Captain James Cook would be dismayed by Ngati Kahu chief executive, Anahera Herbert-Graves’s assessment of Cook whom he describes as a barbarian whose voyage to New Zealand brought rape, murder and abductions.

On that basis, and because Cook never actually landed at Mangonui, Ngati Kahu have banned the replica of the Endeavour from docking in Mangonui as part of a national commemoration marking 250 years since Cook’s arrival in New Zealand. What a shame and what a wasted opportunity for Mangonui.

“Tuia 250 will see a flotilla of Pacific and European vessels, including the replica of the Endeavour, undertake a voyage around New Zealand, starting in Gisborne, in October.”

Radio NZ

The Ministry of Culture and Heritage planned the voyage and did not consult with the iwi before they included the Mangonui area in the list of destinations for the voyage. That may be part of the reason Ngati Kahu don’t want to participate in the Cook commemorations, but the main reason is clear. Ngati Kahu hold Cook responsible for the now unwelcome colonisation of New Zealand that followed his exploratory visit.

He [Cook] was a barbarian. Wherever he went, like most people of the time of imperial expansion, there were murders, there were abductions, there were rapes, and just a lot of bad outcomes for the indigenous people.”

He didn’t discover anything down here, and we object to Tuia 250 using euphemisms like ‘encounters’ and ‘meetings’ to disguise what were actually invasions.”

Radio NZ

The inhumane attributes Herbert-Graves mistakenly dumps on Cook are a good fit with the behaviour of pre-European Maori who practised cannibalism, slavery, war and female infanticide.

Cook, far from carrying out an invasion, was on a mission to observe and document the transit of Venus across the sun during an eclipse on June 3, 1779, as part of a scientific endeavour to calculate the distance from Earth to the Sun. He was an explorer, navigator and cartographer, producing accurate and detailed maps of New Zealand and recording his encounters with Maori. He was purely an observer, certainly no invader.

Herbert-Graves is in desperate need of an accurate history lesson and he doesn’t need to enter a classroom to find it. The government’s NZ history website gives a very different description of Cook’s relationship with Maori to the picture painted by Herbert-Graves.

“On the basis of his experience on his first voyage Cook developed a largely positive view of MAori as ‘a strong, well-made, active people, rather above common size’ and ‘a brave, war-like people, with sentiments void of treachery’.

The early explorers, especially the French, were also affected by enlightenment ideas of the ‘noble savage’, inhabitants of a South Seas paradise who had not been corrupted by decadent civilisation.

These generally positive views did not last. Following the discovery of cannibal practices and, more seriously, a fatal attack on his men at Grass Cove in the Marlborough Sounds in 1777, Cook came to hold more negative views.

The French had a more drastic reversal of opinion when Marion du Fresne and 25 of his crew were killed in the Bay of Islands in 1772. MAori became treacherous ‘ignoble savages’ and notorious as blood-thirsty cannibals.

The burning of the Boyd and killing of the crew and passengers at Whangaroa in 1809 reinforced these images.”

Te Ara The Encyclopedia of NZ

The Maori view of Cook as the villain who introduced evil colonialism may be a valid perception for disgruntled Maori, who are entitled to blame whomever they want for their misfortune, but European recorded history tells a different story.

Unless Maori want to be stuck in a rut, still holding onto grievances for the next 150 years, they must enter into dialogue about why they are speaking English instead of French, and why Maori back in the day appealed to Queen Victoria for the protection of the British Empire, resulting in the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

If this sudden enthusiasm for teaching our history originates from Maori who recognise the opportunity to rewrite NZ history solely from their point of view, it is quite likely the PTPM’s enthusiasm for teaching NZ history in schools will only serve to worsen Maori grievances.  

The opportunity for a collaborative approach to our history is necessary but challenging, to say the least, given disparate views on the Treaty of Waitangi, the short time frame of two years to prepare teaching material and the hostility displayed by some Maori toward European migration.

This is shaping up to be another of the PTPM’s ‘mission impossible’ disasters, with the added capability of driving another wedge between Maori and everyone else.