Narratives of Identity
Perspectives on the Library's Maori Collection
Talks / Lecture
From his London base, the enigmatic Kiwi ex-pat, Rex Nan Kivell spent much of his life voraciously collecting material documenting the European discovery and conquest of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. How did Māori in Aotearoa-New Zealand feel about being ‘discovered’ and were they ever conquered? Paul Diamond has surveyed the extensive Māori presence in the Nan Kivell and other Library collections, using his Māori heritage and knowledge to turn around the lens on European and Māori encounters.
Paul Diamond is a National Library of Australia Fellow and inaugural Curator, Māori at the National Library of New Zealand. His Fellowship is supported by both libraries.
Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Paul Diamond (P)
Location: National Library of Australia
M: Good evening, everybody. Your Excellency, Chris Seed, High Commissioner for New Zealand, guests, colleagues and friends, welcome to tonight’s presentation by National Library of Australia Fellow Mr Paul Diamond, Curator Maori at the National Library of New Zealand. Paul’s lecture, Narratives of Identity, New Perspectives, The Library’s Maori Collections comes as Paul approaches the end of his three-month fellowship here at the Library and draws together some of the many threads he’s explored as he has navigated the Library’s rich collections to find, document, interpret and ponder from multiple angles documents relating to Maori life and culture found here in the National Library of Australia’s collections. And for those who don’t know me I’m Marie-Louise Ayres and it’s my honour to be the Director General of this Library.
Now this particular fellowship brings with it so many questions relating to Maori heritage and for we Australians questions relating to Australian indigenous heritage as it appears in our collections with all the discoveries, gaps, silences and frankly discomfort that comes with that. Over the last few months Paul and I have been in several public spaces in which welcomes to country and acknowledgments of indigenous ownership of and care for the land on which we meet tonight have been expressed. I’ve spoken to Paul about how I felt more than 10 years ago at an archives conference in Wellington when I realised that a wonderful young indigenous archivist from Victoria was not going to be able to reply in language to a beautiful speech in Maori from his New Zealand colleague because he had no language. It was devastating and I will never forget the visceral shock of that moment.
So when Ngunnawal elder, Paul House, gave a most eloquent welcome to country in language at a recent exhibition opening here at the Library and shortly afterwards the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, spoke in language to acknowledge indigenous owners and elders at another major exhibition opening down at the National Gallery of Australia well I suppose you could say that these had huge emotional impact for me and I know that for many others. So with that in mind I offer, alas in English only, my most sincere thanks to those who have cared for this beautiful land. I acknowledge their elders past and present and the young elders to be who are with us tonight.
Now I’d now like to ask Paul to invite us into the wonderful world of his research over the last three months. At the end of Paul’s talk we will have time for some questions and then some more refreshments but for now over to Paul. Thank you, Paul.
P: [Speaks in Maori]. Good evening. Thank you, Marie-Louise, and just to tell you what I’ve just said there it began with a little proverb, whakatauki, that says I shall not be lost, the seed that was sown from Rangiatea known as the homeland of Maori, I’ve acknowledged those who’ve passed on, beyond the veil as we say in Maori and bringing us back to the realm of the living where we are. And I’ve acknowledged the Iwi Tangata Whenua, the people of the land here. And a real highlight – there’s been so many highlights of my time in Canberra but one highlight was being at the filming of the Q&A show at Parliament House recently and being able to hear from Aboriginal leaders, young and not so young, a reminder that this is Aboriginal land, always was Aboriginal land and always will be Aboriginal land. And just to conclude these introductory remarks, I just really want to acknowledge the many, many people here at the Library and beyond in Canberra and New Zealanders here who’ve helped to make this time so amazing and memorable. So thank you and he mihi mutunga kore, thanks without end.
So last weekend I was taken to the lookout at Mt Pleasant where I was told you can take in a number of Canberra’s phallic monuments including the impressive Cook memorial jet. I mention this because it’s not possible to spend time looking at the Nan Kivell Collection without coming across Captain James Cook. It has been very interesting to be at the National Library of Australia in the lead-up to the 250th anniversary of Cook’s first voyage which falls next year in 2018.
Now as part of my research I found the catalogue for the exhibition about Cook held at New Zealand House in London in June 1956. Reading this catalogue text with 2017 eyes it’s striking how the indigenous people Cook encountered are either bit players or absent altogether. The exhibition catalogues are arranged according to themes in roughly chronological order: Religion/Settlement,Government/Navy and army and then Commerce. So these five things foreground European views and experiences but also encapsulate the forces brought to bear on Maori in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
In this view of history, Maori have things done to them (like having the Christian religion brought to them by Samuel Marsden whereas we now know there’s evidence that Marsden was invited by the chiefs of the northern tribes). Another example, Maori have land purchased from them, suggesting a straightforward, uncomplicated transaction. After the missionaries, the settlers arrived (as the catalogue tells us, 'brave and adventurous these men and women pioneered New Zealand'). And then we have government and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.
And then in the army and navy section we get a hint that not everything was straightforward. 'The young colony depended on the two services for protection against both any Maoris who were hostile to European settlement and any other attempts to challenge British dominion'. But the catalogue tells us it all worked out alright in the end:
'The difficult campaigns of the Maori wars of 1845 to ’47 and 1860 to ’68, fought with strategy and skill, and the bravery shown by both Imperial troops and Maori warriors made an outstanding chapter in British military history.' Then we’re on to the commerce theme and Maori disappear altogether.
As well as illustrating the historiography and the museology of the 1950s, the catalogue is a good introduction to how Rex Nan Kivell’s collection has traditionally been seen. In the words of the National Library of Australia News from February 1992 the collection is '...a full record of the 18th and 19th century encounters which had led to the European conquest of the Pacific'.
In the last page of that catalogue for the London exhibition Nan Kivell’s name heads the list of those acknowledged as lending or giving items for the exhibition. But in 1956 when that exhibition happened, negotiations between Nan Kivell and the Australian Government about his collection were at a very delicate stage. Even though Nan Kivell had started sending his collection to the National Library of Australia from 1949, there’d been a possibility that the collection or the New Zealand part of it might go to New Zealand. But after New Zealand’s bid for a knighthood for Nan Kivell in the 1953 Coronation Honours List was unsuccessful, there was no prospect of the collection going to New Zealand.
A very protracted, complex series of negotiations followed culminating in an agreement in 1959 (brokered in large part due to the efforts of Director General, Sir Harold White, who you can see on the left in this photo, and Prime Minister Robert Menzies) and the agreement was that Nan Kivell would sell the collection to the Commonwealth of Australia for £70,000 which was a fraction of its value at that time.
So who was this enigmatic man known by the time he died in 1977 as Sir Rex De Charembac Nan Kivell? One difficulty with trying to explain who this man was, īs that key elements of his biography, when scrutinised, turn out to be false. For example, a Danish honour, the Order of the Dannebrog, which Nan Kivell said he was awarded by the Danish King in 1935. This is noted on the sign by the Nan Kivell Room on Level 1 in this building which was opened in 1974. No evidence has ever been found to assert Nan Kivell’s assertion that he received this award, leading historians to regard his claim as spurious.
But we do know that he was born Reginald Nankivell – so Nan Kivell is one word – in 1898 at Christchurch in New Zealand. When he enlisted for the Great War, he travelled to England. He wasn’t, as he claimed, gassed at the Battle of Messines, and his rank was Private, not Captain. After he was demobilised from the army Nan Kivell stayed in England. Following the war Nan Kivell continued collecting books and pictures while working as a marshall to the High Court Judges and the Court of Assizes. In 1925 he joined the staff of the Redfern Gallery in London’s Mayfair gallery ghetto. The Gallery specialised in works by staff and students of the major London art schools. Nan Kivell became the Managing Director in 1931 and under his direction the Gallery became phenomenally successful. In large part this was due to his skill at spotting talent, and buying up while the market was low. Here he is with his business partner, Harry Tatlock Miller, who was an expat Australian.
But as Nan Kivelll’s fellow gallerist, John Kasmin, said in an interview in the Financial Times last year, '...all artists do is produce the work, the dealer has to create the allure.' And I think this quote is key to understanding how gallerists work and why Nan Kivell was so successful but in his case the allure extended to his own life. This perhaps wasn’t such unusual behaviour. John Kasmin was born John Kaye and favoured exotic foreign titles styling himself Count Kasmin for a while. But the profits from Nan Kivell’s work as a gallerist funded his own collecting. This focused on European voyages to the Pacific. From the 1920s, he’d been collecting books, manuscripts, maps, paintings, prints and other items relating to the exploration of the Pacific and the early British settlement of Australia and New Zealand.
In 1988, more than a decade after Nan Kivell’s death, an exhibition called Paradise Possessed was mounted here at the National Library, showcasing items from his vast collection of more than 15,000 items. In an essay from the exhibition catalogue which had the title 'Self-made: Towards a Life of Rex Nan Kivell'), John Thompson who was Director of Australian Collections here at the National Library, acutely summarised Nan Kivell’s process of reinvention:
'In Nan Kivell, we see, perhaps the archetypal outsider - illegitimate, homosexual, self-educated, an Antipodean colonial-who, pressing his nose to the window, eventually gained access to the larger, more marvellous world from which he must have felt himself to be excluded.' In this photo you can see Nan Kivell second from the left there and that’s his partner of more than 40 years, Mizouni Nouari, from Algeria.
I suspect Thompson’s essay is behind a story I’d heard before I came to Canberra that the reason Nan Kivell didn’t get a New Zealand knighthood, was that in the 1950s no way was a gay man going to get a knighthood from a New Zealand Government. When I asked my colleague, Dr Oliver Stead (who wrote his PhD about Nan Kivell), about this, he said he doubted that was right and that actually it was a little bit more complicated.
In 1953, when there was still a possibility that Nan Kivell might get a New Zealand knighthood, correspondence from Sir Harold White reveals how the Australian Government persisted with its own efforts to obtain the collection. As Oliver commented in his thesis 'Menzies, for one, was taking the whole thing with a grain of salt. He had probably guessed that Holland (that’s Sid Holland, New Zealand’s Prime Minister in the 1950s) would be unlikely to accede to Nan Kivell’s demands, let alone visit him at the Redfern Gallery. This note reveals a tone of mockery, perhaps directed at Nan Kivell’s homosexuality, which contributed to the collector’s anxiety complex about returning to the Antipodes. In London he could get away with his faintly bizarre persona, even become successful by it. But in the colonies he would still be an object of ridicule, perhaps worse. Safe in London, in possession of valuable cultural property important to the maintenance of cultural pride – oh sorry, colonial pride – Nan Kivell could afford to let them wait and meet his terms. Yet Menzies’ continued tolerant indulgence of Nan Kivell’s many audacities was a major factor in Australia’s eventual success'. So I think about that quote every morning when I cycle past the statue of Menzies on the lake.
Wherever the collection was held it seems clear that Nan Kivell had definite ideas about its future use. As my former colleague Marian Minson put it in her essay for the Encounter with Eden exhibition which toured New Zealand in 1990, 'Nan Kivell set down his primary purpose which was to ensure that the collection he had accumulated and which he was to continue developing until the time of his death would be shared with the peoples of the Australian continent and the islands of New Zealand and the Pacific'. And as Oliver has noted, Nan Kivell’s 'ability to enquire into the precise nature of each object as he acquired it was limited. As a collector he was a man of action rather than scholarship and he was content to leave the precise authentication of identity to others-in fact he encouraged this, seeing his collecting as a service to scholarship rather than as a scholarly end in itself.'
As I explained to my library colleagues in a talk several weeks ago, I began my research here by reading these typed catalogues, prepared by Nan Kivell before he sent his collection from London to Canberra. I did this to identify Maori materials and select items to look at more closely but occasionally I’d come across these little notes from Nan Kivell about other items, like one with the entry for these two unidentified portraits in oil. And this is what he wrote, he said 'when brought to me the dealer had the frames, which were made in Wellington, and description of the portraits. He had brought them to me from the country unframed for convenience. When he returned to the country to collect the frames and paper off the backs they had been destroyed. His recollection of the man in the portrait is that he was painted showing the coast of Cook's Strait and the ship in which he sailed to Wellington. The lady is obviously his wife. (Included in RNK’s collection in the hope that one day they may be recognised).') So isn’t it a wonderful thing that the National Library of Australia has digitised these portraits making it possible for people with New Zealand connections wherever they are to see them, and perhaps one day identify the sitters?
I’ve read that Nan Kivell initially planned to separate the collection into the New Zealand and the other components but it’s fortunate that it was kept together. The people recorded in this collection lived lives that spanned the different countries. Missionaries like Samuel Marsden were dispatching vigorous men and women across the Pacific. In New Zealand we think of his work there setting up the first European settlement, preaching the first so-called sermon, but it’s important to remember the broader context for his work. Marsden was based in Parramatta, in New South Wales which regarded New Zealand as a colonial outpost for about 50 years and constitutionally New Zealand began as an extension of New South Wales (from June 1839), which was its status when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, and we became a separate colony in 1841.
In 2017, while Nan Kivell’s physical collection is cared for here in Canberra, people have opportunities to see and experience it in ways he could only have dreamed of. Here he is with some of the leather-bound albums of photos of his collection which would have been his way to keep track of the treasures in a pre-computer age after he’d sent the material from London to Canberra. Here’s an example of a page from one of the albums. What's interesting about this is that it shows how Nan Kivell was keeping track of items and other collections. In this case, the portrait at the top is of the Maori chiefs Hongi Hika and Waikato, who travelled to England with the missionary, Thomas Kendall in 1820. And it’s part of a collection of photos of items in the possession of the Methodist Missionary Society in London.
A different portrait of Hongi Hika and Waikato with Kendall is one of the most famous items cared for by the Alexander Turnbull Library, where I work. This came from the Church Missionary Society in the late 1930s. While I was in the Reading Room last week I checked the catalogue for the Church Missionary Society archives which are now at the University of London, to see if they still had the other portrait which Nan Kivell had his eye on, and it’s still there.
While in England with Kendall, Hongi Hika and Waikato visited Cambridge University to work on a grammar and vocabulary of the language of New Zealand. This book established the basic written form of the Maori language. Hongi Hika and Waikato are regarded and described as Kendall’s teachers and this introduces an important point about the Maori language material and the Nan Kivell and other collections I’ve been researching. In particular, it points to why there’s so much rich material, part of what’s been described as the biggest collection of written material in any indigenous language.
The Nan Kivell collection includes several copies of this engraving of the Reverend James Buller, a Wesleyan missionary who arrived in New Zealand in April 1836. Buller and his wife were based in Mangunu in the Hokianga Harbour on the northwest coast of the North Island. So if you imagine the North Island of New Zealand very close to the top to Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) , at the top on the left, just about the last harbour is this one which actually got referred to as a river and you’ll sort of see why. It’s so sort of narrow and windy at the end, that actually was referred to as the Hokianga River. And here’s a – sort of where it says forest, if you can see that and sort of in the centre of this is where the mission was. This is an image from the Nan Kivell collection of the Hokianga Harbour from the time.
The Bullers joined fellow missionaries and their families together with Maori who worked at the mission as servants and workmen. James Buller then set about his first work as he wrote much later in a memoir, 'learning the language of the people. This was no easy task: neither lexicon nor grammar was at hand. It had been reduced to writing; and some portions of the Scriptures, with a few manuals, had been translated and printed. Not having a good ear, I found it difficult to lay hold of a barbarous tongue. With the aid of translations, and by daily intercourse with the natives, I managed to prepare a grammar and vocabulary for my own use. Ere long I was able to take some part in school instruction.' And at the end of a year Buller made his first attempt at preaching in Maori.
The vocabulary Buller mentioned remained hidden until 2013, when it emerged as part of the manuscripts collection offered for sale by an Auckland collector. And the Maori vocabulary was among the items purchased by the Turnbull Library.
The vocabulary is a numbered list of 920 words in the New Zealand language (as Maori was then known), and their English translations. Added words on some lines, and unnumbered lines means there’s about a thousand words listed in this little book. And if the lexicon dates from Buller’s time in Hokianga it was compiled between April 1836 to February 1839 and so the first Maori dictionary was published a little bit later in 1844.
And Buller’s lexicon reminds us that the missionaries who arrived in New Zealand, across different denominations made a decision to evangelise among Maori, in the Maori language and this meant that like Buller they had to learn the language and enter into the Maori world, in a way that I think was less common from what I’ve read for Europeans here. And thinking about this makes me think of Greg Denings’ writings about beaches as a metaphor where he wrote, 'Where minds meet is a beach of sorts. It is a place in between, a limen, a middle ground, where to share that space one has to give a little, where everything is new by being somehow shared, where everything is in translation, where we see ourselves reflected in somebody else’s otherness.'
Te Ara, the New Zealand online encyclopaedia, tells us that 'by 1842 most Maori aged between 10 and 30 could read and write their own language, which was actually a higher literacy rate than for non-Maori at that time in New Zealand'. This also meant that the missionaries played a huge role in recording the Maori language as the church historian, John Owens, noted in a lecture looking specifically at Wesleyan missionaries and Maori in the early 19th century and Owens wrote, 'the missionaries have been criticised for destroying aspects of Maori culture, but in the long perspective, missionaries, and then the churches, have done more to preserve than destroy.'
Libraries and archives like this one and the Turnbull Library have continued this work to preserve Maori language and culture. And here at the National Library of Australia the Nan Kivell Collection isn’t the only place I found Maori material. The collection of Sir John Alexander Ferguson (another expat New Zealander), has the only copies of some printed items of Maori known to exist anywhere. For example this leaflet from 1854, by the Church Missionary Society, Missionary Thomas Samuel Grace, advising Maori not to sell their land and using quotes from the scriptures there to reinforce his point.
There’s also more recent material such as this Maori translation of the story of Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, published by the Seventh Day Adventist Church in New South Wales. I can’t see this on any New Zealand library catalogues, but it could be held by the Church in New Zealand.
During my fellowship I actually returned to New Zealand to chair a session about the Waikato land wars at the Wanaka Festival near Queenstown. The speakers were our former Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, on the left there, whose government negotiated a settlement with the Waikato tribes and the historian, Vincent O’Malley, who’s just written a major survey of the wars.
In his book Vincent mentioned the oath of allegiance to the Queen which Maori were required to sign if they wanted to stay in the Auckland area during the wars. There are two copies of the oath known to exist. It’s 'He ki Tututru' in Maori. There’s one here in the Nan Kivell Collection and one at the Turnbull Library, but I’d never actually seen it until I saw it in the files here.
And as well as printed material, there’s of course manuscript material. The Nan Kivell Collection includes a number of different collections of Maori manuscript material but one I’ve looked at quite closely is a collection of around 30 letters written by Maori teachers to another missionary, the Reverend Richard Taylor. This photo was taken around 1855 when Taylor who’s at the centre and his son, Basil, on the left were in London together with Hoani Wiremu Hipango, a tribal leader and teacher who was a friend and associate of Taylor’s. Reading the letters, I was able to test out the idea of how they could speak to a second language learner like me, 170 years after they were written. This letter was written from an unidentified person, from Patea on the west coast of the North Island in August 1846. The writer refers to various scriptures and how he – probably definitely was a he, I don’t think any of the teachers were women at that stage – how he hadn’t measured up to their standards.
Now the last page of the letter in the collection which is possibly – as you can see possibly not the last page of the letter – had this phrase near the end of the page which stopped me in my tracks. So I’m reading from the last sort of five or so lines, [reads in Maori]. So my rough translation for that is 'furthermore, I know in my heart that I can’t escape judgment, friend. I know that this world is not a permanent home for me.' So even without knowing the context I can tell that that person was very troubled.
So these examples of printed and written Maori like Buller’s lexicon are snapshots of the New Zealand language at particular points in its development. They also illustrate how material in the archives and libraries can assist with the revival of te reo Maori, the Maori language. Which is an opportunity to acknowledge a very important Symposium where the idea for this fellowship really originated. Hidden Gems, the Role of Libraries and Archives and Cultural Revitalisation, was held at the State Library of New South Wales in August 2013. At the symposium I met Margy Burn, the Director General of Australian Collections and Reader Services here at the Library and there she is in that photo there. And she mentioned there was a lot of Maori language material in the Nan Kivell and other collections and said 'why don’t you apply for one of these fellowships?' So that made me start thinking about the potential of language material and libraries and archives as a resource for language retention and renewal.
And now in New Zealand the revitalisation has tended to rely on so-called 'native speakers' and then you put people like me alongside them and that’s how we’d sort of learn the – transfer the language, but over time there are fewer of those speakers around and so we really need to be looking to other resources, such as the language material in archives and libraries.
Now just before I came to Canberra I was working on a book for the New Zealand Cartoon Archive which is part of the Turnbull Library, about how Maori have been represented in editorial cartoons and this is an example of one of the ones I’ve looked at from the 1920s, actually from a magazine called Aussie. One of the conclusions of this project was while there have been a small number of Maori cartoonists, most have been Pakeha, and all cartoons appear in Pakeha-controlled media, so Pakeha, the New Zealand word for European or non-Maori. As a result cartoons tend to reveal more about how Pakeha saw Maori and Pakeha identity than about how Maori saw themselves. Similarly, with the Nan Kivell Collection, while there is a significant indigenous presence, it tells us more about the imperial conquering gaze. Even if this is about how indigenous people were seen by Europeans, I still argue it’s revealing and valuable. Now the Collection has been described as icons of cultural identity and I think this applies to indigenous peoples as well.
Oliver Stead wrote that at best Nan Kivell’s collecting was emblematic rather than analytical. Oliver wrote, 'he collected works of art as emblematic trophies of a self-initiated and largely self-directed pilgrimage into the history of European art at the margins of empire. But in doing so he made available a vast treasure trove of pictorial material in which others could discover and rediscover their own narratives of identity.' So that’s where I got the title of tonight’s talk. I believe this phrase is key to understanding Nan Kivell’s collection and why it intrigues people over time. Every viewer and researcher can find their own narratives of identity in the Collection. And spending time looking at different versions of images in the collections brought home to me how images were reproduced and transmitted between New Zealand and Europe.
For example an image of the martyrdom of Kereopa and Manihera. This was based on the story of Manihera and Kereopa, who died after being shot as they approached the village of a tribal enemy when seeking peace. They were both martyred at Turangi in the central North Island in 1847. Later their former adversaries created a mission base where many became Christians. So the image in the Nan Kivell Collection shows how the story was manipulated and simplified to fit a template of Christian martyrdom. It appeared alongside other images of Maori and other 'heathen' peoples in those different countries, China, northwest America, West Africa, India as well as New Zealand in this book, Illustrations of Missionary Scenes, published in Germany in 1852, and inside it actually has the by-line, 'an offering to youth'.
The New Zealand art historian, Leonard Bell, has written that the illustrations reveal the processes of propaganda 19th century style. He argues that martyrdom pictures like this one 'tended to enjoy the greatest popularity when the church was most militant. So the presence of this image in a Protestant document would reflect the militancy and vigorous evangelising of the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand.'
Bell mentions a calico print version of one of the other illustrations, published by the Working Men’s Educational Union in about 1852 and the Nan Kivell Collection has 12 of these. This would have been the way that images were used for presentations like this, in a pre-PowerPoint age.
So returning to that 1956 exhibition in London, one of the items in the navy and army section was a watercolour portrait of Te Kuha, a chief from the Ngaiterangi tribe who was known as Te Kuka by his own people. This was painted by a soldier artist turned collector, Horatio Gordon Robley. The painting introduces the idea of portraiture, a key theme in Nan Kivell’s Collection.
One of the reasons Nan Kivell collected portraits was for this 1974 book, Portraits of the Famous and Infamous, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, 1492 to 1970. Or as Oliver Stead put it, 'a grandiose monument to the chaos of Nan Kivell’s mind.'
But getting back to Robley, he’s significant because of the nature of his interest in Maori portraiture. He also introduces two areas of real strength in the Nan Kivell Collection, the New Zealand land wars, formerly known as the Maori wars, and tattooing - a theme which of course doesn’t just relate to New Zealand material in the collection.
And here’s the point in the talk where I need to give a little bit of a viewer audience discretion warning. Some of the images in this next part of the talk may be disturbing but I hope you’ll understand why I’m showing them to you because they help illustrate the curatorial dilemma that I’m going to lay out for you. Robley’s collections are problematic as he did his research using real heads.
Robley was in New Zealand from 1864 to 1866 and fought with the British Army at the Battle of Gate Pa in Tauranga. He was also an artist and recorded scenes like this one called Shell Wound held by Te Papa, our national museum in Wellington. So what it’s actually showing you is a decapitated head and it was the cause of a complaint from a Maori librarian in 2015. And in his reply the Maori curator said that after review among museum staff it was concluded that the image was neither graphic in nature nor is it in any way gratuitous, being almost certainly based on an earlier sketch from the field by Robley and quite probably something that Robley encountered during his service. And the curator went on to say 'after careful consideration we determined that the image doesn’t breach public standards of decency, or any way fall within the more extreme category of restricted materials. We believe there’s a real public interest in providing access to heritage collections such as this for all New Zealanders and we don’t exclude Maori from that public interest. Indeed, Maori deserve to have increased and wherever possible direct access to all heritage collection items of and about Maori. I hope that you can understand the rationale for approving this image for public online dissemination even if you personally disapprove of it.'
After returning to England and retiring from the army in 1887, Robley began collecting preserved tattooed Maori heads known as Toi Moko. He regarded the heads as important sources of information about tattooing, which at that time wasn’t widely practised, at least for men. Robley wanted the New Zealand Government to buy the heads for £1,000, but this was declined, on the advice of Maori politician, Sir James Carroll, who said that its presence would offend relatives. Instead, Robley sold the collection to the National Museum at New York for £3,000. Fast forward to 2014 and the collection of heads and other human remains was returned by the American Museum of Natural History to Te Papa. And I’m just going to quickly show you what that looked like.
So if you’ve ever been involved with a Maori funeral, a tangi, you would have recognised what was happening there. The tupapaku, the – as we call human bodies and remains and things, koiwi and the preserved heads were being brought back to the marae at Te Papa, our national museum and the whole format of a tangi was used, a tangihanga which means crying with – it’s the name for a Maori funeral. So those items are kept in a closed vault at Te Papa where they are stored until they can be returned to the related tribes who often decide to bury them.
Robley’s collections of photos, paintings and drawings of his toi moko were purchased by Nan Kivell. Similar material is held in other collections raising questions for the institutions.
As Michael Richards noted in his essay in the 1998 Paradise Possessed publication, the scrapbooks and albums assembled by Robley in the years after the land wars are among the most extraordinary and distressing items in the Nan Kivell Collection. 'No vision of Eden, these drawings and photographs of the tattooed heads of Maori people dead and alive, severed and connected, remind us of the violence of those years and of the incredible ability of people to turn almost anything into a talisman, a curio and finally a commodity.'
Robley used his sketches and photos of his collection in his book, Moko; or Maori Tattooing, published in 1896. When the New Zealand Electronic Tech Centre in Wellington decided to digitise this book in 2007, it consulted widely about how it should be made available. It received a range of responses from Maori but decided to present the text with all associated images except those depicting mokamokai or human remains. And this was from their consultation report. They said 'although it was felt that there were good arguments for presenting "Moko; or Maori tattooing" in its entirety, namely to retain the integrity of the book and the interests of scholarship, it was also felt that by making the mokamokai depictions available without express permission of the descendent whanau or family of those tupuna (ancestors) whose remains appeared in those images would be disrespectful. In contrast we felt that presenting the images of moko people and of the designs were less likely to offend and more likely to inform.'
And it was interesting to read in that report that a Ta Moko tattoo artist, Rangi Kipa, did not recommend digitisation as Maori should retain their rights to matauranga Maori, Maori knowledge. And access by non-Maori should be limited. He felt that widespread dissemination of moko designs would lead others to profit from it.
Seeing the images of Robley’s heads here in Canberra has exercised my mind. The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has a collection of copies of the photographs and there is also a set at the Turnbull Library and we also have some of Robley’s artwork. The photos that we hold, including two digitised images can only be viewed onsite in our reading rooms. Some of the artwork images are available online, as is the case here.
One thing that occurred to me was to think about the differences in Maori agency in different images of tattooing in the National Library of Australia collections. For example, the exquisite image of Te Pehi Kupe, painted by Mr J Sylvester of Liverpool, when the chief visited England in 1826. We’re told that Te Pehi Kupe was very particular that his tattoo be represented correctly.
In contrast, while it may be self-evident, it’s still significant I think that the people represented by Robley had no say over their inclusion in his study. And last week when I was looking at the image of a thigh tattoo traced from a piece of skin in Robley’s collection (he had two pieces of thigh skin), it prompted me for the first time in my life to Google 'lampshades made from human skin'. While there is evidence that the Nazi regime did keep examples of tattoos, the infamous stories of lampshades made from human skin appear to be apocryphal. But my Googling led to a phrase that was new to me, anthropodermic bibliopegy, the technical term for books bound in human skin. There are more examples of this than I’d realised. And as an article in the Harvard Law Record noted, many of the examples of human book-bindings are voluntary - a person expressed a desire that his or her skin be used posthumously for bookbinding.
A curator at the Langdell Law Library which holds a book apparently bound in human skin, prefers that the book be reviewed as a memento mori (an object kept as a reminder of the inevitability of death), rather than as a sideshow curiosity.
I think these comments are instructive for thinking through how to handle and make available Robley’s images. Their status as representations of human remains places an onus on libraries and archives to carefully consider how staff and researchers interact with them. Against this, we consider the feedback – we can consider the feedback from my colleague at Te Papa, who argued for the public interest in providing access to heritage collections. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I think there needs to be a discussion perhaps across different institutions.
And just to give you an idea about how – just how complex the politics surrounding toi moko are, between 2007 and 2009 one of New Zealand’s painters, Shane Cotton, from the Ngapuhi tribe used Robley’s heads in his artwork. The paintings were in a series called 'Tradition, History and Incidents' – taken from the name of the 10th chapter in Robley’s book and featured the toi moko floating, coloured and distorted.
When he was asked about the heads, Cotton said that most of them were connected to Robley and the picture of him sitting in front of his collection, and this is from an interview and a talk at the Christchurch Art Gallery. He said, 'it’s a really odd picture, but my position is that in a way what he did was good because it kept a kind of record. But you know when I remade this image I didn’t take a position on it, I was interested in the image and the way it was captured and I just wanted to re-present it - to re-present the heads in a surreal unknown state and remove them from that original position.'
So to get us out of that and for a bit of levity here’s an image of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they visited New Zealand in 2014. It’s a reminder that the art of tattooing, if it was dormant in Robley’s time, it’s certainly not the case now.
But just to finish I want to go back to James Buller in the Hokianga. He was using his lexicon to prepare to leave the mission and preach in a place called Pakanae, in a different part of the Hokianga Harbour. So you probably can’t see this but Pakanae’s just here so it looks over to here. The entrance of the Hokianga Harbour has this magnificent sand hill on one side. And when I spoke about the lexicon in a talk in 2014 I mentioned a comment by a historian in New Zealand, Aroha Harris, who said that the history she was going to write was determined the day she was born. I doubted this was the case for my own career, but as a descendent of the Taimana, or Diamond family who came from Pakanae in the Hokianga it was a strange experience to be talking about a lexicon owned by a man who may well have preached to some of my Diamond ancestors in Pakanae in the years before the Treaty was signed. So of course that also meant I was really keen to see the images of Pakane in the Nan Kivell Collection.
There’s this lithograph from 1838 titled Village of Parkuni, River Hokianga. And my relation, the art historian, Joe Diamond, has written that the image raises many questions. Like what is the nature of the discussions between the European men and the women on the left of this picture? Prostitution? Or a marriage proposal?
And last week it was just wonderful to be able to see this watercolour view of Pakanae in the entrance to the Hokianga Harbour painted by Augustus Earle in 1827. But like the other image it also raises questions. Francis Pound, a New Zealand art historian, wrote about this in 1982 and said 'for whom does the pointing figure point? In this painting the pointer has its back to what it points out. It does not point, then, for itself. Nor does it point for the European figure, who does not look at it.'
We may never know the answer to these and other questions about Nan Kivell’s collection, which like its creator, can be enigmatic. But just as Nan Kivell used his life as a means to establish his own identity, his collection remains potent as a resource for others to explore their own identities. That includes Maori and others interested in Maori history who’ll be able to have better access to the collections of the National Library of Australia as part of the results of this fellowship and the ongoing relationship and connections between our two countries and libraries. And I think this is in keeping with a quote from an exhibition catalogue from the early 1990s. 'Nan Kivell’s Collection was in effect based on the premise that future generations would find what mattered to them, however unimportant it might seem to 20th century eyes, providing the material was preserved and made accessible.' Kia ora.
M: Thank you, Paul, and thank you, our guests. Now before we open up for questions I just want to convey how wonderful it’s been for us to have Paul working with us and how glad we are that the strong friendship and collaboration between the National Libraries of Australia and New Zealand made Paul’s time with us possible.
Paul’s been a wonderful colleague and during his time here he’s soaked up the cultural life that Canberra has to offer – tell you later about one of those phallic symbols, Paul. He’s also been a terrific mentor to our young indigenous staff especially in the lead-up to the recent anniversary of the 1967 referendum which of course was what the Q&A session was about. He gave a fantastic lecture for staff recently on his research but also on how the Turnbull Library and its Maori collections work at the National Library of New Zealand which is quite different to us here and I know that that - long-term relationships have been forged over that time. Ever the optimist I hope we can arrange a similar fellowship for one of our own staff across the ditch in the future.
Now we’ll open up for questions and then there’ll be another opportunity to chat over refreshments but because we’re recording tonight’s lecture may I ask you to raise your hand and wait until the microphone is with you before you ask your question? And I know it’s a big room, don’t be shy about asking questions and you’ve got another opportunity afterwards so do I see an opening hand out there? Robyn, always reliable to ask the first question.
R: Paul, it’s wonderful to hear about our wonderful collections but also about the kind of issues and perceptions and complications really of handling this kind of material respectfully. And I'm wondering what responsibilities we have as a nation but as a national library holding this kind of material to properly inform the public when we display it, when we digitise it? What things do we need to bring to these collections in order to make them respectfully accessible, not just digitised so to speak?
P: Yeah, it’s a comp – it is a complicated question but I think – I mean being aware is the first thing to ask and now because of this really lovely unfolding relationship which you know didn’t begin with me, there’s been lots – there’s been quite a trail of Kiwis who’ve been over here and looked the collections over here you know so to have a dialogue and ask. But actually one thing to mention is that you know as I think tonight illustrated there’s big differences between indigenous peoples in the two countries and you don’t – I think I’ve got across the message that there’s a real issue amongst some Maori about human remains, that’s a very, very sensitive area but we don’t have the same issue as I understand it that gets talked about here about representations of people who’ve died so the disclaimers that you see on the website here and in galleries and things, that’s not an issue so I would - that’s one thing I’d say, is to be careful to differentiate between Maori and indigenous people here because I think we have different tikanga, sort of processes going on. But I really – when these things come up at home it’s really just about getting together and having a talk and so that means across that big bit of work for us, doesn’t it?
But you see I – this has really made me think and I don’t have a straightforward answer and I’m going to have to go back and have a think about how we handle some of that material I spoke to you about. And I notice that you know that curator at Te Papa may have said there was a strong public interest in that image being made available but I notice that Te Papa hasn’t made any of the other images of Robley’s heads available. So he did say public decency you see and there’s a kind of a – that’s always a – whether you’re Maori, indigenous, non-indigenous, that’s always an issue with things like human remains, there’s always that line you know we’ve got photos of dead German soldiers that we are very careful about how they are presented online – well they’re not you know so I think it’s just having a dialogue. But that was one thing I would say that I have noticed and I’d noticed it before I came here, that there is a sort of a blanket statement to Maori and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people about representations of people who’ve passed on, that’s not the case for us. But we do have this other issue.
Au: I’ve got the mic at the moment. Thank you very much for that, it was a really fascinating talk. I’m interested from – of a perspective of language and how you mentioned that you're looking at written materials of Maori whereas in New Zealand Maori has generally been taught more by direct contact, immersion-type experiences whereas from Aboriginal Australian languages, many of them are having to be reconstructed through archival materials and I find that an interesting difference. And I'm just wondering if you think that might feed into Maori language and Maori teaching, if that’s made more widely available.
P: The material in archives and libraries?
Au: Yeah, yeah.
P: Well you know they’ve always been there and there’s been a few sort of books that have looked at them but they haven’t really tended to be used much as a sort of a teaching – learning resource. Now it’s not straightforward to take the Maori of the 1840s, ‘50s and ‘60s and just read it. And as a historian colleague of mine said in Maori oratory Maori often take great pride in only the people they want to understand what they’re saying getting it. And I think you can kind of see that in the letters where there’s a lot of metaphor and context that’s not sort of obvious. But I really was struck by that little phrase you know when I made myself read these heavy duty scriptural letters in the reading room and I just thought this poor person you know and it was quite beautiful actually the – well in a poignant sad sort of way about how they expressed, about how they felt and I thought yeah, that is - you can connect with this writing.
There’s a project – we digitised some letters – there was a project going on when I arrived at the Library in 2011 to digitise Maori language material and we’ve had these letters that were taken from two settlements that were destroyed during the Taranaki Wars and they were in Maori and they have ended up being incredibly rare because they’re between Maori. Most letters in Maori are two – like Richard Taylor, a European but these were between Maori. And they’ve been described as some of the jewels of our collection so we thought oh well we’ll digitise these and we spoke about them at an archive symposium about how wonderful, we were doing this and we got really told off by this person who said well have you talked to the tribes? What do they think about this? And so my boss then said to me well we can’t put these online until you give me an assurance that you’ve talked to the communities.
But of course you get into this feedback loop because you say what about these letters? And they go well what letters? And I just go well I can’t show them to you and they’re actually a little bit confusing and – but we’ve been working with a language revitalisation group in Taranaki where these letters come from and they have done this amazing thing, they’ve done a pilot project to transcribe a set of the letters with their language experts and then they’ve made a fantastic digital learning resource that they’re going to take out to the marae and work with them [tribal members] to try and work out more about these letters. So there needs to be a sort of a transcription stage in the middle. That’s one of the keys to using these, you can’t just look at it and figure it all out by looking at it, you have to sort of transcribe and – I could probably have a good go at transcribing and then the translation would take more probably expertise than I’ve got but you know it would be great to see in this digital age to do some sort of digital crowdsourcing because remember nearly a fifth of us live over here.
So you know the person with the knowledge about these letters might be in Perth or Brisbane you know so – but if it’s digitally available but I just – you just have to resolve this kind of feedback loop where you’ve got a boss who says well until you say that the community’s happy about this but what if the community’s in Brisbane and they can’t see it? But they’re working that through and we’re lucky that there’s this language group who we’re – who are not the same as consulting with iwi but they’re brokering for us relationships with iwi so yeah, I reckon there’s lots of potential. And so it’s interesting to look at how the word lists and things are being used here.
Au: Hello, Paul. Thank you very much for that talk. Look, I think what I was most interested in is the fact that you’ve said if we’ve got a problem we’ll sit down and we’ll talk and I think that’s a really clinching issue we’ve got in Australia, if I want to talk to someone about a first nation issue who am I talking to? I feel like people in Australia might sometimes feel reluctant to engage with indigenous material ‘cause they don’t know how to and they feel like they might put a foot wrong. In your experience how do you think people who are not from first nations’ experiences connect with people who are?
P: Yeah, that is a difficult – it’s a hard question to answer really because I guess it’s different in every context and you know one of the things – this is the longest time I’ve spent in Australia and what really has come home to me is the implications of the vastness of the size of this country and the complexity that sort of flows on from that. I sort of knew that but I didn’t really understand it. Well it was until you, Marie-Louise, said to me that you know everyone conceivably might come through Wellington one day and visit the National Library but it’s not really the case that everyone in Broome or Katherine will trot along to the National Library in Canberra at some stage you know it’s less likely because of the factor of the geography.
But you know I’d look at the – there are some good exemplar sort of templates to look at and learn from you know when we were in Sydney we were told about the Rio Tinto-funded research into the language resources at the State Library of New South Wales and the Mitchell Library. You know I think just looking at how they went about things, talking to Michael Walsh, the people involved in that – oh you know it depends on what sort of field you’re talking about. I reckon you can go a long way by looking at that and I sort of – it is kind of like shamelessly stealing good ideas but you know finding out about good, respectful models for engagement and just finding out – doing a bit of homework and research and finding out who are the people and it won’t necessarily be straightforward, it will be complex but it is actually beholden on us as researchers and curators to sort of do a bit of the legwork beforehand, to sort of do a bit of research. But you know even from my little knowledge of what’s going on over here there’s all sorts of good examples to have a look at and see if they could be helpful.
Au: You said in an earlier answer that it’s no easy thing to be reading 19th century language materials and we know that other Pacific languages like Tahitian have lost an enormous percentage of their once rich vocabulary. To what extent is contemporary Maori a limited code and not really fully serviceable as a working language?
P: Maori’s in a really interesting phase at the moment because some language experts – we have these language academics at some of our universities that are involved in research in language and we read a presentation last year by some of their experts and they said that all of the written Maori at the moment is being produced in the social media online. And the implications of that for an institution like us is – the National Library’s extraordinary because we can’t collect Facebook or Twitter or these things easily and it kind of explains why when I was a judge for the New Zealand Book Awards we had so much trouble finding Maori language material. So there’s this weird situation in New Zealand, you’ve got a minority – it’s only a minority of children being educated in immersion education so there's all these resources being produced for them by the Ministry of Education and then the kids kind of leave at 17 and there’s nothing for them. But there is a lot apparently happening on social media but you know it may be a bit ephemeral.
There was – it was very popular to transliterate words, so 'Ahitereiria' for Australia [for example] but that’s now not so favoured or – but that’s now not so favoured. But no, I think it’s got pretty good utility. I used to wonder myself as a learner you know how can you express things but you can, you really can and I mean sometimes it adopts things. But it’s still in a vulnerable state. I don’t know if people here kind of look at us and think that you know it’s sort of – it’s okay. It’s not, it’s in a very vulnerable state because the sort of everyday language, this sort of the language, the chatting and the cafe language is hard, that’s the weakest. We’re at risk of it sort of being a ceremonial language that’s just sort of used at tangihanga and whaikorero [speechmaking] and ceremonial occasions. But no, I think it’s good but I think there’s a technological thing. I mean the exciting thing about that is it means that perhaps there are these domains of people who are able to express what’s important to them, about boyfriends or girlfriends or whatever it is in their language but goodness knows how we’re going to have a record of that. I think that’s a real challenge for collecting institutions.
M: Alright well I think we might draw the formal proceedings to a close and that was throwing down a big gauntlet in terms of the importance of collecting digital – something that actually then – two national libraries do work closely on but this – that particular issue is not one that I have ever thought of and you’ve just thrown us a whole new problem, thanks very much, Paul. Look, I just wanted to kind of really finish by saying that – again that it’s been fantastic having Paul working on the Nan Kivell Collection. The Nan Kivell Collection is one of our three great foundational collections and while it throws up many more questions than it can answer as did Nan Kivell himself I guess this is the whole point about collectors, is that they are gathering for an unknown future research cohort and for that we are incredibly grateful to Nan Kivell and all the other collectors who have helped us. But similarly our research fellowships do the same thing, we see their long tail. After 25 years of these research fellowships we can see the way that the three months spent here deeply immersed in our collections can play out over time so in 25 years, Paul, you and I have got a date. Please join me in thanking Paul and come and have a – more refreshments outside.
End of recording