Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century
By James Belich
This immensely readable book, full of drama and humor as well as scholarship, is a watershed in the writing of New Zealand history. In making many new assertions and challenging many historical myths, it seeks to reinterpret our approach to the past.
Given New Zealand's small population, short history, and great isolation, the history of the archipelago has been saddled with a reputation for mundanity. According to James Belich, however, it is just these characteristics that make New Zealand a historian's paradise: a laboratory whose isolation, size, and recency is an advantage, in which the grand themes of world history are often played out more rapidly, more separately, and therefore more discernably, than elsewhere.
The first of two planned volumes, Making Peoples begins with the Polynesian settlement and its development into the Maori tribes in the eleventh century. It traces the great encounter between independent Maoridom and expanding Europe from 1642 to 1916, including the foundation of the Pakeha, the neo-Europeans of New Zealand, between the 1830s and the 1880s. It describes the forging of a neo-Polynesia and a neo-Britain and the traumatic interaction between them. The author carefully examines the myths and realities that drove the colonialization process and suggests a new living version of one of the most critical and controversial documents in New Zealand's history, the Treaty of Waitangi, frequently descibed as New Zealand's Magna Carta. The construction of peoples, Maori and Pakeha, is a recurring theme: the response of each to the great shift from extractive to sustainable economics; their relationship with their Hawaikis, or ancestors, with each other, and with myth.
Essential reading for anyone interested in New Zealand history and in the history of new societies in general.