NZ/South Pacific Conference

Untitled.jp1a nigmegenKiwis tell Maori story at conference in Holland

Our London correspondent, Tom Aitken, has been keeping NZ’s end up at an international conference on NZ and the South Pacific in the Dutch border town of Nijmegen.

He’s presented a paper on the astonishing history of Maori interaction with the Salvation Army in Ao Tea Roa. Here’s his report…

New Zealand Infiltrates Nijmegen with story of Maori and the Salvation Army

By Tom Aitken in Holland

Nijmegen (pronounced––roughly––Nyemaygin) is a small Dutch city near the German border south of Arnhem. On the south bank of the broad, barge-bearing River Waal, it is just about as far from the North Sea as you can be in Holland.

Charlemagne lived there for a time in the 8th Century and the fantastical painter Hieronymus Bosch lived in Hertogenbosch, nearby, all his life (c.1450-1516).

I spent four days there there, attending New Zealand and the South Pacific, the 19th annual conference of the New Zealand Studies Association (together with the Centre for Pacific and Asian Studies of Radboud University).

Radboud University is a treat. It rejoices in a greenfield site and like everywhere in Nijmegen it is festooned with flowers and crammed with bicycles.

(Indeed, down by the river, the city has the Velorama, the most astonishing museum of bicycles you can imagine. Even for people who haven’t been on a bike for years, this is a ‘don’t miss’)a velorama

To get back to the conference: I would think that about seventy people attended. Fifty-six of them gave papers.

I was one of the lesser orders who shared a session with one or two others and were allowed twenty strictly timed minutes to present the results of their investigations to those who chose your group rather than either of two other available alternatives.

The top people, ‘keynote speakers’ got forty minutes or so and addressed everyone.

‘The Long Hello’

My talk was entitled The Long Hello: The Salvation Army and the Maori, 1884-2013.

The story is both interesting and problematic. It starts almost melodramatically, with Maraea Morris, a Maori woman of high rank, widowed by Te Kooti’s army,

A Te Kooti army encam pment
A Te Kooti army encampment

vowing to kill him, giving up on that, then wandering angrily and randomly for some years before fetching up in Gisborne.

There she became a Salvation Army convert and, after eventually forgiving Te Kooti, the flag bearer marching in front of the band.

The officer who dealt with her decided that converting Maori to Christianity was his life’s work. His superior officers took a different view from time to time.

Events during that century were a series of hopeful launchings, which eventually ran aground on the twin sandbanks of finance and the best use of energetic and talented officers.

Lately, another new beginning, with Maori officers playing an influential part, has seen a new link being formed via converts from the Mongrel Mob and the establishment of an annual hui at which Maori and Pakeha officers and others can thrash out current problems and develop new strategies.

My modest talk, I’m glad to say, won me a new addition to my register of favourite people. Khyla Russell, from Otago Polytechnic, chaired the session of which I was part. She bears some resemblance to Maraea Morris, particularly as to her facial tattoo, and she adopts an earthy, direct and occasionally hilarious stance on intellectual matters.

Another high-spirited speaker was Tom Brooking, the Dunedin professor who is completing a new biography of Richard John Seddon. He examined Seddon’s attempts to expand New Zealand’s influence and power in the Pacific.

Brooking describes him as a ‘noisy but ineffectual sub-imperialist’. He managed to gain control of the Cook Islands and Niue, but Western Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, the New Hebrides and Hawai’i eluded his grasp.

(I should add that a number of people from the University of Hawai’i were present at, and added breadth to, the conference.)

1a hertogenboschOne afternoon, a number of us piled into a coach and went off to’s-Hertogenbosch. We stepped more cautiously into boats and travelled along the canals around and under the city. One of us was appointed to translate the commentary of the Dutch boatman. She did an amazing job.

Some of us saw the large church which has been adapted as a Bosch museum, and the Cathedral where there was an exhibition concerning the Turin Shroud.

That evening we had the Conference Dinner, a somewhat informal affair, with courses arriving in a haphazard manner and a system of charging for wine that bewildered everyone.

During the evening, on hearing that I am from Taumarunui, a neighbouring diner gave an extremely creditable rendering of Peter Cape’s Taumarunui on the Main Trunk Line. Large numbers joined in, mostly in the same key. Happy days!

I am also, name-droppingly happy to have met Vincent Ward. Happier still to remember the grin on his face when I asked whether the serene birdflight near the beginning of In Spring One Plants Alone was caught in one shot or several edited together. ‘It’s one shot… It drove me mad!”

Professors Ian Conrich (Essex and Derby) & Toon van Meijl (Raboud) are to be thanked and congratulated on organizing a conference which gave such a picture of the vitality of intellectual life in and connected with New Zealand.

I wonder how long it will be before I stop finding myself singing sotto voce ‘There’s a Sheila in refreshments…’