Local historians reshape understanding of past
A community trust in Marlborough is working with local schools and other partners to tell a more balanced story about the first encounters between Māori and non-Māori in the Marlborough Sounds and their impact, and it is looking to take its message to schools nationwide.
Tōtaranui Trust chair Raymond Smith says, "History has been written by the conquerors, but that is not necessarily a true picture of what happened here, and this applies to Cook and what followed in his wake. There is a whole other story that needs to be told, and we are part of that re-telling.
"We are focusing on our children in schools in this region because the young people are the leaders of the future."
Raymond is a descendant of those who greeted James Cook on his visits to Marlborough Sounds and he has strong connections to the Kurahaupo iwi - Ngāti Kuia, Rangitane and Ngāti Apa. The trust has supported and funded a variety of initiatives and resources that will invoke inquiry and information-seeking amongst students.
Children are the next teachers, he says. “We are providing interactive resources as well as tools that will allow children to educate their parents.
He says it will be good if all schools around the country can use these resources in their own curriculum because the nation needs to change it’s understanding of the past.
"Before the arrival of Europeans, there was thriving biodiversity, and people lived with nature as opposed to using it for resource use and extraction. The approach guiding Māori is that our environment is precious and our world is to be shared - manaakitanga - and we are the kaitiaki. The European settlers who came here after Cook thought differently."
Fellow trustee and local historian Peter Jerram says that when Cook arrived, he changed the way of life of Māori forever. Cook came regularly to Ship Cove Meretoto, spending 101 days there over a period of eight years and building relationships with Māori. It was safe, and provided a good supply of fresh water and food, particularly fish. Unwell sailors got the chance to recover, and there was trading.
Site’s importance goes unrecognised
Peter says, "At most places he went to, he only visited once. Ship Cove Meretoto was the site of the first and prolonged cross-cultural contact. It is an important and significant site in New Zealand’s history, but that has not been widely recognised."
The cove, which is only reachable by boat or on foot, is a Scenic Reserve with the same Department of Conservation status as the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi. It is also the end or start point for walkers on the Queen Charlotte Track, and Te Araroa Track, and has information boards outlining its history.
The first encounters there were recorded differently by Māori and Europeans. For example, Raymond says, Māori in Tōtaranui had already heard that something big was coming and regarded Tupaia as the captain of the ship and engaged directly with him, enabling the two groups to understand each other."
Peter says, "Captain Cook was a genuinely good man who understood and respected the Māori he interacted with in depth there. His writings and anthropological observations confirm that he encountered a robust and complex society with a rich history to the whenua, all the way back to Kupe.
"Unfortunately, the people who came after him did not have the same understanding. The story that has been told of our past is not correct - it has been sanitised."
Gap in our understanding
Raymond says the new learning resources will stimulate questions. "We are encouraging children to ask things such as, 'How can anyone such as Cook arrive here, plant a flag, and claim the land for the British King without mandate?' These days, that’s an act of war! Every mountain, every waterway, every part of the landscape in the area was known and named by Māori before Cook arrived. He didn’t discover any of it."
"There is a gap in the knowledge and understanding of this event, so New Zealand as a whole needs to take time to develop a wider perspective. My advice to teachers and principals is to start filling in the gaps in their local history by building relationships with local iwi and other iwi who have made this place home."
Reach out to marae
"Most places have marae that can be connected to for exploring mātauranga Māori. But be flexible - sometimes, learning needs to take place outside the classroom, and outside of school hours," Raymond says. "Also, support the building of kura locally, and learn te reo Māori me ona tikanga."
He believes having a better understanding of the past would also produce another positive spinoff. “For young Māori, hearing stories of their ancestors being told in a positive and respectful way at school will support their learning.”
Raymond says all New Zealanders, and also future migrants, should learn about what shaped the country’s history. "They need a strong understanding of Māoritanga and of our dual heritage to help them fully understand the place they are part of."T
Tōtaranui 250 Trust
The Tōtaranui 250 Trust is a voluntary organisation supported by the Marlborough District Council. The trust was established in 2016 with representatives from the community and in partnership with tangata whenua Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne o Wairau and Te Āti Awa o Te Waka-a-Māui, to commemorate Marlborough’s significant First Encounters in the context of the national Tuia 250 programme.
Totaranui is one of four Landing Site Trusts supporting the commemoration, alongside Te Au Mārie 1769 Sestercennial Trust, Mercury 250 Anniversary Trust and Te Hā Sestercennial Trust.
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