Another review of ‘Guns and Utu’

I fielded another nice review of Guns and Utu today. All very positive (well, check the book outwhat are you waiting for?).

Hongi Hika - from a portrait by Major-General Robley.

I did smile a bit, though. The reviewer suggested I might have cherry picked the more lurid tales of Maori cannibalism to bait the politically correct apologists who prefer to deny that – up until the 1830s – New Zealand’s indigenous people ate each other.

Actually, if you think about it, any tale of cannibalism is going to be lurid. Isn’t it?

What I said in the book was that the ‘recovery ethnographers’ of the 1890s-1910 generation had been given the tales in lurid detail, probably deliberately. But still handled them with aplomb and dispassion.

Which was sensible. The past isn’t the present – how can it be? It’s a foreign land. Sometimes – as with Maori cannibalism – history can be stomach-churning. But we can’t deny reasonable evidence, or try to intellectualise it out of existence because it doesn’t fit the narrow dictates of a modern sub-culture. All we can do is stand back, accept what happened, and try to figure out what that meant at the time. The tools, which are largely those of ethnography, have been around a while. It’s called reason, and being reasonable – what one theme of this blog is, too.

As for deliberately baiting the politically correct – well, shooting fish in barrels has never really appealed to me.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011

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4 thoughts on “Another review of ‘Guns and Utu’

  1. Thank you for daring to state the obvious. I studied Native American Law and wrote a bit on the topic. There seems to be a great compulsion in society to embrace the “noble savage” ideal and pretend Native Americans lived utopian lives before the white man arrived. It simply isn’t so. They were people just like the rest of us. Some were noble, some were not, and all were doing their best to survive in their environment and time. To admit that is not a criticism of Native Americans today. Honest, objective awareness of history is the first step toward improving the present. As you point out, history is past. It’s a foreign land. But it’s the land we came from.

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