TT: Let’s Cut Down a Flagstaff!

Looking for the Wednesday Wandering?  This week I’m talking about the whys and wherefores of convention interactions.  Then join me and Alan as we look at an event from New Zealand’s colonial past that would be funny if it wasn’t so intense.

Oh!  And tune in tomorrow for a new and possibly continuing feature — The Friday Fragments!

Reflecting on the Past

Reflecting on the Past

JANE: So, last time Great Britain had founded another colony.  I was a bit puzzled when you mentioned that the capital was at Russell.  That doesn’t ring a bell.  But then I remembered that the capital of the U.S. didn’t finalize for a while.  Did the same happen there?

ALAN: Yes, that’s exactly what happened. It soon became clear that Russell was a bit too isolated to be an administrative centre. It’s in the far north of the country and in those days it was accessible only by sea. Even today it’s a bit hard to get to, and the most direct route still involves a ferry trip. So the capital was transferred to Auckland which was a much larger settlement with much less restrictive geography.

JANE: Wait!  My atlas says that Wellington is the capital.  It’s a relatively new atlas…  Don’t tell me I need to pencil in corrections already!

ALAN: No, your atlas is perfectly correct in what it says, so put your pencil down. In the 1860s, there were rumours that the South Island was considering declaring independence. Gold had been discovered there and the government was anxious not to lose the resource. The capital was transferred to Wellington, at the bottom of the North Island. Wellington is pretty much in the centre of the country and so it was a good place from which to supervise the administration of both islands.

JANE: That makes sense, especially in the days before e-mail made location less important for such things.

 Did the tensions between the Maori and the colonists die down after the treaty was signed?

ALAN: Not at all. Once the country officially became a colony, settlers began to arrive and spread out all over the land. The Maori were not happy about this. They often referred to themselves as Tangata Whenua (the People of the Land) and they rather resented having the land taken away from them.  It wasn’t long before lots of local conflicts were triggered over disputed land purchases. These quickly escalated, and eventually thousands of British troops found themselves engaged in major campaigns. The lessons the Maori had learned in the earlier Musket Wars stood them in very good stead. The British found the Maori to be formidable opponents and they suffered many humiliations in the campaigns…

JANE: Right!  Last time you mentioned how the Maori had learned from past wars.  How about a nice, juicy example?

ALAN: OK – here’s something that almost has elements of farce about it. But it’s all perfectly true and is rather famous in New Zealand history.

The Maori chief Hone Heke, one of the original signatories of the Treaty of Waitangi, gifted a flagstaff to the British. It was erected on Flagstaff Hill in Kororāreka. By 1844, Hone Heke was becoming disillusioned with the British and, in order to teach them a lesson, he set out to cut the flagstaff down. Following discussions with his friend, Archdeacon William Williams, he changed his mind. But another Maori chief called Te Haratua cut it down anyway.

JANE: Better than cutting off a foot…  So did this end it all?

ALAN: Not at all. The British re-erected the flagstaff and, following further disagreements, Hone Heke himself cut the flagstaff down again on 10th January 1845.

The British erected it again, sheathed it in iron to protect it from Maori axes, and built a guardpost around it. But on the 19th January, Hone Heke circumvented the defences and chopped it down for the third time.

JANE: Either Maori axes were tougher than the British realized or they had some other trick up their sleeve.  So did the British give up?

ALAN: No, they didn’t. Feeling rather humiliated by the ease with which Hone Heke was running rings around them, the British hastily purchased a mizzenmast from a ship that was docked in the harbour and erected it as the fourth flagstaff. They guarded it with a rag-tag force made up of soldiers, Royal Marines, local colonists and sailors; about 400 people all together.

In March 1845, Hone Heke attacked with about 600 well-armed tribesmen. The defenders were all killed and the flagstaff was cut down yet again.

JANE: Good lord!  What happened next?

ALAN: Fighting continued on and off for many years. There’s a stunningly brilliant New Zealand film called Utu! which is set in these times. I recommend it highly.

Anyway, by the 1860s, as part of the ongoing struggles between the settlers and the Maori, the government had implemented a policy of forcibly confiscating large tracts of land from the Maori as a “punishment” for earlier rebellions. But the Treaty of Waitangi gave Maori a powerful argument in the courts, and in recent years much land has been returned, untold millions of dollars of reparation has been paid, and the government has made multiple apologies to Maori for its historical crimes against them.

I suspect that the Maori have been much more successful in resisting the oppressions of the colonial powers than any other indigenous people have been. They ran very successful military campaigns against the invaders, and later on they took to the courts to mount equally successful legal campaigns.  They have always retained their cultural independence and sense of identity while at the same time assimilating themselves into the everyday life of the community. They have had, and they continue to have, a very important role to play in the governing of New Zealand.

I really admire them for that.

JANE: Me, too.  The situation in what would become the United States was much more complex.  The area was much larger and the indigenous peoples widely varied.

Even if we focus down to New Mexico, there are many tribes, each with their own story. However, there’s one event that many of these groups hold in common and that is memorable in the extreme: the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

Want to hear about it?

ALAN: Actually, yes, I do. I’m finding this part of United States history extremely interesting because it’s all completely new to me.

6 Responses to “TT: Let’s Cut Down a Flagstaff!”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    It’s a great story about New Zealand, and I’m fascinated by the Maori.

    Still, I suspect that the people of the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia, and especially Africa might take issue with the idea that the Maori were the indigenous group who best resisted colonization by European empires. Tonga might too, for that matter, and we definitely shouldn’t forget Papua New Guinea. The percent of white settlers in each of these regions is rather small, at least compared with New Zealand, Australia, and the Americas.

  2. janelindskold Says:

    I love the whimsicality of the flagpole story… It shows the power of a symbol, something we should never overlook.

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      I have to admit that when I saw the day’s title, I assumed you had gotten started on place-names in Arizona 🙂

      • Jane Lindskold Says:

        There’s an idea! Flagstaff, AZ, is the exact opposite of what everyone envisions when they think of Arizona. My memories of it (often centered around Christmas holiday drives) include a lot of snow and ice.

  3. Other Jane Says:

    I’d like to see the movie. I’ll have to see if it’s available.

  4. Paul Genesse Says:

    That movie, Utu! does sound fascinating. I’ll have to look for it on Amazon Prime. I did not know the Maori were so successful against the British army. I need to read up on this topic for sure. Thank you guys for giving us the last two posts about New Zealand.

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