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Anne Salmond | Ask the Experts | Pose Your Question

SpacePortrait by Herb Kawainui Kane
Portrait by Herb Kawainui Kane.

To listen to the following interview with Anne Salmond, you will need to download RealPlayer.

Q: How did the arrival of the Europeans impact culture in New Zealand?

A: (Listen in Real Audio) I think the impact's been, in some respects, devastating, [especially] if you think about the epidemic diseases that came with Europeans, if you think about the guns, if you think about the possession of land, the transfer of land by war, by, more importantly, probably by law. And then on top of that, you think about the whole process of education, colonization of people's minds and their hearts through the impact of European ways of thinking. All that's been devastating. I think the worst part about it, perhaps, has been that Europeans brought with them a kind of conviction of their own superiority in the order of the world. If I had to say what I thought was the most dangerous thing that was brought over, I would say it was that.

Q: Talk a little more about this European sense of superiority.

A: (Listen in Real Audio) I think the European sense of superiority of the Maori was very carefully crafted. It was something that was constructed. And it was built into notions about natives, about nature, about the European reason or rational mind controlling the world through science. I think all of these things were built into the apparatus that Europeans brought with them to this part of the world. It's propped up through literature. It's propped up in the way that people think about primitivity. And so there were a lot of things that Maori people did that Europeans were harshly critical of. And yet the curious thing to me is when I look at Europe at the same time, Europeans were doing things that were at least as brutal.

Q: What were the differences in the way that Europeans and the Maori saw the world?

A: (Listen in Real Audio) I think I would say that built into a lot of European ideas about how humans relate to reality, control is a very important factor. I think that's one of the driving forces behind science. For instance, and behind the intellectual tradition in Europe, the idea that order needs to be imposed on chaos. And the world needs to be controlled. And nature, and so-called savages were part of chaotic nature that needed to be basically held down and controlled. Whereas I think in Maori, the way that thinking proceeds is that what's important is relationships between different kinds of beings, between people, between people and plants and animals, the sea, the earth.

If I think about the last couple of hundred years of history in this country, I think it's a process of struggle between these two different ways of being in the world. I think that Europeans came in assuming that sovereignty was necessary, that these savages, these primitives, these natives, these others, needed to be looked after, really. I mean, it was a sense that they were a lesser form of being that needed reason, European reason, applied to them. Whereas I think Maori right from the beginning were trying to establish an equitable relationship with these incomers.

Q: How did the Europeans' sense of superiority affect how they perceived Polynesians' voyaging capabilities?

A: (Listen in Real Audio) Well, when you ask me how it translated into action, I'll start off by not talking about voyaging and then I'll move to voyaging if that's all right. One of the ways in which that sense of superiority manifested itself or was kind of propped up, if you like, was with guns, of course. And this was something that Europeans said all the time. They demonstrated their superiority through muskets and through the use of weapons. And this was their best rhetorical gesture, if you like. When you're entering somebody else's turf and they perform the haka and they challenge and they say, "Who the hell are you people coming here into our harbor?" and if they're not receptive to your offering them goods or whatever, then the next thing they do is bring out the small shot and then after that you bring out the musket ball and then after that, if need be, the cannon ball. So it was ultimately a perception that Europeans had that was backed up with pyrotechnics. And pyrotechnics of a pretty -- the impact was pretty immediate. But when it came to things like voyaging, it varied. The seafarers on the ships -- people like Cook for instance -- when they looked at Maori waka and other waka in other parts of the Pacific, they could see they were good craft. And Cook was interested in the seafaring vessels that he saw and described them in a lot of detail and was very impressed by them. Whereas some of the scientists, like Foster for instance, Johann Foster, writing after the second voyage, talks about the small and wretched embarkations of the natives of the South Seas. And argues that basically in their craft, there's no way they could beat to windward because those craft weren't up to it. Now, he wouldn't have known. I mean, he was a Germanic. He was a botanist basically. But his notion about the superiority of Western paraphernalia, whether it was pyrotechnical or navigational, influenced his thinking right from first principles, I think.

Q: How did the Europeans' notions of thinking affect their opinions of Polynesian origin?

A: (Listen in Real Audio) Well, a lot of them just couldn't quite work it out. I mean, the people that thought that they had the technology to voyage, it was easy for them to see that all these groups were connected. When somebody like Tupa'ia came from Tahiti to New Zealand, and was able to stand on the beach there and talk in effect in Maori with Maori people almost from the first minute he was there, then Cook could see that there must be some basic connection between these people. I mean, otherwise, how could they communicate so easily? And so he immediately started thinking, and so did Banks, about how these people were related. And they started doing comparative vocabularies and studying the connection between their technologies. And I think it was easy for Cook to think they must have been voyaging. But some of the others couldn't imagine that these Polynesians could get out on the water and figure out where they were going.

Q: What was the connection between Cook and Tupa'ia?

A: (Listen in Real Audio) I think that Polynesian ways of interacting with the ocean were based on relationship with the ocean as a form of being in the world. And so it was something which was not a wilderness. It wasn't a waste of water that needed to be charted or that needed to be gridded out with instruments and mathematical calculation and thus controlled. It was a form of being in the world that one could navigate through by forming relationships with it, through katakia for instance, through incantation. You could find your pathways. It was sea paths. I mean, it wasn't a wilderness. It was a place that could be moved through and communicated with. Not through instruments, not through mathematics, not through those kind of controlling, gridding, distancing devices, but by interface, by interaction, by the power of ancestral connection. And so I think the way in which somebody like Tupa'ia moved around on the water had a different kind of quality than the way that somebody like Cook moved around on the water. But they were both seafarers, and that they had in common. They both knew the water well and knew the sea. And that gave them some means of communication, I think.

Q: How did the Europeans perceive the Pacific Ocean?

A: (Listen in Real Audio) Well, you know in that period, of course, that the Pacific was seen as this great -- in the beginning of the period -- seen as this great empty expanse, and they're all out there looking for Terraustralis Incognita, the unknown southern continent that was necessary to counterbalance the world, otherwise it might flip out of control. So everyone expected that there was going to be this place, this big land mass, to find. And they were out there to chart it. So they're actually on the water to find land. And the important thing was to be able to maintain the sort of mathematical communication with the stars, for instance, so that you could put all this down on charts. You were trying to take the experience of being on the water and put it in a form, a legible form that could then be taken away from that place and distributed to whomever in the world. So the world charts were a process of control, a process of scripting, a process of taking experience and putting it in an immobile form, if you like. And I think that Cook's interface with the water was partly that and party practical. And the practical part he had in common with Polynesian seafarers, but when it came to that kind of intellectual communication or that almost spiritual communication with the sea, it was a very different quality I think.