Monday, December 18, 2017

Boots over New Zealand

Next week we'll be hiking the Queen Charlotte Track a glorious ridge trail above sea-drowned valleys at the top of New Zealand's South Island. It's a comfortable tramp, just 43 miles over four days.

Maybe that explains why Rudyard Kipling's "Boots" was my earworm the other day:
We’re foot—slog—slog—slog—sloggin’ over Africa!
Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin’ over Africa—
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)         
There’s no discharge in the war!
Kipling took the viewpoint of a British Tommy soldier in southern Africa in the Second Boer War (1899-1902). His racism is relatively subdued in this poem, but he does what he does best, depicting the "white man's burden."

That got me wondering if New Zealand played any part in the conflict. I learned that New Zealand sent troops to support the British Empire. Some Māori men (the first New Zealanders) wanted to enlist, but were turned down because this was a "white man's war."

We've booked a boat to drop us off at Meretoto/Ship Cove at the start of the Queen Charlotte Track. "Meretoto" is the Māori name, "Ship Cove" is the name the British explorer, Captain James Cook, gave this place. Cook made contact with Māori people at Meretoto in 1770 then returned several times on his three voyages to the area.

Cook and his crew were not the first Europeans to reach New Zealand. A Dutchman, Abel Tasman, made the journey in 1642. But it was Cook who set off a chain of events that brought about British occupation.

I think about places I have visited where European stock pushed the indigenous people aside. It happened right at home in Minnesota. The Dakota War of 1862 led to the displacement of the Dakota, and the largest mass execution in American history. In Hawaii, a place we visit often, Cook was a cog in the machine that led to missionaries who cleared the way for their sons to acquire the land.

I find it is too easy to frame a visit to New Zealand as a visit to an Anglo place. To look beyond tales of British settlement and happy, chanting Māori can be uncomfortable. But, to try to see the present reality through Māori eyes rather than just my European eyes makes my experience more nuanced and richer.
In 2006 we stayed at a very Anglo bed and breakfast at the end of the Queen Charlotte Track.
Note: I took the photos in this post when we walked the Queen Charlotte Track in 2006.

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