Herbert Hoover saved millions of Russian lives through famine relief.  A century later Russia risks creating malnutrition and perhaps famine for millions

In 1921-22 Herbert Hoover, through his famine relief work saved millions of Russians from starving to death.  A century later, malnutrition if not famine will result from Russia’s blockading of Ukraine’s grain exports. 

History remembers Herbert Hoover as a failed Depression-era US President, not as a great humanitarian who saved millions from starvation.

Hoover was a brilliant engineer and logistics manager whose achievements included providing food relief services to Belgium during WW1.  In 1921 he was Secretary of Commerce when word came of an emerging crisis in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

In 1920, drought in Soviet Russia had led to failed harvests and famine risks.  World War One, the Russian revolution and civil war had caused massive disruption.  Red Army “war communism” saw peasant surpluses requestioned.  State capacity to deal with a famine crisis was limited, and the Soviet Union itself only came into being in 1922.

In mid-1921 calls went out internationally for help.  Maxim Gorky published an open letter seeking European and American support.  “Gloomy days,” Gorky wrote, “have come to the land of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Mendeleev, Pavlov, Mussorgsky, Glinka and other world-prized men…Russia’s misfortunes offer humanitarians a splendid opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of humanitarianism… I ask all honest European and American people for prompt aid to the Russian people.”

Hoover took responsibility and his leadership quickly saw the American Relief Administration (ARA) running 19,000 kitchens in 28,000 towns and villages in Russia.  These fed around 11 million of the 16 million threatened by starvation.  The ARA also helped with medical services.  By 1923 the drought had broken, the ARA had imported seed grain, and the New Economic Policy (NEP) had abolished prodrazvyorstka (forced grain-requisition).

Maxim Gorgy in a personal letter to Hoover wrote that “Your help will enter history as a unique, gigantic achievement, worthy of the greatest glory, which will long remain in the memory of millions of Russians whom you have saved from death”.  The Soviet government presented Hoover with a scroll stating that the Russian people “will never forget the help given them.”  However, by his death in 1964 the Soviet press was condemning Hoover as “a spy for the bourgeoisie.”

Today, Russia’s blockading of Ukraine’s grain exports through Black Sea ports is inflating food prices for poorer people in less developed countries, and this will lead to malnutrition and perhaps famine. 

President Putin has said that the blockage of grain exports will be eased only if sanctions on Russia are removed.  He contends that difficulties in supplying grain to international markets resulted from “erroneous economic and financial policies of Western countries”.  However, sanctions imposed by the US and allies are not preventing the export of Ukrainian or Russian agricultural products and inputs, including food and fertilizer.

There is no military logic to the blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea pots.  Russia would lose nothing and gain much goodwill through ending it. 

Posted in Economics, History, Politics, Russia | Leave a comment

Where are the Nazis in the Russia-Ukraine war?

Russia argues its Ukraine invasion aims to “de-nazify” a country run by “drug-addled Nazis”.  What does “Nazi” mean today, and who are “Nazis” in the Russia-Ukraine war context?

In 1941 Dorothy Thompson asked who goes Nazi? and identified some pointers you might find in a large gathering of acquaintances.  Today however, “Nazi” is more a loose slur term applied to people “we” may not like.  The term “Nazi” alludes to far-right extremists, especially those with racist (including antisemitic), xenophobic and ethno-nationalist views.  Such extremists tend to be inward-looking rather than internationalist, authoritarian rather than democratic, and to be conservative on family and LBGTQ matters.  

Ethno-nationalism assumes that identity reflects ancestry and this shapes people’s behaviour today.  How a defined group (Jews, Russians, Ukrainians) behaved a hundred years ago is seen as predictive of how it will behave today.  This leads to conflicts over what and how history is remembered.  Statues are raised and toppled, legislation is enacted and repealed, and school history curriculums are developed and fought over.

Vladimir Putin once published an essay arguing that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people,” a “yedinyi narod.”  Putin must surely reflect on how much blood can be spilt before Russians and Ukrainians become bitterly divided for at least the next generation.

What do voting statistics tell us about Ukrainian “Nazism?”  In Ukraine’s 2019 parliamentary elections a coalition of far-right parties secured just over 2% of the vote.  In the 2019 presidential election Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Russian-speaking Jewish centrist won 73% of the vote in the run-off against the moderate incumbent Petro Poroshenko.  This compares for example with Marine Le Pen winning 41.5% compared to Macron’s 58.6% of the French presidential election run-off vote in 2022.

If Ukraine has a significant far-right or neo-Nazi political movement it is almost invisible in public discourse as well as in elections.  Nor is it obvious on the battlefield.  The Azov Volunteer battalion that formed in reaction to the 2014 invasion of Ukraine did attract extremists, notably Andriy Biletsky.  However, Azov is now part of the Ukraine National Guard and is apolitical.  Biletsky was elected to Parliament in 2014 and he lost his seat in 2019. 

The Azov fighters are melting away in their last stand in the Mariupol steel works.  They are extraordinarily brave.  No war crimes have been attributed to them in this conflict.  In contrast, there is well-substantiated evidence of Russian atrocities against large numbers of Ukrainian civilians.

Since its election in 2019 Zelensky’s government has broken with ethno-nationalism and promoted equal rights for all the country’s citizens.  What matters is Ukrainian citizenship that confers equal rights and which transcends ethnicity, religious and other such identities.

Ukraine is becoming more culturally inclusive and has actively protected minority cultures.  In July 2021 it enacted legislation “On the Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine.”  This granted special protection for the cultural heritage and language of Crimean Tatars as well as Turkic Judaic groups.  Attitudes within Ukraine to LBGTQ issues are becoming more accepting.  These progressive changes are hardly Nazism at work.

Some Russians hold neo-Nazi views and actively promote them.  For example, the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) is an extremist ethno-nationalist group that supports pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and has been involved in conflicts in Libya and Syria. 

Vladimir Putin’s strongest supporters domestically and internationally are at best “far right” and at worst overtly neo-Nazi.  Ramzan Kadyrov who heads the Chechen Republic has been accused of a long list of human rights violations, including multiple murders, and has enriched himself through Putin’s patronage.

Igor Girkin was active in the Crimean annexation and the war in Donbas.  In 2014 he opined that Russia’s “liberal clans” must be destroyed in favour of “law enforcement” ones.  In June 2019, Dutch prosecutors charged Girkin for murder through the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and issued an arrest warrant for him.  Girkin has recently resurfaced advocating general Russian mobilization for the Ukrainian war.

Far-right organisations such as the Wagner Group and the Rusich neo-Nazi unit do some of the “dirty work” for Putin’s regime.  The Wagner Group  functions like a mercenary private army that operates in similar ways to the Einsatzgruppen on the Eastern Front in WW2.  It is alleged to have tried to assassinate President Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders.  It has also been linked to recent civilian massacres in Mali.

Putin’s strongest international relationships are with far-right politicians and movements.  They include Viktor Orbán and Marine Le Pen who share his ethno-nationalist and culturally conservative views.  The only German political party to oppose military aid to Ukraine is the far-right Alternative for Germany – Russia helps fund it.

Putin’s American supporters include fringe GoP politicians, some Fox News commentators and Alt-Right activists.  Donald Trump’s initial reaction to the Ukrainian invasion was to call Putin “a genius” for what Trump seemed to mistake for an adept real estate transaction.

Vladimir Putin is a far-right authoritarian, however he has never been antisemitic.  In 1998 a communist Duma member Albert Makashov denounced Jews as a “scourge” that should be removed from the country.  Putin, who was then Director of the Federal Security Service, faced Makashov down.  He announced an investigation into the remarks, doing so with the Lubyanka in the background.  This sent a message that hateful antisemitic rhetoric was intolerable. 

On 1 May the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov opined that having a Jewish president (Zelensky) does not preclude Ukraine being run by Nazis.  He then stated that “the biggest anti-Semites were Jewish, including Hitler”.  Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid said this “unforgivable” falsehood debased the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.  Russia’s foreign ministry responded that Lapid’s comments largely explain “why the current Israeli government supports the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”.  Vladimir Putin apologised to Israel’s Prime Minster for these comments.

Putin has long promoted an ethno-nationalist, traditionalist narrative for Russia.  This is reflected in the 9 May Victory Day celebrating the Red Army’s defeat of Nazi Germany in WW2.  The Red Army was not “the Russian Army”.  All Soviet nationalities served, including seven million Ukrainians, of whom 1.65M died.  Of the Red Army’s greatest WW2 leaders Zhukov was Russian, however Timoshenko was Ukrainian and Rokossovsky was Polish.

In Putin’s narrative WW2 is dated from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 2022.  However, the German-Soviet non-Aggression Pact was signed on 23 August 1939.  A secret protocol to this Pact divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence.  Eastern Poland, LithuaniaLatviaEstonia, and Finland fell within the Soviet sphere. 

German forces attacked Poland on 1 September 1939, with Soviet forces invading on 17 September.  World War Two therefore began as a joint Nazi and Soviet attack on Poland.  Poland ceased to exist as a nation on 29 September 1939.  Around 22,000 Polish citizens later died in Stalin’s Katyn massacre in April-May 1940. 

Victory Day creates a link between the Soviet Union’s glories and Russia today.  It has been used to rehabilitate Stalin, and to validate ruthless leadership, including Putin’s.  Russia’s human rights organisation Memorial International which chronicled Stalin-era crimes was closed by court order in December 2021.  

Some of Stalin’s crimes must never be forgotten.  For example, many Ukrainians argue that Stalin engineered the 1932-33 great famine or Holodomor – “murder by hunger” in which millions of Ukrainians died.  Markevich et al (2021) provide powerful statistical evidence supporting this allegation; that is that Stalin’s government manipulated food shortages to ensure that Ukrainians bore a disproportionate share of the famine burden.

The Russian Constitution states that Russia “united by the millennium history, preserving the memory of the ancestors who conveyed to us ideals and belief in God… honours the memory of the defenders of the Fatherland, ensures protection of historical truth.  Diminution of the heroic deed of the people defending the Fatherland is precluded.”

The Soviet annexation of the Baltic states in June 1940 and Stalin’s invasion of Finland in November 1940 were all mandated in the secret protocol to the German-Soviet Pact.  However, in Russia today references to Nazi-Soviet collaboration are now effectively criminalized.  

Given how important defeating the Nazis in1945 is to Russia’s “story about itself” it is psychologically appealing (though dishonest) to label any other enemies of Russia as “Nazis”.  After weeks of fighting Russia had not identified a Nazi presence in Ukraine and the case for invading Ukraine seemed more and more tenuous.  The arguments for the war then began to change.

On 5 April 2022 the former Russian President and close Putin ally Dmitry Medvedev argued that an important war goal was “to convert the bloodthirsty and the total, fabricated-myth-laden consciousness” of some Ukrainians.  “The goal is peace for future generations of Ukrainians and the possibility of finally building an open Eurasia, from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

“From Lisbon to Vladivostok” is the slogan of “Eurasian philosophers”, notably Aleksandr Dugin, who argues for Russia to dominate the Eurasian continent extending from Portugal to the Pacific Ocean.  This Russian Eurasian imperial ambition is of course dreamland.  For example, China is much bigger in population, wealthier, and far more technologically advanced and diversified than Russia.  China must surely see that Russia is the weaker party and can never lead Eurasia.

Despite its unreality, Putin is influenced by the Eurasian philosophers.  Dugin is described as “Putin’s brain”.  One hopes he is not also Putin’s science teacher.  In June 2012 Dugin opined that chemistry and physics are “demonic sciences”, and all Orthodox Russians need to “unite around Russia’s president in the last battle between good and evil”.  Dugin may of course be right that Putin is in his “last battle”. 

The theme of “good versus evil” recurs in the Russian rhetoric, sometimes with Orthodox religious imagery.  Vyacheslav Nikonov, Deputy Head of the State Duma declared on 18 April that the conflict in Ukraine “is a metaphysical clash between the forces of good and evil … This is truly a holy war we’re waging and we must win.”  It is difficult to reconcile such rhetoric with the “special operation” language Putin used on 24 February 2022.

Apocalyptic language about holy wars that must be won is disquieting given how often Russian media personalities, officials and politicians allude to nuclear weapons.  In reflecting on nuclear war Putin once said “why do we need this world if there is no Russia?”   

Russia has been investing heavily in “first strike” nuclear weapons that can defeat all countermeasures.  It also has tactical nuclear weapons and military protocols over their use within a conventional conflict.  It now seems to have a nuclear technological edge over the United States. 

Far-right autocracies tend to be strengthened by real or imagined enemies the population can rally against.  Putin has consistently framed “the west”, especially the United States as Russia’s enemy.  He has worked most actively from about 2014 to undermine western democracy and values, and to encourage “identity politics” and separatist movements that weaken the west.

Some Russians are contemptuous of Ukrainians, even while contending they are close family and not strangers or enemies!  Nobel Prize winning writer Joseph Brodsky’s poem On Ukrainian independence is an ill-tempered ethno-nationalistic example.  However, “neo-Nazism” goes beyond contempt and ethno-nationalism and always involves pathological hatred. For example, in New Zealand the He Puapua document that proposes anti-democratic constitutional change is a deeply racialist, ethno-nationalist document.  It is not however a hate-filled document.

What now comes through from the Russian government and media is hatred towards Ukrainian people.  On 3 April 2022 the Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti published an article by Timofei Sergeitsev on what should Russia do with Ukraine  It comes close to inciting mass executions of Ukrainians as occurred at Bucha.  Significantly, after international publicity about the Bucha massacre, Putin bestowed the honorary title of “Guards” on the 64th Motor Rifle Brigade, the unit held responsible for the atrocities.  This is a tacit endorsement, if not encouragement of such war crimes.

In 2000 Putin said that “history proves that all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient.  Only democratic systems are not transient.  Whatever the shortcomings, mankind has not devised anything superior.”  He says quite different things in 2022, perhaps because the mask has slipped and the real Putin has revealed himself, or because autocratic power has corrupted him.

Autocrats concentrate power, which means they can be decisive and effective.  It also means they must take personal responsibility when things go wrong.  Putin’s belief that “Nazis” ran Ukraine implied most Ukrainians would welcome Russians as liberators.  However, the Ukrainian nation united and defeated the Russian army’s attempts to seize Kyiv and other cities.  Putin was accountable for the Russian failure, however so far it has not been too damaging for him politically.

Autocrats may or may not be charismatic, however they attend to their image and the media falls in line with this.  Putin’s image is carefully honed.  Putin bare chested in Siberia, hunting with a high-powered rifle!  Putin holding a candle in church in an outbreak of performative religiosity.  Diving to recover ancient Greek amphora!  Putin wrestling a black bear, or warding off a pack of hungry wolves with a flaming brand.  And so it goes on until he appears more frail and ill-starred by events and his image starts to fade.

We will learn a lot from Vladimir Putin’s speech later today at the 9 May Victory celebration event.


Markevich, A. et al 2021. The Political-Economic Causes of the Soviet Great Famine, 1932-33.  NBER Working Paper 29089.

Posted in History, Maori, Politics, Russia | 7 Comments

A Russian state media article on “what should Russia do with Ukraine” – is it chilling, a wake-up call, or something else?

On 3 April the Russian state media outlet RIA Novosti published an article by one Timofei Sergeitsev titled “What should Russia do with Ukraine”  It argues that Ukraine is run by Nazis and that Russia’s main objective should be “denazification”.  It contends that “The collective West itself is the designer, source and sponsor of Ukrainian Nazism.” It states that “Denazification wilI inevitably also be a de-Ukrainization…the de-nazification of Ukraine is also its inevitable de-Europeanisation”. 

The article suggests that Ukraine’s statehood and cultural identity should be eliminated.  It seems to leave open the possibility of a residual state in the “Catholic province” in western Ukraine.  The Russian Orthodox church has blessed the “special operation”, and no doubt Mr Sergeitsev believes God is on his side.  

The article comes close to advocating mass executions.  It was published during a time of extensive coverage of the discovery of the bodies of civilians allegedly murdered by Russian soldiers in Bucha.  Mr Sergeitsev’s article risks mandating further such atrocities.  If this happens, may “God” forgive him.

The article was published in a state media outlet, which implies some official mandate. However, it is so likely to inflame hostility to Russia, and it so incriminates its government that its publication may have been in error – an editorial oversight. 

Mr Sergeitsev’s article may be retracted.  However, milder versions of his arguments are heard in other Russian outlets.  This is troubling for those of us who love both Russian and Ukrainian peoples and cultures, and who abhor violence. 

The argument, from what appears to be a Russian far-right nationalist, that Ukraine is run by “Nazis” has a self-satirising flavour.  It requires a detailed critique at a later date. 

In the meantime, the folk songs below reflect Ukrainian cultural richness and uniqueness.  Russian songs are also included, because cultural exchange must be fostered and not sanctioned or “cancel-cultured”.  The war is ultimately not between Ukrainians and Russians.  It is between democracy, human rights and self-determination versus authoritarianism and nationalistic aggression.

Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks have gifted songs and other cultural treasures to the world.  This song is a classic:

Ukrainian folk song – A Cossack rode across the Danube

Taras Shevchenko is for Ukrainian poetry and language what Pushkin is for Russian.  This Ukrainian song sets a Shevchenko poem to music:

The Mighty Dnieper Roars and Bellows

A chilling, and brilliantly done version of a Ukrainian folk song:

Oh, don’t go Hryts

A Ukrainian patriotic song, sung by Eileen:

Oh in the meadow red viburnum

The Ukrainian national anthem has a beautiful melody.  There are many excellent online versions – see links below:

Children sing Ukrainian national anthem

 Ukrainian singers perform the national anthem remotely

Ukrainian national anthem with some scenes from Ukrainian history

A Ukrainian song accompanied by traditional Ukrainian string instruments:

Oh, and on the mountains the reapers are reaping

A famous Ukrainian folk song.  Note that the Kuban Cossack choir alluded to is a Russian ensemble that sings mostly in Russian and sometimes in Ukrainian.  It also turns poems into songs, including Ukrainian poems:

Ukrainian Folk Song ‘Young Halya’ Kuban Cossacks slideshow

Like Ukrainian culture, Russian folk songs traverse frontiers:

March of the Exiles

A (hilarious) excerpt from a 1948 film where Soviet (not “Russian” or “Ukrainian”) wheat farmers sing while working in the wheat fields – working only for the honour and joy!  Those were the days and why did they ever end?  Now we can see why “the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of our times!”

Ivan Pyriev. Cossacks of the Kuban (1948)

Posted in Cultural issues, History, Politics, Russia | Leave a comment

If key decisionmakers listen carefully and with open minds to this interview peace will break out in Ukraine, and will endure

Some wisdom from Finland, an interview

Posted in Cultural issues, History, Politics, Russia | Leave a comment

Some Ukrainian (and Russian) songs for peace

To lighten these dark times this Ukrainian joke song is as much beloved by Russians as by Ukrainians: You tricked me

Ukrainians and Russians share Cossack culture – this Ukrainian folk song could just as easily be Russian: A Cossack rode across the Danube

The struggle for democracy and human rights is as much in Russia as in the Ukraine: A Moonlight Night – Dedicated to All Brave Ukrainian and Russian People who stand up to tyranny

Folk songs convey through the generations wisdom that endures the test of time, such as in Oh, it is not yet evening  where impetuous leaders are warned they can lose their heads…A version with English subtitles and special appeal to horse lovers is: here

I am not naturally religious, but on other hand there are no atheists in a fox hole, and this song is strangely calming: Russian spiritual song: The Good Shepherd

Two leaders are contending in the struggle.  One is brave, humanistic, inclusive and true, however his country lacks both guns and butter.  The other is smart, articulate, calculating and powerful, however he cannot cough up historical furballs and he has isolated himself from others.

Tolstoy counselled to “give the enemy a golden bridge home.”  The respective leaders need to deescalate, acknowledge each other’s mana, and agree on a just and enduring peace.

Posted in Cultural issues, History, Politics, Russia | Leave a comment

How should the education and training sector respond to the Tiriti o Waitangi provisions in the Act?

How should the education and training sector respond to the Tiriti o Waitangi provisions in the Act?

The education sector must respond to Tiriti o Waitangi provisions outlined in S9 of The Education and Training Act 2021

High-level expectations include honouring Te Tiriti, acknowledging its principles, and supporting Māori-Crown relationships.  Plans, policies and curricula are expected to reflect tikanga Māori, mātauranga Māori and te ao Māori. Instruction in tikanga Māori and te reo Māori are encouraged.  Schools are expected to achieve equitable outcomes for Māori students. 

The challenge is to understand Te Tiriti, including its context and limitations, and draw on guidance it can offer to achieve better outcomes for students and learners, including in workplace learning. 

Anne Salmond’s Iwi vs Kiwi: Beyond the Binary offers insights into Te Tiriti and the issues associated with it.  Te Tiriti can also be seen as a foundation for inclusive democracy in New Zealand. 

To achieve equitable outcomes for Māori and other New Zealanders school system performance must improve.  This requires rebalancing away from child-led learning to more direct instruction, more structured literacy, including phonics, and the development of genuinely national curricula so all students benefit from rich disciplinary knowledge.

Tino rangatiratanga is achieved when individuals and whānau have the education, income, assets and net worth to have choices in their lives, that is to self-determine.  Some rebalancing may be needed from meritocracy to equity-based approaches to education, workplace learning and labour market functioning.

Te Tiriti is not a detailed operational manual.  However, understanding Te Tiriti can inform how we relate to others in educational and work environments, with a particular focus on inclusiveness, equity and mana-enhancement. 

The Treaty/Tiriti is an international agreement that is a starting point for New Zealand’s constitutional evolution.  International treaties are enforceable domestically when they are translated into domestic law and regulation. The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 established representative government in New Zealand and created one of the world’s oldest continuously operating Parliaments.

The New Zealand Constitution Act 1986 is now our key constitutional document. It recognises the Queen as head of state.  However, in practice the 1986 Act marks the point where the elected Parliament became fully sovereign, with the Crown’s roles being symbolic and procedural.  It is now Parliament not the Crown that makes laws.  It is the elected government and its executive that has relationships with its citizens, not Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth the Second or an ill-defined Crown.

The Treaty/Tiriti marks New Zealand becoming a British colony and the 1986 Act marks New Zealand becoming an independent democracy.

The Treaty of Waitangi and Te Tiriti o Waitangi are often seen as the same document in two different languages. 

The preamble to the English language Treaty of Waitangi states the need for the rule of law.  Article One asserts Crown sovereignty.  Article Two protects property rights.  Article Three makes Māori Crown subjects.  However, Te Tiriti is the more authoritative text.  It has more subtle nuances, was openly debated with rangatira, and of 540 Māori signatories all but 39 signed the Māori language version. 

We need to understand what Te Tiriti meant for the signatories in 1840.  We should avoid “presentism”, that is substituting what Te Tiriti actually says for what we would like it to say. For example, Te Tiriti refers to our country as ‘Nu Tirani’, a transliteration of New Zealand. The word ‘Aotearoa’ is not used and is a later neologism.  ‘Taonga’ in 1840 meant tangible property, not for example language, water or broadcasting spectrum. 

Before European contact, collective identity existed at iwi, hapu and whanau levels and there was no nationhood concept.  The 1844 Williams dictionary defines ‘maori’ to mean ‘normal’, ‘usual’ or ‘ordinary’.  The use of ‘Māori’ as a noun to describe an ethnic group came after Te Tiriti.

The Treaty of Waitangi is written in formal statecraft language, whilst Te Tiriti is more relational and personalised.  Anne Salmond argues that Te Tiriti is a multi-lateral document based on gift exchange, whakapapa relationships, and recognition of individuality and diversity within an equal rights framework. This contrasts with a supposed Māori-Crown equal partnership relationship that has no constitutional basis and leads to ‘iwi versus kiwi’ tension.

Whakapapa relationships are wider and more meaningful than ancestral bloodlines. The number of ancestors anyone has doubles with each generation – two parents, four grandparents, eight great grand-parents and so the genealogical record runs backwards into deep time.  Going back 33 generations (or about 1000 years) gives everyone 8,589, 934,592 ancestors.  Going back a few thousand years sees everyone’s family tree converging.  In Salmond’s conceptualisation, whakapapa can encompass holistic relationships going beyond bloodline and including connections with natural environments.  In Te Tiriti everyone is included in whakapapa networks and in whanaungatanga (kinship, close connections between people).

Rangatira rather than ariki acted for Māori in Te Tiriti discussions and ratification.  In traditional Māori society ‘ariki’ were first-born chiefs in high-ranking whanau.  However, rangatira as hapu chiefs had deeper links with their communities and the mana to speak for them.  Rangatira listened to their communities and wove together and promoted their views. To fulfil their role rangatira needed humility (māhakitanga), integrity, generosity, leadership and persuasiveness.  Rangatira were held accountable through their wider kin and other networks.

Salmond notes the number and diversity of those named in Te Tiriti.  They include Wikitoria, Te Kuini o Ingarani (Victoria, the Queen of England); nga tangata o tona iwi (her people who are immigrants to Nu Tirani); nga rangatira (the chiefs or hapu leaders); nga hapu (extended whanau or kin groups); te Kawana (the Governor); nga tangata maori o Nu Tirani (the ordinary people of New Zealand); and the nga tangata o Ingarani (people living in England).

Te Tiriti therefore acknowledges everyone, and in so doing gives people dignity and social standing.  Many Māori cultural exchanges acknowledge other’s mana and avoid devaluing it.  Manaakitanga (caring for others) requires mana-enhancing behaviour towards others.  This fosters collegiality and upholds the standing of individuals in educational institutions, workplaces and communities.  It makes for a better learning and workplace environment for all.

Te Tiriti comprises a preamble and three Articles.  In the preamble the Queen expresses her concern for rangatira, hapu, for nga tangata maori o Nu Tirani, and for nga tangata o tona iwi (those of her “tribe” who had immigrated).

In Te Tiriti Article One, rangatira ‘gift’ to the Queen “kawanatanga katoa o o ratou Wenu” (all the Governorship of their lands).  In Henry William’s translation, ‘kawanatanga’ is a neologism.  In Sir Hugh Kawharu’s view, ‘kawanatanga’ means ‘government’. 

Having observed British governance in Australia, rangatira understood it meant the power to make laws and enforce them, even on life and death matters.  For example, in December 1838 the New South Wales Governor George Gipps hung seven white settlers who had been found guilty of murdering 28 Aboriginals in the June 1838 Myall Creek Massacre. 

In 1840 Gipps countered speculation by Sydney-based investors in Māori land by proclaiming that no future titles to land bought in New Zealand would be recognised unless derived from a Crown grant. This now redundant provision was reflected in Article Two of the Treaty/Tiriti.

In Te Tiriti Article Two the Queen guarantees “te tino rangatiratanga” rights over lands, dwellings and other properties (taonga). This property rights protection was conferred on nga rangatira, nga hapu, and nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani (the chiefs, extended whanau and wider kin, and all New Zealand’s people).  It is likely that such explicit protections for all reflected not only Māori concerns but also British memories of the social devastation that crofters suffered during the Highland Clearances.

Tino rangatiratanga does not challenge the Crown’s Article One right to make and enforce laws and govern the country.  There is no rational or constitutional basis whatever in Te Tiriti for co-governance or equal partnership between Māori and the Crown.  However, the Treaty/Tiriti drafters understood that property rights protected by Magna Carta were associated with political rights. They also knew that English common law rights were implicit in tino rangatiratanga. 

In Tiriti Article Three the Queen promises to look after nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani (all New Zealand’s ordinary people), and to give them nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani, that is, all the ‘tikanga’ her subjects in England enjoyed.  In this context, ‘tikanga’ includes the rights of Crown subjects, and also the just and correct ways of doing things. 

Anne Salmond observes that in the Williams Māori dictionary ‘rite’ means ‘equivalent, balanced, alike’, and not ‘identical’.  For example, a koha is an appropriate gift as part of a long-term reciprocal relationship, rather than being the price paid in a self-contained and time-bound transaction. In the same spirit, Māori ‘sold’ or gifted land to Europeans to encourage trade relationships, foster literacy through missionary schools, and to access new food plants and domesticated animals, carpentry, flour mills, ship-building technology and so on.

Te Tiriti Article Three gives all New Zealanders equal rights as Crown subjects.  However, the signatories likely inferred that what things are done (kawa), and how they are done (tikanga) will at times differ between and within European and Māori communities.

Overall, Te Tiriti is a multi-level agreement that anticipated an evolving and reciprocal trust-based relationship.  It is egalitarian in conferring rights on all, rather than just on the powerful.  It fosters democracy since it reflects the large numbers of rangatira who acceded on behalf of ‘nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani.’  In contrast, the Crown’s position was determined by a few hereditary aristocrats and senior officials. 

What then are the implications of Te Tiriti for our education system?

Many Māori underachieve in education, especially as measured through such post-study outcomes as employment, incomes and avoided benefit dependency.  There are many reasons for this, including socioeconomic background, whanau mindsets, poor NCEA subject choices, cultural and geographical factors.

The most fundamental problem we face in education is our school sector’s performance decline over the last two decades. 

International metrics such as PISA, PIRLS and TIMS measure New Zealand’s school performance compared to other countries. In the early 2000s New Zealand was near the top of the OECD in schooling achievement.  By 2019 our scores in maths, reading and science had fallen both absolutely and relative to other countries.  In the latest OECD testing round, New Zealand recorded the strongest relationship between socioeconomic background and educational performance among all comparator English-speaking countries.

Māori would be major beneficiaries from enhanced school sector performance in literacy, numeracy and science, and from better informed disciplinary choices aligned to tertiary options and career pathways.

A balance is needed between student-led learning and direct disciplinary instruction. Children pick up socio-cultural knowledge outside school, but not core disciplinary knowledge.  Learning to speak a language is intuitive, however learning to write and to understand grammar and mathematical symbols have to be taught. 

New Zealand lacks knowledge-rich national curricula delivered to high standards consistently across all schools.  Schools are highly variable in what they deliver, and vulnerable students lose out.  Auckland University’s Elizabeth Rata and Briar Lipson through her New Zealand Initiative work have made a strong case for nationally-consistent curricula delivery.  This needs to be based on disciplinary knowledge that is powerful, transferable, and which creates the foundation for further learning.  The intent with curricula delivered across all schools is that all students, regardless of their backgrounds, share the same disciplinary and symbolic knowledge that is the foundation for higher education and lifelong learning. 

The New Zealand history national curriculum was a welcome first step.  However, the consultative draft focused on a narrow, race-based, ideological narrative.  Chillingly, it excluded the most bloody conflicts in our history – the Musket Wars.  This is akin to German history excluding mention of the Thirty Years War.  However, despite this one debacle the case for national curricula delivered in a consistent way across all schools is compelling.

Māori and other students who attain degree-level and higher qualifications generally do well in working life. However, better use can be made of post-study outcome data and labour market information to inform student choice.  Students must understand the NCEA subjects they need to take to participate in tertiary fields that will improve their socio-economic prospects. 

At tertiary education level, student retention and qualification completion have long been challenges for Māori and other students.  Tertiary institutions need to welcome students from all cultural backgrounds, whilst still treating all students as individuals.  Broad-based student support services, interventions triggered on cues that students are struggling, and effective careers services can all improve qualification completions and transitions to the workforce.

Free speech and critical thinking are increasingly threatened in universities.  Examples include the banning of Dr Don Brash from speaking at Massey University, and the illiberal social media storm targeting seven Auckland University professors who wrote a polite public letter expressing concerns over MoE initiatives relating to mātauranga Māori. 

MoE’s stated goal was parity for mātauranga Māori with other NCEA-credentialed knowledge, “particularly Western/Pakeha epistemologies.” The proposed new content aimed to “promote discussion of how science has been used as a rationale for colonisation of Māori and to explore the notion that science is a Western European invention and itself evidence of European dominance over Māori and other indigenous peoples.”

Auckland University initially fumbled in its response to the furore over the seven professors’ letter.  However, it regained its institutional composure and is scheduling a symposium on the relationship between mātauranga Māori and universal science.  In the tempest of words triggered by the professors’ letter no one was able to cite any Te Tiriti guidance that could be brought to bear.

Mātauranga Māori includes scientific knowledge as well as spiritual and sociocultural beliefs.  It is broad enough to encompass holistic, inductive and action research, and ways in which science can be held accountable to the community.  It can encompass how people work together, including in respectful and mana-enhancing ways. Some of the worst workplace bullying involves mana degradation, for example through people being ignored, excluded from networks and from key conversations.

Te Tiriti gives no guidance on universities’ core roles in innovation and in “generativity”.   Generativity encompasses teaching young people to think critically and creatively, and shaping a future that, being intergenerational, must have more rights than the present.  Te Tiriti is silent on generativity and on innovation more generally, however it does not constrain it – silence is not negation.

Education and training must support lifelong learning from early childhood through working lives. The education system supports equality of opportunity in support of a meritocratic system.  The more able or advantaged then compete to get to the top of their chosen careers.   However, the problem with such competitions is someone wins them.  There are far more losers or “also rans” than winners mounting the podium. 

Many influential philosophers, psychologists, behavioural geneticists and economists are now advocating moving the balance away from meritocracy and strengthening equity-based approaches to education and training, and to the organisation and structuring of labour markets.  Building on earlier Michael Young and John Rawls work, Michael Sandel argues that meritocracy-driven social mobility creates a minority elite of “winners”, whilst leaving most workers as relative or absolute “losers”.  Researchers such as Wilkinson & Pickett (The Spirit Level) and Case & Deacon (Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism) highlight the negative impacts relative income and status differences can have on health.

‘Equality of opportunity’ means everyone is treated the same regardless of their different attributes, circumstances and opportunities.  Some have good luck and some bad, “some rise by sin and some by virtue fall.” Failing to account for these differences and simply treating people as if they are the same can entrench inequality.

‘Equity’ goes further than equality of opportunity and means everyone is provided with what they need to succeed. This might mean giving disadvantaged students and learners active and tailored support to put them on a similar footing to their more advantaged peers. 

Kathryn Paige Harden seeks to recognise variance in populations in ways consistent with equity and social equality.  Reflecting Rawl’s influence, she argues it is our responsibility to arrange society so that it benefits everyone.  For workplace learning, Dani Rodrik proposes a focus on extending workers’ skills to enable them to develop in better jobs, and to adapt to and benefit from technological and workplace change.

Sandel, Harden, Rodrik and others are not isolated contrarians, and mindset change is happening internationally.  New Zealand has the government and industry institutions and initiatives that can support equity-based initiatives, for example MBIE, Workforce Development Councils (WDCs) and Industry Transformation Plans.  Any such initiatives New Zealand takes would have no direct origins in Te Tiriti, but would be consistent with the inclusive and equity themes that rangatira and the British Crown acceded to.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is an inclusive, colour-blind, equal rights document which reflects wide-ranging input from rangatira and the Māori communities whose interests they acted for.  It is the starting point for New Zealand’s constitutional evolution as a democratic, rights-based country and civil society.  As such, undemocratic and race-based co-governance models such as are proposed in He Puapua conflict with and violate Te Tiriti.

Te Tiriti is too high-level to give specific guidance on how our education and training sector should operate.  However, it lends philosophical support for an education and training system that is equity-oriented, caters for diversity and individuality, and discovers and fosters individuals’ talent rather than assumes that “one size fits all”. 

Te Tiriti and its underlying tikanga also amplifies the role of networks between people, and tempers hubris and self-inflation with humility.  Consistent with this, if upholding people’s dignity and mana becomes a lived value in New Zealand educational institutions and workplaces it will do a lot of good in people’s lives.  Some of this good may be measurable, some ineffable, all will enhance wellbeing.

Acknowledgement: to Dame Anne Salmond for her deep insights into Tiriti and other issues.

Posted in Constitutional and Treaty of Waitangi issues, Economics | 1 Comment

Peace for Ukraine and Russia requires mana restoration as well as lines on maps (and two Cossack songs we invite Vladimir Putin to listen to with us)

Peace for Ukraine and Russia requires mana restoration as well as lines on maps (and two Cossack songs we invite Vladimir Putin to listen to with us)

With Russia and Ukraine on war’s edge some reach for prayers and others for diplomacy.  Mana restoration is also needed, as are history’s lessons.

Vladimir Putin contends that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and that current tensions result from NATO’s expansion eastwards.  Critics argue his authoritarianism is destroying Russian democracy and human rights, and that he is threatening Ukraine to distract attention away from Russia’s economic problems.  They also charge him with reinventing Soviet history to gloss over the darker periods and to reframe it as a heroic time that saw victory in the Great Patriotic War and global leadership in many scientific and technological fields.

During Putin’s first tenure as president from 2000 to 2008 the Russian economy grew for eight straight years, with GDP per capita and real incomes increasing, unemployment and poverty rates more than halved, and Russian self-assessed life satisfaction rising significantly. This reflected high oil and gas export prices, recovery from depression and financial crises and associated with past economic restructuring, foreign investment, and prudent macro-economic and fiscal policies. 

However, in recent years Russia has failed to make much progress economically.  Thirty years after the Soviet Union’s break-up, Russia is still dependant on oil, gas and armaments exports. It has failed to reach the industrial sophistication of major western economies or of China.

Putin has drawn on Soviet era symbolism as if to conjure up a romantic image of past greatness for Russia, and by extension for ordinary Russian citizens.  However, Stalin’s forced collectivisation of Soviet agriculture caused millions of deaths in Ukraine in the 1932-33 Holodomor or “Great Famine”. The Ukrainian government asserts this was genocide targeted especially at Ukrainians. 

During the Great Patriotic War some western Ukrainian nationalists fought with Germany, whilst eastern Ukrainians overwhelmingly supported the Soviet war effort.

Russia and Ukraine share a long and troubled history, with much shared cultural heritage, and with high intermarriage from the Soviet era. 

Russia, Ukraine and Belarus share roots in the Kyivan Rus’.  This was an alliance of East Slavic, Baltic and Finnic peoples in Eastern and Northern Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century. The Kievan Rus’ began to decline during the late 11th century and it was devastated by 13th-century Mongol invasion, with Kyiv destroyed in 1240. Following this, Lithuania controlled much of the Ukraine until Poland took control within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under the Union of Lublin (1569).

During the 16th, 17th and into the 18th century, the Zaporozhian Cossacks were strong enough to challenge the Polish-Lithuanisn Commonwealth, the Russian Tzardom and the Crimean Khanate. 

In 1657–1686 came “The Ruin”, a bloody war involving Russia, Poland, the Crimean Khanate, the Ottoman Empire and Cossacks for control of Ukraine. In 1686 Russia and Poland divided the Cossack Hetmanate lands between them. 

After centuries in which Russians and Ukrainians interacted, Ukraine only united as one entity from September 1939 when Hitler and Stalin jointly invaded and then dismembered Poland. Galicia and Volhynia with their Ukrainian populations then became part of Ukraine. 

Vladimir Putin’s aggressive stance towards Ukraine has origins partly in the humiliation he and many other Russians felt in the wake of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact alliance, the Soviet Union’s break-up, and the pain that so many people went through as the Russian economy was restructured.

As a KGB officer in Dresden in 1989 as the Berlin Wall came down, Vladimir Putin saw the GDR authorities and the KGB itself powerless in the face of rampant public demonstrations.  That is, he observed first-hand the Eastern Bloc’s humiliation.  The lesson for Putin might well have been to never again surrender control.

Putin claims that after the Iron Curtain collapsed and Germany was reunited the US led NATO’s expansion into formerly Warsaw Pact states in breach of earlier assurances this would not happen.  In a 1990 meeting with Helmut Kohl, Mikhail Gorbachev agreed in principle to German unification so long as NATO did not expand to the east. The US Secretary of State James Baker assured Gorbachev on this. Jack Matlock, the last US ambassador to the Soviet Union confirms that Gorbachev was given to understand that if Germany united and stayed in NATO, the borders of NATO would not move eastward.  Others argue that no such explicit commitment was made.

Since the Cold War ended NATO has added 14 more member nations, ten of them former Warsaw Pact countries.  Many Russians across a wide political spectrum argue that this violates at least tacit understandings entered into over the 1989 – 1991 period.

Mikhail Gorbachev has long argued that the U.S. wanted to be the dominant global superpower and did not want competition from a resurgent Russia.  He has been critical of US “triumphalism” towards Russia. He rejected President George H W Bush’s contention that the U.S. had “won” the Cold War, arguing that both sides had cooperated to end the conflict. Subsequently, in 2008 President George W Bush actively pushed for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO – this formed part of the backdrop to conflict between Russia and Georgia in late 2008.

Russia has in its history often been torn between its traditional culture and institutions and western European influences.  Peter the Great looked to Europe for Russia’s modernisation.  Turgenev drew on European liberalism and progressiveness, while Dostoyevsky exemplified conservative, often Russian Orthodox Church-influenced Russian nationalism.

When he became President in 2000, Vladimir Putin wanted Russia to develop deeper ties with western Europe.  He was open to Russia joining NATO if it could do so as an equal partner.  That is, he wanted to uphold Russia’s mana and not allow his country to play a subordinate role internationally.  However, NATO’s continuing expansion eastwards and specific incidents such as the Orange Revolution street protests in Ukraine in 2004 deepened his distrust of NATO, and especially of the US’s role within the alliance.

However, in recent years the US has lost influence and partly disengaged from traditional alliances.  Its confidence has been dented through its Afghanistan withdrawal, and it faces challenge from an assertive China.  Ukraine and NATO do not want war, and given this, Putin’s aggressive stance seems unwarranted.

When it became independent in 1991 Ukraine pledged non-alignment between western Europe and Russia.  This option offers comity and good socio-cultural (and economic) relationships with Russia whilst also allowing Ukraine to become deeply integrated with western European economies and institutions. 

Precedent exists for such relationships.  After the Great Patriotic War ended and the Cold War began Austria and Finland both became neutral between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, while still remaining market economies and social democracies.

Former Ukrainian President Yanukovych opted to keep Ukraine a non-aligned state, and the Ukrainian parliament confirmed this in 2010. However, subsequently Ukraine has swung erratically between closer relations with Russia or with the EU.  After the Russian military intervention in Ukraine in 2014 the Ukrainian parliament renounced Ukraine’s non-aligned status. President Zelensky recently made a renewed call for NATO membership.

Russia has been invaded and occupied through the centuries and this shapes Russian psychology.  This psychology has also been shaped by Russian history since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc from 1989, Germany’s reunification, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. 

From 1991, the Soviet Union’s breakup and economic reforms undermined Russia’s economy and its social security system.  The tax base collapsed, undermining public services and marginalising top Russian public sector professionals.  Teachers, academics, and scientists found themselves earning less than ill-educated entrepreneurs opening bars, nightclubs and other private sector businesses. 

Beggars appeared on the streets of once-proud cities such as St Petersburg and Moscow.  Putin himself went moonlighting as a cab driver to make ends meet, and he never forgot the humiliation. Russian industrial towns that had once provided stable employment became reminiscent of the American “rust belt”. “Deaths of despair” soared as workers who had lost their pride and dignity turned to alcohol or suicide.

In 1992, hyper-inflation destroyed many people’s life savings and weakened trust in institutions.  Corruption became rife, and well-connected insiders (some of them former government officials) acquired privatised assets, with some shifting huge asset holdings abroad. 

While few would want to return to the old Soviet economy, many felt pride in the Soviet Union’s power, felt humiliated as individuals and as Russians, with much of this blamed on the Soviet Union’s collapse, and by extension on the external powers perceived to benefit from it.

A way forward is for a US-led NATO to treat Russia as an equal European partner and a significant global player.  That is Russia’s mana must be enhanced, noting that it has a far bigger population than any western European country, it is the wealthiest country in Eastern Europe, the biggest nation on earth with the richest natural resource base, and it is a nuclear power.

The US could commit to vetoing Ukrainian membership of NATO, which it has the power to do.  Ukraine could then focus on building deeper relationships with all its neighbours, with an independent foreign policy that poses no threat to any other nation.

There are more radical options that could be explored.  For example, Russia could apply for NATO membership, or NATO could invite Russia to join.  However, any such options would be contentious and negotiations on them would be drawn out. 

The most critical first step is for President Putin to de-escalate. Failure to do so risks drifting into war, without anyone actually wanting a war.

In tense times leaders must avoid triggering events that then get out of hand.  The Cossack song Oh, it is not yet evening is a salutary warning for leaders who might otherwise lose their “impetuous heads.”  

In Russian and Ukrainian Cossack culture the raven is a bird with supernatural powers.  It mediates between life and death, sometimes connecting dying Cossacks with their families. De-escalation is needed, otherwise the raven might become tragically busy.  One of the most powerful Cossack anti-war songs is  Black raven. Best to listen to it through headphones to harvest its full emotional power, and to remind ourselves how terrible war can be.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Did the Tohunga Suppression Act undermine Māori culture and wellbeing, enabling disharmony and inequity to persist until now?

In an opinion piece We must speak out against racism   the Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon stated that “Measures such as the 1907 Tohunga Suppression Act were introduced, undermining Māori culture and wellbeing, and enabling disharmony and inequity to persist until now.”  Does the evidence support this contention?

In pre-European times, tohunga were expert practitioners of rongoā Māori, the traditional Māori healing system encompassing herbal remedies, physical therapies and spiritual healing.  However, European contact and migration brought new diseases and a need for new knowledge to treat them. Some tohunga continued with their traditional practices and wove European health knowledge into them.  However, others did not adapt, and fraudulent “tohunga” emerged who lacked both traditional and European knowledge. As with Pākehā charlatans and “quacks”, they preyed on people’s superstitions and credulity and offered to “cure” all kinds of illnesses, often with disastrous results.

Key advocates for the Tohunga Suppression Act were Te Aute College graduates who were culturally Māori and educated to the best academic standards available in New Zealand at the time. Their teachers were highly educated Pākehā who respected Māori culture and often spoke Māori fluently.

John Thornton was Te Aute College’s headmaster from 1878 to 1912, during which he focused on preparing “Maori boys for the matriculation examination of the New Zealand University…I saw that the time would come when the Maoris would wish to have their own doctors, their own lawyers and their own clergymen.”

Te Aute’s founder, Samuel Williams supported Thornton’s vision for Te Aute students.  Both Williams and Thornton lobbied to have Māori language included at university level in BA degrees.

In 1880 James Pope was appointed Inspector of the 57 native schools then operating.  Pope was a polymath – a teacher, botanist, musician, and a Greek, Latin, French, German, Māori and Hebrew speaker and linguist.  Pope drafted a native school’s code that set high standards for schools. He insisted that Māori must receive at least as good an education as European children.

In 1883 James Pope visited Te Aute and described the standards reached in mathematics and science as “equal to those of any secondary school in the country”.  He strongly supported the College, and was present at the meeting at Te Aute in 1897 which launched the Te Aute College Students’ Association (“the Young Maori Party.”) 

Pope took a great interest in Māori health and was deeply knowledgeable on mātauranga Māori.  He was critical of tohunga capabilities.  He noted that tohunga could help with bruises and wounds, but described their overall approach as “all this folly” and stated that Māori belief in tohunga was no better than Pākehā believing in quacks. 

Pope’s Health for the Maori: A Manual for use in Native Schools published in 1884 was embraced by Te Aute college graduates.  Translated into Māori, Pope’s manual was used by the young Āpirana Ngata, Rēweti Kōhere and others as a basis for their campaigns to improve hygiene and sanitation to enhance Māori health. Decades later, Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana gave Pope’s manual an important place in his missionary efforts.

Te Aute educated many talented Māori including Āpirana Ngata, Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hīroa), Māui Pōmare, Edward Ellison, Paraire Tomoana and Rēweti Kōhere. Pōmare became the first Māori doctor when he graduated in 1899, followed by Peter Buck in 1904 and Tūtere Wī Repa in 1908. 

Ellison had grown up on a Taranaki farm where he observed Māori funerals passing the farm gate and attributed many of the deaths to tohungaism. This helped motivate him to a medical career which led to him succeeding Buck as director of the Māori Hygiene Division in the Department of Health.

In 1901 Māui Pōmare was appointed Māori Health Officer.  He had the same powers as district health officers and ranked below only the Public Health Department’s permanent head.  Pōmare understood that living conditions caused much Māori morbidity and mortality.  He tirelessly visited villages inspecting water supply, rubbish disposal and sanitary arrangements.  He was so concerned about the health risks of deserted whare that over three years he is reported to have burnt to the ground around 1,900 of them.

In his reports to Parliament Pōmare was scathing about the mortality tohunga caused through improper procedures.  Seventeen children died in one pā alone as a result of tohunga “treatments”.  Pōmare’s 1904 annual report sought legislation against the practices of tohunga. 

James Carroll (Timi Kara) introduced the Tohunga Suppression Act to Parliament in 1907.  Māori MPs such as Carroll and Ngata were advocating for improved funding for Māori healthcare, and they were likely concerned to distance themselves from tohunga.  Ngata indicated that tohunga would continue to be active unless better healthcare came available for Māori.

In a fine academic piece, Māmari Stephens (2000) noted the wider political, institutional and legislative context for the 1907 Act, the motivations of the key people involved, and the extent to which the Act achieved its objectives.  Nothing in her work suggests that the Act was intended to, or had the effect of, “undermining Māori culture and wellbeing and enabling disharmony and inequity to persist until now.”

The Act targeted any person who “gathers Maoris around him by practising on their superstition…professing supernatural powers…foretelling of future events”.  The Act did not outlaw those tohunga practicing, for example, herbal remedies that do no harm, even if they may not be effective.  No part of the Act targeted Māori culture.

While Parliamentary debates saw references to such Māori leaders as Rua Kenana, there was much more discussion about Pākehā faith healers, charlatans and quacks.

Prosecutions could not be undertaken under the Act without the Native Minister‘s assent. Given that James Carroll was the Native Minister from 1899 to 1912 this provided a safeguard against the legislation being used capriciously or punitively against Māori.

The Tohunga Suppression Act was supported by all Māori MPs and received Royal Assent on 24 September 1907.  It was followed in 1908 by The Quackery Prevention Act, which banned publication of untruthful claims about medicines.

Overall, the Tohunga Suppression Act was applied leniently. It was not used to target tohunga who practised without making outlandish and obviously fraudulent claims. There were around nine well-documented convictions under the Act, often involving patient deaths. The harshest penalty was six months jail for the “White Tohunga” Mary Ann Hill after several deaths had been attributed to her treatment. 

In themselves the Tohunga Suppression Act and the Quackery Prevention Act had modest direct impacts.  Vastly more important for Māori health was improving living standards, better hygiene, housing and nutrition, and of course more doctors and nurses. However, the Acts signalled that health services and products needed to be based on reason, science and evidence, and not on fraudulent and delusive claims that caused harm.

The Tohunga Suppression Act did not undermine Māori culture and wellbeing, nor cause disharmony and inequity.  In fact, much is owed to Māori leaders and their Pākehā compatriots who promoted the Act as a very small part of their lifelong service in advancing the interests of Māori people.

Further reading

The following are further reading:

Dow, Derek 1999: ‘Pruned of Its Dangers’: The Tohunga Suppression Act 1907. Health and History. Vol. 3, No. 1, Maori Health (2001), pp. 41-64.  Published By: Australian and New Zealand Society of the History of Medicine, Inc

Lange, R. 1999. May the people live. A History of Maori Health Development 1900- 1920. Auckland University Press, Auckland.

Stephens, Māmari 2000: A Return to the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907. Submitted in fulfilment of the LLB(Hons) requirements at Victoria University in 2000.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Welcoming the first day of spring, with songs from Bob Dylan, a Russian folk group and Shakespeare

Much folklore surrounds cuckoo birds in many cultures.  They welcome in the first day of spring – which in New Zealand is 1 September.

The cuckoo is a pretty bird is a very old English song, brought to life in a Bob Dylan interpretation:

Bob Dylan The cuckoo is a pretty bird

Cuckoos are mischievous.  They can symbolise untrustworthiness.  A cuckoo lays its egg in another bird’s nest. The cuckoo chick hatches before those of the host bird, and it then ejects the other eggs from the nest so it gets undivided attention from its adoptive parents.

This Russian folksong, with its delicate melody and harmony asks a cuckoo bird where it is flying to:

Russian folk song Where are you flying to cuckoo bird?

The cuckoo bird’s two-note call symbolised infidelity in Shakespeare’s song from Love’s Labour’s Lost, sung by the extraordinary counter-tenor Gábor Birta:

Gábor Birta, countertenor sings Shakespeare’s Spring Song from ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost”

Being Shakespeare’s words, they are beautiful read as well as sung:

Spring song

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he:
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks,
When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws,
And maidens bleach their summer smocks,
The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he,
Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!

Spring is not forever, and as counterpoint to the Spring song Love’s Labour’s Lost finishes with the Winter song. When spoken out aloud it makes you shudder with cold.

Winter song

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
“Tu-whit, Tu-whoo!” –
A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
“Tu-whit, Tu-whoo!”—
A merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Indigenous people, kaitiakitanga and biochar

Indigenous peoples created one of the most effective technologies to counter global warming, and yet the industrialised world still largely ignores it. What has gone wrong with how we understand, value and apply technology?

In the late 19th century, European explorers in the Amazonia found large areas of dark, high fertility soils amidst the region’s highly weathered, thin and acidic soils. These soils were termed terra preta (dark soils). They were likely developed by indigenous people who dumped near their settlements food scraps, manure and sewerage waste, ashes and charcoal.  Over decades these dumps matured into highly productive anthropogenic soil oases within tropical soil deserts.

The biochar-based terra preta soils likely began accidentally, and then through trial and error were improved and extended in area as indigenous people saw the productivity benefits.

Terra preta soils are believed to take around forty or fifty years to form.  They date back over a thousand years. They can be two metres deep.  Terra preta soil appears to regenerate itself at the rate of around one centimeter per year.

These carbon-rich soils foster microbial activity that improves nutrient availability and plant growth.  They typically double crop production compared to adjacent, non-biochar enriched soils, and they do so without exhausting soil fertility.

Indigenous peoples in Ghana and Liberia have also used biochar to turn highly weathered, nutrient-poor tropical soils into enduringly fertile, carbon-rich black soils.  Researchers from universities such as Cornell and the University of Sussex have lived and worked within these communities to learn how they created these “African Dark Earths”.  

Pre-European Māori modified soils with sand and gravel to improve drainage.  Charcoal might have been introduced to hold moisture and to help warm the soil.  Rigg & Bruce (1923) report charcoal in Waimea West soils.  Charcoal associated with Māori settlements has been dated as early as around 700 years ago (Calvelo Pereira et al 2014). 

However, terra preta-type dark soils akin to those in the Amazonia and West Africa were not developed in New Zealand.  This may partly be because Māori had strong cultural objections to using wastes such as manure in gardening.  As part of their “recipe”, terra preta soils require such waste inputs as well as charcoal.

However, biochar is now an integral part of the farming operations of Pārengarenga Incorporation, an iwi-owned enterprise in the Far North.  It transforms waste forest slash into biochar, which is then used for example as a cattle feed animal health supplement, until finally the biochar ends up in the soil as enriched manure.  This has proved profitable through pasture improvements and enhanced animal health lifting productivity.

Only in recent times has the importance of carbon in soil been recognised for its wider climate change mitigation and environmental benefits.  Soils contain more carbon than both terrestrial plants and the atmosphere combined.  However, since agriculture began around 12,000 years ago about 133 billion tonnes of carbon have been lost from soil.  Every tonne of carbon lost from soils adds 3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

A top priority in climate change mitigation is reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.  However, to avoid a catastrophic climate change tipping point, negative emissions technologies that sequester carbon in soil are needed.  We must therefore stop mining soil carbon and instead use biochar to restore carbon in soils by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Most soil carbon is labile, that is as biomass decomposes it re-emits carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as part of the fast carbon cycle.  In contrast, pyrolysis that turns biomass into biochar converts fast cycle carbon into slow cycle carbon, which is effectively permanent carbon sequestration.

Biochar is not soil or fertiliser. It is carbon with high porosity, high surface area and Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC). Porosity means biochar stores and recycles water, which is beneficial in arid soils. Porosity and CEC helps nutrient retention and recycling, and is associated with enhanced microbial activity and with healthier and more diverse soil microbiome. 

Biochar is a general purpose substance with multi-purpose functionality in diverse applications.  It can remove pollutants and yet retain water.  It can help recycle nutrients and upcycle waste.  It can immobilize at times and catalyse at other times. It can reduce methane and nitrous oxide emissions and reduce nitrate pollution in water.  It can be used to purify wastewater.  It can remediate contaminated soils.  It can enhance compost’s effectiveness.

Biochar can enhance the functionality and lifecycle environmental benefits of construction, food packaging and storage materials.  It can be used to make high-tech products such as super-capacitators. It can be used for activated carbon, carbon black, in paints, medicines, and as a decontaminant in biogas production. Above all, biochar can sequester carbon over intergenerational time frames.

As well as its productivity benefits, biochar could become the world’s single most important negative carbon emissions technology, and New Zealand is well-placed to lead on this because of our available biomass.  Given this, how can we explain why biochar has not been developed and applied widely?

Biomass is a very diffuse resource and expensive to transport.  It is difficult to achieve scale economies.  Biochar needs to be produced and applied locally and on a relatively small scale.  “One size does not fit all” with biochar.  To be effective, a biochar production regime must match a specific biomass source and pyrolysis setting to value-add cascades and to the final biochar end use.

Governments respond to concentrated lobbies, not individuals or small communities working in isolation.  Technocrats seek centralised solutions to complex problems that in fact require a decentralised and circular economy response.

Biochar technology would decentralise economic power away from the cities and to the regions. Biochar can be a tool for hundreds of thousands of individuals, communities, cooperatives, farmers, horticulturalists and small holders and it cannot be monopolised by a few large and politically influential companies.

Existing industries defend their financial interests by “buying science”. The science peer review process can entrench specialised disciplinary silos. Many scientists struggle to work across disciplines. Soil scientists and agronomists have delivered great biochar research, however this has not always been well connected to other fields such as climate and atmosphere science, animal health research, material science, and to climate change policy making.

Biochar sits uncomfortably with orthodox economic theory and tools.  It is best suited to the circular economy model. Biochar might be seen as an expenditure on an input when it is really an investment in an enduring productive capital asset.  Rather than depreciate, biochar endures in soil and its functionality can improve over time.  Kelpie Wilson suggests biochar is like an aged cheese where the quality is easy to recognise but the exact recipe and the effects of time have yet to be understood scientifically.  Biochar may be costly to apply initially, however once in the soil it enhances productivity over intergenerational timeframes. 

Biochar can be used for a wide range of economic purposes and then be stored in the soil as a permanent carbon store.  This effectively involves “value-add cascades”.  For example, making biochar produces some process heat and bio-oil that can be used, for example, in industrial processes.  The biochar can then be used for purposes such as removing nutrients from waste streams that would otherwise pollute waterways.  The resulting nutrient-enriched biochar then “value-add cascades” down to its next use in lifting soil productivity through fertilisation and enhanced nutrient recycling.  The final value-add cascade for this biochar is its inter-generational presence as a permanent carbon store in the soil.

A way forward with biochar might be to work with Māori and other partners to apply it in local farms, orchards and forests as part of an inter-generational kaitiakitanga ethos and kaupapa.  This could be customised around the specific soil and productive conditions, the intended final uses, and the value-add cascades that lead up to this.

Grimes et al (2015) reported that Māori placed more priority on environmental protection than non-Māori New Zealanders.  Inalienable Māori land cannot be sold and therefore it cannot be “farmed” for capital gains.  This forces the focus to be on intergenerational sustainable production. 

Whilst the legal ownership structure and the Māori sustainability ethos support biochar initiatives, biochar production regimes are highly differentiated depending on local factors such as soil types, biomass sources and desired value-add cascades and end uses.  Applied research, including pilot projects are therefore needed.

Integrated technical, economic and environmental assessments and pilot projects could be undertaken on different opportunities.  This might involve sectors such as dairy, sheep and beef, wine, kiwifruit, apples and field crops.  It might also focus on particular soil types such as low fertility, arid or poorly drained soils.  Biochar could be trialled as a compost additive and in animal health and bioremediation  applications.  Different biomass sources such as willows, forest residues and biomass waste streams could also be evaluated for their value for biochar.

Biochar initiatives with Māori and other partners would deliver results that can be applied more widely, and work towards global commons and intergenerational benefits.  Because Māori cannot fully capture the benefits of these investments there is a strong case for public funding or co-funding.  This should be invested in research and applied technology in support of Māori leading on their own lands, and in accord with kaitiakitanga and the supporting sustainable development kaupapa.


Calvelo Pereira; R. Camps Arbestain, M. et al 2014:  Detailed carbon chemistry in charcoals from pre-European Māori gardens of New Zealand as a tool for understanding biochar stability in soils. European Journal of Soil Science, January 2014, 65, 83–95.

Grimes, A. et al 2015: Indigenous Belief in a Just World. NZ Māori and other ethnicities compared.  Motu Economic and Public Policy Research.

Rigg, T.; Bruce, J. 1923: The Maori Gravel Soil of Waimea West, Nelson, New Zealand. Journal of the Polynesian Society 32: 84 – 93.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments