Saturday 18 March 2023 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Opinion
The first question I wish to bring to your notice is in reference to the restriction of Chinese. Such was the question pitched to Queen Makea and Ngamaru and dignitaries on 8th June, 1900 at the Makea Palace grounds in Avarua, when then New Zealand Premier Richard Seddon addressed crowds on the occasion of the official reception.
If the Asiatics come here in large numbers, it means the deterioration of your race, he continued, and that they bring evils amongst you, worse than the bubonic plague, and that due to their immorality, opium smoking and bad habits, the result would be our whole race would be degenerated.
Such was the racist and destructive tone of the leader of the colonial New Zealand, that he felt to warn our traditional leaders of the same, and to impose as New Zealand had done, a tax, to dissuade Chinese migrants from coming to Rarotonga to settle.
This poll tax, was at the time 100 pounds in New Zealand currency, and in Rarotonga, ours was set at 25 pounds.
Seddon’s foreboding and racist warning was that we must do as New Zealand had done and change the legislation, to impose the same race-based poll tax against Chinese migrants at the same prohibitive level.
And Makea’s response was – “I should like the Act amended so as to make the poll tax 100 pounds. I may say, that I wake up in the morning and find a fresh China man here, and no one seems to know where he came from?”
Seddon’s reply was short and swift, to Makea’s agreement – restrain them; copy the Act of New Zealand and be safe.
In 2002, the New Zealand government officially apologised to the Chinese community for the injustice of the tax.
It would be easy to judge Seddon, on his government’s and maybe his own personal racist rhetoric, laws and position with regard to Chinese migrants, and even the response by Makea, but we do need to understand this was in a context of a 1900s world. A world where countries were setting boundaries, extending their reach, and where fear was the prevailing sentiment, especially with those we knew little of.
However, with the lens of a 2023 view, this sort of anti-Asian rhetoric and diminished views of others based on race or prejudice has no place in our country, in our churches, across our tables or online.
And we should examine ourselves if there are pockets of racist sentiment towards anyone, be they black, white, pink, green or yellow.
The problem with online negative sentiment is a lot of it is based offshore and does not reflect those often based in the home country as witnessed by the vitriol we have seen online lately, and raises the question of platform responsibilities to monitor response to articles and posts.
We may at times find ourselves taking on the views, prejudices and sentiment of others, especially when there is a power differential, and as much as I wanted Makea to push back on Seddon’s 123-year-old racist remarks and sentiment, we know it gives us reason to do better, and be better when we get the opportunity.
Our faith compels us to love first, to respond with kindness and to speak truth to power – we can do both.
And it compels us to see everyone through the eyes of a father who longs for a relationship regardless of race or creed, and as such shadows our response also.
Our family have Cook Islands/Chinese blood proudly running though our family lines as they do with so many of you.
We have had traditional leaders and will do in the near future who are both Cook Islands Māori and Asian, and we have had a prime minister and legislative leaders with both Asian and Cook Islands Māori blood ties.
Therefore, we cannot despise the roots of the tree and not in the process, hate the tree also.
In the words of former prime minister Geoffrey Henry “Te mataora nei au ite kapiti atu’anga kia kotou no te’akatapu i te kauvai aro’a – I am happy to join you in replenishing the pool of goodwill. So, let us all fill that pool of goodwill to each other to overflowing.”
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