- Entanglements of Empire: Missionaries, Maori, and the Question of the Body by Tony Ballantyne
Scholars of imperial history should be familiar with Tony Ballantyne’s work. His first book, Orientalism and Race: Aryanism in the British Empire (2001) developed the idea of “webs of empire” to elaborate transnational connections between different sites of colonization that drew India, Britain, Ireland, and the south Pacific into dialogue over ideas about race. His collected essays have been recently published in Webs of Empire: Locating New Zealand’s Colonial Past (2014), concretizing why thinking with the structure of webs is important. From the idea of webs, it is perhaps not so difficult to move to [End Page 175] “entanglements,” which has been the subject of a forum and exchange in the American Historical Review (June and October 2007). The term is positioned to complicate the core-periphery or metropole-colony models of older imperial histories and intended to show the contingencies and uneven relations of power that shaped colonial engagements. For Ballantyne, the stakes of thinking with webs and entanglement are related: “Once people and places were entangled, or perhaps ensnared, in the webs of empire, it was difficult to control cross-cultural connections, and it was impossible to unpick history” (252). Unlike some of Ballantyne’s other publications, which tend toward the transnational and global, this monograph trains a keen eye on local processes that are linked to the British Empire.
The focus of this deeply researched monograph is on transformative entanglements between Christian missionaries and Maori populations in the nation now known as New Zealand. The book starts from the establishment of the first Protestant missions in 1814 and ends with the Treaty of Waitaingi in 1840, which marked the formal colonization of New Zealand. Although these dates are carefully chosen, Ballantyne avoids the teleology of British colonization. Instead, the book is a painstaking reconstruction of the moral disasters, crop failures, and mortality missionaries experienced as they settled on North and South Islands during their efforts to convert the Maori to Christianity. He upends notions that the missionaries experienced an easy triumph on their arrival in New Zealand, and instead argues that they were in constant negotiation with Maori rulers and their communities as they waged a struggle over ideas of cosmological, economic, and social significance. Maori attachments to atua (which is loosely translated as gods or spirits) and tapu (which resonates with taboo, representing ideas of sacred) rendered many Christian teachings alien. Reconciling Maori cosmologies with Christian ideas of suffering and salvation was a process, one Ballantyne reconstructs with some attention.
The chapters are organized thematically—there are chapters devoted to bodies, space, time-discipline, sexuality, and death. This method allows Ballantyne to examine key sites of cultural exchange and contestation in which missionary aspirations were limited and transformed by Maori beliefs and practices. At the heart of this book are several key figures: Samuel Marsden, who developed a vision for New Zealand when he was sent to New South Wales in 1794; Maori chiefs Te Pahi, Ruatara, and Hongi Hika, who were Marsden’s first interlocutors; and William Yate, a controversial missionary with oversized ambitions. Marsden’s relationships with Maori chiefs were foundational to the missionary enterprise as he provided agricultural technology and offered opportunity for trade and increased literacy. As Ballantyne shows, some Maori chiefs found lands on which missionary families could settle. In a close reading of the location of two settlements, Ballantyne shows the ways in which one missionary settlement thrived and became economically self-sufficient with its ability to grow enough vegetables for the community, while another foundered with poor land. His study of the mission-style house in these early settlements reveals the ways in which newly built homes for missionary families were built with separate rooms for sleeping, eating, and reading, keeping men and women segregated. In contrast, the Maori stayed in whares, which were configured with different ideas of sociality and gender in mind. Conflicts over time management and work...