Not too good in the U.S. about statues recently.
New Zealand endured a massive and protracted internal war from the late 1850s to the late 1870s. But you wouldn’t know it: there’s barely a memorial to this most divisive war. Unless you look pretty hard. In fact most of those battles now exist in physical form as mere shadows on the ground from earthen ramparts.
And yet directly after this war, the New Zealand Parliament in full retribution mode passed laws that confiscated millions and millions of acres from Maori ownership. There you have most of the cause of the entire Treaty of Waitangi process that still goes on today.
So why almost no memorials to our massive civil war?
After all, only thirty years after we had been busy fighting against each other in the New Zealand Wars, we finished our World War One participation, and for that there were war memorials put up in every town and city and borough the full length of the country from Kaitaia to Bluff. There are still peaceniks who would prefer to see those World War One statues of soldiers to glorifying mass orchestrated competitive sadism to be smashed and turned into flower gardens to peace. But ANZAC services grow and grow and grow.
There is an entire U.S. industry devoted to remaking and re-enacting civil war battles, but you sure won’t find that here. If Waitangi Day was treated like ANZAC Day in New Zealand, the entire naval fleet would sail into every harbour, and great kapa haka competitions would raise everyone’s hairs: it would be a national day in competitive showing-off. In terms of the theatre of expressing challenge and conflict, what better form is there than the haka?
Perhaps we find it all faintly embarrassing. So why do people proudly flock to parade around ANZAC Day memorials specifically for remembering historical conflict, when emotional remembrance at Waitangi is relentlessly mocked? Maybe there’s some internal national trigger that makes it just too hard to even represent military conflict between Maori and settler European. Maybe Maori would prefer not to remember that some Maori were on different sides and their motivations complex. Maybe we would prefer to just leave thinking about that kind of difficult thing to textbooks for intermediate school children, and drop it later.
Maybe we don’t trust ourselves to be thoughtful about complex and emotional civic issues, as if talking about hard stuff strips us of all dignity. Or more correctly, … “emotional Maori issues”. Monuments are always concentrations of history that express contradictions of grandeur and suffering, forced labour and peak societal achievements, grand scale and territorial pettiness, patronage and allegiance.
When Oliver Cromwell took his chance and deposed the monarchy temporarily in England in the mid -1600s, his troops were charged with entering churches and smashing down all the statues they could find. Same after the French Revolution, and similar after the Soviet Union fell. It’s an aniconic drive to deny representation of the sacred and assert new order. Crosses of course are illegal in Chinese mainland churches, so they are taken down. It’s quite a religion that puts extraordinary torture as its physical representation.
But the Charlotteville confederate memorials defined specific things: they helped define and enforce the City’s racial boundaries through the Jim Crow years. Maybe, dare I say it, our “race relations” are more advanced than those of the U.S. Maybe a bit.
We don’t have too many large statues of actual generals on horseback. There’s no General Chute or General Cameron astride a steed somewhere in 5 metre high bronze that I am aware of. Not even a great big Titokowaru at the prow of a great waka ready to storm anything. Maybe we’re shy.
If we did have such statues, they could just turn into yet another Motoua Gardens protest. That garden has a memorial with a plaque. Maybe, in New Zealand, proper statues would turn into something that we contest and refresh our memories about every year just like other war memorials. To test our identity upon as individuals and as a whole bunch of us. Empty pedestals have a few teachable moments – but surely we can teach the politics of representation without turning them into rubble first.
Now after many decades of trying, the second floor of the Auckland War Memorial Museum has devoted one room of its second floor devoted to war memorialisation, to this war between Maori and settler government. There, that wasn’t so hard.