On Voluntary Death

Or selbsmort or mate whakamomori or freitod or suicide… I just finished reading Jean Améry’s quite wonderful short book of essays titled “On Suicide: A Discourse on Voluntary Death”, which could also be titled “A Defence of Voluntary Death”, since that’s what it is. But it is much more besides. For one thing, it’s perhaps the closest you could ever get to reading a treatise on suicide by a suicide. Améry, a Holocaust survivor (barely!), attempted suicide in 1974, wrote these essays in 1976, and in 1978, did take his own life. I found my way to this book after reading, first, his “At The Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities,” then “On Aging: Revolt and Resignation.” To me, Améry is a

Amery_suicide-coverphilosopher of the 20th Century Continental non-Anglophone analytic variety, an Existentialist you might say, a literary reader-writer-thinker type. And he writes so beautifully.

I’ve been looking for this book for quite a few years. By that I mean, a book about suicide that, as the translator John Barlow writes in his introduction, tries to “understand those who take their lives ‘from the standpoint of their own world’ … rather than from that of conventions practiced and observations made.”

It’s always struck me amid the wringing of hands and tearing of hair about suicide — and here I refer to society not to individuals who have lost someone close to them — that none of it ever really does that. None of it tries to pull back even the first layer of platitudes to seek any acknowledgement or understanding of the almost impossible absurdities of being human, the “burden of being” if you will, that we all face and variously find ways to avoid confronting. Instead, it’s mental health services this, and poverty that, and bullying the other. Yes, all worthy, all important, all necessary, but all built on a foundation of an unquestioning (because we aren’t allowed to question it) collective condemnation of suicide. Perhaps it’s right that, as a society, we agree that suicide is always and everywhere to be condemned without debate. I don’t know the answer to that. But if we do impose such a blanket condemnation, we also preclude discussions like Améry’s, we rule out all the ways suicide and everything that goes with it are windows onto the human condition, perhaps even an understandable response to that condition. Continue reading


It’s Exhibition Time

Update: Oh, and there was this coverage in the BOP Times, before the exhibition. After I insisted I was not the right person to talk about raranga, Whaea Bibbins, our kaiako (that’s her in the poster, top right, with fellow tauira Ngawai) promptly instructed me to do so, together with Whetukiaterangi Te Arihi (“Tuki”). Tuki, alongside Whaea Bibbins and everyone else in the class, taught me a whole lot about … a whole lot. I will be forever in the debt of every member of ‘Ngāti Raranga’, past, present, and future. Iti noa ana he pito mata.



Raranga progress

Here’s a pic of (most of) my recent kete (kits, baskets) and 2 pikau (backpacks) to date… Making progress. 


Only in Tauranga?


Rotorua Half

Finished the Rotorua Half Marathon today.
Then had fish and chips at Maketu.
Glorious summer day…or late spring…or whatever.


The Rena Sellout

The Cabinet apparently plans to decide on Monday (28 July) whether or not to support efforts by the owners of the MV Rena, wrecked off the Tauranga coast in 2011, to leave the remains of the wreck, together with its 3,000-tonne debris “junk yard”, in the ocean.

20140726-083602-30962929.jpgIf previous deals and decision-making are any guide, it seems likely iwi and many local residents will be hung out to dry over the Rena, forced to go it alone against the shippers with a big stick and deep pockets. A condemnatory interim report from the Waitangi Tribunal issued on 21 July only adds to that impression, making painfully clear the government’s commitment was and remains protecting the shipping company, not the environment or people of Tauranga Moana.

The report, rushed into the public domain because of several looming deadlines around whether the remains of the wreck are removed or left on Otaiti (Astrolabe Reef), chronicles a depressing display of secret back-room deals, conflicts of interest and a familiar lack of good faith.

The Rena went down in October 2011 off the Tauranga coastline, not far from the island of Motiti. While much of the wreck has been removed, the bow section remains just one metre below the low tide mark on top of the reef surrounded by a large debris field – “up to 3,000 tonnes of material” described to the Tribunal as a “junk yard”. (I live at Mt. Maunganui and together with scores of local residents, took part in the clean-up, which cost taxpayers around $47 million. I wrote about the issue for the BOP Times and on my blog here and here. The interim Waitangi Tribunal report is downloadable as a pdf here. I reviewed an early book about the disaster at Scoop Review of Books.)

One of the main points of contention in the debate over the Rena has been the Wreck Removal Deed, signed by the government and the Rena’s owners in 2012. That deed comes with what appear to be in-built incentives for the government to support the owners in their effort to leave the wreck where it is, providing for an extra $10.4 million extra payment to the government if those efforts are successful and the owners make “a substantial cost saving”. (An Indemnity Deed signed at the same time protects the owners against “ ‘certain claims by New Zealand public and local government claimants’ to a maximum extent of $38 million”, while a Claims Deed settled the Crown’s claims against the owners for $27 .6 million.)

The Tribunal report touches on this in investigating two main issues – consultation with iwi and the resource consent process over the wreck’s future that is now under way. (The resource consent application was lodged on 30 May and the closing date for submissions is 8 August, and can be made at a Rena Consent website set up by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.)

On the consultation issue, the claimants representing Motiti iwi, argue that the government’s approach has been “ ‘hollow’, ‘tick-box’ and mere ‘window-dressing’”, something the report backs up and bears out. (The government disputes this.) While it knew the owners were going to apply for Resource Consent to leave part of the wreck on the reef by January of this year, the government made what the tribunal says was “minimal effort” at consultation.

The Tribunal takes a particular swipe at the Minister for Local Government, Paula Bennett, for doing nothing other than write one letter to iwi and hapū groups “to encourage them to participate in the consultation process”. They, in turn, received no help with travel to attend meetings, even though, as the report points out, Motiti is an isolated island community with no road network or public roads, no power or wired phone system, once weekly mail service and limited coastal access.

Of even greater concern, however, is just who Bennett put in charge of looking out for the interests of Motiti. Keith Frentz is a contractor employed by the Beca consultancy who, according to the Tribunal, “is also working on the Rena owners’ behalf to advance their resource application”.

As anyone who’s been involved at a community level in Resource Management Act challenges knows, this is a David v Goliath game in which David usually loses. The same is true in this case, with local iwi expected to use their own resources to take on a company with deep pockets to fund well-paid expert witnesses – a team of 14 individuals and consultancies so far. Certainly the Regional Council, as the consenting authority, has its own advisers, though it remains officially neutral – “has no preferred position” – on the fate of the wreck. (Contestable Environment Court funding of up to $40,000 isn’t available to objectors until after the resource consent application has been challenged.)

Much has been made in some news media commentary about risks and safety issues associated with further wreck removal, including in an editorial in The New Zealand Herald – which has little sympathy with iwi concerns about consultation. In the editorial just before this interim report was released, the paper argued that “total removal of the wreck from the reef no longer makes a great deal of sense” because the continued release of oil and debris is “a minor problem”.

In this, the Herald is – as the government appears to be doing – buying into the company’s arguments, giving short (or no) shrift to the interests of local iwi and pākehā. Of course worker health and safety is an issue, but we’re talking about professional salvors, and one can only imagine the effort that would made if one of those containers littering the ocean contained a few hundred million dollars worth of – well, anything.

Then there’s the argument, also repeated in the Herald’s editorial, that these deeds were a good deal “for all New Zealanders” because the government feared that without them, the ship’s owners and insurers would “walk away from the negotiating table”.

It is simply remarkable that the Crown’s failure to hold to account those responsible for New Zealand’s worst environmental maritime disaster could become a deal we should shut up and swallow.

‘There Has Never Been A Surrender’

I spent much of today at Te Ranga, the site just outside Tauranga where, 150 years ago on 21 June, Māori and British/colonial forces fought of one of the bloodiest battles of the so-called “New Zealand Wars.”

Dawn just before the blessing of the new pou at Te Ranga, 5km inland from Tauranga.

Dawn just before the blessing of the new pou at Te Ranga, 5km inland from Tauranga.

Later that same day: the haka party at the Te Ranga battle site.

Later that same day: the haka party at the Te Ranga battle site.


I live in Tauranga Moana, and what follows is a bit of a show-and-tell about this and other battles. It’s mine, so necessarily subjective and merely the thinnest of slices. There is, of course, so much more…

I know what really got me thinking about Gate Pa/Pukehinahina. I was reading some of the documents relating to the settlement late last year (or signing of, anyway) between the Crown and two Tauranga Moana iwi: Ngai Te Rangi and Ngā Pōtiki, primarily the Deed, which includes some history, an apology and acknowledgements of Treaty of Waitangi breaches by the Crown. It struck me a bit like a blow to the head that, wow, the very battles that led to the very land confiscations that sort of eventually led to this very deed took place exactly 150 years ago — to the year — in 1864. (OK, the deed of settlement was signed in 2013, but the enabling legislation is happening this year, 2014).

Inside the dotted lines = everything that was confiscated from Tauranga Moana tribes after 1864. (The green represents bush/hills, coloured by me in an effort to make the map clearer)

Inside the dotted lines = everything that was confiscated from Tauranga Moana tribes after 1864. (The green represents bush/hills, coloured by me in an effort to make the map clearer)

That blow to the head was followed by masses and masses of reading, thinking, exclaiming, which was in turn followed by some interviewing, photographing, more reading, lots more exclaiming. Part of the exclaiming revolved around the gobs of money and media real estate being spent on the centenary of World War I, in particular (next year!) of Gallipoli, the hopeless, ghastly battle that allegedly formed our national identity.


One of the ANZAC posters on construction fencing around the new NZ War Memorial (Pukeahu) in Wellington. (There weren't any about the "NZ Wars".)


Three of the ANZAC posters on construction fencing around the rebuild of the NZ War Memorial in Wellington. (There weren't any relating to the "NZ Wars")

Three of the ANZAC posters on construction fencing around the rebuild of the NZ War Memorial in Wellington. (There weren’t any relating to the “NZ Wars”)

Perhaps foolishly, I decided to find out just how much government money was being spent on that compared with what was set aside to commemorate the 150th of Our Very Own Wars on Our Very Own Soil. Wars that are ever-present, all around us, in the people, the history, the land, the settlements and, let’s face it, a fair amount of hostility and sometimes-nastiness about Treaty issues (from some). The results of that research, which took over a month, are (links to a pdf) here and roughly (read the fine print about why it’s “roughly”) $25 million (WWI/wars fought overseas) vs. $240,000 for the “New Zealand Wars”.

That led to this somewhat epic effort published in time for ANZAC Day (!) in Werewolf (Click on the image if you want to read the article:)


Meanwhile, in looking into the Tauranga Moana battles, I was sent a paper by Wellington historian and all around fine person Mark Derby about a man named Hakaraia: peace-maker and warrior (āe!), leader, prophet, former slave, who fought not just in both the major Tauranga battles (Gate Pa/Pukehinahina and Te Ranga) but waged something of a guerrilla war against land confiscations from the Kaimai ranges (aka the “Tauranga bush wars”). That led to more reading, photographing, and interviewing. I spent a bit of time with two men from Hakaraia’s tribe, Waitaha (based around Te Puke). Here they are:


Whareoteriri Rahiri, left, a Waitaha negotiator, and Riko Te Kehua o Te Rangi Ahomiro, a direct descendant of Hakaraia, at the site of Hakaraia’s community, Kenana, near Te Puke.

They took me on some tours of battle sites around the Te Puke area, and down to the Kaituna River, near Hakaraia’s Kenana community.

Whareoteriri at Canaan Landing. Or where it used to be.

Whareoteriri at Canaan Landing. Or where it used to be.

That led to an article that was published in the Listener magazine a week or so ago. (If you click on the image, a pdf of the article will open.)

Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 18.07.48

The image above is circa 1864 around the time of the Gate Pa battle, with Gate Pa on the skyline and British/Colonial forces in the foreground. Fast forward 150 years and this is what it looked like before the Pukehinahina Trust and others went to work on the site for this year’s commemorations:

Gate Pa/Pukehinahina, just before the 29 April 2014 commemorations. Cameron Road slices through the original site, named after the General in charge of the British/colonial forces.

Gate Pa/Pukehinahina, just before the 29 April 2014 commemorations. Cameron Road slices through the original site, named after the General in charge of the British/colonial forces.

It’s worth watching this memorial feature from Māori TV about Gate Pa. (Again, click on the image to view.)

Screen Shot 2014-06-21 at 18.22.08

[Update 23 June: And click here for great coverage of the Te Ranga commemoration by Te Kāea]. I also dug out some of the media images from the 100th commemorations, when the memorial was put up, back in 1964 (from Tauranga Photo News).

Gate Pa centennial commemoration, 1964.

Gate Pa centennial commemoration, 1964.



Gate Pa centennary 1964, showing the plaque that was put up on top of Pukehinahina. It reads: “On 29th April 1864 the battle of Gate Pa was fought on this site. This plaque comemorates the chivalry displayed by both Maori and Pakeha which has helped unite the two races. Kua iwi kotahi tatou.”

That whole “two races united” theme was popular 100 years after the fact. It’s still popular among some; others take issue. But what did the editors of the Tauranga Photo News put on the cover of that 1964 issue? Here’s the caption and below is an image of the cover: “During the Gate Pa battle centenary week, a three-act play written by C. Kingsley-Smith, Whakatane, dealing with events leading up to the fighting, was performed in Tauranga Town Hall. In our scene from the play, the Rev. Alfred Brown and his wife are played by Ron Fisher and Mil Sullavan. Representatives of the naval and military forces are, left to right, Lt. Langlands (Garth Ollerenshaw), Captain Hamilton (Tom Burton), and Lt. Col. Booth (Jim Hollis).” Oh dear!

Cover, Tauranga Photo News, 1964.

Cover, Tauranga Photo News, 1964.

This is the unveiling of the cairn at Te Ranga, back in 1964.

Centenary of the Te Ranga battle and unveiling of the cairn, 1964. From Tauranga Photo News.

Centenary of the Te Ranga battle and unveiling of the cairn, 1964. From Tauranga Photo News.

Considering that perhaps as many as 100 Māori warriors remain buried beneath this whenua, it’s, well, disturbing to say the least that government agencies that put so much into WWI memorials throughout the country put so little into these. This was the Te Ranga site in February of this year:

Te_Ranga_2_McCulloch Te_Ranga_3_McCulloch Te_Ranga_4_McCulloch

By the way, take a look at the number of Foreign War memorials vs. NZ War memorials (keeping in mind which wars were actually fought here):

On this map, from NZ History.net, the red pins designate memorials for world wars, the blue pins for 'New Zealand Wars' and the purple the South African war.

On this map, from NZ History.net, the red pins designate memorials for world wars, the blue pins for ‘New Zealand Wars’ and the purple the South African war.

I thought I’d end with some comments made at Te Ranga today by Tom Roa, a Ngāti Apakura elder and Chair of Ngā Pae o Maumahara, the group established to commemorate and raise awareness of these wars, which he told the gathered at Te Ranga today are not called the “Māori Wars” by Māori (or perhaps even “New Zealand Wars”), but Te Riri Pākehā, or Pākehā Anger (Ellipses indicate comments I did not manage to take down accurately so omitted):

“There is a Māori viewpoint [and] there is an other than Māori viewpoint in terms of what happened in these areas. And let’s be very clear with the facts so that we commemorate the facts.

Unfortunately it is my belief that the majority of new Zealanders are not aware of the battles which took place on their very doorsteps let alone the facts in those battles. And again the battles that we term battles, many of our tūpuna term ‘catastrophic’, term ‘atrocity’, because of the Pākehā’s Anger.

That’s a debate that we will continue to have, and it is a healthy debate I would suggest, because as you Captain [ed. note: referring to the military representative at the event who had just addressed the Tangata Whenua], thank you for your words. You rightly have said that many of the wounds from 150 years ago remain open. Absolutely correct. … We look forward very much to the healing of those wounds which we believe we have come a long way to achieving, not just in this last commemoration of events of 150 years ago but through the settlements correctly identified by you Sir;  by the continued activity of both national government and local government, coming to an understanding with their constituency.  In particular the Tangata Whenua. In particular the people who belong to this land.

We will always belong to this land. We have spilled blood in belonging to this land. And [we] who still await in terms of New Zealand citizenship a recognition of an equality in that citizenship.”

Tom Roa continued after a waiata, referring to King Tāwhiao’s visit to seek redress from the Queen of England in 1881:

“He came back with Māori dignity professing still his Mana Māori Motuhake so that in 1881 at Pirongia, Tāwhiao and his Rangatira laid down their arms as a declaration of peace. …

In August of this year will be the culmination of these commemorations in a day at Turangawaewae. Perhaps Gentlemen you and those Officers of the Crown with you might take back to your leadership the invitation to come and receive nobly, receive in an apt fashion Tāwhaio’s declaration of peace almost 120 years ago.

Tāwhiao’s declaration was received, for the historians amongst you, by the New Zealand mainstream press as a surrender: the wero, the karanga, the mihi, the songs maintain that Māori retain, have sustained and have continued with our Mana Motuhake, our Māori authority and autonomy.

And continuing with that Māori authority and autonomy, there has never been a surrender. If indeed, Captain, your words are true and you, as we, look forward to a time in the future where the wounds of the past are healed and, indeed, we as a nation are of that unity pretended by Captain Hobson – if that is to take place Sir I would suggest that that declaration of peace … in August be given its proper recognition so that peace does in fact reign on our land.”

A pou in honour of Hakaraia: the only known visual representation of him, erected at Gate Pa/Pukehinahina in April 2014.

A pou in honour of Hakaraia: the only known visual representation of him, erected at Gate Pa/Pukehinahina in April 2014.