Printer Friendly

All our pasts before us: Hamish Clayton's Wulf.

Hamish Clayton's Wulf (2011) is an exciting debut novel that handles a moment in New Zealand's colonial history from a very contemporary perspective. (1) The novel belongs to its time of writing, in an environment of growing questioning of the bicultural and postcolonial nationhood that has shaped the national imaginary since the 1970s. There are many features of Wulf that construe the early contact period through a typically bicultural lens, in its carefully-measured awareness of a dual Maori-British perspective, in which Maori often come up in a more favourable light: for example, the deep attachment of Maori to the land contrasted with British land rape; Maori legends privileged over European historical facts; and Maori as sophisticated and culturally complex, compared with British merchants as crude and uncouth. However, there is much about this novel that challenges these simplistic binaries of biculturalism which, since the emergence of a significant body of Maori literature during the Maori renaissance, have seen a largely unbridged gap between how Maori and Pakeha write about themselves and each other. By engaging with Maori characters, imagining a Maori viewpoint, and describing negative aspects of Maori culture as well as positive, Wulf disrupts the passive Pakeha support of all things Maori that has become systemic to fiction and cultural commentary. Most compelling in his portrayal of the Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha, Clayton writes Maori not as victims of early colonisation, but as artful agitators in their own right, motivated by their own form of imperialism.

Clayton's willingness to engage, critically, in exposing similarities and differences between the two cultures of the nation's founding suggests a loosening of the strictures of biculturalism that often lead to Maori and Pakeha glaring at one another over a presumed cultural divide. (2) In revisiting a moment of first contact between Maori and British--the point at which the cultural divide was truly greatest--within a frame of mutual willingness, effort and negotiation, Wulf indicates a way for Pakeha and Maori to write about themselves and each other in fiction that recognises ourselves in each other. Rather than take a Maori or a Pakeha side to the well-worn debate over identity and belonging, Wulf enacts a constant state of uncertainty not only in interactions between Maori and Pakeha, but also within the two groups themselves. To understand the complex negotiations and ever-shifting relations the novel describes, this paper draws from critical perspectives on the bicultural relationship identified by Ian Wedde in 'Inside Job' (2005) and John Newton in 'Becoming Pakeha' (2009). Both critics demonstrate how real Pakeha engagement with Maori goes beyond the polite yet stifling separatism encouraged by biculturalism. For Wedde, the 'discomforting embodiment' of inhabiting history 'produc[es] something else "besides repression and guilt'"; for Newton, this 'something else' is the need for Pakeha to recognise 'desire, debt and gratitude [...] for what Maori have done and continue to do for us'. Wulf is an exemplary fictional model of these principles. (3)

The popularisation of Maori fiction in the 1970s at the convergence of the Maori renaissance and sovereignty movement established Maori identity as unique and deeply different from the assimilationist nationhood hitherto espoused by mainstream Pakeha. The emergent cultural separatism was quickly institutionalised as biculturalism, a trend of accentuating difference found concomitantly across indigenous and minority communities in other ex-colonial nations. Since the emergence of biculturalism, New Zealand's literature has bifurcated into an imagined split between distinct and discrete Maori and Pakeha literary traditions that follow prescribed ways of talking about each other. One example of position-taking common to--and arguably expected of--Maori literature is the use of historical revisionism to indict colonial-era malpractice, the legacy of which is sometimes felt to justify an embattled present in terms of Maori-Pakeha race relations. Thus, for example, Paula Morris's Rangalira (2011), in which an historical Maori narrator didactically speaks for 'we Maori' to describe a litany of colonial British and Pakeha misunderstandings and exploitation of Maori, is a very recent update of Witi Ihimaera's much-cited tirade in The Matriarch (1986) against 'you Pakeha'. (4) By contrast with the many richly-portrayed and fully-imagined scenarios of cross-cultural conflict, compelling and multifaceted studies of positive Maori-Pakeha contact and of negative Maori-Maori intertribal interaction are glaringly missing from Maori fiction written in English.

Pakeha literature's side of the bicultural equation shows similarly calculated biases about which parts of history it represents and how. Particularly clear from the bicultural turn was the sudden silencing of Pakeha commentary and critique. Maori criticism of Pakeha authority to write about Maori culture was levelled at, for example, Michael King's Being Pakeha (1985) and Steven Webster's Patrons of Maori Culture (1998), and several Maori writers boycotted C. K. Stead's Faber Book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories (1994). In further support for Maori self-representation, a diplomatic quietism also filtered into writing by Pakeha, as since the 1980s Pakeha have largely refrained from featuring Maori. (5) Instead, novels of the 1980s such as Wedde's Symmes Hole (1986), Maurice Shadbolt's Season of the Jew (1986), and Stead's The Singing Whakapapa (1994) ushered in a mode of historical revisionist writing that aimed to deconstruct the myth of colonial supremacy. Such novels activate a bicultural-era Pakeha fantasy of becoming native through empathy with Maori via marginalised white figures, such as the Pakeha 'gone native'. Fiona Kidman's The Captive Wife (2005) continues on this path by centring on the silenced historical figure of Betty Guard, whose husband Jacky Guard is the better-known figure of the anti-conquest tendency. Betty's marginalisation in white society on both sides of the Tasman invites Kidman to imagine for Betty a converse identification with Maori women, pa life, the charm of Taranaki bush, and the ultimate fantasy of a romance with a Maori chief. In a novel that equally centres a marginalised white figure, Annamarie Jagose's Slow Water (2003) takes a different but equally bicultural strategy of respect for Maori. Jagose exemplifies the Pakeha caution to note awareness of, but not to tell, the Maori side of historical events, in her sympathetic portrayal of the disgraced missionary William Yate, whose narration is further displaced by intimation of an unvoiced Maori perspective. (6)

Thus revisionist history is at work in both Maori and Pakeha historical fiction, centring the Maori and the maligned, marginalised white figures respectively. In Clayton's novel, by contrast, the aspect of history up for revision is the Pakeha-Maori relationship itself. Wulf steps in to fill a gap in storytelling of New Zealand history by asking the reader to imagine history as if from both sides, aware of the biases of our current bicultural viewpoint, but willing to suspend judgement to see where this will take us. Clayton does this by foregrounding the imagination and the act of storytelling in an unabashedly nineteenth-century narrative voice, which allows Wulf to override the double taboo--of Maori writing of deeply ambivalent characters and events in their history, and of Pakeha writing from a Maori perspective.

In an article anticipating work such as Clayton's, Wedde's 'Inside Job' seeks to promote Pakeha engagement with Maori that does not fall short and fail in the kind of aggressively reductionist rhetoric of 'one nation' or 'indigenous Pakeha'. In the Pakeha response to Maori, Wedde suggests that 'real tolerance is directly correlative with difficult difference' (p. 117):
   If we welcome paradox, engage in good faith with
   difficult difference, actively test our limits and accept our
   contingency, then we can imaginatively inhabit, be
   incorporated in and embody the histories of others. Our
   tolerance will mean something: it will mark, not obscure,
   difference (pp. 117-8).

In his article on the same dilemma--of how to engage with the Maori side of what it means to be (or become) Pakeha--Newton is more personal about what this 'good faith' means: '[w]e don't acknowledge what we feel' (p. 45). These feelings include 'an aspiration in your discourse--a neediness, a wish to be loved' (p. 47)--a desire to understand and to be understood by Maori that Newton claims has not been acknowledged in Pakeha discourse since James K. Baxter's Jerusalem experiment (see pp. 38-9). Safe in the idiom of his nineteenth-century narrative, just as Baxter was sheltered by the alternative ideals of the Nga Mokai community, Clayton's narrator, unlike his twenty-first-century reader, is neither too proud to hide his desire to know and understand the Maori, nor too embarrassed to admit the complex range of feelings his experience stirs in him. This humility allows him to take up Wedde's injunction to 'imaginatively inhabit' the Maori world he sees around him, resulting in a roller-coaster of emotive responses, including curiosity, desire, identification, respect, fear, and revulsion for the Maori that tests the limits of tolerance that Wedde identifies as constitutive of negotiating a cross-cultural relationship. Furthermore, as a novel principally about early trading between Maori and British merchants, Wulf highlights the economic as well as the cultural necessity of openness, modesty, and good faith that underpin successful transactions.

In inhabiting history from both sides Wulf exposes a long history of cross-cultural contamination, and of mutual and reciprocal translation and interpretation that reveals common desires, needs, and strategies employed by both Maori and Pakeha from the colonial era to today. On a literary level, Clayton's use of all of New Zealand's literary traditions of colonial-era British, Pakeha and Maori calls attention to our collective and shared imaginary. To maintain all our pasts in view might be considered a literary embodiment of the Maori whakaaro 'i nga ra o mua', an expression sometimes interpreted as 'the past before us', or 'walking backwards into the future'. (7) From the Pakeha side, the novel references and reconfigures the Georgian romanticism in which native flora and fauna is compared to a British equivalent (punga as fleur-de-lis; the forest as a cathedral (pp. 60-1)), and the bush is described in the exultant, quasi-spiritual language of the Romantic sublime (p. 72; p. 82). Clayton bypasses both the colonial anxiety at the unknown and the mid-twentieth-century cultural nationalist aggressive responses to nature, however, in favour of an early-bicultural position. Clayton's heroes--the bilingual trading master John Cowell, whom the crew fear has gone native (p. 81), and the unnamed narrator, a sensitive, lowly seaman--share marginalised status, artistic sensitivities and a naive openness toward Maori similar to Pakeha fiction of the 1980s, notably Wedde's Worser Heberley in Symmes Hole, Shadbolt's George Fairweather in Season of the Jew, and Stead's John Flatt in The Singing Whakapapa. Yet Clayton resists the temptation to enter into the kind of bicultural quietist respect for Maori identified earlier in regard to Kidman's and Jagose's novels. Drawing predominantly from books published between 1855 and 1913, Clayton revives their Eurocentric and imperial perspectives to construct a narrative that provides 'a nineteenth-century English perspective on the exploits of Te Rauparaha' (Acknowledgements, p. 237). Refusing to let readers forget the old-fashioned and even embarrassing attitudes of early Pakeha, Clayton forces us to keep our literary pasts before us.

Clayton's juggling of 150 years of different ways to be Pakeha expressed in literature is similar to Newton's claim that remembering rather than forgetting the positionality of the past is crucial to understanding the present. While bicultural-era Pakeha politeness makes it difficult to express a desire to imaginatively inhabit a Maori ethos, Newton finds great value in the honesty of the project embodied by Baxter's life and writing:
   [I]f the very guilelessness of Baxter's ambitions [to
   become Maori] now provokes a postcolonial scepticism,
   my aim here is to slow this habitual response. [...] I
   would like [...] to pause and consider the aspiration itself.
   Baxter's legacy here is his candour. [...] [W]hat we find in
   Baxter's late work--not despite, but because of the very
   naivety of this desire--is our fullest, most honest and
   most vivid account of a subject learning to inhabit, not a
   Maori identity, but a Pakeha one (p. 39; emphasis in the

Acknowledging a desire to engage with Maori allows Pakeha to at least attempt to imagine themselves in a context that is Maori. To this end, Clayton also draws from the Maori literary tradition.

There is much about Wulf, in its structure as much as in its subject, that feels true to a Maori imaginary, particularly, the power of storytelling to create meaning and understanding of the present through its compression of myth and history. For example, the image of walking backwards into the future is almost literally transposed into the merchant brig Elizabeth's sailing trajectory. Cowell's shipboard recounting of Maori myth, lore and Te Rauparaha's exploits narrates into reality each location before they arrive, thereby deflating the (European) pivotal moment of sighting land, which is now already anticipated, imagined into familiarity:
   'The New Zeaianders have a saying', he said slowly. 'If
   you must bow your head do so only to a lofty mountain'.
   [...] A day later we saw that mountain far behind us rising
   out of the flat earth we'd sailed beside (p. 81).

   [...] We all knew what island it was. We'd all imagined
   this spiked fortress of war, this war-fast isle, this deadly
   animal. It lay there calm and small and quietly, anciently,
   beautiful. It lay in wait there. We felt it watching us (p.

This focus on literary traditions, both Maori and Pakeha, helps deflate or even pre-empt a bicultural criticism of Clayton for appropriating a Maori imaginary or portraying Maori in a bad light.

Through the pre-eminence of storytelling from a variety of sources--British seafarers, early colonials, bicultural-era Pakeha, and Maori--Wulf mythologises history and historicises myth. Stories are traded among the seamen as currency, passing between Maori tales provided by Cowell, and British tales offered in exchange by other sailors. Thus, the response to Cowell's rendition of Te Rauparaha's haka 'Ka Mate' is the narrator's poem about life at sea (p. 79); the stars of the southern sky evoke Maori, Christian, Anglo-Saxon and Greek mythology (p. 68; p. 138); and Briggs narrates his shipping line as akin to Maori whakapapa: 'He was a man who knew the lineages of the sea, he could trace lines of trade the way the natives of New Zealand could recite whole strings of generations' (p. 199). Storytelling, in its utter subjectivity, in its natural ellipses and aporia, is a great leveller that privileges neither side, so that neither Maori nor British motivations, actions and perspectives are given greater authority. The act of storytelling bonds the sailors to the foreign land and its people as a platform of recognition and similarity before they are confronted with the difficulty of actual meetings: storytelling opens lines of communication to facilitate negotiation that recourse to history, with its diachronic perspective, forecloses.

Although Clayton takes on the task of jointly historicising and mythologising Te Rauparaha, the absent subject of the text, the narrative structure and perspective refrain either from appropriating a Maori point of view or from judging Te Rauparaha's deeds. The oral nature of myths, fables and storytelling is privileged through the novel's primary narrative structure in which the first-person narrator writes years later of his experience aboard John Stewart's brig, Elizabeth. The text is woven of handed-down stories, which sometimes slip into poetry and are accompanied by sketches, as well as translations, hearsay, seafarers' and Maori superstitions and rumours. As the imaginative centre of the novel, Te Rauparaha's character is woven most richly, mixing the few Maori stories the sailors have about him, through the interpreter Cowell, with their own legends from Anglo-Saxon poetry and liberal doses of their own imaginations. The Maori chief is introduced in the novel as an imaginative projection of the seafarers' desires and fears, to help while away long hours on board and to explain their unease and anxiety in the very real dangers of seafaring: 'He was an entertainment and a terror we told beside fires, between sheets of rum, at the passing of tobacco in the evenings. Our fear held us and told us he was coming' (p. 14). From their own storytelling tradition this Maori 'Wolf' is--or could be--the legendary Beowulf, the enigmatic Wulf of Wulf and Eadwacer, or the generic wolf lurking outside in any number of fairytales which sets the safe inside against the great unknown. The multiple and importantly unclear significations of the terms Wolf and Wulf are a distancing device that stretches the lifespan of stories, muddies the direct narratological link between imperial British and Maori, and merges history with myth.

In the sections of the novel narrating Te Rauparaha's exploits, the author is at least four steps removed from the claims he makes: the narrator, who has no contact with Te Rauparaha or any other Maori during the trip, reports on Cowell's translations of tales he has heard from his Maori interlocutors who have themselves heard it through Maori oral narration. Clayton's own distance from the narrative supports his theme of the longevity and autonomous life of storytelling, and carefully removes him from potential criticism by Maori of a Pakeha novelist speaking for Maori: Clayton neither represents Te Rauparaha nor directly appropriates Maori expression; Cowell's recounting of haka, legends and whakapapa captures the spirit and meaning of their telling while remaining void of content. For example, Te Rauparaha's return home from an early war party through the North Island contains imagery of the body, tikanga associated with the marae, and Maori oratorical patterns and sayings with which many of Clayton's contemporary readers (Maori and Pakeha) will be familiar:
   [W]hen his foot pressed upon the dusty collarbone of
   earth, he sent out their songs in the air before him. He
   stood in the arms of his silent tribe and chanted the
   names of his mountain and his river, his tribe's mountain
   and his tribe's river [...]. As he spoke he swept the air
   slowly with his open hand and so it seemed to them that
   he spoke the words of creation, speaking of mountains
   and showing them mountains, passing to them the hills
   from the palm of his hand [...]. He knew that when you
   gave a man a gift of mountains, you told him where he
   could stand, you told him where he could look (pp. 84-5).

The above passage contains no ethnographic information or didactic educational purpose: Cowell's shipboard listeners--who have yet to step ashore--do not learn Maori ritual procedures, social hierarchies or cultural concepts. Thus, Clayton neither describes nor explains Maori customs or beliefs, although karanga, wero, whaikorero, whakapapa, and turangawaewae are all contained in Cowell's brief story. Throughout the novel, stories are valuable as entertainment; they are not equated with the transfer of knowledge, power, or any claim to know the other that postcolonial theory castigates.

A nineteenth-century narrator, Cowell uses storytelling to describe Te Rauparaha in language appropriate to the 'imperial eyes' (8) of his time, social position, and occupation. Thus, the Ngati Toa chief is painted in imperial hues: his 'Roman' nose and manner of holding court (p. 162); the 'cultured wave' of his hand as he turns down Stewart's trading proposal (p. 165); his 'mind of a European' (p. 172); his position as 'general of his tribe' (!0. 87). This language marks a departure from the more usual Pakeha bicultural respect for Maori that prefers to discard rather than confront the blatantly Eurocentric perspectives of the colonial era or to recast them as revisionist historiography. In keeping with Wedde's call to inhabit difficult difference, however, and Newton's request for Pakeha to put aside their embarrassment to own up to their feelings, Clayton's nineteenth-century contact perspective reveals surprising connections with the present. The imperial language forms a bridge of understanding connecting Te Rauparaha's and Stewart's interests in war and trade:
   We understood the Wolf, what we knew of his desire to
   accumulate and move, to acquire and protect. We
   thought he would understand us. Though his was a
   military mind and ours maritime, we were, both of us,
   traders. We were, he and us alike, translators of
   opportunity into benefit, drifters driven by acquisition
   (p. 147).

Such language of similarity construes colonial contact as a moment of recognition rather than of alienation and threatening difference.

Contextualising the historical event of Stewart's role in Te Rauparaha's raid on Kaiapoi Pa within a larger frame of trade makes Wulf a novel not about colonial-era conflict but one of long-term cooperation. Trading, after all, requires negotiation, concession and competition, all motivated by a strong willingness to engage in order to broker a deal that suits both parties. The game theory Wedde applies to Maori-Pakeha race relations is at work in trade and war, as both sides weigh up their options and deliberate over strategies to employ and postures to assume. Employing the principles of game theory, Wedde calls for Maori and Pakeha to come to the game table, ready to 'inhabit history' in a disenchanted way (p. 113) and to 'engage with modes of critical activism that welcome difficulty as being directly constitutive of respect' (p. 114). In the above citation from Wulf, the critical regard ('we thought he would understand us') and respect ('we were, both of us, traders. We were, he and us alike') are both present in a tension that is displayed rather than downplayed. This tension stems from the risk that any game, like any relationship, always entails. Wedde describes the risks thus:
   The more elaborate, unfamiliar and 'different' customs
   are, the more they require real engagement and
   participation. The greater the bargaining stretch required,
   the more good faith--reciprocal altruism--is
   demonstrated. In addition, in a down-to-earth sense,
   there are players, including unscrupulous ones; there are
   strategists, including devious ones; there are team
   supporters, including blindly biased ones; there are
   winners and losers, including undeserved ones; and there
   is a history in this serious game of belonging (p. 110).

Wedde and Clayton both advocate vigorous cross-cultural engagement as a way out of what feels like a bicultural impasse reached today from the constant circulation of the same arguments and positions from Maori and Pakeha in society and in literature. While both Pakeha and Maori prefer to hide or downplay negative aspects of their respective historical figures, Clayton's novel, about an ignoble moment in both Maori and Pakeha history, suggests something to be gained in confronting the past head-on, in all its complexity.

Although Clayton refuses to adopt a contemporary bicultural view of a historical moment, he is very much aware of the discourse. In particular, naming Te Rauparaha as the Southern Napoleon of an empire (p. 182; p. 183) requires lengthy groundwork to legitimate. Only after clearly and carefully conveying Te Rauparaha's exploits in the language of conquest, and establishing a common language of trade to suggest a mercantile relationship of mutual (albeit shrewd and calculating) respect between Maori and British, does Clayton explicitly call the chief an imperialist and his control of the flax trade an empire:
   Cowell told me of Te Rop'raha's huge numbers of
   slaves, people from conquered territories [...] forced to
   work scraping and dressing his flax. On these islands, he
   said, there was no such thing as innocent trade, for
   whenever a European ship sailed from these islands
   laden with flax it sailed with a hull bloated on native
   blood. And because of that we could admire Te
   Rop'raha for the way he'd controlled his dealings with
   Europeans, the way he'd used the great shifts and flow
   of people around him to fashion an empire (p. 182).

At this level of identification, the British traders' admiration for Te Rauparaha as a leader is founded on recognition of the Maori chief as head of an empire, the values of which, including abuse of labourers and ruthless warfare for acquisition of capital, they imagine as similar to their own. Tree to the historical period of which Clayton writes, the mechanisms of imperialism used by both sides demand respect and engagement rather than the outright castigation of past practices common to contemporary bicultural and broader postcolonial interpretative tendencies. However, the fact that it takes Clayton 180 pages to build up to calling Te Rauparaha an imperialist acknowledges--perhaps even respects--the bicultural politeness that has to date stymied such candidness.

By contrast with Clayton's rendering of Te Rauparaha, the bicultural view of the famous chief is largely positive, highlighting the chief's tactical intelligence, creative wiliness at avoiding capture, and vicarious pride in his great victories, often as the underdog. Although both his ruthlessness and duplicity are acknowledged, they are accepted as within the rules of warfare. By contrast, Te Rauparaha's unsuccessful protection of his lands against colonists and settlers, and his later arrest, are systematically portrayed within the bicultural framing of Maori victimisation caused by colonisation. The following extracts, representative of contemporary national, Pakeha and Maori interpretations respectively, overlay history with strong bicultural value judgements:
   Among his enemies Te Rauparaha enjoyed an
   unenviable reputation for treachery; however, it must be
   remembered that, as the Ngati Toa were at that time
   fighting for survival, the traditional rules of warfare were
   necessarily disregarded (Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New

   By 1828 Te Rauparaha was the master of the entire coast
   from Wanganui to Wellington, with the South Island
   within his reach from Kapiti. Europeans of dubious
   character assisted the Maori in their inter-tribal wars, the
   end goal being their own interests (

   Today the Cook Strait domain of Ngati Toa, while vast,
   is a tiny fraction of what it once was. Partly to prevent
   any further loss of land and resources that were
   traditionally part of the tribal estate, Te Runanga o Toa
   Rangatira (the tribal authority) was established in 1989.
   [...] This was a significant turning point in the history of
   Ngati Toa. In telling their story, the people of Ngati Toa
   were able to overcome much of the pain, loss and anger
   caused by the Crown (Ngati Toa Runanga). (9)

It is only when the reader is confronted with Clayton's (today anachronistic) rendering of Te Rauparaha that the above bicultural portrayals reveal their own biases, and, valuably, show us just how far the discourse of race relations has come in the last 150 years.

Placing a nineteenth-century Te Rauparaha at the helm of Wulf counters the Maori stance of victimisation on which the separatist version of biculturalism rests. Te Rauparaha's turangawaewae, cited earlier, is not a natural, 'native' place to stand, but a claim to ownership taken through war and bloodshed--of conquest. Turning this term into a victimised position, as in Ngati Toa's citing of the pain, loss and anger caused by the Crown, shows a marked and systematic forgetting of inter-tribal politics that predates the British presence. In the Pakeha bicultural and postcolonial framing of Maori-Pakeha race relations, all vocabulary of imperial conquest, colonisation, and empire is seen as wholly negative and shameful. This makes Wulf's characterisation of Te Rauparaha unsettling, which, according to both Wedde and Newton, is exactly the kind of squeamishness New Zealanders need to confront. Although it might seem disrespectful--or at least incommensurate--to equate Te Rauparaha with imperialism, the danger of not doing so relegates Maori to the far side of modernity, as backward savages to whom the British bring the gifts of civilisation. The complex negotiations and strategic posturing between Te Rauparaha and the merchant brigs of this story contest the Eurocentric misconception of the Maori as pre-modern, a myth both Pakeha and Maori cultural commentators have challenged. (10) Wulf's portrayal of the Elizabeth affair exposes a negative use of this indigenous power and modernity, which both Maori and Pakeha have been reluctant to address and admit. And yet, the 'deep and profoundly uncomfortable admiration' (p. 186) accorded Te Rauparaha in the novel, in full awareness of his treachery, cunning and double-crossing, is a mark of historical (Stewart's) and contemporary (Clayton's) recognition of the chiefs tactical genius that is arguably more respectful than contemporary quietist non-engagement with the negative aspects of his acts, or un-nuanced celebration of the native hero as underdog such as espoused by the online biographies.

Accustomed to reading only polite, respectful, blandly positive portrayals of Maori, Wulf's Pakeha readers may find themselves embarrassed by the novel's purple prose and lyric flights of fancy, which at times break into poetry. This is particularly difficult in the passages that romanticise Maori in a manner today considered essentialist and patronising. A clear example is the narrator's portrayal of the mystique of Te Rauparaha early in the novel, as the Elizabeth nears Kapiti:
   As we sailed down to Entry, to Kopitee the Precipitous
   Isle, we felt him like a weight at the end of ourselves, an
   anchor beneath our brig, a native rock below our
   English timbers.

      But what was it we sailed towards? For though he
   drew us towards him, though he was the sun and we
   were a planet held and swung by his arms of light, we
   could not see his face. Blinded by the radiance of stories
   shining from him, his face remained dark and
   unknowable, outshone by the words we'd heard
   describing it. By the warmth of poetry that crept and sat
   upon our skins, holy as sunlight, wrought in his image
   though his was a visage we'd never seen.

      We were in his waters.

      We had fair sailing.

      We were his traffic (pp. 88-9).

The narrator's attraction to Maori is palpable, haunting, metaphysical, and unabashedly spiritual--a set of feelings Pakeha today would be unlikely to express: Newton's description of how contemporary Pakeha might feel about Baxter's similar desire to enter Maori spiritual life--'dated', 'too heroic', 'ingenuous and overreaching' (p. 39)--captures something of the bicultural reader's possible cringe in reaction to the above passage. Nonetheless Newton insists that the aspiration is valid, even necessary, for Pakeha to acknowledge in their relationship with Maori. Far from being out of date, the narrator's Romantic fantasy and desire to access the native culture is exactly that which Newton finds admirable and useful in Baxter's Jerusalem community's 'unselfconscious avowal of the desire that drove them, or drew them, to the river' (p. 42). Desire here is 'inchoate, and theoretically daunting. It is in this cloudy, affective dimension that the Pakeha experience of bicultural relationships is most difficult to approach, and most poorly articulated' (p. 42). Wedde reaches for something similar in trying to identify a generative position from which Pakeha might investigate their sense of belonging: '[t]he answer, for me, can only be conveyed partially in anecdotes; in recalled moments when the sensation of being haunted in the place I call home was both unsettling and, paradoxically, deeply and emotionally satisfying. I will even say spiritually satisfying' (p. 121). Newton's and Wedde's recognition of the Pakeha difficulty in expressing affective desire renders the numinous spirituality of the Wulf passage much less outmoded and far more hardworking than it at first appears.

Indeed, the above passage exemplifies Clayton's ability to keep all New Zealand's imaginaries in play by using one to inform the other in a manner that enriches rather than essentialises the Maori-Pakeha relationship. Firstly, the form of spiritualism expressed here is both Christian in imagery and language and Maori in its invocation of the creation myth. The subject of this mystical revelation may be Te Rauparaha, or God, or the great arms of Tane creating the space of te ao marama indicated in the phrasing 'arms of light'. Secondly, the 'dark and unknowable' face taps into the imagery of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a leitmotif throughout the novel. Wulf, however, ridicules the fear associated with Conrad's 'horror': '[o]ur first impulse was to believe in the darkness in his heart [...]. And then just as quickly we saw how foolish we'd been. We felt like children' (p. 167). Rather, the darkness associated with the foreign land and culture signifies a set of internally-coherent laws and world-views that are simply inaccessible to the narrator. Thus, Te Rauparaha's 'dark heart [...] knows only its own language' (p. 92); the narrator '[can]not reach inside his mind to know what light was there' (p. 113); and the islands 'were islands of light though their heart was dark to us' (p. 139). In the spiritual context of the above passage, the 'dark and unknowable' face inspires a religious calm that is deeply satisfying because of its mystery, not in spite of it.

The third motif of the above passage, the anchor, also works hard throughout the text, proliferating in meaning which contorts as both word and object are traded and passed around. Thus, the Southern Cross is a navigational anchor that connects the Pacific Islands, as is the kumara, another trans-Pacific cultural cornerstone, or anchor (p. 68). Cowell, as translator and bearer of Maori knowledge and knowledge of Maori, is the sailor's anchor for all their questions (p. 82), while the above passage suggests it is Te Rauparaha himself who is the native anchor providing both stability and purpose to the merchant mission, and Kapiti Island, the anchor and heart of his dominion (p. 172). The narrator's awe and dis-ease expressed in this passage might be embarrassing to read exactly because contemporary Pakeha are reluctant to admit they enjoy, recognise, or identify with his quasi-spiritual sentiments and the mix of Maori, Pakeha and British literary metaphors and motifs. In such passages, the Maori presence unsettles both the narrator and the contemporary reader, although for opposing reasons-as foreign, for the former, and as familiar for the latter. The narrator is confronted by immediate, real, yet unknowable risks, and thus he grasps at all the tools of his experience and imaginary to try to make sense of the place. For the contemporary reader, however, Clayton's charged language may inspire the affective recognition of or attraction to a numinous sense of belonging that Newton suggests is behind the appeal of Maori spirituality, and which Wedde calls being 'haunted'--or unsettled--by the mixed implications, for Pakeha, of feeling at home.

For the narrator living in the moment, ignorant of how history would play out, his naivety and guilelessness enable him to construe the Maori-Pakeha relationship differently from that afforded by historical hindsight, which tends to make the British look organised, calculating and knowing, and the Maori undeserved victims. The contingency of the moment demands recognition of and respect for Te Rauparaha's power, with the English traders cognisant of their role as chance bit-players in a longer saga already in play. Thus, the Elizabeth enters into a Maori world ('in his waters'; 'we were his traffic'). As Briggs puts it in another unabashedly Romantic passage, 'When I reached this island I sailed into another history [...]. It was old enough to contain me. It would make us part of a song sung by the years of these strange islands' history of bloodshed' (p. 204). The narrator expresses in real terms the British traders' neediness and dependence on Maori hospitality. This resonates with Newton's emphasis on hospitality in his interviews with the former residents of Baxter's commune on Ngati Hau land, which he suggests incurs a debt to Maori that runs along economic, cultural and affective lines (p. 41). The characters of Stewart, Briggs, and Jacky Guard all recognise their status as guests of the dominant Maori: 'For almost four weeks we rested as guests of the Wolf, Te Rop'raha, while we considered his offer, his proposal for our business together, settling our terms and agreeing to conditions' (p. 165). (11) Although misunderstandings do occur, all effort is made to avoid stalemate, which serves neither party's purpose. Thus, gifts are exchanged, flirtations advanced, and Maori save a sailor from drowning. In the peaceful and productive comings and goings between the ship and the shore, the narrator's surprise is the reader's own, as the expected trauma of colonial contact is nowhere to be seen: 'I did not understand how they could have stepped so calmly over the threshold of our everyday, into a moment of history, and then so easily step back again' (p. 160). The agency here is all in the hands of the Maori. Certainly, the novel describes an early, short-lived moment in New Zealand's history before Maori were outnumbered and overrun and the settler-Maori relationship began to crystallise in laws, precedents and routines. Clayton's reminder of the British traders' vulnerability, their need to negotiate, and their acceptance of risk, does, however, configure a relationship predicated on bicultural communication that is still valuable 150 years later.

The unstable and ever-shifting balances of power between the colonial era traders and Maori activate both the altruism and trickery Wedde identifies in game theory. Wedde's pragmatic recognition of a range of players, from unscrupulous and devious ones to team players and undeserved losers, offers a perspective on colonial history that emphasises the great elements of luck and chance so easily forgotten after the fact, when historical facts take on the patina of the inevitable. Within the game-rules of risk against reward, Stewart's decision to transport Te Rauparaha and his warriors to Akaroa was a gamble won by Ngati Toa. On their return to Kapiti, Stewart lingers, waiting in vain for his payment in flax. At the point at which this trade did not pay off, however, two other merchant ships, Briggs's Dragon and Guard's Waterloo are also in the area, waiting to continue the channels of communication established between the two peoples, waiting to profit from Stewart's costly tactical error. Clayton's colonial relationship foreshadows contemporary Maori-Pakeha race relations, with the moments of mystery and identification, understanding and misunderstanding, communication and miscommunication described in the novel providing an historical parallel to similar contestations today.

Wedde's game plan is as applicable to Te Rauparaha's colonial brokering as it is to twenty-first-century negotiations, such as Waitangi Tribunal claims, Pakeha New Zealanders' questioning of belonging, and political negotiations such as those over the Foreshore and Seabed ownership and sale of national assets. From the perspective of game theory, any kind of engagement is construed as more generative than the silence of polite quietism. Constantly wavering between colonial racist essentialism and contemporary bicultural separatism, neither one nor the other position can win due to the constant need to negotiate, to keep the relationship alive. Wulf enters into the spirit of this dialogue by keeping in play both sides of the conversation, drawing from colonial, postcolonial, Pakeha and Maori cultural and literary traditions. By refusing to slip into the comfortably worn bicultural position on the Maori-Pakeha relationship, Clayton's novel takes the reader by surprise, confronting contemporary attitudes and expectations about how colonial history and Maori heroes ought to be portrayed. Wulf keeps all our pasts before us, and thereby moves the ball on to keep the game going.


(1) Hamish Clayton, Wulf, (Auckland: Penguin, 2011). References appear in parentheses in the text.

(2) This presumed divide, symbolised in key debates such as the ongoing issue of foreshore and seabed ownership, and periodic claims by Pakeha for 'one nation' or to be indigenous too, is fostered by the media and in debates between political parties around election time. By engaging with two of the most inflammatory claims in the bicultural debate--namely, that Pakeha feel indigenous to Aotearoa New Zealand, and that Pakeha can and do imaginatively feel connected to Maori culture--s essay may be seen as espousing a right-wing view. Along with John Newton and Ian Wedde, however, I sincerely believe that any discussion based on open-endedness and good will is constructive.

(3) Ian Wedde, "Inside Job', in Figuring the Pacific." Aotearoa and Pacific Cultural Studies, ed. by Howard McNaughton and John Newton (Christchurch: University of Canterbury Press, 2005) pp. 107-34 (p. 121); John Newton, 'Becoming Pakeha', Landfall, 218 (Nov 2009), 38-48 (p. 40). Subsequent references appear in parentheses in the text.

(4) Paula Morris, Rangalira (Auckland: Penguin, 2011), p. 247. Witi Ihimaera, The Matriarch (Auckland: Secker & Warburg, 1986), p. 177.

(5) A lone exception to this standoff is Tom O'Connor, whose historical novels Tides of Kawhia (2004) and Pathways of Taranaki (2006) present a rather wooden historical tableau of a turbulent time in Maori tribal history. In regard to the reluctance of Pakeha to write about Maori, O'Connor's Author's Note scrupulously sets out his credentials with the Maori community to justify his permission and thus authority to write.

(6) Fiona Kidman, The Captive Wife (Auckland: Vintage, 2005); Annamarie Jagose, Slaw Water (Sydney: Vintage, 2003).

(7) In both his fiction and in interviews, Witi Ihimaera translates the whakaaro as 'walking backwards into the future' in order to emphasise the importance of Maori history, particularly the acknowledgement of ancestors, in his contemporary Maori world view. It is Ihimaera's sense of the expression that I have in mind in this essay, although the phrase is probably more commonly interpreted as 'in days gone by', or 'back in those days'. My thanks to Dr. Nepia Mahuika, University of Waikato, for his clarification on the usages of this whakaaro.

(8) Mary-Louise Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London & New York: Routledge, 1992).

(9) Te Ara On-line Encyclopaedia of New Zealand <>; Robbie Whitmore website of personal historical research <>; Ngati Toa Runanga,> [All accessed 5 Sept 2012].

(10) Ruth Brown, Maori Spiritualisty as Pakeha Construct', Meanjin, 48.2 (1989), 254-56; Simon During, 'What Was the West?', Meanjin, 48.4 (Summer 1989), 759-66; Witi Ihimaera, Whanau II (Auckland: Reed, 2004) and The Rope of man (Auckland: Reed, 2005); Jane Stafford and Mark Williams, Maoriland: New Zealand Literature 1872-1914 (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2006); Stephen Turner, "Being Colonial/Colonial Being', Journal of New Zealand Literature, 20 (2002), 39-66; Ranganui Walker, He Tipua: The Lift and Times of Sir Apirana Ngata (Auckland: Penguin, 2001).

(11) The terminology of tangata whenua (host) and manuhiri (guest) has been gestured towards, but remains relatively underexplored in literary and socio-cultural analysis. See Jo Smith, 'Post-cultural Hospitality: Settler-native-migrant Encounters', Arena, 28 (Spring 2007), 65-86 and Ani Mikaere, 'Are We All New Zealanders Now? A Maori Response to the Pakeha Quest for Indigeneity', Bruce Jesson Memorial Lecture, November 2004, <> [Accessed 28 Feb 2013].
COPYRIGHT 2013 University of Waikato
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Kennedy, Melissa
Publication:JNZL: Journal of New Zealand Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Previous Article:'Slumming among the gravestones': Elizabeth Knox's Daylight and the New Zealand Canon.
Next Article:Grace notes.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters