I start this blog on Labour Day. I’m just back at Waiohiki from a Black Power hui near Rotorua, including a challenge for the Gabe Tawhaiti – and I’ll come back to that in a little while. The sports games, netball and league, held as part of the “Gabe”, were played at a cold and wet Mamaku but here, today at Waiohiki, the breeze is warm and the sky blue. It’s late Spring, and the ecological system has kicked into high. There are ripe strawberries and sweet asparagus. The older nephews are building a playhouse in the widespread limbs of the loquat tree for the tamariki of the whanau when they come home from the city to the haukainga at Waiohiki for Christmas. From my spot in the shade I can see a swarm of sandflies. With their slings and arrows these slight indigenous beings cause this particular Treaty partner to break out in little red volcanoes. I know though that it won’t be long before nga piwakawaka, hungry fantails, arrive to fulfil that mystical sequence of the food chain whereby my tormentors will soon end up as birdshit to feed my broccoli.
Despite the implications of the imminent collapse of the global capitalist system and an impending election at home, for me, the feature of the month has been the River, the Whanganui, and its people, past and present. It’s a convoluted story I’m about to tell with Te Awa Whanganui as a common theme. A few years back I was the chairman of Miramar Rugby League. The club had taken on the red white and blue tricolour of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Rugby League Club as its colours and had adopted the rooster as its emblem. When I first came to Wellington, living mainly in Newtown and mixing amongst the brothers of the day it was almost automatic to play league for Miramar. Then Wellington Rugby League had a metropolitan focus and was working hard to create its own grounds at Rugby League Park, Newtown. There were several clubs associated with the city suburbs and their blue collar populace. Kiwis such as Warren Collicoat and aspirant challengers like Whetu and Whare Henry abounded. For my part it seemed that getting into the Miramar Premiers was just as hard as getting into the Kiwis. There were tough and skilled players everywhere. One especial hero was a bloke called Tura Mataira, who although his brother Harold was probably the more consistent and resilient, was a sporting genius, an Israel Falau of his day. My own capabilities as a player were limited. When I was a kid in music class at the convent school the choir mistress would get me to turn the pages for the piano player. Apparently it was the best contribution to the choir I could make. When it came to song itself, as she so politely put it to my mum, I had volume and enthusiasm. I think my on field efforts in rugby league were of a similar ilk. I would get reasonably fit and in some considerations I was reasonably strong but apart from go forward I had little to contribute. My highest honours were representing Hawke’s Bay Unicorns ‘B’ and captaining the Miramar 3rds. In my defence I should point out I was a prop and go forward was all I was asked to do. In any case my sporting skills eventually proved to essentially managerial and my greatest rugby league games were played in boardrooms. So, now as chairman of Miramar Rugby League, and having asked the club members what they wanted, my duty became to get the club back into first grade football. We gained the services of former Kiwi Mike Kuiti and the highly qualified Mark Taurima as coaching staff and enlisted Dexter Traille, a Sergeant of Police, as manager. We decided to look at our whakapapa as a club, and to reinvent ourselves as a first grade entity. The roots of the club had been amongst the English working class of the suburb although the players of the present day are from Maori and other Polynesian peoples. My graphically gifted bro Ranga Tuhi redesigned the chook emblem giving it a manaia-like appearance. With the chook given an indigenous flavour we wanted a slogan to reflect the English and we thought that we would use Winston Churchill’s riposte to Hitler when the latter said that he would wring England’s neck like a chicken. “Harrump”, said Churchill, “some neck! some chicken!”. I asked Rangitihi (John) Tahuparae for a translation into Maori. “Tama heihei, kaki maro” he replied and so this shibboleth completed the crest.
Readers of this blog may recall that Rangitihi Rangiwaiata Tahuparae MNZM, “Tahu”, was the tohunga that my wife Taape called to our critically ill daughter’s bedside with miraculous results when the doctors told us that all hope was gone. You will understand my distress then when I was told at the beginning of the month that Tahu had died.
He was a significant figure, the kaumatua for Parliament, a member of the Waitangi Tribunal, and a driving force in the re-establishment of ‘Whanganui-tanga’ the old protocols and cultural practices of the River people. Back in the day, in Wellington, he started this Maori martial arts crew called Whanake Rangataua. Some of the Wellington BP were in his crew, the Mahauriki brothers, Danny Makamaka, and the Marshalls.
I think Tahu saw his efforts as an alternative to gangs. After travelling to China he formed Rangataua o Aotearoa Martial Arts and it became a significant force. Back at home in Whanganui he looked for ways to connect the youth of the River with their past and future. He started this annual tradition of taking a trip down the river, “Tira Hoe Waka” staying at different marae on the way. An awesome experience. Tahu is also credited with coining the whakatauki
Mai i te kahui Maunga ki Tangaroa
Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au
From the mountain (Ruapehu) to the sea
I am the River, the River is me
and he established a group of young orators well versed in the dialectical nuances and ancient chants particular to the area. Tahu, now as tupapaku, was taken to Putiki at the mouth of the awa where a constant stream of mourners including tribal leaders and government dignitaries of all forms came to pay their respects. Many of the people at Putiki follow the Catholic faith, and whilst was happy for people to pray for him in the way that they felt comfortable Tahu had instructed that for his final night and for the ceremonials on the following day only pre-Christian (read for that, pre-colonisation) karakia would be used. I wanted as many of my family as possible to attend his tangi, and especially our daughter Kaylene to whom he had provided hope, belief, and perhaps a point of intercession with her ancestors. The burial itself was to be on the following Tuesday, but at 4.00am on the Saturday a delegation of tribal rangatira from Ngati Kahungunu were gathering to travel over as an ope, a group, and so we joined with them to go first as members of the tribe, then planning to go back for the final night in a more personal and intimate manner. The Maori economy operates on several levels, reciprocity being one. I have shared the Baxterian lines before,
It will take more than talk
To make this a country
Where the men who were retreated like slaves
Work for things other than money
Ballad of the Third Boobhead – James K Baxter
Reciprocity operates both in meaning-based domains, donations of kai, loaning of facilities and resources, and also in the representational domain, the physical presence of elders and leaders who have put aside other important duties to signal support by being there at the hui or tangi or whatever the occasion. And so these often old people gather in the small hours before the dawn and travel long distances. As an example amongst our ope were Ngati Kahungunu Tribal Chairman Ngahiwi Tomoana, and kaumatua Tuahine (Joe) Northover. ‘Uncle Joe’ is a Waitangi Tribunal member as was Tahu, and also shares those ‘tohunga’ like powers. Back in the days prior to the ‘Treaty Industry’ uncle Joe was the bulldozer driver at the garbage dump at Redcliffe. It would not be unusual to see a carload or two of Maori who had driven out to the dump gathered around him to ask for his help in Te Ao Maori. Now as a Tribunal Member he is well heeled and cuts a dapper figure. To be truthful, although he is no longer on a bulldozer, dealing with the Crown means he still has to push round a fair amount of crap. Anyway we arrive at Putiki, about twenty of us, the first ope of the day to be called on to the marae, the kuia with smart coats and shawls and kaumatua looking impeccable in their dark suits, overcoats, and natty hats. I sit back to watch and listen to the whaikorero as part of my privileged education. It is all over short and sweet, as in a practised manner, first the genealogical bases are covered and then each speaker in turn builds on the korero to complete the tapestry. After the haruru we are led into the dining room to be fed as another group comes on. After the meal uncle Joe stands and thanks the ringa wera, the cooks and workers, and the hau kainga, the people of the marae, and then we are off back to the ‘Bay, the kaumatua due at other tangi and meetings and that full on lifestyle called ‘ko te Maori’, the Maori way.
On the Monday Taape, Boy, and I returned to Whanganui and Putiki. The big delegations had been and gone and whilst the next day would see the Governor General and the Speaker come to represent Parliament and the Crown there was a relaxed feeling and anticipation of the korero and waiata to come in this final evening of our time with John. I took the chance to have a good ‘yak’ with Rose, Tahu’s partner, and with Doug Kidd who was representing the Waitangi Tribunal. That night after karakia led by tohunga representing the mountains that were the cornerstones of Tahu’s life, the recitation of chants that detailed his whakapapa links to each of the captains of the ancestral canoes, and speeches from the elders and whanau, the floor was opened. Those less illustrious of us were given time to speak. I recounted my stories of the amazing things that I had seen Tahu do. Things that I did not understand but accepted were real. I offered an instance when he was blessing the Korean High Commission, the ritual ‘hiki’, the lifting performed at the opening a new building. As Tahu and Ambassador Ho crossed the threshold of the new house two columns of mist suddenly and eerily spiralled up either side of the doorway; then there was his response to my plaintiff call in the early hours of the morning when my daughter lay dying and of the miracle-like outcomes that followed. I told of my response to Fr Orange who had given my daughter the Last Rites and seemed a bit off-put by Tahu’s presence: “Look Father, you look after the AD, this guy will take care of BC”. I told his people that I was under no illusions that he was a saint or even holy man – we had been drunk together too many times to put up that façade – but there was no doubt that he had a facility or access to some channel that enabled him to connect with the ancestral spirits. And then, pertinent to my point that we all, like Tahu, are both tapu and noa, sinner and saint, I began to read them a work from my much loved poet and mentor, another man affected and guided by the River, Hemi Baxter;
I saw the Maori Jesus
Walking on Wellington Harbour.
He wore blue dungarees.
His beard and hair were long.
His breath smelt of mussels and paraoa.
When he smiled it looked like the dawn.
When he broke wind the little fishes trembled
When he frowned the ground shook.
When he laughed everybody got drunk.
I think for a start some in the whare mate that night thought that I was telling an elaborate long joke, but then, as the words wrought their influence and the context of the life of the man that lay before us came to bear, the laughter quietened and the poet’s bite began to take effect
The Maori Jesus came on shore
And picked out his twelve disciples.
One cleaned toilets in the Railway Station;
His hands were scrubbed red to get the shit out of the pores.
One was a call-girl who turned it up for nothing.
One was a housewife who’d forgotten the Pill
And stuck her TV set in the rubbish can.
One was a little office clerk
Who’d tried to set fire to the Government Buildings.
Yes, and there were several others;
One was an old sad quean;
One was an alcoholic priest
Going slowly mad in a respectable parish.
The Maori Jesus said, ‘Man,
From now on the sun will shine.’
He did no miracles;
He played the guitar sitting on the ground.
The first day he was arrested
For having no lawful means of support.
The second day he was beaten up by the cops
For telling a dee his house was not in order.
The third day he was charged with being a Maori
And given a month in Mount Crawford.
The fourth day he was sent to Porirua
For telling a screw the sun would stop rising.
The fifth day lasted seven years
While he worked in the asylum laundry
Never out of the steam.
The sixth day he told the head doctor,
‘I am the Light in the Void;
I am who I am.’
The seventh day he was lobotomized;
The brain of God was cut in half.
On the eighth day the sun did not rise.
It didn’t rise the day after.
God was neither alive nor dead.
The darkness of the Void,
Mountainous, mile-deep, civilized darkness
Sat on the earth from then till now.
The Maori Jesus – James K Baxter
Haere ra koe e te rangatira, e te tohunga, haere. E koriporipo ana nga wai o Whanganui. E tu mokemoke ana a Maunga Taranaki. Kua tau nga kapua pouri ki runga i Ruapehu. E tangi ana nga iwi o Kurahaupo, o Aotea, o Tainui, o Te Arawa. E Hone, e Rangitihi, e Rangiwaiata, haere, haere, haere atu ra.
A week or so after Tahu’s death we went down to Wellington for a sports fixture between the BP whanau from Frasertown and Raupunga and the Wellington Chapter. The manuhiri stayed at Tapu Te Ranga, Bruce Stewart’s marae at Island Bay. Although we all used to live together at Walton House Taape and I haven’t spoken with Bruce for maybe twenty years. It brought back many memories, not all of them good. What was good though was to see the members of today and their comfort in their skin as Maori. They travel as whanau, kids and all. They follow tikanga and the protocols of the marae. They are well versed in waiata and kapa haka. Their kaikorero are fluent and mellifluous. Those crazy ‘acculturating’ dreams of the 1970’s shared by Bruce and all of us for the ‘tribe of Nga Mokai’ may well be coming true. From the Wellington BP perspective the purpose of the weekend was to have a hit out in the lead up to the ‘Gabe Taiwhiti’ a memorial rugby league trophy. The boys decided to play in the Miramar no 1’s, the jersey that carries the Tahu’s “tama heihei kaki maro” shibboleth. I thought it was a nice touch from a couple of points of view because the trophy itself came as a request from the River elders when we laid Gabe to rest at Hiruharama, Jerusalem. Gabe was stabbed to death in Arthur St Wellington outside of our old clubrooms. It was the same weekend as my dad died and I was travelling through to Timaru to bury the old man when I saw the Police cordon around the crime scene. After seeing dad off I travelled up the River to Hiruharama for Gabe’s event. Tahu was on the papepae. There, the old people insisted that we avoid any retributive strike against those involved with killing Gabe. They asked that we leave the redress to the rule of law, and that we put the emotional ‘utu’ into something positive. This ‘something positive’ became a rugby league trophy and it has been hotly contested amongst the Black Power ever since, no quarter given. I’m proud to say I played in the inaugural match, and I’m equally proud that my young brothers continue the tradition today, uplifting both the mana associated with Gabe and reaffirming the benefits of a restorative approach to resolving the things that sometimes pitch us one against other. It is timely. There is trouble up the River again. A young man has been attacked and killed in Whanganui in what looks to be a random act of violence. His alleged attackers are linked to him by whakapapa. There is anger and hurt. Again we must seek redress through the law, and then find ways to bring healing and peace.
Words get thrown around, print, broadcast media, the internet – here ‘gang member’, ‘criminal’ and ‘terrorist’ have all become virtually interchangeable, despite the apparent differences. It is surreal to hear that five of the alleged ‘Tuhoe Terrorists’ have now morphed into allegedly ‘an organised criminal group’, a gang, “Tame Ma”, for all intents and purposes. There is either some very messy or very Orwellian thinking going on. The initial thrust has been to contextualise our gangs within the sphere of organised crime, then to extend it to the murky world of terrorism. Hello, now we’re heading back in the reverse direction!
Kim Workman writing in ‘Rethinking Punishment’ October 2008, moots the proposition “Treating Gangs Like Terrorists – Why Not?” Workman notes that the development of urban gangs in New Zealand coincided with the urban migration of Maori during the 1950’s and 60’s. Maori were 80% rural in 1940 but 80% urban by the mid 1980’s. The criminalisation of Maori followed, and, given the gregariousness and high socialisation of Maori society family members, friends, and bonding in prisons, have played a role in bringing people into gangs. This is similar to the process that brings individuals into terrorist groups. Workman draws on some thinking by Australian anti-terrorism expert Dr Pete Lentini, convener of the Global Terrorism Research Unit at Monash. Lentini suggests a mix of short-term and long-term approaches (Lentini, P. 2008, ‘Understanding and combating terrorism: Definitions, origins and strategies’. Australian Journal of Political Sciences). Kim Workman proposes that if in our search for strategies for combating and reducing gang activity in New Zealand we were to adapt the strategies proposed by Lentini, the following points would assist us:
- Above all, develop a rational, long term strategy.
- Avoid the temptation to politicize the gang issue, and to offer ‘silver
bullet’ solutions through piecemeal legislation
- Don’t deal with public fear, by promoting public fear – take a rational long term approach to the issue
- Seek to understand issues of causation – and address them.
- Understand that while some gang members are dangerous criminals, not
all members of gang families are criminals, or condone criminal behaviour.
- Develop a long-term strategy to deal with gangs, which includes both
short term and long term goals:
- Short Term Goals would include:
* A focus on intelligence gathering;
* Targeting serious criminal activity
* Incarceration of key leaders in criminal activity
* Develop contingency plans for dealing with crisis events
* Targeted prevention activities – reducing recruitment, promoting
positive community based programmes in impoverished communities;
- Long Term Goals would include:
* Ongoing dialogue to Increase Trust and Reduce Tension;
* Deploying reformed gang members in mediating with existing gang leaders, and implementing offender rehabilitation programmes
* Providing support for imprisoned gang members and their families
Mind you, Ombudsman Mel Smith reckons that our chances for rational debate in the criminal justice sector are low, it is a forlorn hope. That has been borne out in the current pre-election bidding war in response to penal populism. Despite that back in August 2006 the prime minister declared that the high levels of imprisonment were neither economically nor socially sustainable Labour is triumphant that it has raised the prison population by 71% on its watch, although Phil Goff concedes that as a strategy ‘being tough’ on its own won’t win the day. Labour has invested almost a billion dollars constructing four new prisons and increasing capacity on existing sites. In total they have added 2,345 beds to the prison system since 2004, the largest increase in prison capacity in this country’s history.
For their part the Nats want to privatise the prisons (just one at a time mind!), although they also want to increase prisoner skills training and want to double the number of prisoners who have access to drug and alcohol recovery services. ACT just want to double the prison population. Not halve crime or anything, just double the muster as if that’s a desirable outcome in its own right. Hi de hi, they’re barking mad. This thinking, the objectification of offenders as ‘scum’, use of imprisonment as a default option for misbehaviour, and the attempted industrialisation of the criminal justice sector is brought to us courtesy of the very same blokes who gave us aggressive free market deregulation and a liberalised banking sector thus laying the platform for the current fiscal crisis. If this sort of approach goes ahead it could well provide the negative tipping point for our nation’s social cohesion. It begs the question “Why are we such an angry bunch in this regard?” John Pratt, a criminologist at Victoria University contends that its part of the psyche of our nation. In his paper ‘The Dark Side of Paradise’ (The British Journal of Criminology 2006) he reckons that the market society has itself unleashed pluralistic and heterogeneous forces that threaten the majority view of ourselves as Kiwis in Godzone and our desire to defend ‘paradise’ has led to a marked intolerance for those who threatened its social cohesion.
“The very qualities that brought stability and social cohesion also brought about a crushing conformity, enforced by intense levels of formal and informal social control and fear of appearing different, a fear of not belonging to and fear of being rejected by a tightly drawn homogenous community.”
The Dark Side of Paradise: Pratt 2006:7
It’s a timely discussion, especially in the light of the moves by the Police re the Tuhoe 5 and Phil Goff’s courting South Australian Premier Mike Rann, the champion of the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) 2008 legislation.
This is an extraordinarily draconian piece of legislation and reverses most of the protections that we generally hold to be essential for a just and open society, including the presumption of innocence and the right to test the evidence or allegations presented against you. In true Kafaesque traditions of course, opposing the legislation has been positioned as having something to hide, and is presented as living proof of the criminal conspiracy. Rann had a field day here, looking directly into the lens of TV cameras and saying things along the lines that gang members had poured money into pockets of high priced lawyers to challenge the Bill, and “I don’t care if my legislation impacts on the human rights of these scum”. This latter little sound bite was then eagerly picked up by National’s Chester Burrows who started parroting it on TV and anywhere he could get media time, “I don’t care about the rights of gang members!” Really Chester, even those patch wearing tribal members you need to work with in your role as a Taranaki MP? Late in the piece Labour has announced that if re-elected it will undertake a major enquiry into gangs and organised crime. Thank Christ! It may provide a vehicle for understanding and more intelligent policy. We need urgent dialogue on the real nature of organised crime and related matters like gangs. Last month Wesley Social Action facilitated a hui in Wellington on ‘engaging the hard to reach’. This was in part because a discussion planned for a national youth conference about dealing with youth gangs was blocked by Ministry of Social Development because it was intended to have actual gang members participate. Consistent with the past behaviours of this super-Ministry MSD staff registered for the hui and then were presumably instructed to withdraw, because Wesley experienced a swathe of cancellations by bureaucrats just prior to the event. Oh well, by the time of the next blog we’ll all know who the next government is and who and what we have to face. The chickens will soon be coming home to roost. Times may get tough. Roosters, both saints and sinners, step forward. Tama heihei kaki maro.