Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond reflects on some key questions she raised in an earlier Newsroom column over how Aotearoa New Zealand can design a new institutional order which takes account of the Treaty of Waitangi and whakapapa

At the end of this column, Iwi vs Kiwi: Beyond the Binary, which Newsroom published on May 4, the author ended with a series of big picture questions for New Zealand:

– What would a whakapapa-based approach to Te Tiriti look like, in a country where an increasing number of citizens have whakapapa that include Māori, Pākeha, Pasifika and many other non-Māori forebears and whānaunga?

– Rather than Māori vs non-Māori, could ancestral ideas of lines of descent as strands that remain distinct, while being woven together to create a fine cloak, a meeting-house, a family or a nation, provoke new ways of imagining relations within and among individuals and groups across Aotearoa?

– Is there an opportunity to rethink identity in a whakapapa framing that includes other living systems and life forms – as in the Whanganui River and Urewera Acts, for example?

– Would it be possible to bring together ideas of whakapapa and complex systems in designing new institutional forms of order in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as relations between people and the wider world?

She explored possible answers in Part 2 The Answer is in Article 3, and goes further now, examining how the study of Aotearoa New Zealand histories might play their part.


Another place to look might be in the stories we tell about the past.

He tangata kē koutou, he tangata kē mātou,

I roto i tēnei whare, tātou tātou e.

A song that’s often sung on marae shows how difference and unity play out in te reo. ‘You people are different (from us),’ it says, ‘We are different (from you). Inside this house, we are one’ (its us, its us).

The song plays on the relational pronouns in Māori, where ‘koutou’ means ‘you, excluding us,’ ‘mātou’ means ‘us, excluding you’; and ‘tātou’ means ‘us, including you.’ Kē simply means ‘different.’ In te reo, difference is relationally defined. In this song, groups who were separate and distinct before they met in the pōwhiri come together.

In the same way, ‘Hobson’s Pledge’ – ‘He iwi tahi tātou’ / ‘We are one people’ – is a phrase that signals unity in difference. Just as strands in a cloak, or ancestral carvings in a meeting-house remain distinct after they are brought together, so do different descent lines and groups of people.

If William Hobson, the Governor-elect, actually spoke these words after the signing of Te Tiriti, it would have been understood as a statement of alliance between the rangatira and the Queen, not assimilation. Again, this is where the ‘Hobson’s Pledge’ denial of plurality is mistaken.

In the same way, the teaching of Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories in schools should be able to trace distinct strands in our country’s past – from the origins of the cosmos to the emergence of land and sea, plants and animals, and much later, the arrival of different groups of people – spiralling into the present, and the future.

Whakapapa, the all-embracing network of life, allows for difference in unity, and unity in difference. When earth and sky first emerged, for instance, according to the Te Arawa expert Te Rangikāheke, they were one: ‘Kotahi anō te tupuna o te tangata māori, ko Rangi rāua ko Papa-tūānuku’ (There is just one ancestor of ordinary people, Rangi (Sky Father) and Papa-tūānuku (Earth Mother).

It was not until their children forced them apart, letting light into the world, that earth and sky, male and female became distinct, although their relationship remains intimate and generative.

After the islands of Aotearoa emerged from the ocean, plants and animals inhabited them for aeons before the first human beings came ashore. Successive waves of migrants are traced in the whakapapa, including the arrival of European ancestors and others, along with their tragedies and triumphs.

A whakapapa vision of the past is expansive, with its focus on homelands and migrations, and human beings as just one strand in the web of life. It is dynamic, focusing on relationships through time; and inclusive, with different strands of whakapapa woven together in individuals, families and communities.

This kind of history is very different from the binary ‘Iwi vs. Kiwi’ approach, with its stark polarities, static views of the past, and strategic amnesia. As many commentators have noted, the draft curriculum for Aotearoa New Zealand histories in schools is patchy, with huge holes in its collective memory.

Compared with whakapapa, the draft curriculum is anthropocentric, ignoring the aeons of pre-human history in these islands, with their unique communities of animals and plants. It is shallow, erasing the histories of different Māori kin groups through time, with their innovations, struggles and alliances. It is ethnocentric, blocking out the deep histories of migrants from Europe, the Pacific, Asia and elsewhere. It is also sexist, disregarding the feats of women from Papatuānuku onwards.

An emphasis on judgement and ‘interpretation’ rather than investigation and understanding lies at the heart of its many erasures. In my view, the drafters need to go back to first principles if they are to do justice to the rich histories inherited by our children and grandchildren.

Just as fine cloaks are woven, and meeting-houses are carved and decorated by tohunga, so experts from the different wānanga, whether Māori, Pasifika, European or from other ancestral legacies, each with their own rigorous standards, should be crafting our nation’s stories, cross-checking each other for accuracy and balance.

While it may be fair to complain about the absence of the Musket Wars from the draft curriculum, for instance, the wars in America and Canada, the Highland Clearances and the Napoleonic Wars are equally absent, with all their brutality and their direct links with musket fighting and the New Zealand Wars.

The failure to discuss Pasifika and Asian histories in Aotearoa is equally incomprehensible, let alone the histories of women. Tātou, tātou, difference in unity, unity in difference. This approach applies to histories as well as to people.

All of our children need to see themselves in our nation’s stories, and all of their ancestors, warts and all. The past is not just one foreign country, but many, and exploring them is one of life’s great adventures – heart-breaking and hilarious, cautionary and inspiring, a voyage around different worlds.

All three parts of Dame Anne’s series can be read together in one file here

Dame Anne Salmond is a Distinguished Professor in anthropology at the University of Auckland, and 2013 New Zealander of the Year.

Leave a comment