The story of New Zealand – Tears of Rangi, Experiments Across Worlds – Anne Salmond. 

In the 21st century Pacific, the most iconic images of the Earth are those taken from outer space. A blue globe hangs in a pool of darkness, spinning in the sun.

When the Pacific Ocean comes into sight, its scatter of islands is barely visible. Edged by the continents of Asia, Australia and the Americas, the scale of this great ocean is impressive. Marbled by drifts of cloud, the Pacific covers almost a third of the earth’s surface.

In the far southern reaches, one can see the islands of New Zealand, the last significant land mass on Earth to be found and settled by people.

The ancestors of Māori invented blue-water sailing. As they sailed across the Pacific, stars, comets, clouds, the sun, the moon and birds appeared at different heights in the heavens. At night, successions of stars rose up in the sky, guiding them on their voyages. As winds blew and waves and swells slapped against the hulls of their canoes, it seemed that they stood still in the ocean while islands floated towards them.

The Brazilian anthropologist Viveiros de Castro has argued for the ‘ontological self-determination’ of the world’s people’s. Here, he is not talking about ‘world views’ (as though despite our different visions, there is just one world after all), or even ‘humanity’ or ‘the planet’, but suggesting that different peoples may explore different realities, and have the right to do so.

For the Polynesian voyagers, a layered, curved universe in which islands sailed across the sea and stars across the sky was not a myth, but based on experience. Their explosive migrations east to Easter Island and the west coast of South America, north to Hawai‘i and south to New Zealand were made possible by a navigation system based on deep knowledge of the sea, winds and stars; fast, resilient canoes; a portable suite of plants and animals; and kin-based forms of order that allowed them to transplant themselves in new and unfamiliar lands.

When the first star navigators arrived in New Zealand in about the early fourteenth century,  they had to rapidly adapt to plants and animals, landscapes and climatic conditions very different from those in their tropical homelands.

By the time the first Europeans came ashore perhaps four hundred years later, Māori had developed many new technologies, along with new dialects, art forms and philosophical ideas. Far from a static ‘traditional’ society, early Māori life was dynamic and rapidly changing.

In order to reach these remote islands, the first Western explorers, Abel Tasman in 1642 and Captain James Cook in 1769–70, faced similar challenges. They had to master the art of sailing for long periods across great distances, along with technologies (including projectile weapons) that allowed them to survive the challenges from island warriors.

At the time of the Endeavour’s arrival, life in Europe was also in a phase of explosive innovation. The settlers who arrived in the wake of the early European explorers brought with them new repertoires of plants and animals, habits of mind and ways of living, casting up realities that, like those of their Polynesian precursors, made it possible for them to inhabit places very different from their homelands.

Since the early nineteenth century in New Zealand, settlers from Polynesia and Europe (and elsewhere) have clashed and forged alliances with one another. In this remote, beautiful archipelago, debates over what is real, and good, and what matters in people’s lives have been fiercely contested. In these exchanges across the middle ground, ancestral Māori conceptions have been mobilised, usually but not always by Māori, and Western frameworks deployed, mostly but not invariably by Europeans. In the process, deep-seated assumptions and forms of order (so often invisible, or naturalised as ‘common sense’) have been brought to light, and challenged.

At times – when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Māori and the British Crown; or New Zealand became the first country in the world to give the vote to women; or the Treaty settlement process was established; or the Whanganui River was recognised as a legal person – these exchanges have helped to provoke new ways of thinking. Here, I want to explore the likelihood that like bio-diversity, cosmo-diversity (in the sense of multiple ‘worlds’) may be a force for adaptation and survival. For the old Cartesian dualisms and their fragmented dreams are no longer working – in science, in material matters, or in human affairs.

In order to find more adaptive ways of being, exchanges across different realities may be helpful, allowing new forms of order to emerge. In New Zealand, and elsewhere in the Pacific where ancestral insights remain vital, this can happen.

The first part of this book examines such ‘experiments across worlds’ through a fine-grained inquiry into the early period of encounters between Māori and Europeans in New Zealand (1769–1840), when collisions and exchanges between people holding different assumptions about ‘how the world works’ were particularly stark and vivid.

The second part of the book investigates such engagements in particular areas of life – waterways, land, the sea, and people; and asks whether these might help to open up new pathways to the future. Whakapapa (genealogy), for instance, a way of being based on complex networks that encompass all forms of life, interlinked and co-emergent, might assist in exploring relational ways of understanding the interactions between people and the land, other life forms, waterways and the ocean.

The idea of the hau, the wind of life that activates human and non-human networks alike, animated by reciprocal exchanges; or the spiral of space-time in Māori might help in devising non-linear, recursive ways of investigating the dynamic interactions among different life-forms (including people). This is fitting, because in Māori ways of thinking, knowledge itself is a taonga (ancestral treasure). As knowledge is given or received, hau passes back and forth across the pae – the horizon or threshold between sky and earth, light and dark, local people and visitors, life and death, past and present – reshaping realities and shifting the way that things happen.

The pae is a volatile, emergent space, now and then flashing out insights that create new kinds of order. As my mentor Eruera Stirling once said, ‘Knowledge is a blessing on your mind, it makes everything clear and guides you to do things in the right way …’ This book about experiments across worlds is written in that hope, and spirit.


Hau: The Wind of Life

He iwi kē, he iwi kē – One strange people. Titiro atu, titiro mail – Looking at each other. CHANT BY MERIMERI PENFOLD

In October 1796 in Uawa, on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand, the star navigator and high priest Tupaia sketched Joseph Banks, a wealthy young botanist, exchanging white cloth for a crayfish with a local man.

Tupaia and Banks had arrived on board the Endeavour, commanded by James Cook, and sent into the Pacific by the Royal Society of London and the British Admiralty to observe the transit of Venus, and to search for Terra Australis Incognita (the Unknown Southern Continent).

The ship had sailed from Ra‘iatea, Tupaia’s home island and one of the homelands of Māori. After a three-month stay in Tahiti, where Tupaia joined the expedition, the high priest escorted his Endeavour shipmates to the great voyaging marae Taputapuatea, where he had trained as a priest of ‘Oro, the god of fertility and war in the Society Islands. Afterwards they headed south across the Pacific, arriving on the east coast of New Zealand in spring, when the kōwhai trees were flowering.

Although Tupaia died in Batavia during the Endeavour’s return journey to England, Joseph Banks preserved the sketch made by the high priest in Uawa, along with others he had drawn in Tahiti and Australia. These were lodged in the British Museum, where many years later, art historians guessed that since many of these ‘naïve’ images were painted in watercolours, the artist might have been none other than Joseph Banks himself.

It was not until 1997 that these drawings were attributed to Tupaia. During his research into the life of Joseph Banks (later friend of George III, President of the Royal Society and impresario of British imperial exploration), Banks’s biographer Harold Carter noticed a passage in one of his letters that mentioned this drawing. In 1812, Banks wrote to a friend: Tupia the Indian who came with me from Otaheite Learnd to draw in a way not Quite unintelligible. The genius for Caricature which all wild People Possess Led him to Caricature me and he drew me with a nail in my hand delivering it to an Indian who sold me a Lobster but with my other hand I had a firm fist on the Lobster determind not to Quit the nail until I had Livery and Seizin of the article purchasd.

While the Uawa sketch shows Joseph Banks holding a piece of white cloth (almost certainly Tahitian bark cloth, highly sought after by Māori), rather than a nail, the description in his letter almost certainly refers to the image that Banks lodged (with others by the same artist) in the British Museum.

Far from being a ‘wild man’, however, Tupaia was a brilliant and charismatic leader in the Society Islands. When he joined the Endeavour, he was seeking to enlist Cook and his men in seeking to avenge the conquest of his home island, Ra‘iatea.

As a high priest and star navigator, Tupaia was a leading figure in the ‘arioi cult dedicated to ‘Oro, the god of fertility and war, famed for its lovers, artists, dancers, actors, scholars, warriors and star navigators.

After their departure from Tahiti, Tupaia piloted the ship through the surrounding islands, and worked with Captain Cook on a remarkable chart of the Pacific, centred upon Tahiti and based on relative bearings and distances in space-time (elapsed nights) between different islands. Later, the young naturalist Georg Forster would describe Tupaia as ‘an extraordinary genius’.

Like his charts, Tupaia’s sketches were revolutionary. During his time with the Royal Society party, he often sat with the ship’s artists, drawing the same subjects but creating new kinds of art works, using European techniques with a quintessentially Polynesian vision. Painted in the colours of bark cloth –black, brown and red-brown –his image portrays two men, one European (Joseph Banks) and one Māori, standing face to face, offering gifts to each other.

In New Zealand, as in the Society Islands at that time, life was ordered by relational networks, and driven by exchange. If a taonga (treasured item) was handed over, it carried part of the vital force, or hau, of the donor and his or her kin group, tangling the lives of donor and recipient together.

In 1907, when Elsdon Best, a New Zealand ethnologist who had spent a lifetime studying Māori customs, wrote to an elder called Tamati Ranapiri, asking him to explain the concept of the hau, Ranapiri replied: As for the hau, it isn’t the wind that blows, not at all. Let me explain it to you carefully. Now, you have an ancestral item (taonga) that you give to me, without the two of us putting a price on it, and I give it to someone else. Perhaps after a long while, this person remembers that he has this taonga, and that he should give me a return gift, and he does so. This is the hau of the taonga that was previously given to me. I must pass on that treasure to you. It would not be right for me to keep it for myself. Whether it is a very good taonga or a bad one, I must give to you, because it is the hau of your taonga, and if I hold on to it for myself, I will die. This is the hau. That’s enough.

The hau is at the heart of life itself. As Ranapiri explained to Best, if a person fails to uphold their obligations in these transactions, their own life force is threatened. As good or bad taonga and gifts or insults pass back and forth, embodying the power of the hau, patterns of relations are transformed, for better or for worse.

When Elsdon Best wrote about Ranapiri’s account of the hau, it captured the imagination of a French sociologist, Marcel Mauss. In 1925, Mauss published The Gift, a classic work exploring gift exchange in a range of societies, including his own. Quoting Ranapiri, he contrasted the Māori concept of the hau of the gift with the assumption in contemporary capitalism that all transactions are driven by self-interest, arguing that this gives an impoverished view of how relations among people generate social life.

For Mauss, the hau, or the ‘spirit of the thing given’, impels a gift in return, creating solidarity. His discussion of the concept is perceptive, but in fact, it only scratches the surface.

In Māori ways of thinking, hau drives the whole world, not just human relations. It goes far beyond the exchange of gifts among people. According to the tohunga (experts) in the ancestral whare wānanga (schools of learning), hau emerged at the very beginning of the cosmos.

In a chant recorded by Te Kohuora of Rongoroa for the missionary Richard Taylor in 1854, for example, the world begins with a burst of energy that generates thought, memory and desire. Next comes the Pō, long aeons of darkness. Out of the Pō comes the Kore, unbound, unpossessed Nothing, the seedbed of the cosmos, described by an early ethnologist as ‘the Void or negation, yet containing the potentiality of all things afterwards to come’.

In the Kore, hau ora and hau tupu, the winds of life and growth, begin to stir. As hau flows through the world, the sky emerges, and the moon and stars, light, the earth and sky and ocean: Na te kune te pupuke. From the source of growth the rising Na te pupuke te hihiri From rising the thought Na te hihiri te mahara From rising thought the memory Na te mahara te hinengaro From memory the mind-heart Na te hinengaro te manako From the mind-heart, desire Ka hua te wananga Knowledge becomes conscious Ka noho i a rikoriko It dwells in dim light Ka puta ki waho ko te po …And Pō (darkness) emerges …Na te kore i ai

From nothingness came the first cause Te kore te whiwhia Unpossessed nothingness Te kore te rawea Unbound nothingness Ko hau tupu, ko hau ora The hau tupu (wind of growth), the hau ora (wind of life) Ka noho i te atea Stay in clear space Ka puta ki waho ko te rangi e tu nei And the sky emerges that stands here Te ata rapa, te ata ka mahina The early dawn, the early day, the mid-day Ka mahina te ata i hikurangi! The blaze of day from the sky!

Through these exchanges, new forms of life emerge. As a Te Arawa scribe, Te Rangikaheke, told Sir George Grey, an early governor of New Zealand, at the beginning of the world when life first appears, ‘kotahi anō te tupuna o te tangata Māori –ko Ranginui te tū nei, ko Papatūanuku e takoto nei’–‘there is just one Maori ancestor, Ranginui standing here and Papatuanuku lying here’.

Male sky and female earth are a single being, locked together. From their union the ancestors of agricultural crops, sea and waterways, the winds, fern-root and people emerge, crushed in darkness between their parents. Cramped and frustrated, the older brothers decide to separate earth and sky, letting light into the world.

After a series of unsuccessful attempts, Tane-nui-a-Rangi, the ancestor of forests, takes an axe known as Hauhautu (make hau and hau stand) and cuts them apart. Stricken with grief, they cry out, ‘Why has this crime been committed? Why have we been separated?’As Rangi’s tears fall down to earth, forming lakes and rivers, Papa’s mists rise up to greet him.

Enraged by this assault on their parents, Tawhirimatea, Space-twister, the ancestor of winds (hau), attacks his older brothers, smashing and splitting Tane’s trees, assailing land and sea with whirlwinds and hurricanes, and driving the ancestors of root crops underground.

In the midst of this chaos, the offspring of these founding ancestors quarrel with each other and go their separate ways, finding new places to live in and becoming new kinds of creatures –the ancestors of fish diving into the sea, for instance, while the ancestors of lizards hide under rocks on the land. Only Tu, the ancestor of people, stands tall against Tawhiri’s onslaught, earning the right for his descendants to consume those of his brothers –birds, trees, fish, shellfish, fern-root, yams, taro and sweet potatoes, destroying their tapu (ancestral presence) and making them noa (ordinary, free from ancestral constraints).

Through the separation of Rangi and Papa, te ao mārama –the everyday world of light –emerges. Light is separated from (but still linked with) darkness; life from death; sky from earth; male from female; up from down and left from right, oriented by the bodies of the founding ancestors.

Different ancestral beings are generated and take their places, linked by their quarrels and ongoing exchanges. Later, Tu’s descendants –tangata (people) – sometimes also quarrel and separate, migrating to new places and forging new kin networks.

Many of the stories about exploring Polynesia, including New Zealand, tell of disputes followed by journeys to distant places. In this viral kinship system, driven by the exchange of gifts (that bind people together) or insults (that divide them), ancestral networks are readily replicated and transported, allowing the exploration and settlement of new places and forging new groups of people, as well as maintaining relationships over time.

Māori kin groups are contextual and dynamic, with some relations forged by insult and fighting; others by adoption, friendship and marriage, accompanied by gift exchange; while others, of lesser value, are allowed to wither away. Rather than bounded groups, these are open-ended networks springing from ‘root ancestors’ planted in the ground.

People can activate different links under  different circumstances, constantly changing through space and time. On the marae (ceremonial centre for kin groups), with its carved meeting house, its marae ātea, or forecourt for orators, where hosts and visitors sit facing each other, and its dining hall, ancestors are present as their descendants debate the questions of the day, recount ancestral deeds, forge new alliances, and are married or farewelled back to the Pō, the ancestral realm.

This is captured in a haka (war chant) composed by Merimeri Penfold: He iwi kē, he iwi kē One strange people and another Titiro atu, titiro mai Looking at each other

This chant evokes an exchange of gazes across the marae. Iwi means ‘a group of people’and kē invokes the strangeness of one group to another. Titiro atu is one’s glance directed at another, while titiro mai is the others’glance in reply.

In these recursive exchanges, identity takes shape, and shifts. All of the action –for better or for worse –happens across the pae, the middle ground. In this liminal space, male sky and female earth, living and the dead, local people and their visitors meet, intermingle and change places.

Ancestors appear in genealogies and stories, in photographs, and in the carvings that line the inside walls of the meeting house, support its roof, and decorate the exterior gable and porch. As the Tainui expert Pei Te Hurinui Jones explained, in Māori ancestral thinking, space-time is a spiral, a vortex. Standing in the present, one can spin back to the Kore, the Void, where the first burst of energy unleashed the winds of growth and life –and out into the future.

At the University of Auckland marae, for example, Tane-nui-a-Rangi, the carved meeting house, embodies the ancestor who first ascended the layered heavens on a whirlwind to fetch the three baskets of knowledge for his descendants. Inside the meeting house, the ridgepole and its carved posts tell the story of Tane separating his parents, Rangi and Papa, while carved ancestors stand around the walls, the priestly experts and navigators who guided their canoes across the Pacific from Hawaiki to New Zealand. Sitting inside Tane-nui-a-Rangi, the belly of the ancestor, one is literally transported into te ao Māori, the ancestral Māori ‘world’.

At the centre of the back wall of the house stands a carving of Hinenuitepo, the ancestress of death. During a tangi (funeral), the body of a deceased person lies at her feet. Towards the back of the house, the kōwhaiwhai (rafter paintings) shade off into darkness, while towards the front, the door and window open into te ao mārama (the world of light) where the colours of the kōwhaiwhai become bright. The waiata (chant) sung at the opening of the marae, composed by Merimeri Penfold, incorporates Te Kohuora’s creation chant.

According to Viveiros de Castro, such cosmological chants do not reflect a ‘world view’ but rather, express ‘a world objectively from inside it’. As Marshall Sahlins remarks, ‘The [Māori] universe is a gigantic kin, a genealogy …a veritable ontology’ –a way of being that patterns the world, based on whakapapa –vast, intricate networks of relations in which all forms of life are linked, generated by exchanges between complementary pairs, animated by hau.

Thus when Māori greet each other by pressing noses, their hau (breath, wind of life) intermingles. If a person presses noses with a carved ancestor, the same thing happens. When rangatira, or chiefs, speak of an ancestor in the first person as ahau, or ‘I’, it is because they are the ‘living face’ of that ancestor, and if they speak of their descent groups in the same way, it is because they share ancestral hau together.

A refusal to enter into reciprocal exchanges, on the other hand, is known as hau whitia, or hau turned aside. Hauhauaitu (or ‘harm to the hau’) is manifested as illness or ill fortune, a breakdown in the balance of exchanges. The life force has been harmed, showing signs of collapse and failure.

In early times, the hau of an enemy might be extinguished by rituals including awhe i te hau (gathering in the hau), while the hau of a kin group might be destroyed by ceremonies that included whāngai hau (feed the hau), in which the hau of their leader was fed to an enemy atua (ancestor god). Equally, the hau might be revitalised by a successful act of retribution –for instance, in the kai hau kai (eating the hau as food) ceremony, in which the hau of the enemy and his or her atua was consumed. In this way, the original insult is wiped out, restoring ora –life, health, prosperity and abundance –to the victors. Utu, the principle of reciprocity, drives the exchanges between individuals and groups and all other life forms, past and present, working towards (an always fragile) equilibrium.

Because hau animates all phenomena, in this way of being there are no Cartesian gulfs between mind and matter, animate and inanimate beings, people and environment, Culture and Nature. As the nineteenth-century thinker Nepia Pohuhu remarked: ‘All things unfold their nature (tupu), live (ora), have form (ahua), whether trees, stones, birds, reptiles, fish, quadrupeds or human beings.’ Hau flows through all things, whether rivers, mountains, forests, reefs, fishing grounds, plants, animals or people. If their hau is in a state of ora (hau ora: health, well-being, prosperity), they will flourish; but if it is in a state of mate (hau mate: sickness, ill-being, misfortune), they will decline and perish.

As Tamati Ranapiri explained to Elsdon Best, in catching birds, for example, one must offer the first bird captured to the hau of the forest, to ensure its ongoing ora –its well-being, and protect one’s own health and good fortune. This also applies to catching eels in a river, or fish in the ocean. The fundamental kinship between people and other life forms is never forgotten. Indeed, kin networks are often spoken of as plants –the gourd plant for instance, branching and sprawling across the land.

A Māori person might refer to themselves as he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiatea (a seed sown from Rangiatea –Ra‘iatea, Tupaia’s birthplace). Some branches in these ramifying forms grow vigorously, while others wither and die –an image of rhizomatic growth echoed in the kōwhaiwhai paintings on the blades of paddles or the rafters of meeting houses –or as the anthropologist Marilyn Strathern has noted, in modernist talk about knowledge itself.

In ancestral Māori thinking, then, exchange is the stuff of life. As beings engage with each other in these relational networks, new forms of life are generated, along with efforts at domination, control or liberation. In many ways these whakapapa networks resonate with the complex systems of contemporary science, including ideas of symbiotic exchanges, the World Wide Web and neural networks. As Mattei and Capra remark: We have discovered that the material world, ultimately, is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships; that the planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system.

The view of the human body as a machine and of the mind as a separate entity is being replaced by one that sees not only the brain but also the immune system, the bodily tissues, and even each cell as a living, cognitive system. In te ao Māori, people are constituted by their relationships, and identity is recursively generated. Each group (or individual) creates its identity by engaging with the other, and recognising that they are different.

In each case, difference is differently understood, however. Before the first Europeans arrived in New Zealand, for example, there were no Māori ‘people’, just different kin networks based in different places. According to the East Coast tribal expert Mohi Turei, māori (a term that simply means ‘ordinary, usual, normal, everyday’) was used to describe people and phenomena in te ao mārama, the everyday world of light and life, in contrast with those in te pō, the dark, invisible ancestral world.

In exchanges with the new arrivals (as recorded in Tupaia’s sketch of Joseph Banks and the Māori warrior, for instance), local people came to see themselves as māori (ordinary, normal) in contrast with pākehā, or Europeans –beings so strange that they might have arrived from the ancestral realm. Until that time, Māori had no need to distinguish themselves as a group from others, or their archipelago as a country in comparison with others. Likewise, in these early encounters with Europeans, Māori began to refer to their own ancestral ways as te ao māori (the familiar, everyday world) in contrast with te ao pākehā (the world of the strangers).

If one uses the term ‘world’ in English as the best translation for ao in Māori (as is often done; in the subtitle of this book, for instance), it can be misleading, however. In Māori, ao is a state of existence or a dimension of reality, usually translated as ‘world’, but without the implication of a bounded, self-contained, singular entity that underpins that term in English. Rather, the whakapapa networks that structure te ao māori, shaping its patterns, are intrinsically dynamic and open-ended.

Strangers can be bound into these living webs by acts of generosity and alliance, often marked by gifts of taonga (ancestral treasures) including names, knowledge, artefacts, sexual partners or children, or severed from them by acts of aggression and humiliation –both of which require utu, equal (or greater) return over time. Thus in Māori a hoa is a friend or companion; a hoa rangatira (chiefly friend) is a husband or wife; while a hoa riri (angry friend) is an enemy. The key term here is hoa, a relation of some kind. In Māori, it is the relation itself (not its quality; or the parties involved) that is ontologically prior. In this way of being, a person is constituted by their place in the relational networks, and in speaking Māori, the state and nature of one’s relationships are constantly being negotiated.

In addressing other people, for instance, you must decide whether your relationship with them is close (in which case, the inclusive pronoun is used) or distant (when the exclusive pronoun applies), and whether it is dual or plural –for example, tāua (us two) or māua (me and someone else, excluding you); tātou (us, including you) or mātou (us, excluding you). Thus the pronouns māua and mātou encompass not only the speaker and the person or group they are including, but also the person or group they are excluding.

Even the recipient of an insult as radical as kai tangata (being eaten) is still part of the relational matrix –in this case, a hoa riri (angry friend) whose mana has been destroyed.

At the same time, as Mauss pointed out in The Gift, notions of reciprocity and gift exchange are not unique to ‘exotic’ societies, but are also present in Europe. This allowed early European visitors to New Zealand to make some sense of their exchanges with Māori. As Captain Cook observed: ‘I have allways found them of a Brave, Noble, Open and benevolent disposition, but they are a people that will never put up with an insult if they have an oppertunity to resent it.’

While such ‘rough intelligibility’ allowed relationships to be forged, efforts at engagement between Māori and Europeans often backfired, thwarted by differing assumptions about how the world works. At the same time in these encounters –titiro atu, titiro mai –hidden premises sometimes come to light, making it possible for new ideas and practices to emerge as taken-for-granted forms of order are challenged. The element of surprise in such meetings was (and still is) at once disruptive, and creative.

In the first part of this book, such exchanges are explored during the early contact period in New Zealand (roughly, 1769–1840) – during the first meetings between Māori and European explorers; in the debates between Māori and the first missionaries, where notions of the real were tested to their limits; and in the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi, when ground rules were laid down for the relationships between Māori and the British Crown.

Throughout this period, Māori were dominant. As relationships were forged with the incoming settlers and visitors from Europe and other places, despite their own assumptions of superiority, the new arrivals were forced to deal with Māori realities. The clashes, debates and improvisations that took place provide rich, vivid ways of exploring what happens when people with different taken-for-granted ideas about what is real and what matters in life come together, and try to negotiate shared ways of living.

Inevitably, as an exercise in historical ethnography, this investigation of early ‘experiments across worlds’ in New Zealand draws upon modernist assumptions, as well as a lifetime of exploring te ao Māori (Māori ways of being). The term ‘ontology’, for instance, which crops up in this work, may puzzle some readers. It refers to the study of the nature of reality, along with the basic categories of being and their relations.

As for the ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology, this assumes that reality and its underlying patterns may differ across different groups of people, and that these differences may be investigated. For some practitioners, the realities of different groups of people can be observed, described and classified, producing taxonomies of different ways of being. For others, anthropology itself is based on particular propositions about the nature of existence, which are themselves historically and culturally specific. The shocks and surprises that arise when anthropologists engage with people who work with very different assumptions about what is real may provoke philosophical creativity, and new kinds of understandings.

For my part, I think that such shocks and surprises are not peculiar to anthropology –nor the clashes and innovations that arise in encounters between people who understand the nature of being differently. While seeking to investigate such processes of encounter and transformation between Māori and Europeans (and others) in New Zealand, I know that as an anthropologist and a person, I am a part of and shaped by the histories of these exchanges. In what follows, I try to acknowledge this by placing myself in the narrative every now and then, entangled in these networks of relations, spinning in the spirals of space-time.


Tupaia’s Cave

During a storm in 2007, as waves surged into Cook’s Cove in Uawa, on the east coast of New Zealand, the banks of this small inlet collapsed, revealing bands of dark soil with fish, bird and dog bones, charcoal, shell fragments and artefacts. Archaeologists from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the local people, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, decided to carry out a rescue excavation.

To their delight they found that as well as being the scene of very early exchanges between Māori and Europeans, this was one of very few sites in New Zealand with occupation layers from the first Polynesian arrival to the present.

In November of that year, my husband Jeremy and I joined a group from the Trust to visit the excavation, walking down a long, steep trail through bush-clad slopes to the back of the inlet. To the north, high white cliffs dropped steeply into the sea. To the south, lower cliffs sheltered the entrance to the cove, where a stream runs down a fertile basin into the ocean. At the edge of the bush the sun lit up the bay, with its green hills, grey sand and a blue, glittering sea.

At the site, the archaeologists and local people showed us fragments of moa and seal bone in the lower layers, along with oven stones, post-holes, stone flakes and several small moa-bone and shell fishhooks. Starch grains later proved to include both kūmara (sweet potato) and taro, indicating that the first settlers had brought these root crops with them from the islands. According to the archaeologists, when the first Polynesian travellers landed in New Zealand around the fourteenth century, a small group settled at Opoutama.

Moa, a great flightless bird, still lived in the hills, and it was easy to drive these birds down to this little valley and trap them. The stream and a spring provided the settlers with fresh water, seals basked on the rocks, fish shoaled out at sea and shellfish flourished on the rocky coastline.

After millennia of living in small tropical islands, the new arrivals had to work out new ways of living in this large, temperate archipelago. Pigs and chickens from their homelands did not survive the journey, and many of their ancestral crops, including banana, coconut and breadfruit, either died at sea or failed to grow when they were transplanted. Nevertheless, these early settlers learned to plant, harvest and store other crops from the Pacific –sweet potato, yam and taro –in this much cooler climate, and aute (bark cloth, which struggled to survive in New Zealand) and sennit were replaced by various varieties of harakeke (New Zealand flax, or Phormium tenax).

Moa and seals provided an early source of protein, but as the bush was fired for fern-root plantations and gardens, and the moa were vigorously hunted, these big birds became scarce, and died out altogether. The ancestors of Māori also had to master coastal navigation in the absence of sheltering coral reefs, shape new types of stone into tools and weapons, and design new kinds of buildings and watercraft.

Over time, Uawa became the home of a famous school of learning, Te Rawheoro, established by the ancestor Hingangaroa, a priest, carver, star navigator and canoe-builder whose son Hauiti gave his name to the local people.

As one can see from the chant quoted earlier, in Māori accounts of the creation of the world, thought, memory, knowledge and desire are highly prized. In the East Coast schools of learning, tohunga (experts) passed on ancestral stories that included accounts of the separation of the earth mother and the sky father by their son Tane-nui-a-Rangi, allowing light into the world; the feats of the trickster ancestor Maui, who snared the sun and fished up the land, leaving his canoe on top of Hikurangi mountain; disputes involving various ancestors in the island homeland, Hawaiki; and ancestral voyages to New Zealand.

Prominent among these narratives is the tale of Uenuku’s illegitimate son Ruatapu, who in a fit of jealousy caused a canoe to sink, drowning 70 young men except his elder brother Paikea, who chanted a powerful incantation, either becoming a whale or summoning up a whale that carried him safely to the east coast of the North Island.

There were also stories about the voyages of various ancestral canoes and their arrival in New Zealand, including the Horouta canoe and its commander Pawa.

The genealogical lines from Maui, Paikea and the later voyagers, traced through male and female links to the founders of local kin groups, were embellished with tales about ancestral travels, quarrels, friendships, love affairs and battles, leaving an intricate scatter of place names across the land.

At Te Rawheoro, the school of learning founded by Hingangaroa eight generations after Paikea’s landing, songs and incantations, tattoo, carving and fine weaving were also taught, and this whare wānanga produced skilled carvers, tattooists and weavers who travelled around the country, practising their arts.

In October 1769, when Captain James Cook and his Endeavour companions arrived at Uawa (which they named ‘Tolaga Bay’), they described it as a second Paradise. They spent seven peaceful, happy days at Uawa, going ashore at Opoutama (now named ‘Cook’s Cove’) to fill the ship’s water barrels, gather fresh food, and collect botanical and zoological specimens.

Tupaia, the high priest and star navigator who joined the expedition in Tahiti, slept in a rock shelter above Cook’s Cove, where he talked with the tohunga (leading expert) from Te Rawheoro. Havai‘i, the ancient name of Ra‘iatea, Tupaia’s home island, was one of the homelands of Māori.

These conversations must have been extraordinary. No doubt Tupaia and the local priests shared stories of their voyaging ancestors, traced their genealogical links, and talked about what had happened since the departure of the Māori ancestors from Hawaiki. The local people, who were deeply impressed by the high priest, named the rock shelter after him, Te Ana-o-Tupaia (Tupaia’s Cave).

At the same time, Tupaia acted as an interpreter for his European shipmates, including Joseph Banks, the wealthy young botanist who headed the Royal Society party, and his scientific companion, Dr Daniel Solander. A number of images survive from the Endeavour’s visit, including charts of Uawa, a sketch of the sailors filling water barrels in Cook’s Cove, drawings of the artefacts and plants that they collected, along with Tupaia’s sketch of a local man exchanging a crayfish for white bark cloth with Joseph Banks.

According to Hauiti people who later described his visit to an early trader, Joel Polack, Tupaia also sketched a ship and some boats on the walls of the rock shelter in the cove.

During our trip to Cook’s Cove, Jeremy and I were keen to see whether any traces of Tupaia’s cave drawings remained. When we climbed up to the rock shelter, however, we found that it had largely collapsed. All we could see were large smears of red ochre on the walls, a fragment of a charcoal sketch of a whale or a dolphin, and a word or two (apparently in Tahitian) written beside it.

Perhaps Tupaia had slept in this cave because it was close to Te Kararoa, a fortified village that stood on the ridgeline. At the time, it was often used as a shelter by visiting fishermen. In any case, the view out to sea is spectacular, a perfect place to sit and talk about ancestors who had sailed across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (the Great Sea of Kiwa). Up there on the hillside, it was easy to imagine Tupaia sitting and talking with local people beside a fire, as shadows flickered across the walls of the cave.

As we have seen, the Endeavour was on a scientific voyage of exploration, sponsored by the Admiralty and the Royal Society of London. Before they sailed from England, the Earl of Morton, President of the Royal Society and a Scottish astronomer, had given Cook a set of ‘Hints’ about how he and his men should conduct themselves in encounters with any ‘natives’ they might meet in the Pacific, urging him: To check the petulance of the Sailors, and restrain the wanton use of Fire Arms. To have it still in view that shedding the blood of those people is a crime of the highest nature: They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European; perhaps being less offensive, more entitled to his favor.

They are the natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of the several Regions they inhabit. No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent …Therefore should they in a hostile manner oppose a landing, and kill some men in the attempt, even this would hardly justify firing among them, ’till every other gentle method had been tried.

In his ‘Hints’, the Earl of Morton also suggested how Cook and the Royal Society party of scientists and artists might determine whether or not any land they discovered was part of a large continent, describe the ‘appearance and natural dispositions’ of its inhabitants, including their ‘progress in Arts or Science’, especially astronomy, and observe and describe the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms (including fossils) in the places that they visited.

In addition, the Admiralty gave James Cook a set of secret instructions, ordering him to search for and claim Terra Australis Incognita, a mythical continent thought to lie in the far southern ocean, and: . . . with the Consent of the Natives to take possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain; or, if you find the Country uninhabited take Possession for His Majesty by setting up Proper Marks and Inscriptions, as first discoverers and possessors.

On 3 October 1769, almost a month after sailing south from the Society Islands, when a sudden squall hit the ship, Joseph Banks was jubilant, certain that at last they were about to discover Terra Australis: This is a sure sign of land as such squalls are rarely (if ever) met with at any considerable distance from it …Now do I wish that our freinds in England could by the assistance of some magical spying glass take a peep at our situation: Dr Solander setts at the Cabbin table describing, myself at my Bureau Journalizing, between us hangs a large bunch of sea weed, upon the table lays the wood and barnacles; they would see that notwithstanding our different occupations our lips move very often, and without being conjurors might guess that we were talking about what we should see upon the land which there is now no doubt we shall see very soon.

Three days later, when the surgeon’s boy Nicholas Young sighted land from the masthead, he was rewarded with a gallon of rum. The following day as ranges of high mountains appeared above the horizon, Banks exclaimed, ‘Many conjectures about Islands, rivers, inlets, but all hands seem to agree that this is certainly the Continent we are in search of.’

According to early tribal accounts, when they saw the Endeavour sailing into their harbour at Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa (now Gisborne), the local people thought that this might be a floating island, driven by ancestral power, or perhaps a great bird, like the bird of Ruakapanga that had brought the sweet potato from their island homeland. Fires of warning were lit in the hills, and local warriors placed on the alert.

On 8 October 1769 when Cook and his scientific companions came ashore on the east bank of the Turanganui River, the first Europeans to land in New Zealand, they were accompanied by a party of marines.

After crossing the river to inspect a fishing hamlet, Joseph Banks and Dr Solander went botanising, leaving four young boys from the Endeavour in charge of the yawl. As the boys wandered down to the beach, four warriors were sent down from Titirangi hill to challenge the strangers. Seeing one of these men lift his spear (almost certainly in a wero, or ritual challenge), the coxswain shot him dead. This set the scene for the tense, uneasy meetings that followed.

The next day when Cook’s party, accompanied by Tupaia, returned to the east bank of the river, the body of this man, a rangatira named Te Maro, still lay on the beach. Warriors lined up on the opposite bank of the Turanganui, defying the strangers with a fiery haka (war dance). When these men reproached them for the shooting, Tupaia found he could understand what they were saying. He told them that his companions only wanted fresh food and water, and offered them iron in exchange.

Eventually, one of the warriors swam across the river and stood on Te Toka-a-Taiau, a sacred rock near the river’s edge, a famous tribal boundary marker. Putting down his musket, Cook went to meet him, and they greeted each other with a hongi (pressing noses), mingling their hau together.

When the other men swam across the river and tried to exchange weapons with the strangers, however, this ended in a scuffle and further shootings that left a warrior named Te Rakau lying dead beside the river. Later that day, when Cook attempted to capture some young men from a fishing canoe in an attempt to take them on board the Endeavour, treat them kindly and gain their trust, they resisted, hurling their paddles, anchor stones and fish at the strangers. Cook’s men fired, shooting four of these fishermen, two of whom fell into the sea and drowned.

That night Banks wrote in his journal: ‘Thus ended the most disagreable day My life has yet seen, black be the mark for it and heaven send that such may never return to embitter future reflection.’

The memory of the killings in Turanga has not faded, however. The shots fired by the Endeavour’s men still echo across the bay. Despairing of being able to befriend these people, Captain Cook decided to head south to discover whether or not this land was Terra Australis Incognita. As the Endeavour sailed from the bay, the wind died and the ship was becalmed off Te Kuri-a-Paoa (Young Nick’s Head), where canoes came out, but stayed at a distance.

When a small canoe from Turanganui arrived, bringing the man who had greeted Cook on Te Toka-a-Taiau, he invited Cook, Tupaia and their companions to return to the bay. Seeing this, the crews of the other canoes also boarded the ship. During this encounter, a set of paddles, their blades vividly painted with swirling scarlet kōwhaiwhai patterns, was presented to the strangers, which the ship’s artist Sydney Parkinson later sketched. The owners of these paddles also offered their canoe, perhaps hoping to entice the visitors ashore.

Cook sailed off, however, heading south. After coasting Hawke’s Bay, where canoe-borne priests and warriors vigorously challenged the ship and its crew, the Endeavour was caught in contrary winds. Deciding to retrace his track, Cook headed north at Cape Turnagain, sailing past the Mahia Peninsula and Turanganui until they arrived at Anaura Bay, 85 kilometres north of Gisborne, where they experienced their first peaceful exchanges with Māori people.

Te Whakatatare-o-te-rangi –the ariki, or paramount chief, of this district –who had already heard about the strangers, was eager to learn more about them. Te Whakatatare had trained at Te Rawheoro, the nearby school of learning at Uawa, where students learned about the ancestral voyages from Hawaiki, how to build canoes, and the arts of tattoo, carving and star navigation.

Intensely curious about these bizarre visitors, their strange vessel and the star navigator who had arrived from Ra‘iatea, the ancestral homeland, he sent envoys out to the ship to meet them, who invited Tupaia and his companions ashore.

As the Endeavour’s anchors splashed down in Anaura Bay, the high chief donned his ceremonial cloak and, accompanied by another senior leader, went out to the ship. As these two venerable men, one wearing a dog-skin cape and the other dressed in a cloak covered with tufts of red feathers, came alongside, Tupaia invited them on board, where Captain Cook presented each of them with four yards of linen and a spike nail.

As always, Tupaia conducted the rituals of greeting with local people. When Te Whakatatare and Tupaia met, this was an encounter between Polynesian aristocrats. Tupaia, a high-born Ra‘iatean priest and star navigator who had trained at Taputapuatea, one of the greatest voyaging marae in the Pacific, was reputed to be one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable men in the Society Islands. When warriors from Borabora, a nearby island, conquered his homeland, Tupaia had fled to Tahiti where he became the lover and high priest of Purea, the ‘queen’of that island.

In June 1769, shortly after a failed attempt to install Purea’s son as the paramount chief of the island, the Endeavour expedition arrived at Matavai Bay in Tahiti, where the Royal Society party set up a shore camp. Intrigued by the strangers and fascinated by their scientific instruments and rituals, Tupaia spent a great deal of time with them. When they left Tahiti the high priest decided to go with them, hoping to persuade Captain Cook to help him drive the Borabora invaders from his homeland.

During their voyage through the Society Islands, he piloted the Endeavour and guided his companions through the rituals of landing and exchanges with local people, including those in Turanganui and Hawke’s Bay.

By the time the Endeavour anchored off Anaura Bay, the ship’s supplies of fresh food, water and firewood were running low, and Cook was delighted by the friendly welcome they received from Te Whakatatare and his people.

Still convinced that they had found Terra Australis, Joseph Banks was eager to explore Anaura and discover what exotic plants and animals this fabled continent had to offer. That afternoon, after dining in the Great Cabin with Cook and Banks, Te Whakatatare escorted Cook, Banks, Solander, William Monkhouse (the ship’s surgeon) and Tupaia ashore to a village where his people sat quietly beside their houses. The high chief showed them large hillside gardens, which Banks and Monkhouse described as meticulously weeded, planted with kūmara and yams in mounds laid out in rows or a quincunx pattern, taro in circular concaves to keep them moist, a few bark-cloth plants, and flowering gourd plants sprawling over the houses.

Walking into the hills on the south side of Anaura Bay, they visited a single dwelling inhabited by a man and his wife, who showed them all their possessions; and the man presented them with the body of a mummified newborn baby. As visitors (perhaps ancestors) from Ra‘iatea, perhaps they seemed fitting guardians for this dead child. Back at the beach, however, the waves were running high, and the sailors struggled to load the water barrels into the boats. When Banks borrowed a canoe to go out to the Endeavour, it capsized, unceremoniously tossing him and his companions into the surf.

After this mishap, Te Whakatatare decided to guide the ship to Uawa, 10 kilometres to the south, where the inlet of Opoutama provided a more sheltered harbour.

At that time Uawa was the headquarters for two senior descent groups, one led by Te Whakatatare and the other by his daughter-in-law Hinematioro. In 1769 Hinematioro (a high-born woman later described by the early missionaries as a ‘queen’) was still very young, and Te Whakatatare led the East Coast people.

When the ship anchored off Uawa, Cook and Charles Green, the expedition’s astronomer, carried out a series of instrumental observations. By now Tupaia was used to this kind of performance, but Te Whakatatare must have been fascinated. The tohunga (experts) at Te Rawheoro also studied the sun, moon and stars, using their movements in the sky to predict the weather, anticipate seasonal rhythms, and guide their canoes across the ocean. In order to estimate the longitude of Uawa, Cook and Green used their sextants to measure the angular distance from the moon to the sun, and the tables in the Nautical Almanac to calculate their position. When this did not agree with their previous estimates, they worked out an average, recording this in the ship’s log. At noon when Cook used the astronomical quadrant to observe the altitude of the sun, he was able to estimate the latitude of the bay with much greater precision.

While Captain Cook and Green were making these observations, Lieutenant Gore with a guard of marines and sailors landed at Opoutama inlet/‘Cook’s Cove’ where the sailors set to work, filling barrels with fresh water, felling trees for firewood and collecting greens that the ship’s cook mixed with oatmeal as a remedy for scurvy.

As canoes flocked around the ship, their crews exchanged fish and ‘curiosities’ (artefacts) for Tahitian bark cloth and European beads, nails, trinkets and glass bottles. The local people put a high value on their sweet potatoes, however, and refused to exchange their greenstone ornaments and weapons for anything that the strangers could offer.

Meanwhile, Joseph Banks and Dr Solander were impatient to go ashore. When Cook finally landed them and their assistants in Cook’s Cove, they were enthralled by what they found. According to the artist Sydney Parkinson: The country about the bay is agreeable beyond description, and, with proper cultivation, might be rendered a kind of second Paradise. The hills are covered with beautiful flowering shrubs, intermingled with a great number of tall and stately palms, which fill the air with a most grateful fragrant perfume.

Everywhere they looked, Banks and Solander discovered plants unknown to European science. Wandering around the cove, they collected specimens from a bewildering variety of new species of trees, palms, bushes, creepers and ferns. They also found many beautiful kinds of birds, including parrots, pigeons and quail, and Polynesian rats and dogs like those in Tahiti. Blazing away with their guns, they shot birds whose skins were later preserved on board the Endeavour.

When they returned to the ship, Banks and his companions sat in the Great Cabin, Sydney Parkinson sketching samples of plants while Banks and Solander classified them using the Linnaean method, and Herman Spöring (Banks’s Finnish draughtsman) wrote down the botanical descriptions. Afterwards, the plants were pressed between pages torn from a commentary on Milton’s Paradise Lost, ripped apart for the purpose.

In all, Parkinson drew 32 different species of plants collected in Te Oneroa (Gisborne), 24 species collected in Anaura Bay and 37 species in Uawa, jotting down notes and swathes of colour on the sketches that were later engraved for Banks’s magnificent Florilegium from the voyage.

The next day, when Banks came across a natural rock arch north of the watering place, he exclaimed: ‘It was certainly the most magnificent surprize I have ever met with, so much is pure nature superior to art in these cases.’ Back in England, rock arches and grottos were all the rage, and Banks instructed his artists to sketch this picturesque formation, not realising that it was known as ‘Te Kotore-o-te-whenua’ (The Anus of the Land) –a cosmo graphic version of a whakapohane, a graphic insult featuring the exposure of a naked backside.

That evening, an old man at the watering place, armed with a spear and a stone club, put up a pole and vigorously attacked it, giving them a demonstration of hand-to-hand fighting.

On 25 October, Tupaia spent most of the day immersed in conversation with the head priest from Te Rawheoro, comparing accounts of the creation, tracing genealogies back to common ancestors, and discussing local beliefs and customs. According to Banks, ‘they seemd to agree very well in their notions of religion only Tupia was much more learned than the other and all his discourse was heard with much attention’.

In his rough notes, Cook recorded snippets from these exchanges, which show his liking and respect for the local people.

1. The Religion of the Natives bear some resemblance to the George Islanders.

2. they have god of war, of husbandry, but there is one suprem god whom they call …he made the world and all that therein is by Copolation.

3. they have many Priests.

4. The Old men are much respected.

5. they have King who lives inland his name is …we heard of him in Poverty Bay.

6. They eat their enimies Slane in Battell –this seems to come from custom and not from a Savage disposission this they cannot be charged with –they appear to have but few Vices …

7. Their beheavour was Uniform free from treachery.

8. The Women may be know by their Voices they paint their faces red.

9. the Womens faces are not tattooed.

While talking with the local priest, Tupaia was told that at the beginning of the world, Tane, the son of Rangi and Papa, created many new forms of life by having sex with different kinds of beings. This story was later recounted by the East Coast tohunga Mohi Ruatapu, who explained how Tane shaped the first woman, thrusting his penis into different parts of her body to create sweat, saliva and mucus.

In the Society Islands, on the other hand, Tane was the god of beauty and peace, and the guardian of blue-water sailors. In the rituals at Taputapuatea in Ra‘iatea, dedicated to ‘Oro, the god of fertility and war, the priests (including Tupaia) offered slain enemies as sacrifices, with their jawbones, skulls and hair kept as trophies on his marae.

Despite this, Tupaia was scandalised by the Māori custom of kai tangata (eating people), the ritual sacrifice of their enemies. According to Banks, when the Ra‘iatean high priest asked the local people ‘whether or no they realy eat men, which he was very loth to believe; they answerd in the affirmative saying that they eat the bodys only of their enemies who were killed in war’. Although they ‘put themselves into a heat by defending the Custom’, Tupaia took ‘every Occasion to speak ill of it, exhorting them to leave it off’.

His reaction may seem odd, given the prevalence of human sacrifice in his homeland. In the Society Islands, however, it was the ancestors who consumed the bodies of enemy warriors, not the priests, and Tupaia may have considered the local custom sacrilegious.

Although many of the Europeans, including the sailors, were also horrified by kai tangata (for very different reasons), James Cook was phlegmatic –in his words from above, attributing it to ‘custom and not …a Savage disposission’.

The day after Tupaia talked with the high priest from Te Rawhero, it pelted with rain. As the Endeavour lay shrouded in mist, Banks and Solander sat in the Great Cabin, working on their collections.

On 27 October when they returned to Cook’s Cove, a group of boys demonstrated the art of whipping tops (one of which Banks acquired) while some men and women performed a haka (war dance), rolling down their eyes, poking out their tongues and heaving loud sighs.

Climbing up to the northern ridgeline to inspect Kararoa pā, Banks found the fortified village in ruins. He measured the palisades at 14 to 16 feet high, standing in two rows six feet apart along a ditch that curved around the end of the peninsula. Later that day, Captain Cook took a boat and sounded the bay, his men using a lead and line to measure the depth of the water. After landing on the point at the northern side of the harbour, they rowed up the Uawa River and climbed a high hill, where he recorded the bearings of headlands and islands with an azimuth compass.

Many of the observations taken by Cook and Green (including latitude, longitude, bearings, soundings, islands, rocks and the coastline) are recorded in Cook’s charts of the East Coast and Uawa. 

From this high vantage point, Cook saw ‘the Vallies and sides of many of the Hills …luxuriously clothed with Woods and Verdure and little Plantations of the Natives lying dispers’d up and down the Country’. 

These gardens were each several acres in size, surrounded by low windbreaks with traps set on the ground to catch kiore (Polynesian rats). Like the gardens in Anaura Bay, the cultivations were finely tilled. It was spring, and the tips of the plants were just appearing above the ground. Although there were houses in the valleys, these were empty, with the inhabitants living in light shelters on the ridges. 

On October 28, while Lieutenant Gore and his men were getting the ship ready for sea, Captain Cook, Banks, Solander, Parkinson and Spöring visited Pourewa Island, the home of the young chieftainess Hinematioro. When they landed, they saw a very large canoe lying on the beach, 68 feet 6 inches long with carved gunwale planks and a finely carved prow. 

While Spöring sat sketching this canoe, he thought he saw a bird with a very long tail flying overhead. Very likely, however, this was a kite. At that time, bird-shaped kites made with bark cloth were often flown into the heavens to carry messages to the ancestors. 

Close to the beach, the Royal Society party found a house about 30 feet long, filled with chips and shavings. Inside, a number of squared posts and intricately carved wall panels were stacked against the walls. This chief’s house seemed to be abandoned. 

According to local oral histories, during his visit to the bay, and perhaps on this occasion, Captain Cook met Hinematioro, and presented her with blue beads that she later handed down to her descendants. 

That afternoon, a group of officers and gentlemen were invited inland to another house where a number of chiefs were meeting. At the end of this gathering, some of the visitors were offered sexual hospitality. 

Returning to the watering place after dark, one of these men was carried on a man’s back over channels filled with running water, probably irrigation ditches for the local gardens. 

Until that afternoon, the Europeans had found the local women elusive. On the East Coast, where high-ranking women were often the leaders and founders of kin groups, the women were confident and assertive. As Parkinson remarked ruefully, ‘They seem to be proud of their sex, and expect you should give them every thing they desire, because they are women; but they take care to grant no favours in return, being very different from the women in the islands who were so free with our men.’ According to Banks, ‘They were as great coquetts as any Europaeans could be and the young ones as skittish as unbroke fillies.’

On 29 October, as the Endeavour sailed from Uawa, heading north, Joseph Banks commented with pleasure on his visit to this district, writing in his journal that the communities on the East Coast were ‘in a state of Profound Peace; their Cultivations were far more numerous and larger than we saw them anywhere else and they had a far greater quantity of Fine boats, Fine cloaths, Fine carvd work; in short the people were far more numerous, and lived in much greater affluence than any others we saw’. 

If one examines the Endeavour records and Māori oral histories of these meetings, it is clear that these were complex encounters, characterised by intense curiosity and empirical inquiry. 

Tupaia, the ‘arioi high priest and star navigator from Ra‘iatea, was on his own voyage of discovery, adding new islands to the lists of those known to Society Island navigators while studying their inhabitants and landscapes. At the same time, he served as an interpreter and mediator for his European companions, initiating new kinds of exchanges. As a leading expert from the ancestral whare ‘aira‘a-upu (schools of learning) in the Society Islands, an ancestral homeland of Māori, Tupaia had a great deal to offer the tohunga in New Zealand. 

In most places (except for Uawa and Queen Charlotte Sound), however, their conversations were fleeting, and only vestigial traces of these exchanges survive in the records from the voyage. At the same time, the Endeavour expedition was a travelling sideshow of the Enlightenment, lavishly provided with scientific equipment to scan the heavens, collect and examine plants and animals, and explore the remote corners of the planet. 

Just as the Endeavour arrived in New Zealand, modernity was taking shape in Europe. As Frängsmyr, Heilbron and Rider have noted, in mid-eighteenth-century Europe, a mechanistic, quantitative vision of reality was going viral. Many aspects of life were transformed –from science (with the use of instruments and measurement, the division of the disciplines and the increased specialisation of knowledge) to administration (with the invention of censuses, surveys, archives and bureaucratic systems) and industry (with manufacturing based on mechanisation, the replication of parts and processes), for instance. 

This particular strand of Enlightenment thought traces at least as far back as the seventeenth century, when the philosopher René Descartes had a new vision of reality, at once powerful and intoxicating. In his dream, the Cogito –the thinking self –became the eye of the world, which in turn became an object for inspection. 

As the mind’s eye replaced the Eye of God, people were separated from Nature, and eventually from each other. As mind (res cogitans) and matter (res extensa), subject and object and Culture and Nature were split, different realms of reality were set apart and subdivided, producing arrays of bounded objects that could be classified, counted and examined. 

This ‘Order of Things’, as Michel Foucault has called it, lay at the heart of Enlightenment science. Here, the cosmos was understood as a singular, bounded, law-governed entity (or uni-verse) –a view of reality sometimes described as a ‘one world ontology’. 

In modernist science, the aim was to examine, analyse, count, classify and record everything that exists, and discover the laws that govern these phenomena. In France, for example, the Encyclopédie, or ‘Systematic Dictionary of the Arts, Crafts and Sciences’, edited by Denis Diderot, which sought to collect and summarise all human knowledge, appeared from 1751 onwards, while the Encyclopaedia Britannica was published in three volumes, at the same time as the Endeavour sailed around the world. 

In this way of knowing, one of the iconic patterns was the grid, used to abstract, divide up and measure space, time and life forms, bringing them under control for practical purposes. In this way, the world was transformed into bounded entities at different scales, whether units of time, blocks of land, areas of ocean or different types of living beings, that can be classified and counted in various ways. 

On board the Endeavour, this form of order was reflected in cartography and Linnaean taxonomy, for example. A hierarchical cosmos: The Great Chain of Being, from Rhetorica Christiana by Diego Valades, 1579. Often, the grid was hierarchical –based on the old European vision of the Great Chain of Being, with God at the apex followed by archangels and angels, divine kings, the aristocracy and successive ranks of human beings, from ‘civilised’to ‘savage’, followed by animals, plants and minerals and the earth in descending order. 

Those at the top of the Great Chain exercised power and authority over those lower down, who in turn were required to offer up deference and tribute. In this cosmic model, men ruled over women and children, free men over slaves, and ‘civilised’ people over ‘barbarians’and ‘savages’. 

Another iconic model was the idea of the cosmos as a machine, made up of distinct, divisible working parts. Coupled with notions of ‘progress’and ‘improvement’, the ‘Order of Things’ gave an air of virtue to imperial expansion, the industrial revolution, global capitalism and models of technocratic control. With its focus on discovery, instrumental recording, mathematical and taxonomic description, the Endeavour voyage epitomised this way of understanding the world. 

At the same time, however, as Peter Hans Reill and others have argued, another strand in Enlightenment thinking explored relational forms of order. Here, one of the iconic motifs was the network (or web). Thinkers including Count Buffon in France, many of those involved in the Scottish Enlightenment and later Joseph Priestley and Erasmus Darwin in England and the Humboldt brothers in Germany understood the world as a living system patterned by networks of relations among (and within) different life forms, animated by interactions among complementary forces –the ‘Order of Relations’, one might call it. 

These forms of order underpinned ideas of transformation, in both the cosmos and social life. In many ways, they resonate with Māori and Pacific ways of thinking. Relational ideas in the Enlightenment, based on Greco-Roman precedents and notions of equilibrium and exchange, provided an alternative to the old top-down models, underpinning arguments for freedom from the rule of the merchants (Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, 1776); and the rights of ordinary people (Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man, 1791), women (Mary Wollstonecraft, a Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792), slaves and indigenous people.

In this ‘web of life’, people were just one life form among many, and the world was constantly changing. Ancestral ideas such as justice, truth, equality and honour helped to determine how exchanges among people should be handled. Here one can find the origins of participatory democracy, the emancipation of women and slaves, earth sciences, environmental theory, anthropology, the World Wide Web and the science of complex systems, for example. 

On board the Endeavour, this kind of thinking was reflected in the Earl of Morton’s ‘Hints’, with its emphasis on the legal rights of Pacific peoples to control their own lands, and in the scientists’ journals written during the voyage, with their interest in the interactions among people, plants, animals, landscapes and seascapes in the Pacific. 

European science at this time was exciting, provocative and paradoxical. This was the era of scientific agriculture (including enclosure), the noble savage (alongside imperial domination and exploitation), arguments in favour of peace (in the midst of almost incessant fighting), and the rights of consumers (at a time of frequent food riots) and commoners, just before the French Revolution and the American War of Independence. 

Together, these and other strands in Enlightenment thought produced passionate debates about topics as varied as land use, slavery, taxation, education and the rights of ordinary people (including the rights of those living in colonies, commoners, women and indigenous people) – debates that in many ways we are still having.


from her book

Tears of Rangi, Experiments Across Worlds 

by Anne Salmond 

get it at


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