As the settler government did in the late 1800s, it’s high time we erected a bunch of new monuments to the great people of this country (and maybe take some of the stink ones down). Ātea editor Leonie Hayden has some suggestions.
Hundreds of heroic and revered ancestors proudly adorn walls, lintels, waharoa and pou around this country. Their names and stories are carried from generation to generation; living monuments that teach and inspire. They carry moral lessons, knowledge about important skills and the natural environment and teach their ancestors about their place in the world. They are also invisible to most New Zealanders.
While Māori kept their own beautiful, intimate records, overbearing proclamations of conquest hewn in rock and bronze have dominated public space and discourse for more than 150 years. A good many of our public memorials are thanks to a memorial-erecting spree by Governor Grey after the New Zealand Wars ended in the 1870s, seemingly as a form of propaganda to promote the architects of the new world. As they say, history books are written by the winners.
The removal of the statue of Captain John Fane Hamilton from Hamilton’s Civic Square has occupied a lot of the recent conversation around public monuments to colonisers, sparked by a global Black Lives Matter-led movement to rid the world of monuments to slave-owners and oppressors (to be fair, many iwi have been having these conversation for a while). During this time, many learned that Hamilton never set foot in the place, but was off invading Tauranga, where he died a fairly unremarkable death. For this great feat they named a city after him, and erased the name of Kirikiriroa.
Discussion around the much-defaced statue of James Cook in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa during last year’s 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing revealed to the public the truth of the bloody first encounter between Cook’s men and local hapū. Nine Māori were killed or wounded – hardly an auspicious beginning to a glorious new nation.
Te Tai Rāwhiti iwi have continued that difficult conversation with stunning results. The site of Cook’s landing, Puhi Kai Iti, now tells the real story of that encounter as well as other histories of the site as a landing place for the Horouta and Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru waka. Commissions of iwi-led and designed public monuments venerate Ngāti Oneone ancestors – expert navigator Maia, who established a school there, and Te Maro, who was murdered in that first encounter. Slightly further south, a seven-metre pou of Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki ancestor Hinetapuarau now adorns the State Highway 2 -Te Wera Road intersection. As an art form, a statue or monument to one individual above all others isn’t necessarily a comfortable fit with taha Māori – one’s achievements belong to the collective. However, these East Coast collaborations, that use many Māori motifs to weave the narrative, people and place together, show the potential for a new public art vocabulary.
The rest of you, please pay attention.
In Auckland, where more Māori live than anywhere in the world, the closest thing it currently has to a public monument to a Māori person is ‘A Māori figure in a kaitaka cloak’ on Auckland’s waterfront. The ten-foot statue, currently in storage while roadworks are completed, was commissioned from sculptor Molly Macalister by the Auckland City Council and unveiled in February 1967. Although initial concepts were created without Māori input, Macalister eventually worked with Ngāti Whātua to finalise the sculpture design, to her credit and to the chagrin of many on the council who wanted a more recognisable, tourist-friendly depiction of a Māori chief.
Like ‘A Māori Figure’, our other public sculptures of note dedicated to Māori – Wairaka at the mouth of the Whakatāne River, Napier’s Pania of the Reef, Waihi’s ‘Māori rangatira’ – are romantic figures who were commissioned and designed by Pākehā.
If one person stands out as being the most obvious candidate for an epic public monument in Tāmaki Makaurau, it’s Āpihai Te Kawau, the Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei rangatira who, with the support of his people, transferred 3,500 acres of land to Governor Hobson and the Crown to establish the new settlement of Auckland. When you’re enjoying a grilled scallop at a Viaduct restaurant, you are doing so thanks to his generosity.
In return, by 1850 the Crown had on-sold it for a pretty profit, and taken most of the hapū’s remaining land. Ngāti Whātua were relegated to a small base at Ōkāhu Bay, with the generous addition of a sewer pipe across the bay, polluting their main food source.
We have a city, maunga and suburb named after Hobson’s mentor, George Eden (Lord Auckland), a Hobson Bay, Hobsonville, and Hobson St, a monument to Governor Grey (who orchestrated the invasion of Waikato) in Albert Park and the Zealandia monument to the imperial soldiers who fought for Britain during the New Zealand Wars.
Further south on Great South Road in Ōtāhuhu (a road built to transport troops to Waikato) stands a large obelisk-like tower dedicated to Colonel Marmaduke George Nixon and the “royal cavalry volunteers who fell mortally wounded in action at Rangiawhia [sic]”.
According to historian Vincent O’Malley (who sources widely from Māori oral history) Nixon and the notoriously anti-Māori Gustav von Tempsky led armed cavalry and foot soldiers to quietly circumnavigate the defensive pā at Paterangi, where Māori fighters awaited an attack, and instead unleashed hell on the whare and churches at Rangiaowhia. The settlement was a place of refuge for women, children and the elderly, with a few men to defend them.
This aspect was very much erased from the colonial narrative, but because the attack succeeded in disrupting Waikato’s defences, as men abandoned pā to find their families, the Crown took it as a win. And the best way to deflect from the bad bits is, of course, to chuck up a whopping great phallus in celebration.
Head on down the motu to the Moutoa Gardens memorial in Whanganui, New Zealand’s first war monument. Its inscription is dedicated to those who died “in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism”, a turn of phrase so offensive it was remarked on by American author Mark Twain, who toured New Zealand in 1895. Twain wrote:
“It is right to praise these brave white men who fell in the Maori war – they deserve it; but the presence of that word [fanaticism] detracts from the dignity of their cause and their deeds, and makes them appear to have spilt their blood in a conflict with ignoble men, men not worthy of that costly sacrifice. But the men were worthy. It was no shame to fight them.”
The John Balance statue, also in Whanganui, pays tribute to a premier who disenfranchised Māori from acres and acres of ancestral land. So too did the Wakefield brothers, leaders of the New Zealand Company, whose sole purpose was to part Māori from their lands. Their respective monuments stand in Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
Monuments to Queen Victoria, in whose name these lands were invaded, grace public squares in Christchurch, Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.
You get the picture. Regardless of whether individual public statues are dedicated to people who committed acts of mass murder or died toe-to-toe in the trenches against Māori warriors, they are to a man (and one woman) monuments to war and the fist of colonisation.
What about monuments to generosity? To creation?
A recent ActionStation survey of more than 500 Māori asked if they think there should be more public space dedicated to Māori people and pūrakau. Of those, 96% of people said yes.
Some of those surveyed suggested ancestors who defended their lands from the invaders, but overwhelmingly they made suggestions of figures who inspired and created, including advocates, navigators, gardeners and tohunga.
One Ngāti Hori ki Kohupātiki, Ngāti Whakaiti ki Waimārama person suggested “tīpuna who give us our tangata whenua status”, naming Hinepūkohurangi, Pānia, Maahu and Te Matā. They also suggested great navigators such as Kupe, Tamatea and Ngatoroirangi.
Another with Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Whatua and Ngāti Hine whakapapa suggested a living, planted sculpture to Papatūānuku. “Let’s remind ourselves of our obligation to care for this planet.”
Elsewhere, Te Puea Herangi “for her skill to weave people together and remain positive even though faced with horrific racism” and Meri Mangakahia “for the amazing inroads she made for Māori women”.
“Apirana Ngata, Te Rangi Hiroa, Maui Pomare, Dame Te Atairangikahu.”
Hinehākirirangi, who is credited with bringing kūmara here from Hawaiiki. “Started her own whare wānanga on kūmara and mahi maara. The OG food sovereignty badass.”
“…peace activists like Tohu and Te Whiti, Rua Kenana, Whina Cooper.”
Another from Te Arawa simply asked to see “more of our atua showcased for not just tourists, but for Māori to be given space to pay respects and to honour their existence in our wairua.”
Despite what some apologists claim, statues don’t teach history, they claim it. No one looks behind the story that’s been etched onto the plaque; they take it at face value. If any learning is done it’s of the blinkered kind – mere acceptance that these men are responsible for our nationhood; brave defenders against fanatics and barbarians.
If someone murdered your family and destroyed your livelihood, where would you want the statue of them to go?
This is a time of reckoning with our past – some monuments should absolutely come down, but mostly the existing ones need to be matched by the heroes and role models of iwi Māori (and even Pākehā ancestors who dedicated their lives to community instead of war) so that all of our history can be claimed. We may be part of the Commonwealth but in reality, Britain is a distant place with a distant monarch who remembers us fondly from time to time out of obligation (a fact that makes me ache in ancient places when I think about the mamae that has been suffered in her family’s name).
We’ve all been given an opportunity to reimagine ourselves, so we may as well do it out loud, in public, using the rich resources and knowledge of the first people of this land. We owe the Empire nothing, least of all our future.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.