Saturday 17 February 2007
BI's Kindred Fantasies
The year is 1862, and the Angel Gabriel appears in New Zealand to a seer named Te Ua Haumene, revealing that Maori are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Haumene goes on to found the Pai Marire ("Good and Peaceful") religion, from which the violent Hauhau would emerge. The sect took arms against the British and adopted the Seventh-day Sabbath.
"The cry Hapa, hapa, paimarire hau, which gave the sect its name, was chanted by the warriors as they ran into battle with their right hands raised. This, they believed, gave them immunity from bullets." (source)
It was not to prove an effective strategy.
Earlier, the first interfering Anglican cleric to arrive on these shores, Samuel Marsden, mused that Maori had “sprung from some dispersed Jews.” It is not altogether clear whether he intended the remark in a complimentary sense.
In the Solomon Islands of Melanesia, inhabitants of Malaita Island also believe they are Israelites. In the recent civil war the Malaita Eagle Force (second picture) adopted the Star of David to emphasise their supposed heritage. The first European to set foot in the Solomons, Alvaro de Mendana, believed – with what reason is unknown – that this benighted spot was the site of King Solomon's Mines (hence the name.)
The Malaitans find convincing parallels between their tribal culture and the tales of the Hebrew Bible. Many believe that there is a lost Israelite Temple hidden in a shrine at the mountainous heart of the island. Others want to rebuild Solomon's Temple – there are two competing sites for the great project. Championing one is a “prophet” (and failed politician) with ties to American fundamentalist groups in Israel.
The vilest of Ugandan bandit groups, the “Lord's Resistance Army”, infamous for recruiting and brutalising children in its campaign of terror, has similar “neo-Israelite” origins.
Back in the Pacific, the Bine tribe of Papua New Guinea have also discovered their Israelite identity. When the helpful missionaries translated the scriptures into the Bine language as recently as 1972, the locals quickly became convinced that they were the subject of the ancient epics. No lesser person than the Govenor General (head of state) of PNG launched a book (more of a booklet really, it runs to only 20 pages) earlier this month by Samuel Were called Bine Mene: Connecting the Hebrews.
And in the currently not-so Friendly Islands of Fiji there's a local myth about Kaunitoni, a boat that brought the first Fijians. They were in fact Israelites who had wandered there via Lake Tanganyika!
That the history and scripture of the Jewish people have been stolen, appropriated, misused, and abused for so long and by so many is one of the tragedies of both religion and literature.
(I'm indebted to Michael Field's article, The Last Outpost of the Diaspora, appearing in today's Wellington Dominion Post, for much of the above.)