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Footprints in the sand: Banks’ Maori collection, Cook’s first voyage

Paper presented by Paul Tapsell, Auckland Museum, New Zealand
Cook’s Pacific Encounters symposium, National Museum of Australia, 28 July 2006

PAUL TAPSELL: [Maori greeting] (English translation) My first words I offer to our creator. I now greet those ancestors that have walked this land and I farewell them. I also greet the Ngunnawal people. They provide us the opportunity to meet here together today.

Just to start off with, I would like to resonate with what Paul Turnbull offered this morning. There was one sentence in particular I hung off – or hung on to but I am hanging off now – and that is when he stated that he sees not Banks but Tupaea as the founder of Pacific ethnography. That is something that – how can I best say this? It is perhaps demonstrating the growth and the growing maturity of us as academics in the South Pacific of realising that there’s more than one narrative to any picture we look at. Until recently, we entertained the popular narrative - the one of the coloniser, you could say - and that other narrative but a generation ago, represented a story that we weren’t really that keen to hear. We preferred perhaps to look at those stories of the conquerors rather than the conquered. But it depends on which side of the beach you’re looking at who’s conquering who.

My paper today is in a way just to raise questions, not to contest so much but to invite all of us as academics and others to see whether the twin streams of our histories, both in Australia and New Zealand, might integrate and unite and create a platform for something a bit bigger. Something that represents our identity going into the future; something our children, our grandchildren can take for granted and then look at what they need to discuss concerning their identity in the future. At this very point in time we find ourselves looking at our identity with Cook as our focus in this symposium. Adrienne [Kaeppler] provided us with an opportunity to delight in her detective skills. That she’s an academic, we’re lucky. I’m sure any police force in this country would be very happy to have her detective skills that are meticulous. It is because of her that people like Paul, myself and Greg [Dening] are able to speak today. She has been able to bring back together those three voyages of Cook to better understand the artificial curiosities of those three voyages and find them again. With distance, we can now have a greater understanding of what perhaps they represented. And of course with Greg assisting us in redirecting our gaze and providing me, as Margo pointed out, the opportunity to invite you to look at my gaze back across the beach with the trees behind me.

I normally don’t read papers because I normally don’t write them. But the organisers said this might lead to publication, so that panicked me into writing something. And then when I learnt that my esteemed mentors Greg Dening, Adrienne Kaeppler, Lissant [Bolton] and also Roger Neiche, who I work with, were going to be present today, I lost all confidence in believing I could talk on the hoof. So I have provided myself with an opportunity of reading.

The first thing is, as raised in the discussion last night, when Ian asked me what I thought of Cook and I said, ‘Who’s he?’ From a Maori perspective, Cook is that pakeha and navigator who named himself on mountains, beaches and other places within New Zealand and out into the Pacific. Joseph Banks? Banks Peninsula. Wasn’t he this young man, this young adventurer that the English thought very much of? Generally Maori people know very little about Cook and Banks other than - in a lot of ways like the Aboriginal people - part of that beginning of colonisation, part of the beginning of the end perhaps.

But for our early ancestors that engaged with Cook or the Endeavour, they probably also saw it as an opportunity to access new resources of a new people that arrived over the horizon. What would have motivated them would have been survival - perceived opportunity but also perhaps a perceived threat. To not engage could have been more dangerous than to engage. To get it wrong could also lead to the extinction of your kin group. There was a lot at stake, and that responsibility fell on the leader of that clan, of that kin group.

Just to set the context, most tribes in New Zealand, if not all, still think like the islands they came from. They still maintain boundaries like they are beaches with oceans between. Those boundaries are negotiated through marriages, through wars and from time to time tribes are absorbed into larger tribes, or new tribes break out of larger tribes back into smaller ones. But still the idea of being an island continues to manifest itself in Maori people today. A lot of our customs are still based around welcoming visitors onto our beach, onto our marae. We pull their canoe up onto our marae. We welcome them as visitors that have come afar across the water, even though we might be land-locked.

So today I contest: where would New Zealand be if not for Tupaea? Can we imagine what kind of New Zealand would we have if Cook had not returned to England with his maps and the knowledge he had gained on his travels? Did Tupaea in some way have an influence? I think Greg has already introduced that idea - what role did Tupaea play? When we look through the history books currently written, Tupaea remains low key, perhaps even invisible in many ways, but not amongst those who are descended from the ancestors that interacted with him.

If we fast forward 100 years from 1769 when Tupaea, Captain Cook and Joseph Banks first landed on a beach in Gisborne, New Zealand, 100 years after that colonisation was in full flight in New Zealand and the emergence of colonial museums, a place where the ‘other’ - from a Maori perspective, I am talking about - could publicly justify their rights of authority over a colonial landscape. A re-presentation according to the colonisers, according to the collectors, not the colonised nor the collected. Things have changed more recently, but that’s not the subject of my paper today - as much as I would like to talk about that.

The Auckland Museum, the place where I work today, has been open to the public since 1852. It is one of the oldest institutions in the world that has been open to the public. It wasn’t a place just for scholars to visit by appointment. This was somewhere where people of Auckland could walk off the streets straight in to look at cabinets of curiosities. Around 1900 the museum received from Kew Gardens 510 pressed plant specimens collected by Banks and Solander during the Endeavour’s visit to New Zealand in 1769-1770. These were not the only things collected by Captain Cook and his ‘gentleman amateur of science’, as Beaglehole would state. The latter, Joseph Banks, may have been just 25 years old, but his well-heeled gentry connections bought him cabin space to accommodate his very own scientific entourage of seven men plus two dogs. Led by Linnaeus’ protégé, Dr Solander, Banks’ team were responsible for returning to England many thousands of botanical and zoological specimens and a few hundred or so artificial curiosities. With each new landing, the ever-adventurous Banks was not afraid to engage local hospitality while his team carefully collected, documented, pressed, sketched and painted in his trail.

On returning home in 1771, Dr Solander oversaw the careful repository of the vegetable, animal and mineral specimens in the British Museum of Natural History. At that time the noble savage curiosities were comparatively worthless - things we have spoken about today and yesterday - both scientifically and monetarily. Nevertheless, they eventually found their way into cabinets of curiosities across Europe, although little or nothing was done to catalogue or differentiate these from latter items collected by Cook and other European explorers until some 100 years into the future. Today we are left with mostly circumstantial evidence by which the original Endeavour voyage’s artificial curiosities can be identified. Surviving written evidence suggests Cook and Banks utilised Maori curios to their own ends, willingly gifting them to King, Admiralty, gentrified friends and learned colleagues.

Thanks to the work of Kaeppler, Gathercole and Coote we have a better idea of where artefacts associated with Cook’s three voyages are resting. The aim of this paper, however, is to question the pathway by which two or three highly prized taonga - attributed to Banks and Cook - came to leave their kin communities in the first place. There has been some speculation concerning acquisition of the Tuebingen poupou (the carved slab of totara), but I leave that for others.

My interest lies with the personal, with wearable markers of status. And even today such markers of status are withheld, sometimes for generations, until an appropriate receiver and occasion warrants release. Furthermore, the receiver would be made aware of the symbolic import of accepting such things: obligations of reciprocity, the relation inherent, and not least the custodial duties one must thereafter carry when caring for such an ancestral treasure, or what we Maoris would call he taonga.

The slide here states: Ko nga kuri purepure o Tamaki e kore e ngaro I te po, which means ‘ those of Tamaki who would lead in peace or in war never rest’. Kuri purepure is reference to those chiefs and only those chiefs or ariki that wore the spotted dog skin cloak. It was a statement of their high manner.

Recently the Auckland Museum trust board, also known as Tamaki Paenga Hira, named by the local Indigenous peoples of Auckland, invited me to assist in finding an appropriate quotation to be engraved on the entrance of our new $65 million grand atrium. The quotation needed to not only capture the museum’s Anzac spirit - we became a war memorial in 1929 when we moved into a new building but we still remain a museum of all things - but also signify the promise of peace for which many sacrificed their lives. Musings of Greek philosophers were compared to more modern-day quotations from Te Whiti, Gandhi, JFK, and Martin Luther King.

But none seemed to hit the mark until we turned to Auckland’s local tribe, Ngati Whatua o Orakei. Why turn to them? The trust board recognised them as having successfully held authority over the Auckland Isthmus for 250-plus years, so that in itself at least qualified them to present a perspective - if they had one of course. Their surprised response captured everyone’s imagination: Ko nga kuri purepure o Tamaki e kore e ngaro I te po. It alluded to not just ancient rights of birth but also the inherent responsibilities of leadership. A kin’s survival rested on the vigilance of leaders, kuri purepure, not least the paramount chief or ariki. It was what he wore that set him apart from the rest through the generations, the spotted dog skin cloak.

While in discussion with Ngati Whatua about the possible use of this ancient proverb, I was also contemplating this paper. Imagining the Maori world view of 1769 when Tupaea sailed over the horizon in a strange vessel was really bending my mind. How did my ancestors react to seeing one of their own kin from their ancient homeland of Rangiatea-Tawhiti commanding a crew of strange-looking men armed with equally strange, magical-like weapons? From that first encounter it appears Tupaea left Maori in little doubt that he was ariki, high born. He demonstrated genealogical knowledge of the high born, wielded great authority over strange men and weapons, and spoke the ancient dialect of the tapu, of the restricted priestly school elite of Taputapuatea.

Word quickly spread throughout our land of the arrival of their ancestral matua, their ancestral father from the most revered of marae in the entire eastern Pacific. Taputapuatea, the navigational homeland marae of famous waka, famous canoes like Te Arawa, Tainui, Mataatua and Kurahaupo. All Maori he encountered during the Endeavour’s circumnavigation of New Zealand were in awe, and he was treated with the highest respect. Tupaea never visited Tamaki, the Auckland Isthmus. But if he had, I have no doubt Ngati Whatua would have prestated him a kuri purepure, a spotted dog skin cloak, in recognition of his ariki status, cementing a relation or intention of reciprocity - what Maori call utu - for future generations to activate as required.

Ngati Whatua are not unique in this way of thinking. In fact, the presence of dog skin or dog hair on any cloak, weapon or in carving, denoting high genealogical status, is familiar to most, if not all, tribes of New Zealand. Up to the times only recently past, the dog was indulged by chiefly families like a favoured child, fulfilling roles of companionship, warmth, hunting and guardianship.

Myself as a child, I grew up in a village where the dogs were the only living things that were indulged during ceremonies that could cut through the tapu, the restricted space between visitor and the hosts. Our dogs always knew that was the time they could go through there without getting a good kick. They would wander right through the middle. You would have all these chiefs on one side being received by our chiefs on the other, and this pack of dogs would just wander through. They would look each way, straight down to the kitchen because they knew they would get a good feed down there. I grew up with that.

Then in 1991 the dog laws of our town unfortunately picked up on our gang of dogs when they were out visiting a local lady that was off the village campus. All those dogs were put down before we knew what had happened - those dogs that we saw as being direct descendants of the dogs that came on our original canoe. Okay, they intermarried a little but they still had that knowledge. The young were taught the customs by the old: when you could walk, when you could beg, when you should, and every night they would go home to their own families and sleep on the back doorstep. They were the dogs that I grew up with but that we don’t have any more. Fortunately, there are still some villages in the back blocks at home where the dogs are still like that. The dogs held a very special position. This is a picture of our meeting house in which you can see this dog whose name was Potaka Tawhiti. [shows image] Potaka Tawhiti is very famous to us. In fact, there were three of them. This one in particular was the very first one that lived at Rangiatea where Taputapuatea is. The whole story of why we migrated from there is related to this story.

On occasion chiefly dogs, wonderfully indulged, were sometimes ritually killed either to manufacture a garment marking a special event, like the death of a leader (for example, Te Kahumamae o Pareraututu), or to provide chiefly nourishments to an ariki who was visiting, reflecting status of guest and generosity of hosts. In a way it was like offering your own child - but not. The dog was of a status that when an ariki arrived you could feed them nothing less than yourself. So providing them with the feast of your own personal dog was showing your understanding of their status, thus reflecting status of guest and generosity of hosts. There is even a tribe in the far north that honours both dog and ancestor by naming themselves Ngati Kuri, the people of the dog.

However, inappropriate killing of such dogs triggered major wars and, in the case of Te Arawa, led to their migration from Tawhiti - Tawhiti is our way of saying ancient homelands or Tahiti - some 24 generations ago. This image depicts the Arawa dog, Potaka Tawhiti, who was eaten by a rival tribe. Whereas a number of descendants of Atuamatua and Tawhiti – Atuamatua standing on the head of this dog - consequently migrated from Taputapuatea to Aotearoa, New Zealand. Their wider relations remained in Rangiatea or what we also say Ra’iatea.

Taputapuatea for me became very personalised when my uncle, now passed on, visited that place and was able to stand on that marae and return home to New Zealand and talk to us about meeting the local people of Ra’iatea. They were still able to speak the same priestly language that had been maintained through ritual. Also our people when they left 24 generations ago brought with them the relics, the stones, of that marae, Taputapuatea, and they placed them into the new landscapes where we established ourselves. We still maintain those stories as well. We know where those relics are buried. It gave us, you could say, the rights of access into our new landscape by bringing the marae from which we originated.

One can only speculate how overwhelming it would have been 16 generations later for a Maori leader to genealogically connect to an ariki like Tupaea through the common ancestry of Atuamatua. Such a significant occasion might have elicited a feasting of dog in his honour and prestations of significant taonga that were both highly personal, like hei tiki or greenstone that you wear around your neck, but also symbolised rank and common ancestry like cloaks adorned with dog hair. In a genealogical scenario of this imagining, no prestation to Tupaea could have been greater than the presentation of the kuri purepure.

The journals of the Endeavour talk about crew members’ constant failure to secure, through bartering, prized adornments representing leadership, such as dog skin cloaks and items made from greenstone. But we now have evidence that at least two dog skin cloaks - kuri purepure and a kaitaka kuri - and one hei tiki came into the possession of Banks and Cook. How did this occur and why are the Endeavour journals mute of such yearned success? What role did Tupaea play in this? Perhaps it was Tupaea who was originally prestated the chiefly garments associated with Cook and Banks, and not least the hei tiki that was eventually passed into King George III’s possession. Was it during such occasions that in return Tupaea presented our people with his name? One can only speculate 200-odd years after the fact.

From a Maori perspective, it is inconceivable that tribes’ most valued taonga like kahu kuri, dog skin garments, and pounamu, greenstone - reflecting both presenter and receiver status - were not offered to Tupaea. And for him to have refused would have been equally inconceivable. Not unimaginable, however, would have been Tupaea’s likely response, if aware of either Cook or Banks’ obvious envy, by him receiving such things and perhaps in a very Polynesian way he handed them to his two English equals with a statement like, ‘Here, now you look after it for me.’ Like footprints in the sand, what real evidence exists today that prestations to Tupaea ever took place? It was while contemplating such a thought that I received Jeremy Coote’s publication Curiosities from the Endeavour: A forgotten collection. I was not unfamiliar with Jeremy’s research, having shared his excitements while my wife and I were visiting Pitt Rivers Museum in 2003. It was the colour reproduction of the original Benjamin West portrait of Banks, however, that engaged me in a new way. Deliberate or just coincidence, the wearer holds the viewer with a direct gaze and is portrayed pointing to the tufts of dog hair bordering the taniko on an extremely fine kaitaka, a garment of great status reserved for chiefly wearing now doubly elevated by its dog hair adornments to which I have no doubt the then still-young Joseph Banks was fully aware.

Its unquestionable status reminds me of the collection of beautiful cloaks that I viewed in the 1990s at the British Museum that are tentatively provenanced to the first voyage. Although official writings rendered Tupaea as near invisible, the existence of these most prized taonga suggest another narrative exists, one that has all but been washed away in the surf on which the first encounters of people took place. Eight generations later we are left asking the question: How did these exquisite taonga come to be in the possession of a young gentleman amateur of science who, by all accounts, was not averse to seeking adventure in between his botanising? Closer inspection of Banks’ kuri purepure reveals, like the kaitaka, that it too is finely woven, uniquely designed to prevent penetration of an enemy dagger or spear by employing a taniko-like, compacted single pair twining throughout. The attention to detail in the presentation of borders, knotting and integration of tufts of dog hair is uniquely superior. How did Banks come into possession of two of the finest Maori cloaks surviving today? Did he win the affections of an ariki’s daughter? Did he save the life of a chief’s son? His journal is deafeningly quiet. To receive such taonga of status these cloaks represent implies that the presenter or presenters held Banks in the same high regard they would have credited Tupaea. Does this add up? But the sentiments by which Maori helped Tupaea were not shared by Banks. In Banks’ writing it appeared he was not overly impressed with him, even suggesting Tupaea was so proud and obstinate that he often made his situation on board both disagreeable to himself and those about him. Having lived in close quarters for some months, it is not unexpected that Banks would find Tupaea’s culturally idiosyncratic ways a little foreign. Yet Banks and Cook remained uncomfortably dependent on Tupaea to negotiate the initial encounters of each landing. They were dependent on him for navigation to new isles, diplomatic and translation services, and negotiation of safe landing and provisions. This would quite likely have grated Banks’ original reason for taking him on board in the first instance. As Greg has already mentioned, ‘I do not know why I may not keep him as a curiosity, as well as some of my neighbours do lions and tygers’, and perhaps contributed to his irritation. For whatever reason, Tupaea’s not insignificant contributions to the 1768-1771 voyage have remained all but invisible.

According to [Anne] Salmond, she thinks that this is actually Banks himself receiving this crayfish [shows image]. It appears that the recent discovery that the naive native watercolours tentatively attributed to Banks were in fact the work of Tupaea has awakened scholars to the possibility that he was more than just a convenient translator who died en route while hitching a ride to England. With this in mind, I would like to suggest that Tupaea may well have played a much more pivotal role in the voyage. It appears that this was not lost on the local Maori. By November 1769, word had spread far and wide of Tupaea and his ship. For example, on arriving at Waiau (Coromandel), the local tribes called for Tupaea by name. When Cook returned on his second voyage, Maori greeted him again by shouting for Tupaea, and then they grieved when they were told he was dead. As Salmond states, ‘It seems that Maori thought the Endeavour was Tupaea’s ship and they mourned him and remembered him for generations.’ Apart from a scattering of other verifiable items, the Christchurch Collection provides us a unique window of opportunity to view original artificial curiosities acquired by either Banks or Cook from New Zealand on the Endeavour voyage. From a Maori perspective, the taonga, or chiefly symbolic representations of trust within this collection, appear to testify Tupaea’s chiefly influence on the voyage at a critical juncture. In his own way he ensured the Endeavour and those encountered whilst circumnavigating New Zealand inflicted the minimum harm on each other.

We can only speculate whether Cook would have survived his many encounters with Maori without Tupaea there to mitigate the force of numbers that could easily have overwhelmed the Endeavour on any number of occasions. Later European voyagers were not so fortunate - for example, [Marion] Du Frense and even Cook himself struggled to overcome the communication barriers on future visits to New Zealand.

What became of Tupaea’s belongings or taonga after his death? Surely a high priest of his status may well have had at least his own personal adornments. Given the relative lack of value such items represent to English society and science in the eighteenth century of enlightenment, I suggest the same fate befell his taonga as did his watercolours. The many deaths later in the voyage - Batavia and en route to South Africa - leaving only Banks and Solander standing, undoubtedly gave rise to confusion, not least concern to keep the scientifically important specimens in some order. It could have contributed to Banks’ assimilation of any Tupaea-associated artificial curiosities on his returning home after three long years at sea.

For Maori, Tupaea may have trodden lightly on our beaches, but his footprints continue to pattern our memories through oral history. Eight generations later we still name our children after him, and the places he visited remain living narratives amongst those who hosted him and his peculiar entourage over 200 years ago. I suggest that the same footsteps, embodied in the woven or carved Maori curiosities of Cook’s first voyage, are also echoing through the marbled hallways of some of Europe’s finest institutions of memory.

Notwithstanding the Christchurch Collection, evidence of Tupaea’s presence remains invisible, while public attention is time and again academically focused towards the deeds and collections of Cook. I tentatively suggest that Tupaea’s direct contributions - Pacific mapping, artwork and taonga - and indirect contributions to the Royal Society, not least the safe arrival home of Cook, Banks and Solander and their precious cargo of scientific evidence, appears in my mind at least to deserve his very own walk in academic and museological history.

[Maori farewell – (English translation) To the dead let them join and depart. To us the living, may we join together.]

QUESTION: Thank you, Paul, very much for your presentation. I have been inspired by the spotted dog skin cloak and I know a bit about what’s happening now with some artists using dog skin cloaks. Do you feel that the cloak has the same power now that it did in Cook’s time?

PAUL TAPSELL: Probably more so because of their rarity. The dog skin cloak is not something it is made any more, and definitely since most of us have lost our dogs. But the museums carry them. For communities to engage with those precious garments in a way that brings them alive again is something we’re exploring right now. There’s an exhibition that’s coming to Sydney on 15 September 2006, and one of the key taonga is a dog skin cloak. That’s the Kahumamae o Pareraututu or the cloak of pain. It’s made up of about eight or nine dogs that were ritually slaughtered after their chiefs had been killed in a battle. One of the wives of the chiefs made this cloak and travelled a great distance with the cloak. She then wrapped herself in the cloak and sat on the marae of another great warlord chief or ariki (Tukorehu – Rewi Maniapoto’s grandfather) for three days refusing food and water until he lifted that cloak off her and put it on his own shoulders, and in so doing took on the pain and assisted in the utu, the reciprocity required to rebalance the atrocity that happened. The rebalance wasn’t going and killing people, it was facilitating the return of the heads of those who had been killed so that a proper death ritual could occur. So in our minds the dog skin cloaks continue to be very important to us as a people.

QUESTION: You have put forward some fantastic ideas here. If these pieces had been given to Tupaea, would he have had some things of equal importance to give back to the Maoris and what might those be? And if such things were given to the Maoris, what happened to them?

PAUL TAPSELL: That’s a good question. In the first instance, I think the thing he gave the people - and it’s intangible - was his name. His name we treasure today, and we still name our children with that name. That I feel is probably what he gave us – again, speculation perhaps. For example, one of the great chiefs of the Bay of Plenty area, his name was Tupaea. He was born it seems maybe one or two years before the arrival of Cook. The name he carried all his life was associated with his paramount leadership and he was asked twice to be the Maori king by the Waikato people, and he refused twice - a demonstration of the status that a name could carry. It was seen that he embodied the essence of Tupaea. So although Tupaea died in Batavia, he still lives in New Zealand.

QUESTION: You are suggesting that Tupaea was able to communicate with the local Maori by using the archaic form of te reo Maori - this was in the same way as Latin was used in Europe among priests and learned people. Do people still know that language today and how widely spread is it among Polynesian peoples?

PAUL TAPSELL: I can’t speak for the wider Polynesian people, but for our own people, the particular person I was talking about was Hikooterangi Hohepa who passed away in 1998 just when I completed my thesis. He spoke at length with us about the communication he was able to have and the very little difference still in the shift of the ritual language. When I was growing up, I heard our people speak that language quite often, and it was almost like a foreign language to me as opposed to Maori that we speak generically and that is now common. The dialects of Te Arawa and around the Bay of Plenty in themselves are very different from the dialects around Taranaki from the South Island or from up north, and then within those dialects you also had this other language that was maintained by this learned school of what we would consider philosophers or priests. They trained young people that they picked out at a very young age to be acolytes. I would suggest that the young man travelling with Tupaea was an acolyte.

QUESTION: I thought that perhaps what he gave to the Maoris in New Zealand was that ability to communicate with the colonisers and that that was extremely important in the developing relationship and illustrates the contrast in that developing relationship between New Zealand and Australia. Do you have any comment on that?

PAUL TAPSELL: You have just sparked a thought, and that was when Cook returned on the second voyage and the people called for Tupaea and then heard that he has gone, in a way they were probably looking at what the reciprocity would also mean with his return, what new ideas he was going to bring back from this land that these white people came from. As you pointed out, when Tupaea came to Australia, very quickly he became excess baggage to Cook and Banks. He no longer had any knowledge that they could draw upon and leverage. The difference between New Zealand and Australia comes from two very different cultures, one that is deep seated in thousands of years of interacting with a fairly harsh environment. But notwithstanding that, those that lived around the ocean side and up the rivers where it was fertile at least had something in common and that was the ability to interact with the ocean. But there was no discussion or no opportunity to understand each other, so we can only speculate on it.

MARGO NEALE: That’s very interesting. I wonder whether one of the reasons Cook didn’t spend a lot of time in Australia is because he didn’t have a local blackfella.

Date published: 17 September 2008