Remarkable man and life in two cultures immortalised in a book

Kuni Jenkins and Professor Alison Jones, tellers of an extraordinary story.
Kuni Jenkins and Professor Alison Jones, tellers of an extraordinary story.

The life and experiences of one of the most prominent pre-Treaty Maori travellers have provided rich material for a book.

Tuai: A Traveller in Two Worlds, written by Professor Alison Jones, from the University of Auckland, and Kuni Jenkins (Ngati Porou), a Professor in Education at Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, is the story of a remarkable young Maori, born about 1797, who actively contributed to European knowledge of Maori language and culture well before the Treaty of Waitangi.

To learn more about Pakeha society, and to entice settlers to the Bay of Islands, Tuai lived among Pakeha overseas. He worked as a whaler in 1812, and, while in Australia in 1813, taught Thomas Kendall, who was to become New Zealand's first school teacher, to speak Maori, assisting him in compiling the first teaching book written in te reo.

He then travelled to England, where he witnessed the Industrial Revolution, visiting factories in Shropshire, and becoming a guest at high society dinners in London.

With his lively travelling companion Titere, he attended fashionable gatherings and sat for his portrait.

On his return to the Bay of Islands in 1820 he found work as an interpreter for British naval timber expeditions, and as an instructor of French scientists seeking knowledge of the Maori people.

But unlike his people's rival, Hongi Hika (Ngapuhi), he failed to attract English settlers, sealing the fate of his Ngare Raumati people, who were dispersed by Ngapuhi following Tuai's untimely death, aged 27, in 1824.

"The book tells a Maori story. It focuses on amusing and poignant insider details of the earliest Maori attempts to strategically control Pakeha settlement in the North, and the earliest Maori studies of Europe," Professor Jones said.

The book provided an opportunity to learn more about the extent of Maori-Pakeha engagement, particularly in the North, in the years before the Treaty, she said. Readers could learn a lot about the earliest Maori explorations of Pakeha societies, and the contribution of Maori to Western scientific knowledge about Maori and New Zealand.

"It was great to meet so many Ngare Raumati people who wanted their story told," Ms Jenkins said. "New Zealanders generally know about Ngapuhi history and their leader Hongi Hika, but we know very little about Ngare Raumati, who were once a very powerful group in the North.

"It is often forgotten that from 1814 Maori tried to get Pakeha settlers for their own areas to boost their military position against rival hapu. So Pakeha decisions about where to settle had a significant impact on Maori tribal history well before the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840."

Tuai: A Traveller in Two Worlds will be officially launched at Auckland University's Faculty of Education and Social Work on Thursday week, and at Russell's Kororareka Marae on Saturday.

- Northland Age

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