have lodged another petition praying for a further hearing of the Marangairoa 1D case.’13 He would continue to repeat himself on these topics, commenting in a 1947 petition that, despite ongoing disappointments, ‘we continued petitioning, not with any hope of success, but just to use a Maori phrase, “to keep our fires burning”’.14 In some cases, he schooled his correspondents on the significance of these metaphors in terms of land tenure, telling the Minister of Māori Affairs: ‘The Maori term for occupation is “ahikaroa” [sic], or the “long burning fire”.’15 In others, he testified to the significance of the burial sites, arguing that ‘[t]o hand over tribal burial-grounds, in one of which my own father was buried, is heinous and ghoulish,’ and asking: ‘Am I to be harassed and barred from recovering my father’s bones? It is unthinkable.’16 Through multiple official documents, Kōhere produces the same ideas: bones, fire, land, and law.

It is telling, then, that one of the cycles of repetition in these documents makes use of Macaulay’s poem and the cluster of ideas that it suggests. Throughout his communications with the government, Kōhere returns to Macaulay’s lines, deploying them as part of an increasingly angry discourse. In his 1929 petition, for example, Kōhere asks: ‘Who would have the heart to find fault with us for fighting and, maybe, for dying, for our heritage and for “the ashes of our fathers”?’17 In an official letter of complaint to the Under-Secretary of the Native Department in 1946, Kōhere commented: ‘All Courts in the past paid me respect for they recognised I was fighting for “the ashes of my fathers,” and truth.’18 His deployment of Macaulay in these instances, and the way in which he marks out the quotation in speech marks, suggests his desire to mobilise official Pākehā sympathy for his cause by linking it to a tradition of heroic action from within the European canon. But the lines from Horatius are also connected directly to the legal case that Kōhere wishes to mount, which is based on the combination of the presence of burial grounds on the disputed land and what he calls the ‘fundamental fact of occupation’.19 The ashes of his fathers are quite literally present on the land; so too are the ashes of ahikaaroa, the principal basis for claiming occupation and thus ownership. The fact that courts in the past had ‘recognised’ this suggests both the sense of formal legal recognition and an underlying human sympathy that poetry can help generate.

The ways in which Māori understandings can be inferred from Macaulay’s poem are even more obvious in other engagements between Kōhere and the government. In a 1930 petition, for example, Kōhere wrote:

We are absolutely certain our case has not been dealt with on its merits and we earnestly do not wish to appear to make a threat but it has been handed down from time immemorial that for a Maori to die for his land and in defence of “the ashes of his fathers” is to die a noble death. To expect us to desist is to expect us to play the coward.20

Here it is a traditional concept, one rooted in Māori history, which is laid out as the basis for the claim, but in order to convey the solemnity and longevity of this concept, Kōhere turns to a quotation that he expects his Pākehā interlocutors to comprehend immediately and to connect with the validity of his argument. Macaulay’s lines are cited almost as if they are a whakataukī (proverb), the kind of rhetorical device that a Māori speaker might use in a speech or whaikōrero during a negotiation or encounter. The two cultures, and their different poetic, rhetorical, and political norms, are here fused into a single appeal to both sentiment and legality.

Kōhere’s understanding of the potential of his quotations emerges from within the poem’s own formulations of history and its uses. While the adoption of a classical subject might not seem inherently related to the British Empire, Meredith Martin has pointed out the ways in which the imperial periphery and its subjects were central to the conception of the Lays volume, which she reads ‘as a bridge between late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century romantic ideas of poetry, imagined primitive communities and fragmentary history, and later revivals of these ideas’.21 In an instantiation of what Martin calls ‘the ballad-theory of civilization’, Macaulay’s poems aim at a universal ballad history, woven into the fabric of all societies and thus feeding and shaping a comprehensive identity for the British Empire and its peoples. Martin specifically locates this universality in the same lines from Horatius that Kōhere chose to quote: of the character Horatius’ declaration about ‘the ashes of his fathers, / And the temples of his gods’, Martin notes that the poem ‘is now in the universal realm – about respecting the valor of any martial enemy, the purity of it, the beauty and simplicity of combat, what is seen as pure, primitive, and perfect about war and songs about war’.22 When we read this universalising tendency from the perspective of a British author, it is natural to locate it within a wider imperial rhetoric that aims to romanticise a primitive past and eliminate cultural difference; as Catherine Hall has pointed out, it was these lines from Horatius, in particular, that were ‘repeated by generation after generation of boys schooled in imperial patriotism’ both in Britain and in countries like New Zealand.23 The example of Rēweti Kōhere demonstrates the ways in which such universalising might be deployed by those targeted by British imperialism to productive ends, however. It is precisely the fact that Macaulay’s lines do appear to suggest a universal human emotion that makes them suitable for his purposes.

Moreover, Macaulay’s project is entirely invested in ideas of repetition. Martin locates in the Lays as a whole, and in Horatius in particular, a pattern of what she calls ‘double and triple projections’, in which Macaulay yokes together British India, the glory of the British military past, Roman military success and bravery, and, in Horatius itself, the invocation of an even more distant past and its martial traditions to which the Roman characters in the poem are being urged to respond by Horatius when he speaks.24 Macaulay’s own historical moment is being reframed by a series of past moments and the values they appear to encode. Kōhere’s project aligns with Macaulay’s aims here, although not, perhaps, in the way Macaulay might have envisaged. Kōhere places a series of new projections alongside Macaulay’s own ones, adding nineteenth and twentieth-century New Zealand to the sites in which the values of Horatius make sense and can be invoked. Macaulay’s project is all too successful, in this sense: it universalises emotions and values throughout the British world to the point where they not only become the property of citizens whom he largely discounted, but get used as a measure of the moral failings of the culture that encoded them in poetry.

Reimagining Mokena

Perhaps the most significant way in which Kōhere uses this poetry is to reconfigure the reception of a nineteenth-century life, that of his grandfather Mokena. One of the last publications of Kōhere’s life brought together his battles over the land, his relationships with the government, his ancestors, and the importance of Macaulay’s poem to his understanding of these issues. In A Story of a Maori Chief (1949), his biography of Mokena, Kōhere demonstrates the ways in which Aotearoa New Zealand’s nineteenth-century cultural geographies continued to affect the present. The biography included a chapter entitled ‘The Native Land Court: A Long Litigation’. The chapter begins in this way:

It has been said that the history of Kautuku (or Marangairoa 1 D) is the history of Mokena Kohere, so it would not be out of place to say something of the case in which I have been a litigant for over 35 years and in which I mean to fight until I recover my people’s ancestral home and sacred places.

It is a well-known saying of the Maoris, ‘He wahine, he whenua, ka ngaro te tangata’ (‘For women and land men perish’). And everybody is familiar with Macaulay’s words:

To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or late;

And how can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his gods!25

This chapter contains a vast array of cited material: quotes from the judges in the various Native Land Court hearings, from people who knew Mokena, from traditional Māori stories, and from the reports of various experts inquiring into the land tenure at Marangairoa. It might seem somewhat unusual for a biography to move into events well beyond the lifespan of its subject, but, for Kōhere, this was the point of the exercise. Mokena’s life was entirely bound up with questions of land: how one claimed it through one’s ancestors, demonstrated ahikaaroa, and how connections to the land existed without interruption through past, present, and future.

Mokena himself was associated with fire and with land, both by his grandson-biographer and by his tribe more generally. The Encyclopedia of New Zealand entry for Mokena (written by another of his descendants) makes this remark about his reputation and the way it is recorded in Ngāti Porou history:

A Ngati Porou haka contains the line, ‘But for Mokena, what then?’ It commemorates Mokena’s timely intervention to save captured Ngati Porou Hauhau from execution at Te Pito, near East Cape. While it relates to a specific incident, the phrase may equally be applied to Mokena’s service to the people throughout his lifetime. Some years after his death it was said: ‘Mokena Kohere was the chief who enabled tribal fires to be rekindled, both in Waiapu and in Poverty Bay … much of the heritage of his people might have been lost, but for Mokena.’ (ellipsis in the original)26

Rēweti Kōhere, meanwhile, refers to his grandfather as a ‘firebrand’ and ‘a fiery peacemaker’.27 He cites comments made by Mokena and passed on to him by his grandfather’s acquaintances, including a remark made while Mokena hoisted the Union Jack and ensured that Ngāti Porou remained loyal to the government and thus preserved their lands from confiscation:

E hoki ia hapu, ia hapu, ki te tahu i tana ahi, i tana ahi (Let each sub-tribe return home to re-kindle its own fire).28

To talk about fire, ancestry, and land was thus not simply to evoke general Māori concepts, although they too were important. Instead, the nexus of fire, ancestry, and land particularly pertained, in Rēweti Kōhere’s mind, to Mokena, to the piece of land, now known as the Marangairoa 1D Block, that he had fought to protect, and to the contentious modern history of that land. Mokena was the nineteenth-century sire, the ‘father’, whose ashes, literal and metaphorical, needed to be remembered and rekindled in the twentieth century. For his grandson Rēweti, he was a real-life model of the imagined or generic figures to whom Macaulay alluded.

The biography of Mokena was, in fact, another piece of diplomatic text, composed by Kōhere in the hope of engaging further with the government: at one point in the biography he comments, ‘I hope [Native Land Court] Judges Harvey and Beechey will some day read this book’.29 Macaulay’s words are included here as part of the evidence, alongside a host of other documents including court reports, judgements, and first-hand testimonies, as part of the history of Kōhere and his people’s ongoing engagement with the New Zealand government. They are a reminder of things said in petitions, in newspaper articles, and in letters of complaint over decades. But they are also, crucially, a reminder to judges, politicians, and other figures in Pākehā public life that their own culture, the culture imported to Aotearoa New Zealand in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and used as the basis for shaping the cultural geography of the country in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, had encoded the values of land, ancestry, and mana in verse, with the metaphor of fire binding those notions together.

The rhetoric and form of Māori political communication in the period in which Kōhere was writing is usefully illustrated by these examples. Engaging the attention of the state meant writing in English, either on one’s own or via a lawyer, and adopting the terms and forms of the petition. This circumstance in part reveals the power dynamics at play: the New Zealand government controlled the process by which grievances could be heard, and could thus dictate the language and shape in which the grievance could be legitimately expressed. But it also reveals Māori dexterity at working both within and beyond the parameters of this engagement. A diverse array of cultural and historical information that might be brought to bear on a question of confiscation and reparation is curated; the right evidence is brought into the frame of the negotiation, in the language of one’s interlocutors and in a form that they will appreciate and comprehend. This form frequently involves citing or repeating past promises in order to establish the evidential base for reparations.

But citation and repetition were also always factors in formal Māori communication, in particular the role of whaikōrero (speechmaking) in the deliberations. One important characteristic of whaikōrero is its strategic use of repetition. Speakers repeat chants, songs, proverbs, genealogies, formulaic expressions, and the words of previous speakers, as well as their own ideas. The cited material may be sourced from any moment from the very recent past (such as a previous speaker on the same occasion) to the beginning of creation.30 As the historian Anne Salmond has noted, there is a dynamic relationship between repetition and originality in an effective whaikōrero:

The central text of a whaikōrero is still highly stylised, but unlike the opening chants it is not completely predictable in wording. The orator cuts his cloth to fit the occasion, but weaves it out of a large set of phrases which are heard over and over again, in different arrangements. These phrases are poetic and mythological, providing a sort of verbal embroidery for the speech. Skilled orators use poetic sayings with an off-hand deftness, and it is these speakers who are most likely to abandon the well-worn repertoire for something more striking and original. They coin poetry of their own, or launch into vivid, witty prose, leaving aside the standard structures altogether.31

As well as inhabiting European forms of communication, then, Kōhere’s use of Macaulay simultaneously inhabits the rhetorical world of whaikōrero. He draws together the timescales of the early decades of the nineteenth century, when these English poems were originally composed, and the political and judicial controversies around Māori land in the early decades of the twentieth century. As techniques, citation of poetry, repetition of the words of others, and an awareness of the very distant and the very recent past were all entirely conventional elements of Māori rhetoric. Macaulay, in other words, belonged to the Māori world too.

The citations of Macaulay have the potential to create quite different effects for different audiences. To an Anglophone Pākehā reader in early-twentieth-century Aotearoa New Zealand, these lines are conventional and their author relatively canonical. The verse reads as a familiar, perhaps even predictable, poetic flourish, but they are delivered in entirely unexpected forums and contexts: Māori periodicals, petitions, and formal letters to the government. To a Māori reader, the lines are operating in an almost diametrically opposed fashion, especially on the first occasion Kōhere uses them. They are new, unfamiliar, drawn from outside the conventional storehouse of verse, but the deployment of poetry itself is not unexpected, nor is the possibility that the speaker/author will introduce a striking literary example to illustrate their point. The citation of someone else’s words marks the moment at which Kōhere seems, paradoxically, most original, as he deviates from both the Māori language and the conventional whakataukī (proverbs) of Māori poetry and oratory.

But if there is an electrifying effect when he first uses these lines, there is a different kind of energy harnessed when they are repeated across many years, many texts, and many genres. The lines of poetry take root in the rhetorical space of Māori law, and while they remain a feature of Kōhere’s personal expression, they have simultaneously been offered as a contribution to the collective pool of poetic resources. They are beginning a potential journey towards becoming commonplace. To a Māori reader, they are more familiar with each iteration, helping to connect, via poetry, the contexts of Māori sovereignty, Pākehā government, and New Zealand history. To the Anglophone Pākehā reader, however, they are perhaps becoming less familiar with each repetition. The fact of their tentative socialisation within the various Māori-authored texts in which they appear unsettles the sense in which the lines can strictly be considered English poetry, as they come to seem connected to debates in the Māori world.

Robert Te Kotahi Mahuta writes about whaikōrero as collaborative endeavours between the orator and their audience, noting that there is a skill in listening to whaikōrero effectively that is partly shaped by the mixture of repetition and originality. As Mahuta comments, skilled listeners are not paying equal attention to every element; instead, ‘[a]ll they need to have attention for is the new or novel theme and the reference to contemporary affairs’.32 To different readers, for different reasons, and on different occasions, Kōhere’s citation of Horatius would have seemed new or novel, a moment to tune in and pay attention. To twenty-first century readers, his citations might demonstrate the ways in which history, land, law, fire, bones, and poetry are part of a shared cultural tradition in Aotearoa New Zealand today.

It is this complex hybrid model of law and legality that can be seen in Kōhere’s use of Macaulay. As with all the examples in this book, the choice of English-language texts, especially poems by canonical authors, reveals a profound engagement with the norms and frames of reference of potential Anglophone interlocutors. It presents the case for a resurgent Māori identity from within a European tradition and aesthetic. Poetry here is construed as promise; Macaulay’s construction of a history informed by one’s ancestors is taken to signal a Pākehā understanding of historical continuity and genealogy as central to modern identities. The poetry participates in a process that New Zealand social anthropologist Raymond Firth described in an article published at almost exactly the same moment that Kōhere first quoted Macaulay. Firth’s 1926 articles on ‘Proverbs in Native Life’ argued that the citation and repetition of proverbs in Māori rhetoric served as ‘an enforcement of social conduct’, in which ‘the precise words’ operated as ‘a means of praise, reproach, and stimulation’.33 In the case of Kōhere’s use of Macaulay, it is also Pākehā social conduct that is being enforced. The poem makes sense within Māori epistemology, but citing it in the original English serves as a reminder to both Pākehā and Māori interlocutors that it is also European tradition that claims to value these aspirations.

The poetry thus acts as a compelling text to mediate between two peoples and as an example of Allen’s notion of the ‘treaty allegory’. Pākehā audiences are perhaps chastened by the reminder that their own literature has spoken authoritatively about cultural sovereignty; Māori audiences are perhaps emboldened by being armed with the language and forms in which Pākehā sympathies and understandings can be harnessed, in lines that closely echo their own intellectual grounds for identity and the transfer of knowledge. Like the formal constraints of the petition, the poetry can be read as both limiting Māori expression to the language and rhetoric of the colonisers, and, simultaneously, as opening up a space in which cross-cultural legal interactions can occur.

The historian Michael Belgrave has described courts and commissions of inquiry in New Zealand as ‘points of friction’ in which Indigenous and settler narratives are rehearsed and realigned.34 Friction connotes conflict, of course, but also a means by which power and dynamism might be released, by which fires might be generated. This generative potential is significant in the face of the typical intentions of a court or commission of inquiry into Indigenous land in the settler colonies, including Aotearoa New Zealand. There are not many nouns that naturally take the verb ‘to extinguish’ in English, but ‘fire’ and ‘native title’ certainly do. The literary symbolism and legal ramifications of history’s ashes could not be clearer for Indigenous peoples.


1 Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, ‘Nga Kupu Tohunga’ [Wise Sayings], Te Toa Takitini, 62 (October 1926), 481. I have given the lines here as they are presented in Te Toa Takitini, a presentation which replaces the comma at the end of line 8 with a question mark in order to suggest a self-contained quote, and which does not capitalise ‘Gods’. For an authorised version of the text, see Thomas Babington Macaulay, The Life and Works of Lord Macaulay, vol. 8 (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1897), pp. 466–84. Kōhere’s Māori version reads: ‘Ki ia tangata, ki ia tangata i tenei ao / He mate ano te mutunga a tona ra, / A he aha te mate tika atu mo te tangata / I te whawhai ki nga tino kaha / Mo nga koiwi o nga matua, / Mo nga ahurewa o ona atua?’ This chapter uses modern diacritical marks for Māori-language texts, except in cases of quotation where the original source did not. It also uses Aotearoa, the Māori name for New Zealand, when appropriate.
2 Thomas Babington Macaulay, ‘Von Ranke, Edinburgh Review, October 1840’, in Critical, Historical, and Miscellaneous Essays and Poems, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Porter and Coates, 1879), p. 466.
3 See, e.g., Robert Dingley, ‘The Ruins of the Future: Macaulay’s New Zealander and the Spirit of the Age’, in Alan Sandison and Robert Dingley (eds), Histories of the Future: Studies in Fact, Fantasy and Science Fiction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), pp. 15–33; and D. Skilton, ‘Contemplating the Ruins of London: Macaulay’s New Zealander and Others’, Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, 2:2 (2004),–1/contemplating-the-ruins-of-london-macaulays-new-zealander-and-others/ (accessed 10 October 2019). Interestingly, there is an example of another Indigenous person reading Macaulay’s New Zealander as probably Māori; in Adam Spry’s discussion of the Anishinaabe periodical The Progress, he notes an article in which the contributor known as ‘Wah-Boose’ (‘Rabbit’) comments: ‘Macauley [sic] says that history has a tendency to repeat itself; in his mind’s eye he saw the New Zeelander [sic] gazing from the bridge upon the ruins of London! Pursue the analogy, and might not the future red man gaze upon the ruins of New York and Brooklyn from their great suspension bridge?’ See Adam Spry, Our War Paint Is Writers’ Ink: Anishinaabe Literary Transnationalism (Albany: SUNY Press, 2018), p. 40.
4 A detailed history of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi can be found in C. Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi, 2nd edn (Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2011).
5 Chadwick Allen, Blood Narrative: Indigenous Identity in American Indian and Maori Literary and Activist Texts (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 20.
6 For information on ahikaaroa, see Hirini Moko Mead, Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori Values (Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2003), pp. 41–3, 359; and Mason Durie, Te Mana, Te Kāwanatanga: The Politics of Māori Self-Determination (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 115–16.
7 Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, ‘Nga Kupu Tohunga’, 481–2.
8 A very detailed history of the struggle over the Marangairoa Block, written by a member of the Kōhere family, can be found in Rarawa Kōhere, ‘Tāwakewake: An Historical Case Study and Situational Analysis of Ngāti Ruawaipu Leadership’ (PhD dissertation, Massey University, 2005). There is an especially clear and succinct appendix which outlines the history of the litigation (pp. 339–42).
9 These petitions can be found in the National Archives of New Zealand (hereafter NANZ) Wellington, MA1 Box 111, 112, and 113.
10 See the statement by Prime Minister and Native Affairs Minister Gordon Coates, which linked the introduction of the bill and the establishment of the Royal Commission, in New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 208 (1925), 773–4. The full title of Commission was ‘Royal Commission to Inquire into Confiscations of Native Lands and Other Grievances Alleged by Natives’.
11 The debate on the Native Land Amendment and Native Land Claims Adjustment Bill in the lower and upper houses of Parliament can be found in New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 211 (1926), 285–95, 378–9. The section about Marangairoa 1D was not the subject of any comment in these debates, however. For more detail on the Royal Commission, see Bryan Gilling, ‘Raupatu: The Punitive Confiscation of Maori Land in the 1860s’, in Richard Boast and Richard S. Hill (eds), Raupatu: The Confiscation of Maori Land (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2009), pp. 13–30; Mark Hickford, ‘Strands from the Afterlife of Confiscation: Property Rights, Constitutional Histories and the Political Incorporation of Maori, 1920s’, in Boast and Hill (eds), Raupatu: The Confiscation of Maori Land, pp. 169–204; and Richard S. Hill, Enthroning ‘Justice above Might’? The Sim Commission, Tainui and the Crown (Wellington: Department of Justice, 1989). The Royal Commission’s findings were published as Confiscated Native Lands and Other Grievances. Report of the Royal Commission to Inquire into Confiscations of Native Lands and Other Grievances Alleged by Natives (1928).
12 A detailed summary of the various hearings and decisions around the Marangairoa 1D Block up until the mid-1930s can be found in the 27 April 1936 memorandum in NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 112, Petition No. 286/32.
13 NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 112, letter by Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, 12 February 1935.
14 NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 112, Petition No. 97/1947, p. 3, petition by Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere et al.
15 NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 113, p. 1, letter by Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, 29 June 1953.
16 NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 112, p. 19, Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, ‘Charge of Bias against Judges J. Harvey and E. M. Beechey’; and NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 113, p. 1, letter by Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, 3 June 1950.
17 NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 111, Petition No. 98/1929, p. 4, letter by Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere et al.
18 NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 112, p. 17, Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, ‘Charge of Bias against Judges J. Harvey and E. M. Beechey’.
19 NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 111, Petition No. 98/1929, p. 1, petition by Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere et al.
20 NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 111, Petition No. 87/1930, pp. 1–2, petition by Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere et al.
21 Meredith Martin, ‘“Imperfectly Civilized”: Ballads, Nations, and Histories of Form’, ELH, 82:2 (2015), 360.
22 Martin, ‘“Imperfectly Civilized”: Ballads, Nations, and Histories of Form’, 357.
23 Catherine Hall, ‘Macaulay’s Nation’, Victorian Studies, 51:3 (2009), 518.
24 Martin, ‘“Imperfectly Civilized”: Ballads, Nations, and Histories of Form’, 355.
25 Rēweti Tūhorouta Kohere, The Story of a Maori Chief (Wellington: Reed, 1949), p. 86. He would again make reference to the whakatauki ‘For women and land men perish’ in a letter to the Minister of Māori Affairs about the Marangairoa 1D land block; see NANZ, Wellington, MA1 Box 113, p. 1, letter by Rēweti Tūhorouta Kōhere, 29 June 1953.
26 Rarawa Kōhere. ‘Kohere, Mokena,’ in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 1, 1990, (accessed 2 October 2017).
27 Rēweti Tūhorouta Kohere, The Story of a Maori Chief, pp. 37, 45–6.
28 Rēweti Tūhorouta Kohere, The Story of a Maori Chief, p. 58.
29 Rēweti Tūhorouta Kohere, The Story of a Maori Chief, p. 87.
30 Poia Rewi, Whaikōrero: The World of Māori Oratory (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2010), p. 19.
31 Anne Salmond, Hui: A Study of Maori Ceremonial Gathering, rev. edn (Auckland: Penguin, 2004), pp. 164–5. See also Rewi, Whaikōrero: The World of Māori Oratory.
32 Robert Te Kotahi Mahuta, ‘Whaikoorero: A Study of Formal Maori Speech’ (MA dissertation, University of Auckland, 1974), p. 7. See also Salmond, Hui: A Study of Maori Ceremonial Gatherings, p. 165.
33 Raymond Firth, ‘Proverbs in Native Life, with Special Reference to those of the Maori, II (Continued)’, Folklore, 37:3 (1926), 259, 261, 264.
34 Michael Belgrave, Historical Frictions: Maori Claims & Reinvented Histories (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2005), p. 3.

Worlding the south

Nineteenth-century literary culture and the southern settler colonies


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