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R E A D I N G the S I G N S:
the uneasy confluence of past and present in historic Kerikeri
The hinterland clearly signals ones arrival in Kerikeri. Miles and miles of citrus orchards set on heavily watered volcanic soils offer signs as to the nearness of the town. Apart from grand frontage driveways these deeply set māra sit mysteriously behind their enormous hedges of tall bamboo, Australian gum and native evergreen. This is a place whose very name suggests fertility, verdant gardens and the abundance of pure water. ‘Dig, dig’ might be one colloquial translation.
As a child travelling on Northland’s railway buses (towards Whangaroa and Muriwhenua or south back to Whāngārei and then east to Dargaville) inevitably meant briefly stopping in most northern towns along the way. There was always something magical about the steep drive down to this inlet. If you sat left window-side you might catch the first glimpse of the white timber weatherboards of the colonial mission set back behind the huge patchwork of stone comprising historic Kemp store. Intuitively, even as a child travelling with family, one knew one was moving through a special, perhaps even sacred, space.
Today the town area and surrounds of Kerikeri have been transformed. It has become the wealthy retirement capital of the north. It possesses a vastly expanded range of commercial ventures and shops, residential houses, retirement complexes and a booming real estate industry. As with other regional centres in New Zealand this blossoming has also brought with it ongoing stresses on its land and the viability of its one major local waterway that runs into the Bay of Islands. Aside from these environmental stresses Kerikeri, in its waterside historic quarter, possesses a whakapapa that feels tangible, compelling and immediately available. But is it? Many important early colonial Māori sites around Aotearoa require reconstructions, carefully rehearsed narratives and powerful imaginations on the part of the viewer/visitor to make sense of earthworks, remnants or archaeological ruins…
r@ngihīroa, Kemp store (left edge), Mission House background, Kerikeri, 11 March 2018
Historic Kerikeri seems to wear its history on its sleeve. The sheer volume and permanency of its Georgian style stone store (1832) and the extant condition of the mission building (1822) sitting alongside it is compelling. It makes one feel history is in the air. The buildings seem to speak for themselves. To me they appear statements about the strange new missionary culture that arrived further south on Christmas Day 1814 on the beach of Ruatara’s Rangihoua. For a moment of time this place was a key site bringing dramatic changes to all tribal rohe throughout the country. Kerikeri was the canary in the coalmine of its time.
r@ngihīroa, Kemp store, Kerikeri, 11 March 2018
The buildings speak about the permanency of the colonial vision and a determination to protect and maintain a very different aesthetic and cultural sensibility. I would however, maintain that the real historical power of the Kerikeri site is present in the fortified coastal pā Hongi Hika had set up across the inlet at Kororipo. Is it significant the bridge connecting the historic Māori dimension of the inlet has been removed? Looking across the inlet one sees the back of a sign and a dead end street adjacent Kororipo pā. To make any sense of what that whakapapa might mean a visitor would have double back around Kerikeri and visit an archaeological reconstruction and the usual heritage information.
Meanwhile on the mission side of the ford reminders are vivid. On a recent visit inside the stone store a portly middle aged woman wearing 1830s English garb (i.e. funny hat and apron) rang a bell. In her distinctly English accent she announced to all potential customers a mission tour was about to start, ‘…tickets can be purchased for $10 at the counter’. Avoiding the coercion I promptly escaped outside to a truncated wharf overlooking the inlet. Here more information, more signage, clarified what the historical English presence on this side of the ford meant. You really can’t get away from it. The various contributors to Binney’s edited work ‘Te Kerikeri 1770–1850 The Meeting Pool‘ claim Kerikeri constitutes a merging of the two cultures. I usually warm to the use of these kinds of metaphors and their potential for suggesting middle ground. However, bearing in mind all one really can experience today at the Kerikeri inlet (south), indeed in the township itself, is largely mono-cultural visible and tangible confluence must surely be strictly historical. Reading or listening to the history on offer simply reinforces this position. Take the sign at the wharf and its account of rangatiratanga and mission activity:
The Kerikeri Inlet later became the key launch site for Ngāpuhi waka tauā...Campaigns that set forth from here had dramatic ripple effects on iwi boundaries throughout the North and South Islands...Kerikeri became home to a community of god-fearing families from the British-based Church Missionary Society. Iwi competed with each other for the trade opportunities that both whalers and missionaries brought and politics in the Bay of Islands could be complex and difficult. It was 1819 when Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika strategically secured the CMS’s second New Zealand mission station on his land right here.
r@ngihīroa, wharf looking towards Kerikeri river ford and Kororipo pā area upper far right, 11 March 2018
Right here, as in right here. Behind the sign the view extends across the inlet. I have always found it an inspiring and picturesque panorama with the flicker of light across the little waterfall, the ford, to the far left where the Kerikeri river empties into the waterway connecting the site downstream with other parts of the Pēwhairangi coastline. Something though is not quite right about the pristine and romantic view of the past. Something is not right about the presentation of this past and its relationship with the present. Were one to pursue the water metaphor Binney once employed about the Kerikeri basin one might conclude, here at least in a conceptual sense, only one stream is flowing. Not much confluence is now taking place in this inlet.
In contemporary Kerikeri, with its abundant shopping, its booming real estate, its expanded commercial and community enterprises and its pākehā retirement homes, one feels an urgent need to locate another flow. The musical term counterpoint might seem appropriate. I have been reading the useful collection of essays, ‘Voyages and Beaches: Pacific Encounters, 1769-1840’. That publication portrays colonial Aotearoa in its broader Pacific history as messy, layered and not at all harmoniously blended. Referencing an alternative point of view, as a student, I remember Binney provocatively using the phrase mōkai ‘pet’ to describe the early nineteenth century Māori position on missionaries and traders. She described them as assets useful to ambitions of hapū.
In the Kerikeri signage I have quoted the Māori presence might easily be misinterpreted as simply aiding the colonial project (i.e. see wording regarding CMS Kerikeri – and strategically secured land – 1819). Little mention is made of the actual purpose of the powerful leader Hongi Hika securing land at Kerikeri through war from Ngāti Miru and Wahineti. No suggestion is given of the subservient role missionaries actually performed. The very lives and livelihood of the CMS families relied entirely on the beneficence and on the protection of powerful Māori patrons. In such public offerings one is not likely to find details such as Hongi Hika commandeering the Kerikeri Mission blacksmith to cast musket balls for his tauā and their war expeditions south. Nor will one find reference to the role of later disgraced CMS missionary Thomas Kendell in purchasing for and trading muskets with Māori. These kinds of conflicting narratives bring much more balance, ambivalence and interest to the reading of New Zealand history and key sites like Kerikeri. Locally such wānanga also bring greater spatial reality to the mission station behind the wharf sign and the imaginary early nineteenth century flotilla in front. One might better envisage the trade that had already taken place between Hongi and Kendell prior to the former assembling his well-armed warriors en-masse adjacent where the wharf now stands.
Māori historian Pat Hohepa in his Voyages and Beaches… essay, ‘My Musket, My Missionary, and My Mana’ writes the following:
Ruatara [at the Rangihoua Mission] and Hongi Hika [at the Kerikeri Mission] began the battle to attract and hold missionaries, thinking they would have the kind of political power their own tohunga had...Missionaries had their own opinions of their worth. But later, Ngāpuhi realised that missionaries - apart from [Thomas] Kendell for a short while – had less mana for them than local traders. The traders lived with and among Maori, absorbed into their culture and mores as pākehā Māori, and sided with them in their hapū skirmishes. The missionaries with their wives lived in a mission with other missionaries, usually separated from Māori community control, with ghettoism a real danger.
My thoughts go back again to the earlier Kerikeri inlet image where one looks across to cut-off Kororipo pā largely separate today from the better known mission centre. There are serious spatial problems, in the middle ground, with the central waterway (i.e. minus the linking bridge) now separating the two sites. There are also problems with the environment in which these important historical sites are located. The Kerikeri river’s matapuna, its headwater, begins in a more pristine condition within Pukeiti ngahere horomata, north-east towards Kaeo around 20 kilometres inland. By the time it reaches the Taumarere inlet enormous changes have taken place in its health. It has moved through heavily planted lands with over fertilised soils and intensive residential and commercial runoff. The Kerikeri inlet sign (below) at the end of that journey vividly describes the effects of this treatment of the taonga and the current condition of its confluence on arrival in the basin. Bright red and fluorescent yellow and sponsored by the Far North District Council and Northland District Health Board the placard advises:
HEALTH WARNING / HE TŪPATO HAUORA This water is polluted / Tēnei wai e mōrikarika ana i te tutae No swimming / Kaua e kaukau i tēnei wahi No Shellfish collection / Kaua e kokohi mātaitai, kaimoana rānei
r@ngihīroa, wharf sign looking out across Kerikeri river basin, 11 March 2018
The English version says the inlet is polluted. The Māori translation specifies why it is polluted. ‘Tutae’ refers to excrement or ‘shit’ without the same vulgar sensibility it has in English. The title also infers the nature of the health risk in te reo. ‘Hauora’ has a number of affiliated meanings: hauora tinana ‘physical health’ and hauora wairua ‘spiritual health’ are two important dimensions. It is normal for Māori to see the two as symbiotic. What we as New Zealanders do to the land or waterways affects both our physical and our spiritual health. I would also add another dimension to this balance (perhaps more properly – imbalance). What we do to the telling of our histories also affects our hauora as a nation.
Considering the invisibility of a Māori presence in such an obviously Māori site do similar considerations need to be flagged (i.e. as they are in the Health Warning)? Does there need to be signage alerting the viewer as to the pollution and alteration of indigenous histories being emptied out in our public spaces?
Kerikeri inlet is only one of numerous polluted historic waterways throughout Aotearoa. However, is physical health the only measurement of our nation’s degraded waterways? Is it possible our histories sometimes suffer from a lack of clear balance and a lack of cultural and archaeological complexity appropriately acknowledging the importance and vitality of the indigenous component? My ten minutes are up. I can hear the mission bell ringing. Another guided tour is about to begin.