Denying history both ways

This is one of those posts which is too short to be a Monday update but too long to try and express properly on Twitter.

One of the things which stuck me about Max Hill’s thesis in “To the Ends of the Earth and Back Again” (reviewed here) is how Hill both denies the history of Māori in this country but also the history of, variously, the Spanish, the Chinese, the Ancient Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Celts, et cetera. Hill wants to rewrite the pre-history of this place, and thus deny Māori proper authority over their history (suggesting, as he does, that Māori in part do not know their own history and are complicit in a cover-up of their “real” history). Yet for Hill’s thesis to have legs, he also has to deny the histories of the people who he claims made it here first. The evidence Hill uses for his various pre-Māori claims is never direct evidence of settlement or contact but, rather, supposition based upon “what ifs”, folk linguistics, reinterpretation of maps (often of various age and sometimes dubious authorship) and the like. He is making claims about ancient peoples that just aren’t part of orthodox history.

Now, either these ancient peoples came here and forgot all about it, leaving behind very crude evidence of their material culture, or they came here and have engaged in some latter day cover up. In the former case, that shows that whatever evidence there is in said cultures is not particularly strong (given that no one outside a few fringe theorists in Aotearoa is pursuing such claims), whilst in the latter case we have to believe that no one wants to talk about that colony in the Southern Hemisphere some Egyptians and Greeks set up two thousand years ago. But why would they cover that up? What’s in it for the Ancient Egyptians, for example, who trumpeted everything (including their spectacular military failures)?

Hill’s rewriting of history is not just the reinterpretation of the pre-history of this place; if we accept Hill’s thesis we have to re-examine all history. That’s actually a problem for Hill, because then much of the ancillary evidence he uses to bolster his case becomes suspicious as well. I don’t think he wants to bite that bullet, but he kind of has to…

Only in Dargaville – To the Ends of the Earth and Back Again

Three years ago I reviewed Maxwell C. Hill’s first book, “To the Ends of the Earth”, and I proclaimed it bad. Now I am here to say that he has written a follow-up volume and it is no better. Indeed, it might well be a lot worse, in a number of different and not always interesting ways.

“To the Ends of the Earth and Back Again” is not, as I thought it was going to be, a new edition of the previous volume. Instead, it assumes the reader is not just familiar with the first edition but also accepted it’s central thesis. That thesis is the claim that Aotearoa/New Zealand was first settled by the crew of an Egyptian and Greek expedition which had tried to circumnavigate the globe. These brave navigators lived here for a time, saw some new recruits when the Egyptian government sent out a second expedition to locate them, and eventually were overrun by the brutish Māori. Hill’s evidence for this thesis was the dubious epigraphy of Barry Fell, some strange assertions based upon old maps, folk linguistic analysis, and treating mythological stories as verbatim historical accounts.

Hill’s first book was an unconvincing attempt to turn our standard histories on their head, but Hill is undaunted. His new book, 356 pages in length, printed on high quality gloss (the book must have cost a fortune to print) is a heavy tome. It would be a useful weapon in any fight which required only brute force and no intellectual discussion. It is not, however, any advance in an understanding of our history, and rather than clarifying Hill’s position, it goes some way to showing that even Hill doesn’t have a grasp on his own theory.

Possibly the weirdest thing about this book is just how upfront Hill is about his ignorance of what people are taught about the history of Aotearoa/New Zealand. A constant refrain throughout “To the Ends of the Earth and Back Again” is that what we were taught in school was wrong. Hill is fascinated by the idea that the standard story of Kupe and the Great Fleet hypothesis – the standard story taught by Pākehā in schools from the 1910s to the 1970s – was wrong. He happily points out that there is no evidence for a great fleet migration, and that the stories of Kupe and his exploits vary between iwi. However, Hill does not use as a launching platform to explore what Māori believe about their own history but, rather, as an excuse to engage in speculation about what the true history of this place might be. Yet Hill’s “true history” is one that denies Māori their status as tangata whenua because it might – just might – have been possible that other people got here first.

“To the Ends of the Earth” posited that the first people to Aotearoa/New Zealand were a mix of Egyptians and Greeks, and that the people we know of as the “Māori” came after. Hill is now convinced that the Māori arrived sometime around the 1400s, and that they came from Hawaiki, which turns out to be someone in Aotearoa.

Or they came from China; Hill has obviously recently read Gavin Menzies’ “1421: The Year China Discover the World” and is trying to shoehorn in Menzies’ thesis into his own. Some Māori, Hill initially conjectures and then later on asserts, are the product of Chinese and their Melanesian slaves coming to this land, miscegenating like nobody’s business, and then leaving some of their offspring behind.

I say “some”, because Hill now also claims that Tainui arrived in Aotearoa/New Zealand on a Spanish vessel (although he does not specifically state they are of Spanish origin; I guess the Spaniard captain might just have given them a lift…). It’s all very confusing; Māori are Chinese and Melanesian, except for those who came here by a Spanish vessel, but we have to remember that Hawaiki is actually in Aotearoa, which is where the Māori really came from. So, about 1400 we have three migrations – one from Aotearoa/New Zealand itself – which explains the origin of the Māori. Apparently.

There is no real through-line to this book; unlike “To the Ends of the Earth”, which, despite its repetitiveness, at least put forward a single theory, this sequel muddies the water with a lot of “What ifs?” Indeed, Hill has a disturbing tendency in his writing to put forward an hypothesis – say, the idea that Hawaiki might actually be in Aotearoa/New Zealand – and then later on assert that hypothesis as true and supporting evidence for some other claim or conjecture. It very much feels like “Return to the Stars”, Erich von Däniken’s sequel to “Chariots of the Gods?” (note the question mark). In “Chariots of the Gods” von Däniken posits that it might be possible that stories of the gods actually encode ancient alien visitations. In subsequent works he just asserts this as true, and then speculates even further about what really happened when aliens came on their numerous day-trips.

Hill also continues to adhere to outdated theories and now disproven hypotheses. For example, he continues to insist, despite anthropological and skeletal evidence to the contrary, that Polynesians have rocker jaws and only rocker jaws. He also holds to a finding that claimed kiore (the Polynesian rat) made it to Aotearoa a thousand years before the Māori; however, when someone tried to replicate those results, they found no such evidence.1) Then there is his insistence we take the theories of Thor Heyerdahl seriously, despite the fact they go against just about everything we know about Polynesia when it comes to a) the oral histories, b) the archaeology, and c) the population genetics.

However, it is possible that in a few, rare cases, Hill has taken onboard criticisms of his work and sought to explain away apparent inconsistencies with respect to his evidence. I had a go at both his and Barry Fell’s assertions that they could find examples of Greek and Egyptian inscriptions through Indonesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, by pointing out that these supposed inscriptions were remarkably crude; they looked like a case of “When not in Rome…” Hill now claims that these inscriptions were not made by the educated leaders of the expedition but by members of the polyglot crew that accompanied them. Which is a nice save, I suppose, although it doesn’t answer why no one other than Fell – who has no training in Ancient Egyptian or Ancient Greek – recognises these inscriptions for what they apparently really are.

Personally, I found this book both hard to read and hard to review. Hill’s standard arguments are either to say “When I was a boy I was taught this, and now they say that isn’t true!” which he then manages to turn into some claim about a conspiracy to hide Aotearoa’s true history, or he shows you an image and makes some very bold and unlikely conjectures about it. I do not go into books like thesis looking to slam them; whilst I am very sceptical that Aotearoa/New Zealand was settled first by people from northern climes, I was hoping to see some semblance of an argument which could be usefully used to highlight why people might posit an alternative history of this place. However, Hill’s entire first premise – the starting point of his argument – is merely that history isn’t what it used to be. He seems angry at the idea that people might think the Polynesians were spectacular navigators, and that people prefer new, more nuanced histories than those written some hundred years ago. This is a book which at every turn seeks to denigrate Māori by claiming their history is false and they know it! Hill is, at the very least, suffering from the institutionalised, anti-Māori views common to many Pākehā of a particular age. Then there are various claims he makes throughout the book, like “[T]he Māori brought to New Zealand a form of evil occult religion and a thirst for profound violence.” (p. 150) These proclamations of his, I would say, stand for themselves.

“Oh, but Matthew, he’s presenting evidence for an alternative history, and if that evidence is true, then he can’t be racist because it’s just facts!” is the kind of response some might make at this juncture. Sure, if there were any merit to his hypotheses, that would be some kind of comeback. But, and this is the all important “but”, Hill’s thesis is just mere speculation, based upon pieces of information which hardly deserve to get called “evidence”. History is not a game, and we do not have to give credence to just anyone who wants to engage in historical revisionism.

After all, the history of Aotearoa has been rewritten several times. Hill’s major problem is that the history he grew up accepting as fact turned out to be largely the fabrication of white men. The new history – one based upon a reappreciation of oral history, along with anthropological analysis which ended up supporting many of that history’s assertions – reframed the pre-history of Aotearoa/New Zealand in terms of the tangata whenua, the people who were actually here first. Yet Hill cannot understand or appreciate this; the story told about Māori was largely false, but he fails to recognise that this was not a story that was told by Māori. Rather, it was foisted on them and made the standard history taught to both them and Pākehā in our schooling system until very recently.

Hill’s response to learning that the Great Fleet story was a modern myth is not to blame Pākehā historians, however. No; he thinks this gives him grounds to question what Māori say about themselves. Along the way he treats myths literally and brings in a raft of pseudo-scholarship in order to claim the new orthodoxy is as questionable as the the old.

“To the Ends of the Earth and Back Again” is really just one argument: If only he could reframe the story such that the stories of the Māori were untrustworthy, then he could radically reinterpret Māori history and show that the mythological stories of the Patupairehe, Turehu, Ngati Hotu and the like reflects the history of another, non-Māori people who were here first. Yet this he cannot do; his story is both confused and ultimately self-serving. After all, he wants to deny the idea that Māori know their own history but that they have no trouble when it comes to relating, for example, the history of the Patupairehe. There is no consistency here; just the throwing of shade on our country’s indigenous people.

It is, in the end, the kind of thing we might expect to come out of Dargaville.

Notes

  1. Anderson, A (2000). Differential reliability of 14C AMS ages of Rattus exulans bone gelatin in south Pacific prehistory Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 30 (3

In which John Ansell adopts the “Māori were not here first” argument for Treatygate

I haven’t said much recently about John Ansell, because his “Treatygate” blog has mostly been an accounting of his rabble-rousing attempts around the country.

However, this post by Ansell, entitled Kupe’s descendant confirms other races were here first needs addressing. I mean, the name somewhat gives the game away: has Ansell finally succumbed to some version of the Celtic New Zealand thesis?

Ansell’s post is a partial reprint of a Franklin eLocal article, which itself is part of their series of pieces which claim there is a grand conspiracy at work in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand) to hide the real history of human settlement here. The Franklin eLocal recently interviewed David Rankin, a problematic figure in Māori politics generally and Ngāpuhi specifically1, to get his view on claims of Māori indigeneity. Rankin had this to say:

Let me just start off and say this, Maori are not the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand. There were many other races already living here long before Kupe arrived. I am his direct descendant and I know from our oral history passed down 44 generations.

I believe this needs to be investigated further because every Maori community talks about Waitaha, Turehu and Patupaiarehe. This goes hand-in-hand with the other research.

So, what to make of this? Well, not much really. Māori oral history quite freely records that when the Māori arrived, there were people already living here. However, if you delve into these stories you’ll discover that said people were the ancestors of the Māori. The pre-Māori people in most of these stories were the people who first arrived here and then sent some of their people back to tell everyone else to hurry on over. For example, my favourite volcanic cone of the Waitemata, Maungaika, gets its name from the fact that when it was “discovered” by one of the migrant waka, the navigator’s grandfather, Uika, was already living there, having previously discovered it, settled it and then sent his sons back to the home islands to fetch more people.

It is, then, important to make sure we’re not confusing stories about the people who were here before the arrival of the Māori (a cultural group which settled these islands), the pre-Māori (the ancestors of the Māori who discovered Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu) and talk of the Turehu and Patupaiarehe (who are fey, or fairy folk).

Still, the real pearl of Ansell’s piece comes from the comments, where Ansell claims:

The UN know Maori and others aren’t indigenous, so they simply change the meaning of the word to: “The good brown people who got to the country (a bit) before the bad white people”.

Large scale UN conspiracy theory much? Ansell is pretty much a prescriptivist about language, in that he holds to a thesis about there being set definitions for words which are to be taken as inviolate (as evidenced by his claims about the definition of “taonga”, for example). However, I don’t think he gets the irony here that whilst he disagrees with claims of Māori indigeneity, he is doing so by perverting what the word “indigenous” actually means. Ansell doesn’t like term “indigenous” because he holds to a radical and unorthodox definition of the word.

None of which matters anyway. The Treaty of Waitangi is not strictly a treaty between the indigenous people of this place and the British Crown (although it is by inference). It is, rather, a treaty between Māori and the British Crown; even if it turns out that Māori weren’t the indigenous people of this place, it wouldn’t have any bearing on the rights and obligations bestowed by the Treaty because the Treaty isn’t about indigeneity.

Notes

  1. David Rankin is not an ariki of Ngāpuhi and is, basically, a self-professed “elder” of his tribe; he does not speak for Ngāpuhi, no matter how often people in the media claim he does.

The scale of the conspiracy

PeterC, over in the comments of my review of Max Hill’s “To the Ends of the Earth” suggested that contemporary archaeologists in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu (New Zealand) dance to the tune of their political (and funding) masters, which is why there is no academic support for the theses of Max Hill, Martin Doutreé and the like. That got me to thinking: if we were to treat that claim about the existence of a conspiracy seriously, how big would the conspiracy in question actually be?

Think of it this way: Pacific archaeology is not an entirely New Zealand-based concern. Whilst New Zealand archaeologists do an awful lot of our local archaeology, they are just part of the wider archaeological community interested in the history and pre-history of the Pacific. Quite a lot of Pacific archaeology is performed by Americans, the French and Germans, in part because each of these nations have a history of colonial activity in the Pacific.

So, if there is a conspiracy to hide the real history of the Pacific and to deny the existence of some other people living in or passing through the Polynesian archipelago, it must be a pretty big one that encompasses the research output of not just the New Zealand university and research community but extends to the university and research communities of Europe and the Americas1. What possible rationale is there for such a large-scale, encompassing conspiracy?

You might concede that maybe someone, in a position of political power, decided one day that we should rewrite Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu’s history in order to appease some group of Māori (even though I think this is very unlikely it is still a possibility) but why would that decision be in anyway binding on the research outputs of archaeologists and historians elsewhere, especially since these reports are perfect congruent with the archaeological research that is produced elsewhere in Polynesia? Why do American archaeologists write site reports and make inferences which look eerily similar to the site reports of French and New Zealand archaeologists? Surely, if there is a conspiracy, we should see a divergence of views between these sets of researchers?

Now, maybe the large-scale claim of conspiracy is justified: I did say that these nations have a history of colonialism, so maybe they are part of a “post-colonial guilt party” conspiracy, or the indigenous peoples of this place (generally speaking) have some kind of hold over the governments of these nations, but that just seems unlikely. The attitudes of France, America and New Zealand with respect to the indigenous peoples of the Pacific really couldn’t be that different (look at the poor state of native rights in Haiwaii) and so it just doesn’t follow that American archaeologists doing Pacific archaeology funded by American universities and NGOs would be hiding evidence of some non-Polynesian, pre-cursor people in the way that Doutree and company seem to allege.

You might also, if we’re going to treat this thesis with more respect than it deserves, argue that the decision was made by, say, the American establishment and we’re just following the dictates of a world superpower. Once again, you have to give a reason as to why, say, America would want to pervert history and produce archaeological disinformation, especially given, as previously noted, just how badly off the Hawaiians are (and let’s not forget the plight of the Native Americans).

Both of these rationales also fall foul of a basic truth about research communities; governments set the funding levels and they certainly mangle research outputs by overfunding some types of degrees and underfunding others. but they don’t control who researches what and they certainly don’t set up the terms of such enquiries, let alone decide what conclusions are allowed to be drawn. Certainly, many of Ansell’s fellow travellers complain about the kind of research that goes on in the academic sector and how good it is that sensible Ministers in our present Government ignore such policy advice and use common sense instead. It seems that the kind of people who are likely to come up with a conspiracy about there being an agenda to hide the existence of a pre-Māori people want to have it both ways when it comes to condemning the research outputs of our universities.

The other problem with this claim about large-scale conspiracy in the world of archaeology is that, surely, you would expect someone to buck the system and release evidence of both the hidden history and the conspiracy itself. This is a common argument against the 9/11 Truth Movement (and, increasingly, being employed to show that the claims of a “CIA/Swedish honeytrap” against Julian Assange seems very unlikely): the lack of countering evidence to the well-accepted or official theory seems to suggest that the theory is plausible. Now, any holder of a conspiracy theory which claims that well-accepted or official theory is based on disinformation, etc. will point towards people like Richard Gage (with respect to the 9/11 Truth Movement) and Martin Doutré (with respect to the Celtic New Zealand thesis) and say “But, looksy, there is evidence to the contrary and these brave researchers are willing to put up with shoddy ad hominem attacks and ridicule to get the truth out there!”

But, once again, this seems to present a problem of scale: Doutré and Gage are not just dismissed by part of the academy but, rather, all of it worldwide. Doutré and Hill’s respective theses are not just considered silly and vapid in Aotearoa me Te Wai Pounamu but elsewhere as well, so we’re back to the “Everyone (else) is in on the conspiracy” angle which, as I’ve shown, is already problematic.

But it gets worse. Doutré and Hill’s radical pre-histories of Polynesia is based upon not just archaeological claims but also claims based in comparative linguistics, oral histories, ethnography, epigraphy and (to name a few). In each of these fields, his arguments have been picked on by someone with appropriate expertise who are largely in agreement with the rest of their peers. If there is a conspiracy in existence, it’s not just a conspiracy in the worldwide archaeological community but, rather, a conspiracy of every academic everywhere2.

Once again, this is a potentially huge conspiracy that people like PeterC are envisioning, and given the different research funding models worldwide, the organisation and control of this conspiracy is likely not to be governmental (unless you believe there exists a New World Order/One World Government who have, as one of their aims, the promotion of both false history and indigenous rights) but, rather, academic.

Now, admittedly, people like John Ansell and Martin Doutré will agree with this and say “Well, we’ve been saying the academic world has been taken over my Marxists for ages now!” but a) it’s not clear that Ansell and Doutreé know what Marxism, as a mode of academic pursuit, looks like and b) it’s not clear that Marxism is the most popular mode of academic pursuit at the moment any way3.

More importantly, though, who is directing us academics to pursue research in a Marxist way?

Ansell, PeterC, Doutré and company will say “That’s where the funding comes from” but is it? Sure, New Zealand’s university sector is funded by central government, so maybe there are Marxists in the Ministry of Education, but what about America? There are lots of American researchers who work in Pacific archaeology, linguistics, history and other related disciplines and their university sector is definitely not funded by the Federal Government (there is very little publicly funded research in the USA) so if the conspiracy is based around funding, it’s a conspiracy where either the international (particularly American) academic sector has undue sway over individual government funding bodies like we find in New Zealand or small countries like our own somehow have sway over the international research funding community.

Both theories seem unlikely, I must confess.

There is, of course, another option. Perhaps, just perhaps, the radical theories of the Richard Gages and Martin Doutré’s of this world are considered lacking in academic merit because, well, such theories are lacking in the kinds of credentials a largely independent academic sector expect to find. No need to posit a conspiracy; outlier research like that found in the 9/11 Truth Movement or the Celtic New Zealand crowd might just be examples of pseudo-research.

However, I don’t think that conclusion, however likely it appears to be, will be accepted by people like PeterC.

Notes

  1. Truth be told, quite a lot of New Zealand archaeology is undertaken by people who not only did their undergraduate and post-graduate studies overseas but are, shock horror, foreign nationals (and not necessarily the kind the GSCB is allowed to spy on).
  2. I would love to see the agenda for the meetings that set up such a conspiracy. I’ve been in academic staff meetings. They are not pretty. No one seems to be able to agree with anyone.
  3. That being said, no matter what I say next, Ansell and Doutré will likely claim we’re all “closet Marxists” who are either unaware we are Marxists or are afraid to admit to being Marxists because we might suffer the old bit of biffo by the common person on the street.