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EMERITUS PROFESSOR REX AHDAR: The Four Knights

The Rt Hon Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, likes to trace his political lineage back to the pioneers of parliamentary Maoridom. I will refer to these as the ‘big four’ or better still, the Four Knights. Just as boxing had its celebrated ‘Four Kings’ in the 1980s (Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Thomas ‘the hitman’ Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler), so New Zealand politics had the Four Maori Knights. This distinguished quartet of Parliamentarians---James Carroll (1857-1926), Maui Pomare (1875-1930), Apirana Ngata (1874-1950) and Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa)(1877-1951)---were all knighted. They were members of the Young Maori Party, not so much a party as a collection of like-minded Maori keen to advance the education, health and status of Maori. Their essential strategy was to be educated in European ways and to use the Westminster system to promote the Maori people.


The four shared a common cause but naturally they were not identical in background nor precise orientation. Of the four, three had a European parent, Pomare being the exception. Three were university graduates, Carroll once quipping he was graduate of the ‘University of Nature’. Three were noted debaters and orators, Buck less so (and more the outstanding scholar and author).


The quartet had a string of firsts for Maori: the first university degree (Ngata), the first cabinet post (Carroll), the first NZ trained doctor (Buck). Some excelled in athletics: Buck was twice national long jump champion. All opposed to varying degrees the Maori separatists of their day and any talk of Te Kohitanga (the Maori Parliament). Buck and Pomare, the two doctors, supported the passing of the Tohunga Suppression Act 1907. Pomare was more welcoming of assimilation and the melding of Pakeha and Maori; Ngata more solicitous to preserve and foster Maoritanga and Maori arts.


Winston Peters in his most recent election campaigning was wont to brandish Sir Apirana Ngata’s Treaty of Waitangi booklet and was fond of rattling off the Four Knights as forbears in his political whakapapa.


Many modern Maori from the 1970s onwards have been inclined to diminish the feats of these Four Knights. Damned with faint praise, they were undoubtedly “men of their time”, but their time has passed and in this present context new strategies are required. The separatist strain within Maori political thinking has been revivified and drawn strength from the writings of the likes of Dr Ranginui Walker, Dr Hugh Kawharu, Prof Mason Durie, Dr Linda Tuhiwai Smith and, lawyer, Moana Jackson. These and other Maori and Pakeha scholars and activists have provided the philosophical impetus to this contemporary kaleidoscope of varying claims to greater autonomy and self-determination. The co-governance phenomenon is a destination for some and, for others, but a staging post for even greater realization of tino rangatiratanga.


For Mr Peters this is a retrograde stance that his forbears considered, weighed in the balance, and was found wanting. Imagine, if you will, Carroll, Pomare, Ngata and Buck on a Mt Rushmore of the Southern Alps. Winston Peters can. For him, the current crop of rather unimpressive and (comparatively) uneducated Maori politicians are not within cooee of the Four Knights. To use another boxing term, Peters lays serious claim to being the lineal champion of political Maori. It is hard not to agree.



Emeritus Professor Rex Ahdar, University of Otago

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109 Comments


Mr Chris Trotter agrees with you. That's why he wrote his May 24 piece on the Hon William Wakatere Jackson, ex Minister of Broadcasting. The Maori Party are we are supposed to recoil in dread and fear of, to the sweet loving and correctly thinking (for the stupid) accomplished arms of Mr Jackson, for which he is the cure to the former. Thats what Trotter is selling to what he must see as the rubes.


What Mr Trotter really wants is a cure for the course of events and public opinion well before the last election, where now the Left are seen in daylight as who they are.


The Maori Party are a problem, but only to themselves. And very…


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Sunflower
Sunflower
May 28

Those fabulous four paved the way for maori to lead a better life, in every way. These 'new found' stirrers, couldn't make it, so have used and now abuse the system that has given them so much. Is this bullying and insatiable quest for power and money really worth the ugly strife they are leading us towards? I know my family have flourished, and am grateful for English colonization.

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Unfortunately when Winston retires before the next election in order to get his knighthood, the NZ First party which relies on him as the figurehead, will fade into oblivion

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Replying to

If Peters isn't knighted, yet someone like Adern is, then you can trashcan the honors system as far as I am concerned.

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Tikanga is bloody awful. We aren't even allowed to sit on a table.

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Replying to

My heart goes out to you

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Get your gloves on Winnie, this country needs a fighter for democracy, not some wimp that crumbles at the first hint of discontent.......Luxon, step aside, for all our sakes....

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