1 Aug 2016

Gisborne the city of two people, one story

9:09 pm on 1 August 2016

A red-faced Captain Cook looked over the Turanganui River last week in the latest in a spate of vandalism which has triggered debate on the Māori perspective on the explorer.

The statue of Captain Cook near the Turanganui rivermouth was the latest to be vandalised.

The statue of Captain Cook near the Turanganui rivermouth was the latest to be vandalised. Photo: Supplied

It is an issue which is only set to heat up, with plans for the 250th commemoration of Cook's first meeting with tangata whenua under way.

Gisborne, or Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa, has two Captain Cook statues.

The bronze statue at the rivermouth was defaced with red paint last week, but the life size statue which stands on Tītīrangi Hill and looks out to sea has been vandalised three times in the past month.

That statue stands above the spot where Captain Cook had his first meeting with tangata whenua in 1769.

A statue depicting Captain Cook on Gisborne's Kaiti Hill has been repeatedly vandalised in recent years.

The statue depicting Captain Cook on Gisborne's Kaiti Hill has been repeatedly vandalised in recent years. Photo: AFP

However, according to Ngāti Oneone it is not a fair representation of what occurred almost 250 years ago.

A number of Māori warriors, including at least one chief, were killed by Cook's men.

Te Hā Trust, a working group including representatives from iwi, locals, and historians such as Dame Anne Salmond, was working on the 250th anniversary of James Cook's arrival.

One of the trustees, Richard Brooking said the trust was focusing on a dual heritage with a shared future.

"It's no longer a one-sided Cook story and we've gone to great pains to make sure it's about the first meetings, although Cook is a large part of the story because had it not been because of his arrival, it's certainly the conception of the nature is how we put it."

Nick Tupara said his ancestor Te Maro was the great grandson of the chief, Rakaiātane, and was tipped to be the next chief.

"Strangely enough he was a gardener, and in the area where he was killed - the river bank for Ngāti Oneone - was all gardens," he said.

"And his job was to feed the people, and that gave him a mana above others in terms of who would succeed - but he was killed."

Mr Tupara was hoping for an outcome where his children could have a place in the region's past and future, and said it had not been that way in the past.

"When Cook was put up there - I understand in 1969, one of the many celebrations our people didn't attend there - they didn't agree to it going up there.

"And when the other Cook statue was put up down at the rivermouth, our tipuna at the time said 'nah we're not to engage in it only because it's another Cook statue, no reference to our people' but when they need a piupiu, a waiata and a haka we're always getting rung up for that."

Māori broadcaster and local Bailey Mackey said although the statues were being debated, other aspects of Cook's arrival should be discussed too.

Bailey Mackey

Bailey Mackey Photo: Supplied

He pointed to the naming of Poverty Bay, which was once known as Te Oneroa.

"I definitely think if you're going to revisit the narrative or the symbol of a statue up Kaiti Hill or Tītīrangi you should also revisit things like the name Poverty Bay, because for me that has a much greater stigma to it than the symbol of the statue."

Mr Mackay believed one of the reasons Māori history had been unknown to many was because Māori kept an oral account.

"It also exists in our carvings, so I think it's probably just a transferring of that narrative to a much more applicable medium," he said.

"We have the internet now, we have TV, we have film. I'm really keen to see that some of the newer mediums are used in terms of that narrative."

Māori Party co-leader Marama Fox said New Zealand should also acknowledge great Māori leaders and celebrate their bravery in the face of the adversity not the tyranny of the majority.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs