Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Name it

In Encircled Lands, her new book about Tuhoe between
1820 and 1921, Judith Binney finds ‘evidence of the
inability of human societies in general to accept that
different forms of tribal, or even communal, self-
government can coexist with the nation state, without
challenging national sovereignty. This,’ she goes on, ‘is
the essential, and repeated, issue in the relationship of
indigenous communities to the larger polity within which
they live.’

Frankly, it would be nice if the larger polity could even
accept that correctly spelt Maori placenames can coexist
with the Pakeha nation state. The resistance to the correct
spelling of Whanganui speaks volumes about that. Now,
thanks to a report in today’s Dominion Post, we learn that
some people—including the ubiquitous Michael Laws
bleating inanely ‘Where does the political correctness
end?’—are scoffing at the Waitangi Tribunal’s
recommendation that Rimutaka, the long-established
name of the range of hills between Wellington and
Wairarapa, should be corrected to Remutaka.

'The story behind the area's name,' writes reporter Tanya
Katterns, 'is that a Maori chief, Haunuiananaia, an
ancestor of the Te Ati Hau a Paparangi people of the
Whanganui region, left his home in southern Taranaki to
pursue his errant wife Wairaka, who had run off with a
slave. During his journey, he sat down to rest on a
mountain and think about his quest. He named the
mountain Remutaka—which means to sit down.'

Fair enough. Good story. As a Wairarapa boy who has
crossed those hills hundreds of times in his life I’m
ashamed to say I never gave a thought to why we called
them ‘Rimutaka’ or, more commonly, ‘the Rimutakas.’
I guess I thought it had something to do with rimu trees.
Doh. So if Remutaka is what it should be, then bring it on.

Incredibly, this simple, sensible and unarguably right
idea is too much for former South Wairarapa district
councillor John Tenquist, who is quoted as calling it
ludicrous. 'Once again we are pandering to a minority,'
he says. 'We have some European heritage in this country
and, rightly or wrongly, it has been Rimutaka for over
150 years, so if it ain't broken, don't fix it.'

Rightly or wrongly? I guarantee that if people went
around persistently spelling Masterton (named after a
real historical person called Masters) Mawsterton or
Mesterton, Mr Tenquist would soon have something to
say about it. But of course I'm forgetting: all rights are
equal but majority rights are more equal than minority
rights. Doh.


Giovanni said...

The day we finally make Brian Friel's Translations compulsory reading in New Zealand high schools cannot come too soon.

Anonymous said...

following your correct naming principle, Masterton should now surely be known as Masterston!