Book Review: The Two Worlds of Maggie Papakura (2005) by David Andrews

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Maggie Papakura, probably taken in her house at Whakarewarewa. Photograph taken by William Henry Thomas Partington [ca 1910], courtesy of http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=1355

 Margaret Pattison Thom, who was later widely known as Makereti (or Maggie) Papakura, (1873 – 1930) is a fascinating New Zealand historical figure, because her story spans two contrasting worlds and times. She was born to an English father and Maori mother and grew up in a traditional Maori way—living in a whare, sleeping on the floor, and cooking over a hangi. She became one of Rotorua’s most famous tour guides and hosted thousands of visitors, including the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. Her natural charm and storytelling ability lead to international exhibition opportunities in Sydney and London, and the press of the time report her as being comparable to the most charming English woman.

She eventually married an English country squire and lived the kind of life unimaginable to her as a girl. All the while she is focussed on preserving and promoting traditional Maori culture, using this as her thesis topic for anthropology studies at Oxford University in 1926, although she died in 1930 before it was published (it was published eight years later by a friend).

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A different world: Maggie Papakura, 21 July 1913, taken in a London studio, courtesy of http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=29454

No wonder David Andrews was (clearly) fascinated by his subject. I am grateful to him for researching, collating and preserving Papakura’s story for future generations. He travelled far and wide and spent a lot of money piecing together her life. However, the writing often rambles and is repetitive, and the entire book is in need of a thorough edit. Don’t get me started on the random spaces before commas and other layout issues!But I can almost forgive these flaws because of Andrews’ dedication and love for his subject, and the inclusion of Papakura’s beautiful letters. This excerpt is from her letter to London’s ‘Daily Chronicle’, the headline of which read ‘Maori Queen as Critic: Her Regret for British Hypocrisy and the Sacredness of Love’:

“As a Maori I cannot understand how it is that you make light of this—the most important thing in the life of every man and woman. With us, both love and marriage are sacred things. In our beautiful Maori religion we believe, as perhaps you know, that everything that exists, was brought into being by the marriage of the earth and sky. In the beginning they were locked together in a close embrace. They were separated by their children . . . but the earth wept at being banished so far off. So the sun was given to light her by day and the stars to light her by night—and through these her husband looked down upon her and the little white clouds carried his message of love. . . . So it comes about that to the Maoris everything—sunrise and sunset, the flowers and the dew—brings its message of the sacredness of love. With us marriage is a sacrament and a married woman is more holy than anything else in the world. I know of nothing more impressive than our Maori marriage service, in which the bride is solemnly entrusted by all the gathered chiefs of her tribe, to the tribe of her husband, who accept the trust and will answer for it with their blood. Then the bride herself is warned that henceforth her life must be devoted to her home, in which she is supreme mistress, and to her husband and children. Although I hear so much here of the advance of women and, as you know, in New Zealand women have the vote—I have one myself, as a land proprietor—the English suffragist might learn something from the happiness and power of the Maori wife in her own sphere.”

‘The Two Worlds of Maggie Papakura’ is an important historical text, future editions of which, I hope, attract the generous editing assistance it deserves.

‘The Two Worlds of Maggie Papakura’ by David Andrews, Greenstone Publishing, Great Britain, 2005.

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