Jun 28, 2008

Historical Revision

Hyped by the local TV station as the Southern Hemisphere's finest cultural precinct, this is an interpretive display sign at the centre of things.

Amongst the information that it conveys to the visitor is the revelation that Christchurch is in fact a 700 year old community originally known as Puari, with a population of about 800.*

There's no historical evidence for this assertion, which would appear to be an unfortunate instance of the facts not being allowed to get in the way of a good story.

The notion that a Māori version of prehistoric events should not be questioned conveys the idea that they have some privileged access to the truth. And when people sense that they are held to account by a different standard of evidence to everyone else, they understandably begin to reinterpret their past in line with current values and expectations rather than hard evidence.

* Puari was a large settlement at Port Levy on Banks Peninsula. Known to European whalers from the later 1820s, the population had declined by the mid 1840s, as a consequence of inter-tribal warfare and disease, to about 300 Māori and 12 Europeans.

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