The Strangest War
I must confess that I found Edgar Holt's ‘The Strangest War’ rather disappointing.
It is unlikely to impress anyone who already has any sound background of Maori history, because it appears to be mainly a digest of what has already been written. There is little evidence of the first hand research which would contribute new data, or which would allow its author to give the student a new and original perspective. Furthermore, those who are already familiar with the background to the Maori war and its personalities will be a little inclined to question the scholarship of one who states that Wiremu Tamihana was the son of Te Rauparaha, when he was in fact the son of Waharoa.
It was, indeed, somewhat of an ambitious project to try to compress into 263 pages of letterpress an adequate outline of events from Hobson's time to the end of the Te Kooti campaign. The result has been, I think inevitably, an over-simplification of a historical period which teems with complications.
A Redable Introduction
In spite of these criticisms of the book as an authoritative addition to the already existing literature on the period, it is not without value for those who are approaching the subject of colonisation and the resultant wars for the first time. Mr Holt, if he lacks authoritative scholarship, tells his story in an easy and attractive manner. For the beginner his book makes easy and interesting reading, and he has succeeded at least in conveying to those seeking it, a readable and compact outline of the history of the period. I suspect that this is mainly what he set out to do. If, having read ‘The Strangest War’, the reader is inspired to dig more deeply into the wide bibliography the author furnishes, Mr Holt can be considered to have done a reasonably good job.
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Ratana: The Origins and the Story of the Movement
Earlier this year, when ‘Te Ao Hou’ published an illustrated article on the Ratana Church, we mentioned an eloquent and thoughtful book about Ratana, written by J. McLeod Henderson, which existed only in typewritten form. Now the Polynesian Society has published a book by Mr Henderson which is based on this earlier work, and which will be of the greatest interest to all who wish to know more about the Ratana Movement and its founder.
In her introduction the President of the Church, Puhi O Aotea Ratahi, says:
‘In the past it has been the policy of the Church not to publicise its teachings which have been given by word of mouth in the Maori language. But many of the younger members have leaned so heavily upon the Pakeha tongue that they have known very little of the history of their faith and to them I would recommend this book. Many old friends who have made their contribution to it have passed on, but their knowledge is not lost to us.
‘When the author came to us he expressed a desire to relate the story of the birth and growth of the Ratana Church. Since then he has stayed with us often and his many questions have been answered during the years of our friendship. E mihi ana ahau ki a Hemi mo tona awhina i ahau ki te whakatakoto i tenei hitoria hei titiro ma nga uri whakatupu.
‘May all readers, Maori and European, old and young, derive from this work a better understanding of the wonderful power and achievements of our Founder, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, Mangai.’
The book discusses the background from which Ratana arose—the bloodshed, the unjust land confiscations, the loss of the old religion, the confusion and despair. It shows with sympathetic insight the people's need of a leader, and of symbols which would be real to them; and it tells how Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana, in filling this need, brought them new hope.
The outline of the history of the Ratana Church which the book gives is a fascinating one, and includes a great deal of material which is not readily available elsewhere. Other books will undoubtedly be written about Ratana, and this volume, as the first general book to be published on the subject, necessarily covers a great deal of ground in a fairly short space. But it will surely take its place as one of the indispensable books for all who have an interest in our country's history.
O Te Raki: Maori Legends of the North
Not a great deal has so far been published concerning the legends of the North. ‘O Te Raki’, a pioneer work in the field, gives pleasantly written accounts of stories which range in their setting from Te Reinga in the north to the Kaipara district in the south. There are stories concerning almost every important centre of population, and also an interesting section on fishing customs.
The fine illustrations by Eric Lee-Johnson show, as they look today, many of the places which are mentioned in the stories.
‘O Te Raki’ is particularly well produced, and is certainly one of the most attractive books to have been written about the North.
The New Zealand Maori in Colour
This is a big book of colour photographs of Maori life, past and present. The photographs are by K. and J. Bigwood, and the text is by Harry Dansey, the well-known Auckland journalist, of part-Maori descent, who has written extensively on Maori matters.
The photographs appear to have been designed to some extent for the tourist market, but many of them are most attractive, and the book will certainly be popular. The best pictures are perhaps the most informal ones; the photographs which are posed are not always so successful. A number of the pictures consist of elaborately arranged ‘set pieces’: in one photograph for instance, we have two old carvings, two dried human heads, two muskets, a small sailing ship, a decaying log, and a quantity of ferns and other greenery, all brought together in what is described as being a ‘symbolic composition’. Opinions will differ as to the value of an approach of this kind.
Harry Dansey's text is lucid, perceptive, comprehensive, and very readable indeed.