200 Years of Hope

04 Nov, 2019 The need to keep our bicultural story honest

‘Thank God all this bicultural Maori-stuff is behind us’

Why it’s important that we keep our bicultural narratives honest


This reflection is about the need for continued integrity in the narrative we have in Church circles, because biased or embellished stories – whether deliberate or accidental, could backfire on us later.


One challenge in our nation is a growing divide regarding how far our reparations for Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) might go. In my view, our bicultural journey is going to go a lot further yet. As we near completion of discussions and apologies related to stolen lands, the conversation about the rights to self-government are just beginning. I also think it would be fair and fine for reparations go a bit further than they have – even though all this can be rather inconvenient. I’ve spoken on, and have written about this on other platforms.

In case of misunderstanding (in view of wha I’m about to say – and especially from anyone reading who doesn’t know me), I want to clarify that I’m an avid Treaty of Waitangi supporter. It’s our founding constitutional document as a nation – made up of two peoples. Some say ‘Let’s all be one’ – quoting Hobson from 1840.  Many misunderstand this idea. Correctly, I believe it’s about two becoming one like in a marriage. We are not  ‘one people’, as if we weren’t concurrently two distinct peoples who have come together. Marriages take work, and this is what our biculturalism is like. It’s going to include some discomfort and work – and it will always take some work!

So, here are some examples of things I’ve heard people say – with the single encouragement; let’s all keep learning so we can keep our story as truthful, balanced and fair as possible.

(I note that these examples are selected with the opposers of bicultural things in mind. A different list would be compiled were a different audience considered).


E.g. 1 – “Let’s civilise before we Christianise”

Marsden gets a hard time sometimes. When all things are considered, I think an attitude of criticism is imbalanced, and will unduly polarise people, and feed negative sentiment toward ongoing Treaty reconcilliation.

The above statement that Maori needed civilising could be seen as a colonialistic judgement. It could be interpreted as suggestion Marsden had a problem with Maori because they didn’t wear shoes, or know how to hold a knife and fork properly. We could – in our fervour for recognising past wrongs, hammer Marsden. And some do!

Yet Marsden was one of the best friends Maori ever had – and was only invited to establish our first invited Pakeha settlement (with three families staying – not including Marsden) because of that trust and friendship. He didn’t even sail here until collected by Maori chiefs, who went to Australia to escort him here in 1814.

If we judge Marsden by what he did – rather than by our modern understanding of his words, he gifted (not sold) many sheep and cattle to Maori; he gifted training in the husbandry of these animals – and also in various crops like wheat and maize. He gave horses as I understand it (I don’t know who received them though). He gave fruit trees. And when sailors were proving too dishonest to transport things to and from NZ he even purchased a ship with his own money to enable the generosity of their work to continue unhindered. He was the friend of many a Maori. He gave hospitality – and his care of Ruatara on a ship, followed by 7 more months at his home in Sydney, saved Ruatara’s life (even though he later passed away from the same sickness. He had contracted TB, for which there was no complete cure).

So, what did the above words ‘civilise before Christianise’ mean? What innuendo should we add?

What if you heard a Baptist pastor today say that we need to love people with actions before we preach the gospel to them, because they might misunderstand our message otherwise? I don’t think it was much different! (‘Civilise’ meant ‘give help and show love in practical ways’).

This isn’t to say there weren’t cultural misunderstandings and judgements. For example, Europeans really couldn’t understand why Maori didn’t want to wear shoes. But the judgements went both ways too. Misunderstandings shouldn’t invalidate a person’s life, work or legacy!

Over-all, was his contribution for good or for bad? Pakeha were already here and were making a mess – and the Maori chiefs saw fit to invite Marsden! Those chiefs were non fools!

How many other good people do we criticise in an unfair or unbalanced, because it suits our narrative at the time?


E.g. 2 – “They’re colonisers!”

Hold on – who’s accusing who? We all agree today that colonising another nation is wrong, but aren’t ALL of our ancestors guilty of this one – Maori and Pakeha?  Who’s casting the first stone here as if they were somehow guiltless? And if we are to ‘cast a stone’ – on what basis (because there is one – but knowing the balances is important to presenting a balanced view!).

There is only one basis for being ‘biased’, and speaking angrily against the Pakeha only: It is through consideration only of the timeframe of 1840 onwards on the basis that Te Tiriti o Waitangi was made within a Christian framework, and essentially also in the name of God. Te Tiriti was significantly forged and enabled by the missionaries and their counterparts in England, and supported by many Maori – who saw it as a spiritual covenant. In other words, because of the presence of the Christian faith a new ethic came into being. Only from that moment on did something happen that was really wrong – as compared to ‘wrong’. Until then, the word ‘wrong’ was tribal and cultural. The ethics of what the word ‘wrong’ meant were unavoidably subjective (made up by a society) – not objective (established as globally true and unchangeable by God, who is above us).

Throughout history many, many nations and tribes have engaged in wars and killed enemies, and have taken possession of their lands and people (as slaves). There is no story there.

My point is that the way we word things is important – because accusing others while pretending we aren’t in some way guilty ourselves is actually dishonest. It looks like bias – and it is building up walls of resentment in the hearts and minds of New Zealanders who are feeling ‘all this Treaty stuff’ has gone too far.


E.g. 3 – “They were racist”

Did Pakeha look down on Maori. Some did – but not all did, right? So, were some racist? Definitely!

But did Maori look down on others too? Absolutely! I’ve read of the distain Maori had for the Aboriginals in Australia, as one example. Chiefs didn’t like the Pakeha whalers, sailors and traders too. They were inferior – not understanding tikanga (laws), immoral, and unpredictable.

We sometimes judge people in history on the basis of the values we have today. Let’s be careful – because people really need judging within their time and place. If we consider our ancestors in their many colours, none can cast the first stone.

As a communication skill, if I am Pakeha speaking about a Maori wrong – I must admit a Pakeha wrong in the same sentence. And visa-versa. This ‘disarms’ our words of any feeling of bias amongst our audiences.


E.g. 4 – “The New Zealand missionaries were a tool of colonisation”

I still occasionally hear passionate criticisms of our early missionaries by people belonging to the Christian community without balancing comments to note the great good they did.

I get that wrongdoing is wrongdoing, and am not at all saying that these things should be denied or ignored. We must pursue honesty and truth. But to state these things without bringing balance is also dishonest!

Who did right during our early bicultural days? Surely the missionaries are in one of the top two positions!

Maybe missionaries are judged for not understanding Maori culture. However, primary criticism was not at Maori culture itself as much as it was against the violent excesses connected with Maori culture, like cannibalism, cultures of death of wives at death of chiefs, human sacrifice, feudal wars between tribes,  violent acts of utu and various other violent superstitions as bad. Are we glad those things ended? Do we have enough ‘politically-incorrect’ courage in our hearts to give credit to the primary ones involved in helping these changes come about?

And it wasn’t as if they would only criticise Maori culture for its violent excesses. For example, the drunkenness and whoring of the whalers, traders and sealers at Kororareka (Russell) got the very same critique! (Footnote: This quotes someone else – but I’m not sure if they’d want association with my comments).


This criticism sometimes goes further – and this bewilders me. Some go as far as slandering the entire missionary movement of the 1800s and 1900s. I can only encourage that we read a bit more – because even many secular historians recognise the missionary movement of the 1800s and 1900s as  the greatest humanitarian effort of all of human history. It challenged slavery, brought beliefs in equality between the races, battled discrimination against women, brought our concepts of charity to the world, brought education even to the poor, established schools across the world, transcribed many languages (giving them a written language), stopped inhumane and violent practices in many places, took medical care to the poor, took hospitals to the world, and so much more!


E.g. 5 – Hobson and his 5 Pakeha Judges

Soon after Te Tiriti was signed Hobson declared NZ as a British colony, and appointed 5 European judges. “What? No Maori judges?” So arrogant and presumptuous, right?

Yes – maybe in part. But might our bicultural passion have run away on us a little also? Remember Hongi Hika is admired as a violent warrior – not hated. So is Te Rauparaha. These were violent men to the extreme. They took all sorts of things from people! Why would we love them but hate Hobson? Weren’t they all just living out the values thy had? What are we judging here – and on what basis? (Note: Provocation only – to make a point. Please read on to learn a little about Hobson.)

About Hobson: Hobson was given to the navy at age 9. He battled in the Napoleonic wars. He fought piracy for many years. He was captured by pirates twice – and held for ransom. He understood international law – in the way it was understood in Europe back then. He was smart, courageous, experienced, knowledgeable, uncompromising and tough. That’s why he was the man chosen for a difficult task: To “stop colonisation in New Zealand if possible; but if not possible, to mitigate (soften) it.” He was an impressive man!

So – why declare this a British colony (though technically it was actually under Australian ‘rule’ via Te Tiriti for about a year), and  then appoint Pakeha judges – not Maori?

Consider the others Europeans wanting to make a claim on New Zealand as their own. The French had already been up north. Henry Williams had just (in the previous month prior to Te Tiriti) walked at pace from Wellington to Tauranga, to get a ship to Paihia – to be there for Hobsons arrival and the signing of Te Tiriti. In the weeks prior he’d witnessed fighting and large amounts of land taken in the Nelson region (where a ship he’d been on had been blown off course). Then he discovered the Wellington harbour area had just been purchased – while Maori couldn’t understand what that meant. It was clear that his calls to England for intervention to protect Maori were timely and needed! Soon after this the NZ Company was declaring sovereignty over the Wellington region – and the French were about to arrive at Akaroa (near Christchurch) to declare that a French Colony.

Who knew how to get rid of these problems? How many Maori understood international law in the way the Europeans did?

As an example, Hobson dispatched two of his judges to Akaroa. They convened court. Following discussions the French packed up their things and left.

Might Hobson have known a thing or two?


A conclusion?

All I’m saying is that there is sometimes more to a story than at first meets the eye. If our passion is to defend Maori interests (like my own is) a danger in this is that we could become guilty of propagating some unfair and untrue things due to our eagerness to receive and re-tell a story in a particular way that justifies our desired point.

But doing this gives easy ammunition to those who will increasingly stand to oppose this bicultural journey.  

I’ve experienced being shouted down by those people while trying to speak up for Maori interests. This challenge is real. Awareness, and wisdom, are needed.

Looking forwards: I predict things will become more polarised in the next two decades. Put differently: I think these are the ‘good times’ in the NZ Church’s bicultural journey. The ‘self-government’ debate is going to be a lost more difficult than the ‘land’ one. To have better times, we need to journey wisely!


Let’s pursue honesty in our narrative.

Let’s be careful about how we talk about others – and whether they are dead or alive.

And let’s all keep learning from each other, so we can speak with ever-greater clarity, wisdom and truth!


Other blogs by Dave Mann on this general topic

(From oldest to newest)


5 self-print bulletin-booklets for your church 

  • Called ‘Then and Now’ – about outreach and our early bicultural story, to give to church members with the bulletin over a 5 week period here (These booklet also encourager support of the Hope Project – which takes some of these stories to the public square).


An easy-to-read option to educate yourself, elders, children’s and youth leaders – and then all members (children, youth and adults)

  • Consider the illustrated novel series: ‘The Chronicles of Paki – Treaty of  Waitangi Series’. These can be found at BigBook.nz. View a blog with displaying some of its endorsements here.


Waitangi weekend sermon outlines (free)

  • ‘Three Treaties’ (Gibeonites, Waitangi and Jesus) from Dave Mann is (word doc) here, with power point here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Leaving a legacy’ – edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc)  here
  • Waitangi Weekend sermon – ‘Joshua and the Treaty (five treatise)’ –  edited – with thanks to Keith Harrington (word doc) here


The Te Reo Pulpit Challenge


DAVE MANN. Dave is a creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing, and also being valued, in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and recently coordinated a 5th nationwide multimedia Easter project purposed to help open conversation between church and non-church people about Christianity take place, including regarding the specifically Christian origins of many of our nation’s most treasured values. Dave is the author of various books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last”, “The Elephant in the Room”, and available for free on this site: “The What and How of Youth and Young Adult ministry”. Married  to Heather, they have four young boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.  

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