A Civilizing Mission?

Columbus’s diaries record he was to find wealth for his sponsors

For centuries we have been repeatedly told that the colonizer ventured abroad into distant lands to ‘bring [the benefits of] civilization’. The images brought to us from those eras however, far from endorse this. Do any of them speak to you of a civilizing mission? Note in the very early images we see (when there was no shame at their raping and pillaging) how the brown man is generally pictured carrying burdens for the white man? Often he can be seen sitting in the canoe while the brown man paddles it. Or reclining on a stretcher of sorts while the brown man carries him. And yes the hijacking by these people of free labour was not confined to non-whites, in the case of the British, they also enslaved their own closer to home. The Irish and Scots were forcibly dispossessed of their lands, made homeless and even shipped abroad, all to make way for more profitable sheep farming. The 1600s saw the sale of 30,000 Irish prisoners into slavery.

The people who were forced into labour by the colonizers were by all accounts paid either a pittance or not paid at all, their hospitality taken complete advantage of. Indigenous people shared their lands for the newcomers to dwell on and frequently helped them to survive in the new environment, only to find their hospitality was repaid with wholesale theft. Note also that the latter crimes came only when their numbers were enough to ensure they could successfully overrun them.

NZ’s Dr Hirini Moko Mead  describes three phases in the process of colonization. The first phase he called the ‘friendly accommodating phase’, then the ‘wars of domination’ and finally the ‘myth making phase’. During the friendly phase everyone got along, trading with each other and enjoying a fairly mutually beneficial relationship. It was set to become more symbiotic however and the wars of domination enforced that. The settlers wanted land, and the owners didn’t want to sell. From there sprang land wars and covert methods of genocide including policies of assimilation.

The colonial histories made heroes of those who fought and killed to obtain land and in NZ’s case, under the auspices of the NZ Government and their Land Taking Court … Von Tempsky was a part of those wars. The sign in his memory is in Normanby where Māori defended their confiscated lands at the battle of te Ngutu o te Manu

The myth making phase refers to the cover up of the whole process whereby everything is officially written into histories that are more palatable, histories that celebrated European murderers as heroes and saw streets named after them.

Mead’s ‘myth making phase’ stereotyped non-white people as ‘lazy’, in fact their free labour built the empires of the colonizers  Photo: Blackfulla Revolution

They took the children and forbade them to speak their own native language. In some countries they were plucked from their parents and raised in prisons and labour camps masquerading as boarding schools (see Ward Churchill’s ‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man’) trained specifically for menial jobs. There they were subject to all manner of atrocities and abuse from which many little ones tried to run. Australian Aboriginal mothers lived in terror and fear of the arrival of Police on horseback to take their babies, never to be seen again, known as the ‘stolen generation’. Such trauma as separation from family and subsequent horrific abuse has produced generations of wounded, damaged people who resort in adult life to such self medication as alcohol and drug abuse. They are of course blamed for their predicament, however it’s a well known fact that trauma continues to visit its devastation upon each succeeding generation (PCSD) until some kind of intervention and healing takes place. If you find PCSD difficult to accept (mainstream delight in debunking it and saying ‘there is no excuse’) see the more recent and stark example in the 1970s of the forced relocation of the Chagossian people from their homeland Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. One woman’s husband collapsed and died of stroke when he heard at the travel terminal that the British authorities had forbade them to return home. Her two young children died soon after the trauma of relocation. Many many more of her people also died from suicide, addictions and deprivation. This is raw PCSD that cannot be argued with. It is one thing to be relocated through disaster or war, but quite another to be forcibly relocated by persons motivated by lies, greed and power.

The missionaries (knowingly or otherwise) were very much a part of the friendly phase.  In NZ’s case, Henry Williams, who translated the Treaty of Waitangi into Maori, reminded everyone at the signing of the Treaty that ‘were it not for the missionaries they would not be here this day, nor be in possession of a foot of land in New Zealand’ (Colenso, cited by H. Mead p103). They would later be accused of raising Māori eyes heavenward whilst their lands were taken from under them. This was reinforced by the fact that when the land wars broke out some missionaries were seen to be on the side of the military and not for them. For this reason Rev Thomas Grace would have no part of the wars and refused to be even a military chaplain.

The following images demonstrate nothing of a civilizing intent. It is all about the powerful lording it over those who had land and resources. What is particularly distasteful is that these powerful ones came with the Gospel preaching that ‘righteousness exalts a nation’ (in the case of Great Britain). Their warfare was deceitful in that they gained entry with an initially friendly posture and a Gospel of peace. It was later that the true intent became evident. It was noted that they fought on Sundays and burned churches and Bibles.

The wealth of the European nations was accumulated on the backs of slaves
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Fast forward to 1998 to gold diggers in Brazil featured on the cover of Kevin Bales’ ‘Disposable People’  – nothing has changed particularly, they continue indeed to be seen as disposable
Images like these can be seen in the archives of most colonized countries … the white guards, proud & shameless with their guns … their captives in chains, in this case in Australia
The Trail of Tears in America where 17,000  Cherokee people were forced in 1838, under orders from the US President Jackson, to give up their lands, then made to migrate on foot to present day Oklahoma, with an estimated 4,000 dying from hunger, exposure and disease
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Australia’s First Peoples, a peaceful nation, enslaved back then, and still subjugated and landless in their own country, a country with the worst human rights records towards its own indigenous, in the world
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First Australian people, free labour enslaved by their white ‘master’
In the African Congo, brutal Belgian King Leopold II (Britain’s Queen Victoria’s cousin) in a reign of terror, ordered the Congolese people have their hands amputated if they did not bring the daily required quota of rubber for him to build his empire with
A child in the Congo with a hand amputated, evidence of the brutality of King Leopold II of Belgium, Queen Victoria of Britain’s cousin
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The Scottish Clearances: from 1870 a 70 year period in Scotland followed seeing Scottish people driven off the lands they’d lived on for centuries to make way for more profitable sheep farming
The Scottish Clearances: people were forced to emigrate to other strange lands far from kith and kin
During the 197os the people of Diego Garcia were cruelly driven from their home country to make way for an American military base, many tricked off the island, others dumped on a ship bound for nearby Mauritius then dumped in an abandoned slum … many died of sadness, addiction and suicide
Police stand guard over five Ngāpuhi in NZ who had resisted the imposition by Hokianga County Council of a tax of 2s. 6d. on dogs. Indigenous societies were monetized by the introduction of taxes payable only in the colonizer’s currency, forcing them off their traditional and reliable means of existence onto the vagaries of an unstable monetary economy.  [Photo: Alexancer Turnbull Library, F. Barrett Collection Ref: 1/2-018754-F]

The land of our ancestors is stolen away from us …