It was Saturday morning. My usual weekday routine is to get up around 6.00am and go for a swim. Saturdays are for sleeping in and a slow start, with the weekender editions of the Dom Post, NZ Herald and Hawke’s Bay Today (“Paper of the Year” – hey!) in a leisurely read over breakfast. The phone rang and I heard the Butcher, Sir Peter Leitch, rasping down the line. His voice was full of pain: “Denny, I’m back in hospital mate, jeez it’s bloody awful. It’s getting to me. Never been like this before”. He just wanted to talk, his mind always active but his body stuck in a hospital bed. We yakked for twenty minutes or so, pleasantries, mutually encouraging words, rugby league, the madness of the Police charging the asperser’s-afflicted light-bulb-pinching kid in Christchurch. Pete was somewhat upset about this. He’d rung the Commissioner!
Don’t get me wrong. Peter Leitch is no softie and wouldn’t tolerate the any hint of ripping off people through looting or any other nefarious behavior. He’d eviscerate an actual looter. He’d see it as being lower than low. The bloke is as straight as Kiwis come. But it is in circumstances like this where the Butcher steps out of the popular punitive narrative and pursues his belief in the essential good of the people otherwise on the edge. Maybe he empathised with this bloke because of his own experience with dyslexia. Maybe he recalled his time as a youth in Newtown with the prospect of being perceived as a slow or different learner. I don’t know. What is apparent is that the Butcher’s bullshit detector is in good working order and that he has been able to separate out a criminal endeavour from potential membership of Mike Smith’s Nutters’ Club. His belief has been validated. The Police have now agreed to drop the charges. Good call.
Beyond this instance, the Butcher’s core effort is aimed at uplifting the spirits of the people of Christchurch itself. It’s his new passion. Primarily at his own expense, he has been bringing weekend refugees up to watch the Warriors, recognising the efforts of emergency service workers and infecting people with hope through the carriage of his Kiwi humour: that deep spontaneous chuckling humour which arises from the repartee of the butcher’s shop and the interchange with customers who would possibly come for the greet as much as the meat.
I’d been in Auckland a couple of months previously. My mokopuna Keanu had done well at school. He’s a promising guitarist and as a reward for his application and success I’d promised to take him and his cousin – another grandson, Shae – to hear Carlos Santana live. We had some time up our sleeves. I’d made a mental note some time back, after noting the Butcher wasn’t looking very well, that I’d go and visit him whenever I had the chance. So, I decided to take the boys out with me as part of their education. We pulled up at Bucklands Beach and the Butcher was outside his house unloading the car. “Watch out!” he called to the neighbours “lock your doors, grab your car keys, the Maoris have arrived.” In other circumstances that sort of carry on would earn a head butt however like Billy T James before him this bloke operates at another level – above or below it’s hard to say – that sidesteps the sacred cows of correctness.
The boys were a bit startled. We were ushered into the citadel. And then for the next two hours, they were completely entertained. We had kai – sushi. I broke the Butcher’s designer kitchen seat, which then provided a fresh prop for his wit. He told jokes. He gave the boys little motivational lectures. He pulled out his medals and had the kids take photos wearing them. He gave them presents: Warriors merchandise and his book – which he made a great fuss of signing (I pointed out to the lads that I’d written a chapter without any acknowledgement!). This was against a background of funny one-liners, generally at my expense. It was a unique educative experience and the Butcher’s messages of encouragement and wisdom (shared with many subsequently high-achieving people) will serve as a lifelong reservoir of reflection for my grandsons.
I was in Auckland again early in August to attend Jake Wharewaka’s tangi. Excusing myself from the hakari, and with one of the Auckland bros as chauffeur, I went out to call on the Butcher again. He’s still not well, but he was effervescent, doing radio sound-bites, organising a plane load of Cantabrians for the next Warriors’ match, giving my Black Power driver presents for his kids. “Mate,” he said to me. “I mightn’t make it down to your art auction but…“ he said, dipping into his briefcase and pulling out a wad of notes. “I’ll buy a table just in case.”
Last Friday night he came to our aid again. We were holding the Centenary of the Hawke’s Bay Rugby League, which I was asked to MC. We held a meeting at our place on Wednesday night: Kevin Tamati, Doug Laing, Kerri Gardiner, Ngavi Pekepo and me, pretty much representatives of the ahi kaa of rugby league in Bay since the late 1970’s. “Bloody typical,” I told them. “We have 100 years up our sleeves and we leave it to the last 48 hours to define the celebration!” Not so really. Henry Heke and Kerri had done a great job turning people out. Anyway, we got to discussing how we could get people who weren’t able to attend to participate and we mused whether we could use Skype to achieve that. As we yakked we agreed that one of the more significant contributors to our success – especially in the 1990’s – was the Mad Butcher and we decided to see if we could get the chief to beam in.
It was easier than buying a kilo of discounted sausages. We had agreed on a formula for the night with Doug, Ngavii and KT taking it in turns to cover three phases of the history of rugby league in the Bay.
I started off by pointing out that Hawke’s Bay had a name unique in the code of Rugby League (the Unicorns), and that we held an amazing piece of collateral called the Charity Cup, probably the oldest rugby league trophy in the southern hemisphere, and possibly unrivalled in the world because it has been played for by all three football codes. (I cover the Charity Cup in this blog July 2005 “The Things That Bind Us”).
Now, I told my rugby league brothers, I will tell you about the the name: that ancient and mythical beast, the Unicorn. Plinie, the Roman naturalist records it as “a very ferocious beast, similar in the rest of its body to a horse, with the head of a deer, the feet of an elephant, the tail of a boar, a deep, bellowing voice, and a single black horn, two cubits in length, standing out in the middle of its forehead.”
It was traditionally believed that only a virgin who was naked, sitting beneath a tree could catch the Unicorn. The Unicorn, who craves purity, would be irresistibly drawn to the girl and lie down with his head in her lap. However, if the girl was merely pretending to be a virgin the Unicorn would tear her apart. I told my now increasingly perplexed rugby league audience that I was unsure of the underlying moral of the story but it possibly had something to do with that ruddy great black horn. If they thought that was a bad joke, it got worse. I offered that there are at least nine mentions of the Unicorns in the Bible; spanning the Books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Job, Psalms, Isaiah and Ezekial. This, I said, explains for me the disproportionate numbers of Mormons in our ranks.
“Save me from the lion’s mouth; for thou hast heard me from the horns of Unicorns.”
– Psalms 22:21
My wry was too dry. Nary a smile. Stick to your day job. Leave comedy to comedians. Thank God one was at hand, virtually at least, for it was the appointed time for the Butcher to beam in, and there he was, online, dressed to the nines wearing his medals.
He gave us a rib-tickling korero, but we had something in store for him too. When a Maori community wants to salute someone they admire it is often through the performance of haka. And that’s exactly what the entire room did. Led by Henry Heke and Kevin Tamati everyone rose to perform the Ngati Kahungunu tribal signature haka “Tika Tonu”. It was an emotional and heartfelt tribute to a great Kiwi. I’m proud to have Peter Leitch as a friend, and I’m proud that our nation has recognised him as a Knight. All Knights are of the Realm: some derive their mana from the Crown, some from industry and commerce, and — every now and then – there are Knights who are the champions of the New Zealand people. Sir Peter Charles Leitch KZNM, QSM, you are the man! May good physical health return to you my brother. Your spiritual health – “know them by what they do” – is assured.
Well what about all that aggro and violence in Great Britain? Shockin’ innit! I don’t know if it appeals to your sense of humour but one of our favourite Kiwi reggae groups was playing in London at the time, hosted by Ngati Ranana. Their name? Katchafire.
Who sit on the waters
In your market a man
Costs less than a dollar
I will play my guitar
The day they burn you down
Pigeon Park Song, James K Baxter
On the association between reggae and Aotearoa I was asked to korero at a symposium called ‘Caribbean Connections’ held in August at Victoria University. The event had an eclectic mix of presenters, all of whom hold a significant place in the history of reggae and Rasta in Aotearoa whether as performing artists, selectors, apostles, or activists. Some were all of these. My task was to cover the topic of our ‘Sufferers’ aka Nga Mokai. I used a mix of quotes lifted from Baxter, a few clips of historic footage, and an interweaving narrative.
My korero followed a fantastic presentation by musician, composer and historian, Ruia Aperahama. The guy is a philosopher as well. I never previously appreciated that in his 1925 world tour T W Ratana hooked up with Marcus Garvey. Damn, there’s an amazing story within that itself.
In any case, for my part, I first told the tauira how pleasing it was to see that the Victoria University faculty were encouraging them to break out of Godzone’s clammy cloud of self satisfaction (‘she’ll be right’) wherein politics and the troubles of the world are always somewhere else, somewhere abroad, or amongst others. We tend not to see our own points of reference. We might not recognize that “koro Libyia’s” name marks a whanau member’s World War 2 experience in North Africa, or that the name of the best dad in the world – “Alamein” in the movie “Boy” – held a record of a similar connection with distant places and now, contemporary world events.
It was uncanny to have this ‘Connections Symposium’ scheduled against the background of the riots sweeping London and throughout urban England. The recent situation is somewhat similar to the events in 1977 that piqued my interest in what was going on in Jamaica and in the Afro Caribbean communities in Great Britain. I had applied for, and was awarded, a Commonwealth youth fellowship. Rob Muldoon armed me with a Prime Ministerial “Letter of Introduction” and with this most useful document I travelled to Kingston Jamaica and to Brixton and Toxteth in England to see for myself. I followed up with a further visit to England after the rioting in 1981, and in 1992 I went back to look at what was going on in “Liverpool 8” as part of a team from the Commonwealth Study Conference being held at Oxford. We had a chance to evaluate the impact of the various policies implemented following Lord Scarman’s 1981 Report about the riots of that time.
My thoughts then are pretty much what I believe now. We can probe and analyse all the socio economic socio-political forces at play for years to come without coming to a finite conclusion. Generally these Commissions and reviews are a waste of time because their recommendations do not get implemented – consider our own last comprehensive review on street gang violence (Roper Report 1987). We’ve pretty much done the opposite. My recommended “Contain, Divert, Redirect” strategy is to get out there and counter the anomie by engaging the youth in prescribing their own pro-social future and helping them make it come true (Blog May 2007 “Those that have ears let them hear”). I believe that theatre, music, art – indeed creative pursuits in general – offer one route to voice any deep problematic. And of course voicing – giving the issue a name – enables description, definition, and potentially, resolution.
The current situation in London has many similarities to that of 1981. For a start, then, there had been the ratcheting up of Police pressure on the youth (mainly black) through the ‘suss’ laws. This time the spark was the shooting to death by a specialist gang-focused Police unit of a youngish black youth, Mark Duggan – himself reputedly something of a Johnny-Too-Bad. This is all against a broader and familiar background of youth disenchantment, rampant consumerism, and a palpable social tension between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. A couple of years ago British prison reformist Baroness Vivien Stern argued that we have converted what are essentially social problems into criminality. In 1981 Lord Scarman acknowledged “complex political, social and economic factors” which had created a “disposition towards violent protest”. He reckoned that “urgent action” was needed to prevent racial disadvantage becoming an “endemic, ineradicable disease threatening the very survival of our society”.
Well that familiar ring was thirty years ago. Now, once again we have witnessed the volatility that can flare when the social yoke becomes insufferable and the pressures of life explode – and how self-defeating this undirected anger can be, both in the actions of a destructive mob ($400 million in damages) and the following crack-down by the State. What have already been labelled as ‘hysterical’ sentences have been dished out to those convicted of riot-related offences.
Back in ’81 Lord Scarman took some time and undertook broad community consultation to arrive at his conclusions. Apparently current English Prime Minister David Cameron believes that considered reflection is not required to determine what’s gone down this time – the riots were simply an expression of pure criminality as far as he’s concerned. In Cameron’s view the social drivers don’t feature. He’s eschewed the advice of his own policing advisors and hired a former US lawman, “supercop” William Bratton, to pursue a zero tolerance policing policy, a la Los Angeles. Well that will work, Innit! As Hugh Orde, head of Britain’s Association of Chief Police Officers quoted in Time said “I am not sure I want to learn about gangs from an area of America that has four hundred of them!”
I might say that similar recommendations to take a zero tolerance approach have been voiced locally. I was driving back from Murupara recently and was listening to Jim Mora’s ‘Panel’ on National Radio and became virtually apoplectic as Police Ten 7 presenter Graham Bell launched into a diatribe about the riots. “It could happen here – we don’t make people accountable – we can’t smack our kids and then it’s too late,” Bell said. And then, by way of a final bon mot “It hasn’t happened yet, but its getting darker all the time.” I’ve upbraided Bell before about his regular assumption that being young and brown is itself probable cause to arrest. There is an almost Freudian intimation that race is at the base of these poor behaviours.
Bell’s fellow panellist on this day, talking of the book by Macsyna King, (Breaking Silence: The Kahui Case), took an equally flawed but otherwise obverse line. She offered that the terrible dysfunctional practices witnessed by Bell in his police work, and recorded by Ian Wishart in this book “would never be experienced by ordinary white NZ families.” Ah dear, similar stories to these were the sad reality of Irish Catholic New Zealanders only a century ago; not a Maori amongst them. You know, in general National Radio does a good job but if I want uninformed, ill considered shock jock stuff I can turn to talkback lalaland where I can hear Michael Laws, unchallenged, tell me that “Ferals prefer being feral. It is a lifestyle that suits them and their outlook. …the WINZ office is their marae, Housing NZ their habitat, the District Court their day out” etc. And I don’t mind a good old right wing tirade – even a race contextualised one – but surely we have to be able to move past this binary paradigm: Black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. We don’t face dichotomies but rather a challenging continuum of paradoxes that we need to work at collectively to resolve. Not generally the turf of policemen, retired or not.
The cops are asleep, I hope.
So I go barefoot
Along the grass tracks below the church
That shrine of hard work and cleanliness
And say to the moon,
‘Mother, remember us,
Heal for us what we cannot bring together,
The bright and the dark, the vagrant and the Pharisee
The pa’s love and the church’s law
My feet are very cold
Empty Bellies, James K Baxter
To be fair, Radio New Zealand news did contact a number of community advocates about the riots by Radio NZ News (eg Mua Strickson Pua & Edge Te Whaiti) and, unsurprisingly, there was broad expression of concern because of the recurring features of high youth unemployment and low civic participation. These are magnified by the disproportionate representation of NZ’s brown-youth in every negative social indices including the likelihood of being tasered or being shot to death by the Police. In these circumstances should we expect ‘feral riots’ in Aotearoa? In the mid 1980’s we witnessed rebelliousness in Ruatoria that was of almost civil war status. On a relative population basis the destruction of civic and community buildings in this East Coast township at that time makes the current damage in London look like small change indeed. If it happens here then expect a good ‘un.
Are we likely to see South Auckland moving down to ‘the Cloud’ in numbers and playing up during the RWC? Possibly, but not likely, although Dave Dobbyn is playing and all hell broke loose in Queen St the last time he performed there. One reason we generally sidestep these big blow ups is because of our relatively small size, and our small scale (although this didn’t hold true for Tonga in the riots in Nuku’alofa). The good thing is that in Aotearoa we have a tradition of and capacity for sorting trouble out at a street level before things blow their top. We have the Poutakawaenga, the Maori liaison police who tend to take a relationship-led approach to community policing. We have the Maori Wardens who take the stance ‘aroha ki te tangata’, a non-criminal-justice approach, an effective preventive intervention which aims to avoid trouble and build a safer community for everyone. We have a strong youth worker network. We have something in the order of 30 Community Action Youth and Drugs (CAYAD) sites who initiate community action to provide young people with positive alternatives to crime and intoxication. And we have active change agents in the field. If you are a regular reader of these columns you will know that this is the area of work where the likes of Mane Adams, Edge Te Whaiti, Eugene Ryder, Bones, Knockers, Sui and Roy Dunne excel – these are our champions of pro-social change and God Bless them for it!.(Read a few back-blogs if you want to know more). I readily acknowledge the reality of suffering experienced by some whanau, and clusters of whanau, and I agree that there are some communities with disproportionately high rates of relative poverty. But I reject mindless violence and wanton destruction as a valid response.
Our bed of love is made
Among the lions’ dens
The children of Zion
Are shouting from their hill
Whom Pharaoh cannot kill
Nor the jaws of the lion:
Our bed of love is made
Among the lions’ dens.
Songs of Pharaoh’s Daughter, James K Baxter
I favour the tools of a metaphoric ‘asymmetric warfare’, where we apply spiritual weapons, weapons of love, music, song, and poetry – lyrics carried on a sweet note or drumbeat that then enter the consciousness and inspire action. And then there is theatre, guerilla theatre, the theatre of politics. Tame Iti is our current laureate. To a greater degree you could describe the protests around the 1981 Springbox Tour in the context of direct action theatre even though from time to time it got a bit rugged. When you hear Nelson Mandela recall the sense of hope and support he felt when he learned of the cancellation of the Hamilton match then you realize the powerful symbolic value, the global significance of this direct-action theatre.
Back in the early 1970’s there were regularly up to 30 or so young Maori bedding up at the Wellington Railway Station or in abandoned Ministry of Works’ houses. Fired by the “don’t moan about it – act!” message of our guru of the day – the radical American community organiser Saul Alinsky – a team of us decided that as we were dealing with homelessness, we should confront the authorities in the very house of the people, Parliament itself. I had noted that if you wore a hat into the Parliamentary foyer the old security guards would flock around you to make you remove it. This was also true if you smoked. Thinking in cause and effect terms I sent in a hat-wearing-smoking-squad. Whilst the guards were distracted another thirty or so of us carted in mattresses and bedded down.
We got everyone comfy and ready to settle in for the night. There was consternation. Policemen and journalists flocked like buzzards at the kill. But a wise old matua, the wonderful Matiu Rata, then Minister of Maori Affairs intervened and korero ensued. In community action as in guerilla theatre you gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. A solution was found in the provision of short term accommodation at Ngati Poneke and a promise was made by the authorities to find a longer term arrangement. It was time to withdraw and take the win.
I appreciate that a community organiser today would be unlikely be able to pull a stunt exactly like that again, but there’ll be fresh forms of creative protest and passive resistance. This is the Google Generation. Modern communications technologies have already been used to promote the ‘Arab Spring’ and using tweets and whatever to create ‘flash mobs’ is well rehearsed in Europe and the US. So indeed, beat down Babylon with trumpets and horns, drums and cymbals. Dip into the centre of your soul and find voice in poetry and song, theatre and dance, and carry that in person or virtually through the ether by film clip or video. Jericho!
In my last blog I was lamenting the loss of a number of our men. This intervening period has been dominated by the passing of several of our women. It started with the death of our kuia and neighbour Hineiaia Pene, at age 85. She’d been in failing health for a while. Sometimes the old lady would get a bit bewildered and distressed and would wander away from her home. Often she’d end up around the back of my shed where, as the sun goes down, I habitually light up the outside fire and open a bottle of red wine. We’d have a drink or two and chat about old times. She’d settle and then I’d walk her home. On the night before she died I brought a nice bottle of good French wine and my son Tareha and I sat around her bed with the family and shared the love. After her tangi at Ruahapia we buried Hine amongst her ancestral bones at Waiohiki. Haere ra e te kuia.
Then we had the news of he taonga o te reo Maori ko Kataraina Mataira being called to the breast of Hine nui te Po. Haere ra e te tuahine rangatira. Closer to home again it was Megan ‘Wawi’ Joe. At 58 years of age Megan was just entering her prime, serving her first term as the President of the Maori Women’s Welfare League. She’d had to cope with an aggressive cancer as well as with a rude sally on the non-sectarian philosophy of the League led by Destiny Church’s Hannah Tamaki. Tamaki actually turned up to the tangi service at Mohaka but she was turned away, not as one might expect by Megan’s radical feminist supporters and friends, but by the elder women of the MWWL who’s deep resentful fire at the attempted commodification of their kaupapa was evident throughout the period of the tangihana. And then we had Whetu Tirikatene Sullivan (ONZ) pass into the night. Taape and I went down to the grand lady’s memorial service held at the St Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington. Haere atu ra e nga whaea, nga taonga. Now, too Ta Paora Reeves has gone. Yes we are mortal. Use your time to do good works. No one leaves this world alive!
There are a thousand other bits and pieces I could and maybe should have talked about but hell, I’ve gone on long enough. Following the big chill it’s been really sunny in the Bay. The spring is sprung, the grass is rizz. My garden is looking tidy. The pruning is well done. It’s always a good sign. I’m waiting for the garlic to pop through from their bed of horse manure and chooky-poo. Even though it seems that we may be in a bed of shit something good can come out of it. Life is good and there’s stuff to do.
God Bless. Arohanui.