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Matters of the Heart
A History of Interracial Marriage in New Zealand
By Angela Wanhalla
Auckland University PressCopyright © 2013 Angela Wanhalla
All rights reserved.
Marriage in Early New Zealand
Contradictory accounts of interracial relationships characterise their history in New Zealand, beginning with the very first meetings between Pakeha and Maori in the decades before 1840. Cross-cultural intimacies forged during the period 1769 to 1840 have been variously characterised as fleeting and casual encounters, temporary or seasonal marriages, a form of sexual hospitality, a feature of an established 'sex industry', or monogamous relationships based on affection following the forms and conventions of Maori marriage traditions. Intimate relationships certainly encompassed a great variety of forms and practices in early meetings, and these were largely reflective of the differing circumstances under which interracial sex could take place prior to 1840, as well as the intensity and duration of cross-cultural contact over that period. This diversity was not always obvious to visitors, who tended to apply western understandings of morality and marriage to indigenous cultures. To them, Maori marriage customs were a commercial transaction lacking in emotion or romantic love, while the acceptance of pre-marital sex fostered a view that fathers, brothers and uncles traded women for goods. Europeans saw an absence of a marriage rite and so-called 'easy divorce' as further evidence of Maori sexual immorality, going so far as to describe interracial relationships as prostitution.
Into this world entered traders and sailors, who settled onshore on a semi-permanent basis, and built up intimate ties with Maori women. Their work in the extractive, resource-based timber, shipping and whaling industries was connected to a trade in goods, as well as in women's bodies. As we shall see, while several different forms of marital patterns existed alongside each other in the decades prior to 1840, the most common form was temporary marriage, which lasted as long as the ship was in port, and tended to be monogamous in character and affectionate in nature. A 'sex trade' and love matches could exist within the same culture, and Maori used both to govern newcomers, but they also welcomed formal alliances through marriage, in a manner that followed recognisable local practices and rituals. By 1840, when around two thousand mostly male newcomers had settled on the land and created communities, a particular marriage culture had evolved that followed Maori marriage customs, but also drew upon practices from the maritime world, which were more civil than religious in form and spirit.
Voyagers and visitors
From the moment Poverty Bay was sighted by James Cook and his crew on 6 October 1769, newcomers associated Maori sexual behaviour with a set of 'degrading' practices, including polygamy and 'easy divorce'. During a six-month circumnavigation of New Zealand's coastline, Cook and his crew spent 56 days onshore. The scientific objectives of the voyage required long periods at anchor to allow for the gathering of data, which happened with regularity, and the time on land offered ample opportunity to observe local women and sexual customs. These early meetings were tentative, and cautious, and were characterised by sexual propriety and decency, with visitors careful to follow the customs of the local people. Joseph Banks observed that
such of our People who had a mind to form any connections with the Women found that they were not impregnable if the consent of their relations was asked, & the Question accompanied with a proper present it was seldom refused, but then the strictest decency must be kept up towards the Young Lady or she might baulk the lover after all.
Women were cautious of the strangers. At Tolaga Bay, Banks described the local women 'as great coquets as any Europeans could be, & the Young ones as skittish as unbroken fillies'. Young women were able to exert a measure of sexual freedom, but married women were off limits. French explorer Marion du Fresne, who spent April to July 1772 in the Bay of Islands and communicated with local Maori in the Tahitian language, was warned against them.
Despite some uncertainty, communities of Maori were interested in these strangers and their goods, and were hospitable and willing to interact and to trade. But while men could arrange for a measure of comfort if they followed local custom, not all prospective suitors were successful. When anchored at Totaranui in February 1770, Banks observed that
One of our Gentlemen came home to Day abusing the Natives most heartily, whom he said he had found to be given to the detestable vice of Sodomy; he, he said, had been with a family of Indians [Maori], & paid a price for leave to make his addresses to any one Young Woman they should pitch upon for him; one was chose as he thought who willingly retired with him, but on examination prov'd to be a Boy, that on his returning & complaining of this another was sent who turned out to be a Boy likewise; that on his second complaint he could get no redress but was laught at by the Indians: Far be it from me to attempt saying that that Vice is not practised here; this however I must say, that in my humble opinion this Story proves no more than our Gentleman was fairly trick'd out of his Cloth, which none of the Young Ladies chose to accept of on his terms, & the Master of the family did not chuse to part with.
Historian Chris Brickell cautions against use of this as evidence of Maori acceptance of homosexuality, but this intimate moment does demonstrate some of the rules, community restrictions and protocols placed upon sexual behaviour. Premarital sex was allowed, but it had to be sanctioned, carefully negotiated and a gift given that was commensurable with the rank of the young lady. The terms of negotiation were also clearly set by Maori, not the newcomers, even if this was not clear to the suitor at the time.
While some travellers emphasised Maori women's modesty and decency, others routinely asserted their immorality. In 1769 French officers on the Saint Jean Baptiste found the dances of welcome, an important part of hospitality, 'indecent' in gesture and movement, designed to 'entice' and 'stimulate the indifference of the European spectators'. When the Resolution anchored at Totaranui in 1773, Cook thought the women's displays of indecency and immodesty were encouraged by his crew, who 'are the chief promoters of this vice, and for a spike nail or any other thing they value will oblige their wives and daughters to prostitute themselves whether they will or no and that not with the privicy decency seems to require, such are the consequences of a commerce with Europeans'. In 1778 the HMS Adventure anchored at Queen Charlotte Sound. Again, a variety of encounters with women took place, encompassing modesty and caution on the one hand and sanctioned sex on the other. Transactional sex seemed to be available too, as the women 'offer'd themselves for sale with as much ease & assurance as the best Strand walker in London, and indeed during our Continuance there, we found them the cheapest kind of traffick we could deal in'.
To some observers this exchange of goods equated to a sex trade, while others regarded these transactions as forms of marriage in which intimate and affective bonds were sometimes forged. One sailor on the Discovery formed a mutual attachment with a young woman that was characterised by little verbal communication but much tender tactility and a desire for co-habitation. The scientist George Forster, who was on board the Resolution in 1773, noted how one young woman was 'regularly given in marriage by her parents to one of our shipmates' and that she was 'faithful to her husband' in 'rejecting the addresses of other seamen, professing herself a married woman'. John Ledyard, corporal of the marines on the Resolution, discovered that one of his men had decided to become tattooed, because 'he was conscious that to ornament his person in the fashion of New Zealand would still recommend him more to his mistress and the country he was in'. When The Prince Regent was about to leave northern New Zealand in 1820, after ten months in the country, the women on the ship were ordered off after having 'lived on board and with the same persons since we returned from Shukehanga [Hokianga]. They imitated as far as they could the English manner of dress, conformed themselves to English customs, and showed as much regard for their protectors as they could for their real husbands.' Some men chose to desert ship for their partner. When Robert Hill's vessel was at anchor at Whangaroa, he absconded and was welcomed into the community. On being recaptured, he was placed in custody but disappeared again. He was eventually found in a hut embracing his lover, 'crying and sobbing in the same melancholy manner as is customary with these islanders after a separation of any length of time'.
As more ships visited the Bay of Islands, and more of them stayed for longer periods of time, the character of interracial relationships changed and monogamy became a defining feature of the accounts. In May 1820 the Dromedary and Coromandel arrived in the Bay of Islands, carrying missionaries as well as trade goods. Anglican missionaries, by this time firmly established in the northern reaches of the country, linked women's supposed sexual degradation to Maori men's desire for muskets. Ships officers and crew had a very different experience. In his statement that 'several women lived on board' the Dromedary, Alexander McRae pointed to the practice of temporary marriage. Dr Fairfowl, who was also on the Dromedary, witnessed chiefs 'offer[ing] their sisters and daughters for prostitution', but noted that they 'expect a present in return'. One of the core features of Maori marriage is the gift-exchange, but this practice incited contradictory interpretations of marital culture when it was witnessed by outsiders. Where some visitors saw it as evidence of the cementing of an affectionate bond, others saw it as prostitution. Gift-exchange was a normal rite followed in Maori marriage custom, and its presence in the establishment of these short-term relationships suggests that they were socially sanctioned and were limited to unmarried women.
Short-term gain made through temporary marriages in the form of goods was acceptable as long as it did not affect the future prospects of a young woman. In one case, the son of a master of a vessel was publicly accused of attempting to seduce the sister-in- law of a chief. She claimed that 'one of the sailors had given her a nail, and promised her another, if she would consent to grant him certain favours; but she refused, and would not by any means be prevailed upon, telling him, she was the wife of another man, and consequently tabooed [tapu]. She confessed, however, that she kept the nail the man had given her; but persisted in declaring that no criminal connection had taken place between them.' The offer or acceptance of goods did not equate with a sanctioned relationship in this instance, and nor did it always in fact indicate that a sexual encounter had occurred.
Although many observers regularly portrayed Maori women as subject to coercion from men to have sex, it appears that they had a certain degree of autonomy in entering these relationships: they could reject offers, they could encourage a relationship, and they could also negotiate personal and material conditions before committing to a partner. However, it is difficult to make generalisations about the degree to which women had control over these encounters, as the available archives, written mainly by elite white men, leave the historian with a very uneven record in which Maori women are described and acted upon, rather than being autonomous individuals with their own desires. In addition, there is the question of coercion of Maori women by their own kin. Research by Bruce Biggs, Berys Heuer, Kathryn Rountree and Anne Salmond has found that family and community monitored women's relationships, and the amount of control or choice a woman had in these situations was connected to her social rank.
Short-term visitors to northern New Zealand in the 1830s continued to define interracial sexual relationships as casual and commercial in character. In 1834 W. B. Marshall found 'a country where chastity is not esteemed a virtue in the unmarried female'. He claimed that transactional sex was common at Kororareka (Russell) and was 'carried out under the immediate sanction of the masters of ships belonging to England and her colonies'. Edward Markham sojourned at Hokianga and the Bay of Islands for nine months in the early 1830s, and regarded Maori women as sexually lax and promiscuous, a state of affairs he felt was encouraged by male relatives for commercial gain 'as they [the Stranger, or White man] give the Father a Musket or the Mother a Blanket'.
We cannot dismiss the possibility of a sex trade existing in early New Zealand. An argument that the mere existence of a form of gift-exchange within these early negotiations indicates that the relationship established was a 'marriage' is too simplistic. In his work on cross-cultural encounters at Hauraki, Paul Monin found that two main forms of gift-exchange co-existed, functioning as a form of barter and sale on the one hand, in which exchanges of material goods could take place on the spot, while the other involved negotiation and drew the recipient into a set of social relationships, duties and obligations. Because gift-exchange could be both a communal and an individual practice, sexual relationships could also be negotiated in a similar manner. When Edward Markham gave a shirt to the father, a box of lucifers to the mother and a 'handkerchief to the young lady herself', he was drawn temporarily into a nexus of social obligations, but direct exchange was also possible, as when he gave a woman 'pipes and tobacco'. Sex was also more likely to be treated as a commodity when the woman was not of chiefly rank. From the 1830s, when traders and whalers set up onshore for a stretch of months or years, and many for life, the social functions of gift-exchange became more significant as the cement of long-term relationships, which tended to follow the form of customary marriage and to draw newcomers into Maori families and communities.
Settling on the land
The scientific voyages of the late eighteenth century were superseded by the arrival of ships and crew with commercial objectives in mind, drawn by the extractive industries of flax, sealing, whaling and the timber trade. From the early 1800s whaling vessels and British naval ships called into northern harbours for provisions and timber. About 50 ships visited northern parts of the country between 1806 and 1810, increasing to 92 between 1815 and 1822, followed by a substantial increase in the 1830s as the colonial whaling trade matured. Some men took the opportunity to abandon ship. The Hunter, out of Port Jackson (Sydney), visited Hauraki for timber spars in 1799, and several men stayed on in the region rather than go to India, including Thomas Taylor, who entered into a relationship with a local woman. El Plumier and the Royal Admiral arrived in Hauraki in March and April 1801 respectively, and both encountered Taylor, who provided information as well as assistance to them. In 1804 the Lady Nelson anchored at a bay opposite the Cavalli Islands, where a prisoner, James Cavanagh, absconded.
Taylor and Cavanagh were part of a small group of men living with Maori in the early decades of the nineteenth century who were popularly known as Pakeha-Maori. Others such as Jacky Marmon, Barnet Burns and John Rutherford were welcomed into Maori communities once they proved their worth. Prior to 1824 Pakeha-Maori lived with tribes on sufferance or as captives, that is, if they managed to survive in the first place. With the introduction of muskets into tribal warfare from the mid-1820s, their status increased as their knowledge and skills became useful, when they fought alongside people who were now their kin and acted as mediators between cultures. Many of these men accepted marriage, which was a common feature of their life in New Zealand, primarily because it tied them to a patron and gave them protection.
Excerpted from Matters of the Heart by Angela Wanhalla. Copyright © 2013 Angela Wanhalla. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
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Table of Contents
Preface: Matters of the Heart,
1. Marriage in Early New Zealand,
2. Missionaries, Morality and Interracial Marriage,
3. The Affective State,
4. Wives or Mistresses?,
5. Race, Gender and Respectability,
6. The 'Science' of Miscegenation,
7. Modern Marriage and Maori Urbanisation,
Epilogue: Marriage and the Nation,