Monday 6 February 2023

It's still the "chieftainship" that is the problem


THE NEW PRIME MINISTER heads up to Waitangi this week with all his hangers-on expecting, I daresay, to see his brief honeymoon period challenged by tribalists still aiming to be bridesmaids in some kind of ongoing "co-governance" nuptials between Crown and tribal "leaders." Whatever that much-battered word might mean.

Ever wondered why, in a world that's said to be about individuals and individual achievement, we still seem to have government support of a tribal system? Any challenge to which, even in the name of simple individualism, is branded "racist."

What happened? How come these putative leaders see no future for their own various hangers on except through government handouts? What happened to genuine independence?

THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, while European sailors were timidly tipping about the shores of the Mediterranean, terrified to leave sight of land for fear of who-knows-what beyond the horizon, intrepid Polynesian voyagers set out across the vast blue Pacific Ocean, half a hemisphere wide, to explore and occupy its many uncharted islands. Centuries later, as the world warmed, several of the most intrepid eventually discovered and settled in New Zealand. And then for just over five-hundred years, isolated from the rest of the world, they developed their own culture. They became Māori.
So in that great migration "out of Africa," these islands down here were the world's last great land-mass to be settled by human beings. And then, after half-a-century of autarchic ingenuity, they were almost the last to be brought back into the worldwide division-of-labour.

This sort of conquest and survival should be something to celebrate, no? The tale once proudly told of the Vikings of the Sunrise. Yet if the headlines are to be believed, the descendants of these former adventurers, the so-called tribal "leaders" of the day, see their own great conquest as creeping tribal capture of the government chequebook.
What a bunch of schmucks.

Tribal life

THESE SOUTH PACIFIC 'VIKINGS,' who were these islands' first settlers, were welcomed into the worldwide division-of-labour 250 years ago by explorers, whalers, sealers, timber-traders, and assorted beachcombers, wanderers and adventurers, who offered Māori things for their labour they'd never seen before. And in return for tools, technology and new foods they offered and sold them, Māori in return sold them trees and flax and kumara, and crewed ships, built houses and travelled the world.
But life down here was still mostly tribal -- serfs, and sometimes slaves, overseen by an aristocratic caste of mostly hereditary bossyboots.

However: The treaty signed at Waitangi by tribal chiefs and a recently-arrived Royal Naval captain promised all these New Zealanders their own Emancipation Proclamation, and held out hope of liberating tribal serfs from tribalism. Instead, 180 years later, we are barrelling down a path back to tribalism. Something Elizabeth Rata has called "neo-tribalism": the intentional production of a neo-tribal elite who are busily "marching through the institutions," in which they play "a decisive and self-interested role in controlling shifts in the interpretation of the treaty of Waitangi." [1]

The result: the empowerment of a neo-tribal elite, in which tribal leaders have the upper hand again. And instead of the hope and optimism of those early adventurers, the predominant emotions now are shame and guilt -- shame as a necessary precursor to this tribal shakedown.

Something clearly went wrong.

One reason is the way that treaty was written: hastily. It was written in just a few days by folk wholly unqualified to write a thing that some erroneously call the country's "founding document." It's not that, and never has been. And nor does it contain enough to merit that description.

But what it does have is the material which the neotribalists have been able to exploit. One of which is the problem of 'chieftainship.'

The problem of chieftainship

THE PROBLEM IS THIS: that instead of the treaty being written to protect individual Māori, it promised instead to placate tribal chiefs. It's right there in the wording and in all the arguments today about rangatiratanga. It's understandable. After all, it was their signatures the British Colonial Office was after before allowing colonisation here to receive their imprimatur. "Alive to the record of native extinction that had come with settlement in Tasmania and the Caribbean, and was threatened in Australia," the treaty's aim was to "recognise the rights of the Māori as subject in the agreement, with rights and interests to protect." [2] But in placating those chiefs of the 1840s, instead of promoting individualism and recognising real individual rights, the document has helped promote the neotribalism of today.

It's been argued -- and I've been one of those doing the arguing -- that the Treaty of Waitangi liberates individual Māori. It should have done -- it surely should have treated all Māori as individuals instead of as members of a tribe. But it really does nothing of the sort except by implication.

Instead, as written, it cemented in and buttressed the tribal leadership and communal structures that already existed here -- encouraging the survival of this wreck of a system until morphing, as it has done today, into this mongrelised sub-group of pseudo-aristocracy: of Neotribal Cronyism.

The problem was there from the start. One of the trade goods most sought after in these years of first contact was the musket. And Māori were devastated by the "musket wars" so eagerly embarked up on by every tribe -- eagerly, that is, until the corpses piling up became too much even their hardy stomachs. At which stage most simply hoped for some kind of peace.

But it wasn't individual Māori who had been trading for those muskets, it was the tribal leaders; and it was their own slaves and tribal "serfs" they put to work to cut and process the flax that bought the muskets (one ton of flax was said to buy one musket). And it was their own slaves they sometimes tattooed to "process" the slave into a shrunken head or mokomokai that could also be traded for muskets. (One mokomokai/one musket was said to be the going rate.) This first contact, and the Musket Wars that followed, only served to reinforce rather than diminish the tribal control -- and when a Treaty with Queen Victoria was offered, one primary motivation of trial chiefs to sign was to have the post-war peace enforced by these pakeha outsiders. Another was to preserve their own power, their rangatiratanga as tribal leaders.

Once they recognised what was on offer, the single sheet of parchment written up by William Hobson, James Freeman, James Busby, and Henry and Edward Williams, came as a boon to most of them.

The Offer

MĀORI IN 1840 GENERALLY paid more attention to oral discussion than to written documents, and there's enough evidence to suggest those wily old chiefs knew precisely what they were being offered at Waitangi: the protection of their own power.

As I'll explain here, in three short clauses and a preamble, what they discussed and what was read to them in 1840 was this [3]:


The treaty's preamble states the "concern to protect the chiefs and the subtribes of New Zealand" and the "desire to preserve their chieftainship." Nothing in that to promote or protect individualism. Everything to preserve "chieftainship" and to protect the chiefs in their rule.


In Clause 1 the chiefs grant the Queen governorship -- kawanatanga -- over these islands. Non-chiefs, i.e., individual Māori, are neither asked about this nor recognised. Because they are not part of this agreement. 


In Clause 2 the same theme is there again: ignoring the rights of individual Māori and protecting the chiefs in their land, forests and fisheries. Specifically, protecting "the chiefs, the subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship [their tino rangatiratanga]" over all their various treasures -- while prohibiting their sale to anyone but the government. 

Yes, there's a mention there of "all the people of New Zealand" (tangata katoa o Nu Tirani). But unless you're a rangatira yourself, your own personal rangatiratanga was pretty close to zero. You didn't have any. 

So the effect of this clause (unless you're a rangatira yourself) is neither protection nor recognition of full ownership nor real property rights, except perhaps by implication. After all, Māori of 1840 had no such concept of rights, except perhaps for small personal possessions; and no words for "owner," so difficult for a translator to find one. Yes, they could express ownership for these small things at least -- the preposition na for example (or sometimes no), meaning 'belonging to.' [4] But the Williamses did not use these words. Instead, their agreement promised to protect only the unqualified exercise of chieftainship -- something not available to "all the people of New Zealand," even if they do get a mention, but only to those of that status. Only chiefs

So this promise of "rangatiratanga" undercuts everything else, as the chiefs themselves understood.


Clause 3, however, appears to have something for everyone. Here we read the promise to "protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand," and to "give them" the "same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England." (Ka tiakina e te Kuini o Ingarani nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani ka tukua ki a ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani.) Not to recognise rights, which is how it should have been written, but to give them, which makes them a political gift -- the gift of those who do exercise sovereignty by this treaty: the governor and the chiefs. 

And the translation (rendered above) is even worse. Lacking a word for "rights" -- the concept itself being only two centuries old, by then, and poorly understood even by those writing up these words -- the offer essentially reads as being to "protect all the natives of New Zealand" and to "grant them all the same conditions as she has for the people of England."

This is thin gruel indeed. 

And as any student of law or the history of feudalism or the welfare state might tell you, it's a very different thing for a government to promise to protect rights, than it is to promise to protect people. The former leads to a robust individualism; the latter to a wet mollycoddling paternalism.

And by then, with only one page of parchment, any hope of  an individualist interpretation of this Treaty is gone -- and those with "a decisive and self-interested role in controlling shifts in the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi" are now able to interpret this not as a promise of individual rights (since earlier clauses and the preamble take precedence), but instead as the chiefs essentially holding the rights of their people in trust, with the governor "being or becoming a 'father' for the Māori people." 

No surprise then that "this attitude has been held towards the person of the Crown down to the present day, shaping (according to the self-interested neotribalists who now interpret these things) "the continued expectations and commitments entailed in the Treaty." [2] 

It's evident from documents of the time that the Colonial Office in London had not intended to lock Māori up into that pre-existing tribal structure. Their intention was, as that last clause almost says, to recognise the same rights in every Māori as were enjoyed by all British citizens. 

But the treaty's wording and practice has essentially limited those rights while elevating chiefly status. It's the chieftainship, stupid. In other words: the problem is failing to properly recognise and to protect individual rights -- and instead to protect and nurture the status of those tribal leaders.

Is it any wonder today's tribal leaders favour the perpetuation of the tribal structure? Any surprise that the feudal structure continues? Or that today's neotribalists wish to continue benefiting from their feudal privileges of the past? With the government as "father" and taxpayer as today's serf ...

Poor drafting, poor treatment

WITHOUT A DOUBT, GOVERNMENT and the mostly-British settlers often treated Māori poorly in those early days. But the biggest structural harm was the failure to properly recognise them as individuals instead of as part of a tribe. By treating all Māori as part of a collective, there were few chances offered to change this trajectory -- and when they were tried, they were poorly done. The poor draftsmanship of this treaty is reflected in the poor treatment of Māori in those early days.

As a rights-respecting commentator says of the treatment of native Americans in the United States of America, "it could have been done in a more rational way, a much more rights-respecting way, and in a way that would have led to a lot less violence at the end of the day." (Later quotes are from this same source.) It could have been done here in a way that recognised Māori as individuals, with individual lives, rights and choices. But for the most part, it didn't.

Yes, colonisation here was far less violent here than in Australia, or in the Americas. And thank goodness for that. It was still not entirely peaceful here, but in the Americas and Australia it was savage -- particularly if you think of how the British treated the Aboriginals in Tasmania, or the Spaniards treated the natives of South America. And in the case of the US of A itself, "the American government made treaties with the Indians and then reneged on them whenever it was convenient to do so." [5]

Not so much here, at least. The treaty signed here was offered with the best of intentions, but the poorest of drafting. It barely lived up to the intention, and the neotribalists now exploit the drafting.

Individuals possess rights (not collectives)

But the biggest mistake, and the biggest ongoing tragedy -- there, as here -- is that the respective governments did not treat either Indians or Māori as individuals possessing rights. They treated them instead just as members of a tribe. Of a collective. Not as individuals with their own individual rights demanding recognition and protection, but as members of a tribe whose chief no longer held the power of life and death, but still held the power of property, and of making choices for them all.

And therefore [in the United States] all the deals, all the negotiations, were between the U.S. Government and a tribe -- a tribe who was fundamentally a collectivistic unit that was oppressing its individual members. And what the American government in my view should have done was in a sense annex the Indians into America, recognised their innate individual rights (the fact that every Indian like every human being on the planet has individual rights), protected those individual rights under the law, divvied up the property of the tribe among individuals (let American Indians own their own land, not just give it and have the tribes own reservations; the whole idea of reservations was a horrific idea). 
They should have basically integrated Indians into American society: by treating them as individuals, by endorsing individualism among the Indians.
And then, if the Indians then wanted to get together and live in a commune, then so be it.  But the American government's position should have been: "We are dealing with you as individuals. Here is your land; here is John Smith's land; here is somebody else's land... If you want to now unite those lands and do some collective-type stuff then that's your problem. But here's the benchmark: 'We're a country of individuals. That's the principle'." 
And instead, they didn't do that. There was a lot of racism and there was a lot of just treating them as a collective and, as a consequence, slaughtering whole villages and so on. 
Now, that is not to say that there weren't a lot of American Indians (and a lot of indigenous people around the Americas) who were very violent and needed to be dealt with violently. I'm not criticising violence when it was motivated by self-defence. 
    I am however criticising violence when it was not necessary for the defence of the European immigrants or settlers, and there was basically an attempt just to annihilate certain indigenous peoples. 
And again that happened more in Latin America than it did in the United States of America. But it happened [in the US] as well. So, you know, it's a tragic part of history and to some extent inevitable because it seems to happen whenever a kind of a civilisation encounters barbaric tribes, barbaric peoples, that inevitably lands up in a physical violent struggle. 
    I think that particularly in the United States of America it could have been done in a more rational way, a much more rights-respecting way, and in a way that would have led to a lot less violence at the end of the day. [5]
Could it have been different here? Less violent? More rational? More rights-respecting? Yes. Yes, of course it could. But reinforcing tribalism today will not fix a single historic tragedy. And in any case, the guilt-ridden politics of today -- shaming today's New Zealanders by the actions of people in the past -- is not primarily about history anyway. 

The shaming of New Zealanders today is intended simply to precede and encourage their ongoing shakedown tomorrow. That's the effect of today's neotribalism: to put taxpayers on the hook for the perpetuation of this chiefly privilege.

Because, you see, in this new postmodern neo-tribal age of identity politics and cancel culture, history doesn't so much provide lessons from the past as an arsenal full of ideological weapons. The neotribalists, and their enablers, are happy to pick them up and use them. You should be ready to counter them.
* * * * * 

1. Elizabeth Rata, '‘Marching through the Institutions’: The Neotribal Elite and the Treaty of Waitangi,' Sites (December 2005)
2. James Heartfield, The Aborigines' Protection Society: Humanitarian Imperialism in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, South Africa, and the Congo, 1836-1909 (London, 2011) p. 126
3. Te Tiriti: Translation of the te reo Māori text by Hugh Kawharu
4. Raymond Firth, Economics of the New Zealand Maori (Wellington 1972), pp. 338-366 passim
5. Yaron Brook, 'Q: To what extent was the European treatment of the indigenous peoples of America immoral?' www. Peikoff.Com (3 August 2015)

Peter Winsley, for one has a different view, arguing that "Article Two transfers Magna Carta and English common law property rights to Māori. "
These tino rangitaranga rights over land and other properties (taonga) were given explicitly to individuals and whanau as well as chiefs and tribes...
Treaty of Waitangi settlements have so far focused on iwi or hapu on the assumption that these collectives will act for all their members. What is lost sight of is that individuals are specifically mentioned in Treaty Article Two, yet Treaty settlements have not been made to 

individuals. In a future post, this issue will be discussed...

By contrast, Ned Fletcher's recent book, The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi, argues along similar line to those I've argued above (but, of course, in infinitely more detail -- his book is a fine piece of work). The difference between us, apart from his elevated scholarly stature, is that he evaluates the tribalism as positive and the promises made to reinforce tribalism by treaty to be good ones. I don't.

1 comment:

Terry said...

While they are banging on, you are bang on. Is this an excerpt from your manuscript by any chance?

(BTW the first sentence could do with another proofread: "tribalist[s]" and kind [of]")