Historians urge Kiwis to reflect on the place of the colonial and racist statues

A Captain James Cook statue that has been vandalised with the words "This is our land" and "Thief Pakeha" in Gisborne. Photo: NZ Herald. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

WELLINGTON, Jun 10, 2020, NZ Herald. As statues representing colonial and racist figures are toppled worldwide historians urge Kiwis to reflect on the place of those in their own backyards, New Zealand Herald reported.

This week the statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was pulled down by Black Lives Matter protesters, following a rally against the death of George Floyd and racial injustice.

In Aotearoa/New Zealand hundreds of statues depicting colonial history are scattered across the country with little or no balance with Māori history, along with streets and places even named after slave traders who never set foot here, and city grids in the shape of the Union Jack in predominantly-Māori towns conquered by British forces.

In Doubtless Bay, a plaque was once installed near a marae to honour French explorer Jean-François-Marie de Surville. The problem was, nobody asked mana whenua Ngāti Kahu.

After drifting into the area on the tail end of a cyclone in the late 1700s, Ngāti Kahu helped nurse De Surville’s sick crewmen back to health.

But he took offence at a perceived slight and retaliated, ransacking the papakainga, burning their nikau whare and kidnapping a rangatira who was never seen again.

So when a descendant stumbled across the plaque one day a few decades ago, the hapū decided “no way are we keeping that here”, iwi leader and Māori studies Professor Margaret Mutu said.

“Our tūpuna had asked and asked for an apology about the kidnapping, but we never got one. Then a plaque was installed to honour him, without even asking us.”

It is not the only plaque or statue installed without their consideration, and Ngāti Kahu is far from alone.

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