Village of Parkuni, River Hokianga 1838

The Hokianga-Bay of Islands area witnessed earlier colonial interactions with Maori than most other regions of Aotearoa. Many Maori and Pakeha are connected with this region and their genealogical links are often interwoven through marriages, religiously endorsed or otherwise.

To Maori, particularly one who, like me, identifies with this area because my ancestors have lived here for generations, this image evokes mixed reactions. These relate to the artist's intention in making it. I ask, are the women depicted our tupuna (ancestors)? What is their status in relationship to the men they are speaking to, particularly as one of the women appears topless? What does Earle, who gives meticulous attention to other details of the 'village', intend to convey about this particular moment in time?

It could be that the artist is documenting an actual event such as Maori women's prostitution with Pakeha men. On a more morally respectable level, by our current standards, a marriage proposal may be underway. It seems at that time, alliances between Maori women and Pakeha men sealed successful commercial relations between at least two parties. Such a theory may be supported by the presence of a Maori male figure, in mid-foreground, who appears party to some kind of transaction. Perhaps he is a tradesman of some kind. If so, what is his merchandise: women or commercial survival for himself and/or his people?

Although the title refers to Parkuni, it is in fact Pakanae, a place with immense spiritual significance for us. It is the location our wairua (spirituality) that stays with us wherever we travel. It is understandable that Earle does not capture this spirituality, given the constraints of his time, but its narrow focus on colonial presence should not erase other kinds of Maori experience that took place at that time and have ever since. This work, then, for all its skill, captures only a moment in Pakanae's history. JD

Augustus Earle 1793-1838

Village of Parkuni, River Hokianga 1838
Hand coloured lithograph

The Fletcher Trust Collection

This lithograph is Plate 4 of a series of 10 from Sketches illustrative of the Native inhabitants and Islands of New Zealand, published in London in 1838 under the auspices of the New Zealand Association by Robert Martin & Co.

Such collections had a ready sale either to those with a then-fashionable taste for representation of encounters between Europeans and savages or those impelled by the colonizing urge. Earle was a keen observer of such phenomena, though in this case the lithograph shows a tidily domestic scene which belies his own written descriptions.

Two Europeans, one top-hatted and waistcoated, the other less formally dressed, are conducting some kind of negotiation with two Maori women, one of whom is bare-breasted. They are observed by a seated Maori figure wrapped in a blanket. The construction details of the pataka are clear. A fishing net is wrapped neatly around a pole. In the distance a two-masted sailing ship shares the harbour with waka.

An itinerant artist, Earle traveled widely after 1815, reaching Brazil by 1820. He worked in Rio de Janeiro for a period and in 1824, voyaging to Calcutta, spent eight months on Tristan da Cunha, having been abandoned there. He was eventually rescued by a ship bound for Tasmania and found his way to Sydney, where he lived for two years.

In October 1827 he sailed to New Zealand, where he spent eight months in the area between Hokianga and the Bay of Islands. Openly living with Maori, he incurred the displeasure of missionaries, in turn criticizing them for their prudish imposition of Western clothing on a people he admired for their "natural elegance and ease of manner. "

In 1831, Earle joined the Beagle, also carrying the young Charles Darwin, on its voyage to chart the South American coastline. Earle became ill at Montevideo and was forced to leave the ship in August 1832. In the same year he published the still highly readable A narrative of a nine months' residence in New Zealand in 1827. PS

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