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