‘The era of written history for all Maori, including Tuhoe, was well under way in the years immediately prior to Best’s arrival in the Urewera in 1895. While oral records of both the distant and recent past were still powerful, a new form of literary consciousness had been transforming their world and was about to be laid over the Urewera; the surveyor’s map. Ever since Cook had touched these shores with his phenomenal ability to chart the uncharted and map the unmapped –and later the treaty of Waitangi had laid out the assumption of the sovereign power to purchase the new lands thus presented – Maori found themselves facing not just the new technology of the book and the gun, but the intellectual universe out of which had emerged the theodolite.’
I have read on much further from this striking opening to the seventh chapter of Holman’s ‘Best of Both Worlds’. Best and Tutakangahau have crossed Lake Waikaremoana and Best is recording the elder man’s chants and accounts.
I have been to Waikaremoana four times. The first was for a week before I began teaching at Morrinsville College. I attended a wedding in Hamilton and had over a week to kill before I began work. Hearing of this one of my fellow students at Teachers’ College suggested I visit her at Tuai. Her father was in charge of the hydroelectricity plant at Waikaremoana. I was pleased to accept.
The bus trip was fascinating – the never-ending pine forests suddenly gave way to miles and miles of native bush. To my eye it looked unlogged. The drive around the lake was breath-taking. Judith’s mother saw me as a suitor. She insisted we take the family car for the day. To her surprise Judith took along her younger siblings. We had a great time exploring the shores of the Lake. I knew nothing of its history. But I sensed history and glimpsed the romanticism that 19th Europeans would have felt.
The second time was my honeymoon. We camped on the shores of the lake. Kiwi called at night. It was so quiet and peaceful. Civilization had ceased to exist. Before we went I’d read Best. That added meaning to the visit.
The third we stayed in the Tourist Hotel. A day rambling in the bush followed by French cuisine – a perfect combination.
On the fourth visit I took Anne and her two sons to see such beauty. The hotel had burnt down and had not been replaced. We stayed in the cabins that had been built down by the lakeside.
Each trip I tramped to Waikareiti – each time tranquility personified.
But apart from the Best I knew little about the area. I wish I knew what I know now when I inspected Ruatoki school.
What Holman is doing is bringing together all sorts of intellectual strands in my mind and linking them. I’m up to Seddon and Carroll trying to cajole Tuhoe into opening up their land. The information adds a whole fresh dimension to the foreshore debate. I have never regarded myself as a scholar but I enjoy thinking about the fruits of scholarship. And realising though it was not written then I wish I’d read this book a long time ago.