Feb 8, 2012

A Maori Holocaust?

The slow news week continues with this non-story:

A Maori academic has been slammed for saying that the colonisation of New Zealand resulted in a holocaust for his people.

Keri Opai, a Taranaki-based language teacher, told a Radio New Zealand discussion that Maori had been through some "awful stuff that really does break down to a holocaust".

He cited the pillaging of Parihaka - where 1600 troops burned houses after being greeted by singing children - as a damning episode, and said many New Zealanders did not realise the extent of the devastation.

There was no direct comparison to the Nazi Holocaust, in which six million Jews were killed.

But Jewish Council president Stephen Goodman said calling what happened a holocaust was ignorant and improper.

"It tries to elevate Maori grievances by associating with the Holocaust, and I find it very hard to draw a comparison between the European colonisation of New Zealand and plain genocide," he said.

Firstly, the definition of a holocaust is, roughly speaking, thus: destruction or slaughter on a mass scale. According to the article above, the Maori population fell by over 40% and, as nearly everyone knows, the Maori race was brought near extinction through a combination of war, disease and state sponsored discrimination and depravation. Certainly, this amounts to “a holocaust” in a loose sense of the word. However, I see Goodman’s point. In ordinary usage, the term Holocaust refers to the systematic slaughter of over 6 million Jews. I agree that it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw a link between European colonisation of New Zealand and the Shoah (the Holocaust).

Goodman goes on to say that Keri Opai was “trivialising” the Holocaust. I think this is plain wrong. Opai was taking what you could probably say is the dictionary meaning and applying it to the New Zealand context. Certainly, using the term is hyperbolic, but what’s wrong with that? Hyperbole is a effective language tool.

It’s interesting to note Goodman has revised his statement. Imperator Fish points to the original statement:

It is totally unacceptable for anyone to attempt associating European colonisation of New Zealand with the Holocaust. This is not the first time that Maori have trivialised the Holocaust by trying to associate it with their own perceived grievances. There is absolutely no valid comparison between the settlement of the country and the organised, state sponsored, genocide that was the Holocaust. As a language lecturer Mr Opai is obviously totally ignorant of world history; as an “academic” he should know better. His words are extremely offensive to the Jewish and other communities that were the target of the Shoah.

This is insulting. It’s good to see that Goodman revised his comments, but I reckon he still holds these anti-Maori sentiments. I take particular offence with his description of “perceived grievances” – as if Maori grievances aren’t real – also note how “settlement” is used as opposed to colonisation. Settlement is a neutral word and doesn’t carry the negative implications of colonisation.

Anyway, to my mind, what ever way you look at it this is a non-story.


  1. I understand both sides. One is going for shock value for attention's sake, and another is going for perspective. A non story.

  2. The paragraph you quote has lots going on in it that suggests Stephen Goodman is ignorant of New Zealand history and the history of Western colonisation in general. He does exactly what he accuses Keri Opai of doing.

    Like you point out, his phrase "perceived grievances" trivialises the realities of colonisation for Māori.

    His use of the phrase "settlement of New Zealand" contrasted with "the organised, state-sponsored, genocide that was the Holocaust" also suggests that the massive Māori mortality as a result of colonisation was not organised or state-sponsored. The Herald gives a 40% decline in Māori population (which would be bad enough), 75% is a better estimate (Mason Durie, Ngā Tai Matatū, pp 29-31). This was certainly Crown-sponsored--Europe had been invading indigenous nations for hundreds of years, they knew what their arrival meant. Indigenous susceptibility to European disease was seen as proof of European superiority, it justified taking resources and impoverishing indigenous populations, thus encouraging more mortality. It was also organised--the Crown knew that concentrating Māori in inadequate reserves would increase disease.

    I think it is sad that Goodman has chosen to compare Māori and Jewish experiences in a competitive way. Did the Crown hunt and exterminate Māori in such a horrific way and scale as the German state did Jewish people? No. Is the goal of colonisation to eradicate all traces of Māori people? No, it is merely to assimilate us. Have Māori faced this for the centuries that Jewish people have been vilified and displaced? Not yet.

    Of course there are huge differences. There is also one glaring similarity that should be a point of solidarity--colonisation is driven by the same ideas of racial superiority, scapegoating, and god-given right that drove the Holocaust. Both have led to intergenerational trauma. Goodman doesn't sound open to connecting with Māori over this, and I think that's a shame.

  3. No, Kim. not very well said at all.

    The enormous damage wrought to Maori between 1807 and 1840 was overwhelmingly at their own hands.

    Total casualties (that's Maori and Pakeha combined) of the NZ Land Wars 1845-1872 approximately 3,000.

    Total estimated fatalities of the so-called "Musket Wars" 1807-1837, 20,000. On the most optimistic reading that's 1 in 5 Maori killed by other Maori.

    Add to the horror of the actual killing and enslavement of entire tribes (e.g. the Moriori of the Chatham Islands) the debilitating effects of thousands of refugees moving across the North Island (and the north of the South Island) in search of somewhere new to set down roots, and the death-rate from diseases of all kinds (local and imported) is easily imagined.

    Certainly the Pakeha supplied the firearms, but they bartered and sold them to very willing buyers who had no illusions about what they were purchasing - and why.

    The willful misrepresentation of 19th Century NZ history does not deserve your approbation, Morgan.

    It was not "very well said" - it was falsely said.

  4. Chris: you are, undoubtedly, correct. However, Maori on Maori slaughter, both pre-1840 and post-1840, does not diminish the Crown's part in the decline and near destruction of the Maori race.

  5. I agree with you entirely Chris. Perhaps we have read the same history books.

    Also Morgan/Kim, birthrates for Maori were less than half the normal level, as highlighted by Dr John Robinson in his population research of Maori.

    The under 15 population was only 20% then compared to a normal developing population of 40%. There was regular female infanticide practiced right up until 1900 which also didnt help numbers.

    There has been much fabrication and mythical preaching regarding NZ history and people like Keri Opai need to be held to account.

    Kevin Campbell

  6. While I wouldn't say arguing the numbers of slaughtered and raped innocents is splitting hairs, for me the issue is about the use of language, with the Jewish position being this, indeed all instances, is an unethical misuse of language.

    Bit like the 'N' word and its use in disparaging House Negroes (which has its own Wikipedia entry) and was also a Maori Party MP flare out as well (Hone Harawira).

    Any Googling of 'holocaust' and 'nigger' will eventually (actually frighteningly early) offer you a multitude of 'hate' sites, many of them American although that may just be that scary American's are better digitally connected that scary Russians, Rwandans or rabid teenagers in Rotorua.

    They scare me way more than Taranaki who still struggle to articulate their historical experience.

  7. Once upon a time a semite used include Arabs, Hebrews and anyone from the House of Shem i.e. a Shemite. But the Ashkenazi Jews redefined it for their own purposes. They've done the same with the word holocaust, too.

    In reality what happened in Germany was a case of White Germans killing White German/Khazar converts to Judaism, as well as Gypsies, Slavs and Poles. The biblical Jews were really dark-skinned. I don't see why indigenous peoples should care about what happened in that part of Europe i.e. Whites killing Whites, when we indigenous peoples had their own problems with Whites.

    How these German Jews can claim lineage and bloodline to the biblical Jews through conversion is beyond me, too. Do you see the resemblance in the Ethiopian Jews, too? Nah I don't either. Did the Jews/Hebrews have blue eyes and blonde hair? If you've seen modern pictures of Jesus you might conclude that. But it's a nonsense. And if God had a chosen people in a chosen land then they couldn't possibly by dark-skinned, right?

    Six million is the official number but apparently those numbers don't add up when you consider there probably weren't that many Jews in that part of the world. But not even a revisionist and psuedo historians like Chris Trotter is allowed to research the truth. To do so would be a no-no and 'anti-semitic'.

    So good ole England inserted these blue-eyed blonde hair Jews in the middle of Palestine somehow claiming to belong there. In true European fashion and in a short period of time they were culling the Palestinians and stealing their land eventually forming a brutal apartheid state. Does this sound like something the Germans, English or Dutch would do? Bingo!

    During the Bolshevik Revolution where 20 million Russians died in camps of which at least 7 million were murdered the blonde and blue eyed converts were at the forefront. But there seems to be a historic pattern: destroy the host country and leave disguised as a victim or refugee; if you've seen Silence of the Lambs where he assumes the identity of his victim you'll know what I mean

  8. Actually, very well said Kim and Chris: I notice you ring-fenced the dates 1807 to 1840, but not 1840 onwards. Why? Because undoubtedly what happened to Maori was as a result of colonisation (or as dear Mr Goodman likes to call it "settlement") by your forbears.

    This subject is being discussed all over social networking sites - some for Mr Opei and some against. I would like to know if Mr Goodman has ever thanked Maori for fighting in a war that wasn't their own and dying to ensure the survival of his people? I suspect the answer is "no".

    1. @ Chris, I'm not sure how anything you say negates anything in my response. Are you saying that because Māori killed 20 000 other Māori in the short period following first contact, that the other estimated 130 000 who died as result of colonisation don't count? That the effort the Crown put into eradicating Māori culture doesn't count? Surely not, so what is your point?

      Arihia's response to the debate is better than anything I could write: The 'H-bomb' and the tyrany of comparison.

    2. Kim, how can you seriously suggest 130,000 deaths as a result of colonisation? Thats absolute bullshit. Maori were roughly half that number in 1840.

  9. Goodman's original statement is accurate, and obviously so.

    " It is totally unacceptable for anyone to attempt associating European colonisation of New Zealand with the Holocaust. This is not the first time that Maori have trivialised the Holocaust by trying to associate it with their own perceived grievances. There is absolutely no valid comparison between the settlement of the country and the organised, state sponsored, genocide that was the Holocaust. "

  10. It is trivial because it was Whites killing Whites. Heaps of Whites dying is a big deal; heaps of Blacks, Yellows, Red and Browns dying is no big deal.

    The original Jews were NOT white.


  11. "The other estimated 130,000 who died as a result of colonisation".

    And who's estimate might that be, Kim? And over what time period did it occur?

    The Maori population did not return to its pre-colonisation level of around 100,000 until the 1940s. So, presumably, you're counting every death between 1840 and 1940 as a casualty of European contact.

    But this supposes that there would have been no deaths without contact - which is plainly absurd. Your task, then, must be to single out the deaths that were the direct result of European intervention. More than that, however, you need to identify the deaths that were the result of clear European intent - as in military engagements.

    But, as we have learned, Maori deaths attributable to European military interventions add up to less than 2,000.

    To get to 130,000 - which I regard as a ridiculously inflated figure, given that throughout the last half of the 19th Century the Maori population remained steady at approximately 45,000 (Dept of Stats. Maori Descent Population Summary) - you must be including every death from exogenous diseases.

    But, these deaths could only have been avoided had Aotearoa never been visited by Europeans at all. Given the rising global population and the growing sophistication of marine technology in the 19th century that was a forlorn hope. And once the Europeans were here - regardless of whether or not they went on to colonise Aotearoa/New Zealand - so were their germs.

    I can only reiterate my point that it is impossible to draw any valid comparison between the Nazi Holocaust and the experience of Maori in the 19th Century.

    The truly catastrophic decline in Maori population came as the result of their use of European military technology in inter-tribal warfare and the massive spatial dislocation and cultural demoralisation of the population that followed.

    War with the Pakeha - far from being genocidal in intent - was launched to eliminate the political and economic competition coming from of a swiftly reviving Maori population.

    And surely this is the really important historical point? That unlike indigenous peoples elsewhere in the Anglo World, the Maori population not only recovered from European contact - it grew.

    Cololnisation did not destroy the Maori - of whom there are five times as many today as there were when Captain Cook first sighted these islands 243 years ago.

    1. What I'm using is an estimate of Māori population around the time of first contact of 200 000 (as per the reference in my first comment, the estimate is middle-of-the-road, low estimates say 100 000, high estimates say 500 000), and the Māori population about a century later at 43 000. Reasonably well documented I would have thought. I am not blaming every Māori death on colonisation, I am blaming that massive population collapse on colonisation. I am also saying that colonisers knew that scale of loss of life was known to be an inevitable consequence of colonisation (because by the time they got here, they had been doing colonisation for centuries).

      There are plenty of accounts of the time from Māori newspapers. That period must have been horrific for Māori communities. That many of those communities survive is amazing, and it is no surprise that they use words like holocaust and post-traumatic stress.

    2. Kim, its grossly unjust and mischievious to try and rewrite history to suit the grievance industry line. John Robinson in his 2011 book Corruption of NZ Democracy quotes several sources for 120,000 Maori in 1800 and around 70,000 Maori in 1840 reducing from there for lots of reasons but holocaust is not one of them. You got it right with the census 0f 43,000 later around 1890. If you do the math you will realise that it is physically impossible for that population to do anything but reduce for a period after the 50-60,000 deaths during the 1800-1845 musket wars (young and females included) with those birthrates. You cannot simply produce people out of thin air.

  12. The figures you cite (without references, I note) are absurdly high.

    Maori simply couldn't have supplied sufficient food for a population of 200,000-500,000 with the agricultural practices and technology at their disposal.

    Anthropological evidence suggests that hunter-gatherer societies require a minimum of one square mile per person to sustain life. Maori society had moved beyond the hunter-gatherer stage - but not far. Even their most extensive farms - e.g. "stonefields" in Auckland - would not have been capable of supporting more than a few hundred people.

    In a land bereft of large mammals their predicament was even more acute.

    The numbers you cite make even less sense when you consider that even peoples like the Lakota, Cheyenne and Comanche nations, living on the Great Plains of the North American continent with millions of bison all around them, never numbered more than 10,000-20,000. The Meso-American peoples, whose populations extended into the millions, were without exception sophisticated agriculturalists.

    The University of Otago historian, Prof. Tom Brooking, puts the pre-European population somewhere between Captain Cook's estimate of 100,000 and 120,000. He rejects the 200,000 figure as unreasonable.

    So do I.

    No one is disputing that the historical encounter between Maori and Pakeha was as destructive as it was constructive - in many cases more so. What I am disputing, however, is the attribution of genocidal intent to the colonisers, which is all any reasonable person, living in the aftermath of Hitler's massive pogrom, can deduce from the use by Maori nationalists of the emotionally loaded word - "holocaust".

  13. Cook didn't go inland. Around 512 chiefs representing 512 hapu signed the Treaty. No chief had the authority to sign on behalf of an iwi. That grouping was reinvented and reinvigorated some time later. That's why the Treaty doesn't mention iwi - and that's why it was between Victoria and Nga Hapu. And this was by no means all of the hapu at the time - whites didn't have the time or effort to visit every hapu in the land. And if you consider a hapu consisting between 400 to 500 members then that's around 250,000 people right there.

    For this reason Maori must wrestle control of Maori history from White historians and bloggers with hidden agenda.

  14. There seem to be some pretty broad brushes at work in this argument.

    Surely it's unreasonable to suggest that the colonists of New Zealand had a single worldview? While I'd agree with Chris that the extermination of Maori never became state policy in New Zealand, there were clearly influential persons within colonial society who desired that end. Edward Tregear once proclaimed that 'we cannot return the land to the Maori, so we return the Maori to the land'.

    In much the same way, it's unreasonable to suggest that Maori societies operated in a single way in the days before Cook's arrival. Southern societies, which had a lot of land available and a difficult climate to deal with, may have had an almost hunter gatherer mode of production - but societies in the north of the North Island most certainly didn't, as Cook himself noted, when he likened their kainga to towns and their plantations to the farms of Carolina.

    And while we're discussing the slavery that was the bitter gift Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama brought to the Chathams, shouldn't we acknowledge the involvement of Pakeha in the Pacific slave trade? Five years after Lincoln finally defeated the Confederacy a ship arrived in Auckland with slave labourers from Efate, bound for the flax mills of the city. Scores of Kiwi ships were involved in the movement of labourers from Melanesia to the Queensland and Fijian sugar plantations in the 1870s and '80s. Why do those who castigate the conquerors of the Chathams never mention this later slave trade, which was perpetrated not by small iwi displaced by war but by some of the wealthiest families of cities like Auckland and Dunedin?

    I think the biggest problem with discussions about nineteenth century New Zealand history is the tendency to take sides with one or another group, and present it as morally superior to another. Since when did morality have a great deal to do with the course of history? We ought to be able to recognise that some of the same sorts of forces - economic, demographic, environmental - drove Pakeha and various iwi to do the same sorts of things. It makes little sense to talk about the Musket Wars, which were importantly the product of the disruption caused by the introduction of modernity to this part of the world, and deny the ferocious behaviour of many early settlers from Britain's Celtic fringe - the behaviour of the colonists at Waipu, for instance, who participated enthusiastically in the Pacific slave trade - when these people were forced out of their own homelands by the brutal imposition of modernity by the English. Why damn Te Rauparaha as a savage, but laud the Celts, or vice versa? We have to get beyond this sort of moral binarism.

    1. Where on earth are you getting your account of a small quasi religious Scottish settlement being involved in slave trade? these people were exceedingly religious, why on earth would they own or participate in slavery when they believed participation would condemn them all to hell? i suggest someone requires a visit to a very well kept local museum to educate themselves

  15. If the Jewish Council is going to insist on tying the word holocaust to the word genocide, when the words have had a history of being used in somewhat different ways, can it at least acknowledge that the first modern genocides occurred not in Europe but in Africa and Asia?

    As numerous scholars have noted, the German extermination of the Herero people at the beginning of the twentieth century and the Ottoman attack on the Armenians were qualitatively similar to the extermination of Europe's Jews.

    On a related note, there is an over-emphasis, in media representations and popular understandings of the Shoah, on the fate of the Jews of Western nations like France and Holland. Though the sufferings of the Jews of the West were appalling, the vast majority of the victims of the Holocaust came from Eastern European nations.

    In his book Hitler's Empire Mark Mazower argues that the Nazi conquest of Eastern Europe resembled the European conquests of various African and Asian nations, and was motivated by the same economic reasons and racial chauvinism. As strange as it may seem now, the Nazi occupiers of nations like Poland and Ukranians really did refer to the locals as Negros. The work of Mazower and other scholars with his perspective throws a whole new light on attempts to liken the Shoah with the colonisation of the non-European world in the nineteenth century.



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