Friday, December 30, 2016
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
The ship from Dunedin and the tragedies on Nukapu
gone online. Host James Dann asked me not only about the raid on 'Ata Island but about the wider Pacific slave trade and its links with New Zealand. I mentioned the Dunedin-based steamship Wainui, which was connected to the most infamous and misunderstood episode of the entire slave trade.
The Wainui's captain and crew stole men and women from Melanesia and sold them in Queensland or Fiji to the owners of sugar plantations. In August 1870 the Wainui approached Savo, a small island in the Solomon archipelago, and encountered a group of men and women in canoes. The captain of the Wainui steered his ship into the little vessels; their passengers went screaming into the water. The crew of the Wainui lowered a whaleboat into the sea, rowed towards the flailing bodies, and pulled them to safety, and into slavery.
But the Wainui's captain did not realise that his latest captives included both the wife and daughter of the chief of Savo Island. The people of the island were enraged, and its sole white inhabitant, a beachcomber and small trader, had to barricade himself in his hut.
A few weeks after the raid on Savo John Coleridge Patteson, the Anglican Bishop of Melanesia, approached Nukapu, an island in the far south of the Solomons, on the missionary ship the Southern Cross. For sixteen years Patteson had been landing on Pacific beaches. By 1871, he could preach in twenty-three of Melanesia's thousand languages. On island after island, the bishop left Bibles and medicines and sailed away with young men, who learned to read and pray at Anglican schools on Norfolk Island and in Auckland.
Patteson was popular in many places, and slavers took to imitating him. They would anchor off islands, don black garments, hold Bibles aloft on the decks of their ships, and wait for locals to paddle or swim towards them. After hearing about his imitators, the Bishop of Melanesia became a meticulous opponent of the slave trade. He collected stories of raids and whippings, and wrote long memoranda to the governments of Australasia and Britain.
In the months before the Southern Cross' visit, Nukapu had been repeatedly raided by blackbirders. The people of the island were not happy to see another exotic ship stop outside their reef.
Patteson landed on Nukapu in a Melanesian canoe given to him by some of his students. Hours later he drifted back towards the Southern Cross on the same vessel. There were arrows and axe marks in his torso, and the right side of his head had collapsed. The bishop had become Nukapu's message to the white world.
Despite Jacobs' testimony, the British government sent a warship, the HMS Rosario, to punish Nukapu for Patteson's death. The Rosario was driven by propellers and had eleven guns. On the way to Nukapu the ship stopped in New Zealand, where some of its crew played the first ever rugby union international against a team of Aucklanders.
When the Rosario anchored off Nukapu in October the local men danced on their beach, then fired a volley of arrows that fell into the sea far short of the warship. The Rosario responded by bombarding the island. The ship fired its largest guns, and the ship's crew opened up with their rifles. Later a party of marines went ashore, and burned a Nukapuan village.
The invasion of Nukapu was condemned by anti-slavery campaigners as an insult to the memory of Bishop Patteson, and was criticised by newspapers in New Zealand and in Britain. Patteson himself became the first Pacific martyr of the Anglican church, and is still remembered by members of the church today. Patteson's certificate of ordination is displayed at Auckland's Anglican cathedral; on a window in church in a Surrey village called Kingswood there is a portrait of Patteson serenely contemplating his Bible while two copper-coloured savages carrying clubs approach him.
What is not remembered is the share of responsibility that a steamer from Dunedin bore for both the slaying of Bishop Patteson and the British navy's attack on Nukapu.
Note: the original version of this post mistakenly claimed that there was a causal link between the raid of the Wainui on Savo and the slaying of Bishop Patteson, by claiming that Savo and Nukapu were neighbours, and that the people of the latter island were enraged by the abduction of the chief of Savo's wife and daughter. I am very grateful to Christine Liava'a for e mailing and pointing out that Savo and Nukapu are hundreds of kilometres apart. ('I know', Christine said, 'I've been to both'.) I've changed my post to make the weaker claim that Captain Jacobs of the Southern Cross saw the raid on Savo by the Wainui as an example of the blackbirding that led to Bishop Patteson's death.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Just like Christmas
And here's RUN DMC, including the late and much missed Jam Master Jay, doing 'Christmas in Hollis' back in that suddenly fascinating decade, the 1980s.
If these tracks, and not multiple versions of 'Come Let Us Adore Him' and 'Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas', had been blasting from the speakers of the Warehouse and Auckland's malls, then the mental health of the city would be a lot better right now.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Books of the year
Like all the best psychogeographers, Laing knows how to make a relatively short walk into a big story. Her week-long ramble down the banks of Sussex's Ouse River turns into a journey through time, to battles of the eleventh century and then to the fragile utopia that Virginia and Leonard Woolf established beside the waterway in the 1920s. Virginia Woolf praised the Ouse's beauty in her journals and letters, and eventually drowned herself in the river. Laing emerges from the past to let readers into her own emotional life with a frankness that made me suddenly aware how repressed and dishonest my own writing is.
I read Taylor's novel for the sixth time last week. When the book was published a decade ago reviewers praised its cool, noirish tone, and thereby missed Taylor's achievement. Departure Lounge is full of hardboiled sentences and has the wheezing machinery of a crime novel, but it is really a long love letter to the Auckland of the author's childhood - a city that was being erased, even in 2006, by real estate developers and town planners. Where more conventional noir novelists use short, concrete sentences to push their plot along and sketch their characters quickly, Taylor piles sentence on sentence until his paragraphs swell and shimmer with detail. He keeps his sex scenes cool, but makes burglary erotic.
Long before Bob and the Wailers, dreadlocks were made famous by Raymond Firth's massive book about a tiny island. Tikopia sits amidst the Melanesian archipelago of the Solomons, but its people are Polynesians whose ancestors journeyed from Tonga or Samoa millenia ago. Despite the fact that their island covers only five square kilometres, the Tikopians have maintained a complicated and very hierarchical system of chiefs and kings and commoners reminiscent of classical Tongan society. When Firth arrived on the island almost a century ago its people had not completely converted to Christianity, and had only begun to accumulate Western commodities. Many of Firth's readers have seen his book as a sort of a wormhole through which they can travel to ancient Polynesia.
I began reading Salter's novel about anarchic mountaineers - it was apparently adapted from the script of a canned film in which Robert Redford was to star - whilst sitting comfortably on a couch. After a few pages I had to lie down carefully on my back. The couch had become a ledge a few inches wide, on the side of a French mountain. Salter's prose is so precise that it causes hallucinations.
If you think you have problems with your mother-in-law, then you ought to read the delightfully bitchy Sempre Susan. The young Sigrid Nunez should probably have been suspicious when she learned that her boyfriend David Rieff still lived with his famous mother Susan Sontag. Before long Susan had asked Sigrid to move in with her, so that Ingrid could see David without taking the boy away from his mum. Things got more fraught, and more hilarious, from there. In a better world Woman's Day would be this entertaining.
As Chavism implodes in Venezuela, it might be a good time to read Greene's memoir of his friendship with General Torrijos, the left-wing leader of Panama in the late 1970s and a model for Hugo Chavez. In between reviewing Panama's restaurants and draining its bars of whiskey, Greene reports on Torrijos' experiments in direct democracy and his confrontations with the United States, which in the 1970s still controlled strips of land on either side of the Panama Canal.
Half a century ago a German ethnologist sloshed ashore at Niutao, one of the nine atolls that today make up the nation of Tuvalu, and unpacked his hefty and clumsy recording gear. He was soon prompting the island's elderly men and women into singing and chanting old poems about half-forgotten subjects - magicians, and ghost ships, and immortals. Today the unfashionable songs Koch recorded are played on Tuvalu's national radio station. When I first sought out Songs of Tuvalu at the Otara Public Library, I found that an earlier patron of the library had removed the poems about magic from the book. I eventually found them intact in a copy fetched from the basement of the central city library.
Another reread. If CK Stead's Smith's Dream is an austere, elegant parable, then Harrison's dense and dirty novel - which was published at about the same time as stead's novel, but has never had the same renown - is a how-to guide for dystopians.
Unlike any other Pakeha writer of his generation, Finlayson spoke a Polynesian language and lived in both Maori and Pacific Island communities. He's best known for the book Brown Man's Burden, which collected his short stories about the inhabitants of a marginalised and impoverished Maori village, but this coolly written account of New Zealand misrule on a Cook island also deserves to be read today.
Like Don De Lillo's The Names and Tobias Hill's Hidden, Cold Earth is a fine novel about archaeologists gone mad and murderous. Moss follows her group of archaeologists to the shore of one of Greenland's gnarled and ice-strewn fjiords, where they dig up the bones and the memories of doomed Viking colonists of the late Middle Ages. Then a mysterious virus spreads swiftly across the warmer parts of the globe, and the aeroplane that was due to pick up the diggers is delayed...
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Talking to RDU
It's great to check out twitter and see that my book is turning up at the bottom of a few Christmas trees.
Monday, December 19, 2016
Talking to E-Tangata
I hope that my memories of the late King Tupou V don't offend any of the man's admirers. I could never quite get over this billboard.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
A previously unknown island
Seriously, though, I'm grateful to BFM's Mackenzie Smith for interviewing me about 'Ata and the nineteenth century slave trade, and for juxtaposing our conversation with a discussion of the new report on the super-exploitation of migrant labour in twenty-first century New Zealand.
The Listener's article also went online yesterday.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
'Ata in the Listener
Like Radio New Zealand's website, the Listener has reproduced the eerie photograph of slaver Thomas McGrath that I acquired from McGrath's great-great-great grandson.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Slavery and the south
I'm grateful to Bruce Munro, who has written a long article about my book The Stolen Island for the Otago Daily Times. Munro looks at the South Island connections to the raid on 'Ata Island and the Pacific slave trade.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
'Ata and 'America'
Later in his show Hill did a long and marvellous interview with Peter Carlin, who has just published a big biography of Paul Simon. Hill and Carlin locked horns over Simon's 1980s album Graceland - Hill insisted that it is musically hollow and ethically dubious, while Carlin disagreed - and then did a fascinating analysis of my favourite Simon song, 'America'. You can hear that interview here.
Saturday, December 10, 2016
Talanoa with an Able Tasman
I saw the Able Tasmans live again and again, and I always thought of the lushness and warmth of their music as a sort of Auckland response to the brilliantly stark sound of the Flying Nun bands that came out of Dunedin and other southerly parts of the country in the 1980s.
After this afternoon's interview I asked Graeme if he still made music. He said 'I play around the piano when I'm drunk'. I hope he releases some of his drunken improvisations.
Here's Graeme and his mates in the Able Tasmans doing 'Hold Me'.
Footnote: I just watched the video again. Graeme is the guy standing rather awkwardly behind the singer doing nothing at all. I'm not sure why he isn't playing a keyboard but his still presence in the midst of the performance adds a curious tension to the clip...
Footnote (2): My mate Adrian Price has an explanation:
I could easily be misremembering this, but I'd thought it was because the video isn't live and he refused to 'keyboard sync' to the audio, so ended up just standing there.
I can believe that.
Footnote (3): My chat with Graeme will be broadcast from 9.15 tomorrow (Sunday) night.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Yet at the end of the day ‘tis ‘Ata that remains – a rocky isle, now uninhabited, with its 18th century ruins glimmering in the subtropical sun, as your Airbus hurtles you to bustling Auckland.
Wednesday, December 07, 2016
Counting the victims
Monday, December 05, 2016
A part of the story
I've spent the last few days talking about history with descendants of the survivors of the slave raid on 'Ata and with other interested Tongans at kava circles and in lounge rooms (apologies for unanswered e mails and texts!). I'm excited that radio stations in Tonga are talking about The Stolen Island, and that 'Atans are responding to the tohi by celebrating their identity. I'm proud to own this T shirt, which was made recently by an 'Atan.
Friday, December 02, 2016
Watch out, JK!
Radio New Zealand's Hamish Cardwell has turned my interview with Wallace Chapman into an article on the national broadcaster's website. I've done further interviews with The Listener, the online journal E Tangata, Radio Australia's Pacific Beat programme, and the Otago Daily Times. I'm flattered by all this interest, and hopeful that palangi New Zealanders are waking up to the extraordinary and tragic history of 'Ata Island.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]
Thursday, December 01, 2016
The loneliness of the monolingual palangi
Neputino is a Tongan-language site, and I am cracking out my Tongan dictionary to try to decode both its article and the comments that readers have left underneath! Oh how I wish I'd concentrated harder at my 'api 'ako faka Tonga!
Neputino's journalists attended the launch of The Stolen Island - my thanks to Dr 'Okusitino Mahina for inviting them - and they have done a fine job of captioning the photographs that 'Atan descendant Kenneth - or Keneti - Tuai took there.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]