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0197 Miriam Oesterreich, On the Popular Image of New Zealand in Nineteenth-Century Europe

RIHA Journal 0197 | 20 July 2018

"The native inhabitants, although cannibals, were a fine and warlike race" – On the Popular Image of New Zealand in Nineteenth-Century Europe

Miriam Oesterreich

Abstract

The New Zealand to be discovered in the popular media of nineteenth-century Europe is surprising: foremost because it is scarcely present. Other British colonies like those in North America and Australia were much-loved subjects for popular exotic pictorial inventions, for example in illustrations to Karl May novels, product advertising, posters for world exhibitions and the so-called ethnological expositions, or successful journals like Die Gartenlaube in Germany. Images of the islands and their inhabitants are noticeable by their absence in product advertising in Europe. Likewise Maori appear to have not featured at the ethnological expositions, though they do appear considerably in scientific and scholarly publications.

Hence, the essay makes the case that in this context high and popular culture are frequently not clearly distinct from one another in the nineteenth century: the scientific and scholarly literature served an extremely broad circle of interested persons in a bourgeoisie hungry for knowledge. The oil paintings of the academic Gottfried Lindauer, for example, were shown at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 in London side by side with ethnographic artefacts and a recreated Māori habitat in the New Zealand Court. Thus, the overall image of the islands conveyed in the Exhibition matched the contemporary taste of indulging in excessive impressions at such expositions. Textual descriptions and interpretations of what was seen also heavily featured in the press, while a few successful novels painted a picture of the typical ‘New Zealander’.

The picture Europe had got of the British colony New Zealand in the nineteenth century was richly faceted, albeit not particularly differentiated. The essay aims to describe these various facets and, moreover, identify how they depended on their popularity in the different media.



[1] In most colonies we are wondrously moved by the collision between native barbary and the colossal abundance of unprocessed raw materials with isolated products from the more refined luxury industry. […] While the colonial administrators show us the indigenous inhabitants of the land, dark, bushy-haired fellows, clothed with nothing more than a scant pelt, sitting in miserable huts devouring their animals half raw, right next door is a highly elegantly furnished room that could be showed off in every window of a street in London […].1

In 1886 the Colonial and Indian Exhibition was held in London, a show featuring the British colonies that, as the review quoted here and numerous other descriptions testify to, overwhelmed visitors, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Running for six months only, more than 5.5 million people flocked to the exhibition2 and turned it into a genuinely popular phenomenon. Amongst the exhibited colonies was New Zealand, an official British crown colony since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. In the section devoted to New Zealand, twelve Māori portraits by Gottfried Lindauer, which the official catalogue did not elaborate on, were shown in the gallery of Royal Albert Hall, along with consumer goods, raw materials, furniture and an array of peculiar artefacts.3

[2] In the tradition of the colonial world exhibitions, here the cultural artefacts of the colonies were brought ‘home’ to extol the colonial expansion of the empire – for the British and for the rest of European colonial society.4 A strategy of overwhelming was pursued, the various descriptions seem to be trying to trump one another, stringing together extravagant superlatives. In the interests of the civilising mission, the domesticity exported to the colonies was celebrated, while the colonial ‘other’ was dramatized into an exotic spectacle.5 Emphasis was thus placed on presenting the economically beneficial materials and products in detail and praising New Zealand’s qualities as a settler colony on the one hand, while representing the autochthon cultures as devoid of any civilisation on the other.6 The “collision between native barbary and colossal abundance” noted by Julius Lessing can be considered a paradoxical leitmotif running through popular descriptions of New Zealand in the nineteenth century.

[3] Nineteenth-century artists constructed an image of New Zealand in paintings and drawings that has continued to profoundly influence perceptions downto the present day. Gottfried Lindauer and Charles F. Goldie may be considered the best-known exponents, coming to public prominence, which extended to mainland Europe and North America, through their participation in world exhibitions or the aforementioned colonial exhibition.7 Here, the traditional culture and decorative arts of the Māori were also exhibited,8 while travellers, settlers, scientists and missionaries all published their impressions of New Zealand and ‘New Zealanders’ in books and prints.9 Moreover, the image nineteenth-century Europeans constructed of the Antipodes, the most faraway place on earth, was shaped by explicitly popular media, ranging from illustrations in popular novels, product advertising, posters announcing world exhibitions and ethnological expositions, or in press organs like Die Gartenlaube in Germany, or The Illustrated London News in Britain.10

[4] Besides literary representations and travelogues in great numbers,11 this popular image of New Zealand was generated through the visual rendering of ‘otherness’: postcards, posters, advertising for both exhibitions as well as products from New Zealand, entries and illustrations in popular lexica, trading cards, calendar pages, articles in illustrated magazines, illustrated broadsheets, and more. The images spread in this way were able – through their sheer numbers and everydayness – to implant a knowledge about New Zealand that, due to its low artistic aspirations, generally went unscrutinised. Here English- and German-language media play a pivotal role, for it was mainly Britons, Germans and Austrians, or other ethnic groups of the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, who emigrated to New Zealand. The argument I would like to present here is: in the late nineteenth century, art, science and popular culture were by no means mutually exclusive, but in fact overlapped in many respects, so that aspects of one genre could be integrated into and absorbed by others.12 World trade and imperial exhibitions were paradigmatic of this constellation.

[5] Although ‘discovered’ by Abel Tasman in the mid-seventeenth century, New Zealand first attracted broad public attention with the mapping of the islands by James Cook at the end of the eighteenth century. The first encounters between the indigenous Māori and the British were not only sporadic but hostile, with the British taking and settling the land. Early travelogues by Cook’s entourage describe New Zealand as a wild land, the Māori as bestial cannibals or alternately as ‘noble savages’ resembling idealised figures of antiquity.13 This ambivalence is distinctly evident in an engraving based on a drawing by the artist Sydney Parkinson, who had accompanied James Cook on the Endeavour (fig. 1).

1 Sydney Parkinson, “A New Zealand Warrior in his Proper Dress, & Compleatly Armed, according to their Manner”, in: A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty’s Ship the Endeavour: Faithfully Transcribed from the Papers of the Late Sydney Parkinson, Draughtman to Sir Joseph Banks […] and Embellished with Twenty-Nine Views and Designs […], London 1784, pl. 15 (photograph: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)

As the caption says, the plate shows the “New Zealand Warrior in his Proper Dress & Compleatley Armed according to their Manner”, an imposing figure with the muscular body of an Apollo of Belvedere who adopts the classic profile of Ancient Greece, is equipped with Māori weapons and adornments, and is draped in a fine Māori cape, which covers the body like a tent and thus conceals, but also intentionally leaves a part uncovered.14 Remarkably, this very same warrior reappears in the second half of the nineteenth century in a popular medium: in the Brockhaus Conversations-Lexicon from 1874 he is used to illustrate a “Māori chief” on a plate presenting the ethnography of Oceania (fig. 2).

2 Unknown, “Ethnographie”, in: Conversations-Lexikon. Allgemeine deutsche Real-Encyklopädie, Leipzig: F A Brockhaus 1875-1879, 15 vols., vol. 6, pl. 6

[6] The change in medium decisively influences how the image is perceived. Whereas the ‘warrior’ in the engraving appears as a single figure in the form of a proto-ethnographic presentation of types, i.e. as an ‘ideal’ representative of a cultural group, and thus – unlike Lindauer’s portrait painting – is not granted a higher degree of individuality, in the encylopaedia he is surrounded by objects of ethnographic knowledge about the ‘other’, a setting that sees him become one object amongst others, a mere clichéd set piece of an ‘other’ culture. Now a ‘chief’, the figure assumes a threshold position between high and popular culture, between an individualisation allied with progressive thinking and an objectification that comes to the fore in the process of culturally appropriating the colonial ‘other’. In a similar way, Omai, who travelled to Britain with Cook’s fleet in 1774 and was marvelled at as a Polynesian dignitary, particularly by the aristocratic elite, was mythically transfigured into the image Europe had of the ‘South Seas’: while eliciting astonishment15 everywhere thanks to his ‘exotic’ appearance and tattoos, Omai was simultaneously approached as an object for the purpose of producing early ethnographic knowledge.16

[7] This domestication and incorporation of the ‘other’ into the inventory of scientific and popular descriptions, together with the legitimising form of a naturalistic rendering, are by no means to be read as a neutral representation within the process of scientific ‘progress’. Parallel to the discourses on ‘orientalism’, they need to be approached as the expression of colonial appropriation and cultural incorporation, whereby their destructive potential is obscured by the realistic, often picturesque form.17 The pictorial ‘othering’ observable follows the characteristic features Stuart Hall has identified in the construction of the colonial stereotype: a binary structure traps the real persons behind the representations between two extreme positions, so that they are “obliged to shuttle endlessly between them, sometimes being represented as both of them at the same time”.18 With regard to New Zealand, this paradoxical configuration can be traced namely in the roles of the ‘noble’ and the ‘barbaric savage’; these are specific to the practice of representation when the colonizer comes into contact with the indigenous.

[8] A caricature in the satirical weekly Fliegende Blätter presents the Māori as the ‘other’ in the tradition of cannibalistic barbarians (fig. 3): the inquisitive “scholar”, portrayed in white, carrying a hat and umbrella and wearing glasses, asks the native fitted out with all the paraphernalia associated with savagery, whether he happens to be “anthropophagic”.

3 Unknown, caricature “Gelehrter einem Menschenfresser begegnend”, in: Fliegende Blätter 107 (1897), no. 2710, 8

Apparently superfluous because it addresses the obvious, the question is the fulcrum for the humour behind the encounter, with the depiction of the ‘New Zealander’ tending more towards that of an animal rather than another human. The eyes are hidden by the extravagant dark hair falling over the face, with only large thick lips and the tip of the flat nose protruding into view. The spear and shield are lowered, touching the ground, while his back is feebly bent over and his legs crooked – he does not appear to be particularly dangerous. Like thick bristles, his hair and beard go out in all directions and the sparse clothing made of animal claws and teeth is loosely held together.

[9] At the end of the nineteenth century another tendency emerged, one only seemingly contradictory to this satire: following contemporary ‘race’ theories, the Māori were now valorised as the ‘Aryans’ of Oceania.19 In stark contrast to the animal-like degradation of the Aborigines in Australia for example, the Māori were idealised as being ‘racially’ related to the Europeans – albeit precisely at a juncture when they had indeed ceased to represent a political danger to the colony of New Zealand, and were ideologically seen as a ‘dying race’, and without future prospects in their own land. These idealised Māori were also appropriated by popular media to facilitate the forging of a colonial identity, and New Zealand was affectionately called ‘Maoriland’ in this context. And yet the domesticated indigenous functions as an ornamental prop, as the decorous adornment to an all the more ‘English’ colonial territory. On a postcard from 1910 the indigenous is present in the form of an attractive Māori woman (fig. 4).20

4 Unknown, “Scenes in Maoriland”, no. 570: “Victoria Bridge. Christchurch. N. Z.”, postcard, ca 1910, photolithograph, 8.9 x 13.9 cm (photograph: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)

She frames what is actually represented, a view of Christchurch, which could just as easily be a scene lifted directly from England, and gives it an air of exotic and erotic attraction. While the representation of the indigenous woman takes up the tradition of classical allegories, at the same time a transference takes place that was typical of the massive commercial product advertising and trading cards around 1900: she invests the scenery presented with her own assets but without being part of the ‘real’ picture herself.21

[10] The Damen Conversations Lexikon from 1836 also describes the “wild inhabitants” of New Zealand in terms of all the clichés between the poles of ‘barbarians’ and ‘noble savages’:

They are such a beautiful breed, these people of New Zealand; the men are of large, powerful stature, so wonderfully built that they could serve an artist as a model, […] one would view them with admiration if their savage gaze, the dark skin of their bodies, mostly naked but ornately tattooed, did not give the most noble forms of nature such a threatening look. […] To the European, such daunting warriors armed with stone-axe, spear and bow and arrow are horrifying figures. All the more pleasing is the impression made by the softer and more attractive forms of the women, who, less disfigured by the splendour of the tattoos, radiate an allure with the eloquent glances of their beautiful eyes, the curly hair soft as silk and the petite clothes covering their feminine charms.22

This entry in a mainstream lexicon that, in a way characteristic of the nineteenth century, fused science and entertainment into a popular spectacle, epitomises how fanciful notions about the ‘other’ were paired with the authentication provided by the medium of the encyclopaedia, which in the form of the ‘Konversationslexikon’ enjoyed widespread circulation in bourgeois circles, a section of society who regarded themselves as the inheritors of the age of reason.

[11] The gendering of the ‘other’ is also prominent in this description: there is a strict distinction between the ascriptions given to indigenous men and women. As Anne Mariss has shown, the moralistic charging of the biologically and binary structured gender relations is intrinsically connected to ideas about ‘other’ spaces, whereby the colonial landscape is always given the role of ‘feminine’ nature.23 The colonial scientification of the image of New Zealand continued after 1840, the year the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the representatives of the British Crown and chiefs of the most important Māori tribes, with New Zealand now legally a British crown colony.24 Although increasingly settled, mainly by Britons, the monumentality and seemingly uninhabited endlessness of the stunning landscapes were stylised into the distinguishing mark of the islands. As a more or less unpopulated, empty land, New Zealand was the perfect research object for a positivistic empiricism. Here too in this pictorial ‘call’ for the (visual) ‘discovery’ of the landscape, with the central perspective directing the gaze inward, there resides a sexual connotation, the colonial expanse of nature imagined as an untouched female body.25

[12] Manned with a team of scientists, artists and scholars, in 1857 the Austrian frigate Novara was dispatched to circumnavigate the globe, including New Zealand. The results gathered over the three-year voyage were then published in a 21-volume documentation by the Vienna Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1861;26 the abridged two-volume ‘people’s edition’ became a bestseller and was out of print just a year later.27 Lavishly illustrated with lithographs, the encyclopaedic work documents the discoveries of numerous scientists and lay researchers. Although they relied on the help of British and German settlers in New Zealand and their institutional representatives as well as on the help of Māori for their surveying of the land and studying of the flora, fauna and geology, which even included fossil findings, the local support is only mentioned in passing, degraded to a marginal note – what takes centre stage as relevant for research is the land itself. In Ferdinand von Hochstetter’s monumental Geologie von Neu-Seeland, the glacier area around Mount Cook is depicted as an overwhelming spectacle of nature, albeit uninhabited (fig. 5).

5 Friedrich Simony (after sketches by Julius Haast), “Gletschergebiet um Mount Cook. Charakterbild aus den südlichen Alpen von Neu-Seeland”, in: Reise der österreichischen Fregatte Novara um die Erde in den Jahren 1857, 1858, 1859. Geologischer Theil, vol. I.1: Geologie von Neuseeland. Beiträge zur Geologie der Provinzen Auckland und Nelson, ed. Ferdinand von Hochstetter, Vienna 1864, to page 197

In this conception, humans are only present as staffage figures to highlight the enormity of nature. The topos of the Vitruvian primitive hut is often quoted, placing the inhabitants of the area in an archaic distance, beings without history or civilisation (fig. 6).28

6 Unknown, “Das Pirongia-Gebirge am Waipa, ein erloschener Andesitkegel”, in: Reise der österreichischen Fregatte Novara um die Erde in den Jahren 1857, 1858, 1859. Geologischer Theil, vol. I.1: Geologie von Neuseeland, 90

[13] For Europeans, New Zealand was above all a land ‘beyond’, holding out the promise of a new life far away from the cities of the ‘old’ continent plagued by industrialisation, rural exodus and a new proletarian class. Governments were also prepared to support emigration to the colonies, regarding it as a solution to the pressing social question. An illustration in the London weekly satirical Punch from 1848 shows the contrasting social situation “here”, i.e. in Britain, and “there”, in the colonies (fig. 7).

7 John Leech, “Here and There; Or, Emigration a Remedy”, caricature in: Punch 15 (July to December 1848), 27 (https://digi.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/diglit/punch1848a/0035/image)

On the left is a ragged and starving family with four barefooted children, behind them a wall with posters (one warning against vagrants) and factory chimneys. The child hanging limply in the father’s arms may even be dead. In stark contrast, life in the colonies is depicted as one of prosperity and happiness for families. Well-nourished and dressed in fashionable Victorian clothes, the family is gathered around a table in a bourgeois home that fits the British ideal. Like living in a land of milk and honey, further supplies are piled next to the food on the table. Half a pig and two hams hang from the ceiling, and there’s obviously more than enough for the family dog. And a girl charitably hands a steaming dish to a very dark indigenous man, who however remains outside of the window and cannot disturb the domestic bliss of the interior. While the beggar from the industrialised city has moved up in the world, his place has now been taken by the indigenous man. Ferns seen through the window locate the scene overseas. The shovel leaning against a chair indicates the settler is involved in cultivating work in every respect.

[14] Founded in 1839, the New Zealand Company initiated several campaigns to recruit settlers in the mid-nineteenth century, producing idealised images of unspoilt land, with space and resources for all. Not only in the romanticised images of longing inspired by a Rousseauian critique of civilisation, but also in concrete emigration programs backed by politics, it seems that the inhabitants are irrelevant, while the land, or more precisely the landscape, is the only factor of importance. As a paradigm, more or less calling for colonial cultivation, the genre of the landscape picture is inextricably tied to the history of colonial conquests.29

[15] Indigenous inhabitants therefore appeared merely as quaintly picturesque marginal figures, and never as protagonists, in the numerous, often illustrated travel accounts. Published in London in 1845, Edward Jerningham Wakefield’s Adventure in New Zealand featured colour lithographs presenting New Zealand as an ideal country to emigrate to.30 Wakefield was the first director of the New Zealand Company, a trading company that also had a commercial interest in attracting settlers. Trade though is never depicted in the pictures,31 just a paradisiacal land, its wildness (and the ‘wild’ natives) already cleared away, full of harmony, positioned ideally between an overseas arcadia and an imagined ‘better Britain’.32 Within the truly monumental engraving, which needs to be folded out several times, offering a metre-long panorama of New Zealand’s overwhelming and apparently uninhabited nature for domestic use, a group of people appear, relatively small in scale, who are obviously hunting (fig. 8).

8 Samuel Charles Brees, “Plain of the Ruamahanga opening into Palliser Bay near Wellington” (detail), in: Edward Jerningham Wakefield, Adventure in New Zealand: From 1839-1844, With Some Account of the Beginning of the British Colonization of the Islands, vol. 2: Illustrations, London 1845, unnumbered

A dark-skinned Māori and a European-dressed man run side by side in an idealised vision of a community without hierarchy and class. The colony appears to be an ideal society. The group can thus be read as a parallel to Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People.33 Painted directly in response to the July Revolution of 1830, Delacroix’s work heroises Parisian citizens fighting for their rights against the entrenched elites. Exhibited in the Palais du Luxembourg, the painting enjoyed enormous popularity before it was purchased by the government and subsequently disappeared in storage for a while.34 In terms of the compositional arrangement, the formal aesthetic depiction of the subject, and the gestures and poses of the depicted figures, both groups bear a striking resemblance so that an ideological transference may be assumed: New Zealand is thought of and presented as an imaginative space of political and social ‘progress’.

[16] Englishman Samuel Charles Brees also had close ties to the New Zealand Company. He was the ‘principal surveyor and engineer’ from 1842 to 1844, and as a respected autodidact he drew and painted in watercolours landscape scenes of New Zealand. These were published as a book after his return to London. The first edition of Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand appeared in 1847, but soon went into new editions in the two following years because of high demand. The north island was presented in a series of copperplate engravings made by the English artist Henry Melville after Brees’s drawings; Brees wrote the texts accompanying each illustration. From 1849 to 1851 he even exhibited enlarged versions of his original drawings under the name of “Brees’ Colonial Panorama of New Zealand” at Leicester Square in London, attracting large numbers of visitors.35 Here, promoting emigration and artistic aspiration were blurred together in popular entertainment.36 Completely under the sway of the contemporary trend of the picturesque,37 Brees shows landscapes which are not only pristine but also simultaneously harmoniously cultivated by the work of European settlers. At the time, The Illustrated London News described his works as “scenes from the active colonisation of the island […], the progress of the settlement”.38 Māori are present in Brees’s drawings solely as staffage figures, and in terms of the picturesque they lend the scene the local colour and underline the achievements of the civilisation work through their ostensible contrast, visible in their clothes, idle postures and small stature, which blends out any details and individuality. With the insignificant position that the painter and Company employee accords the Māori, he is interpreting the land as an ideal terrain for cultivation by Europeans, with every indigenous claim to land, social participation and integration, and involvement in a political process negated pictorially.39 The pictures are all geared to recruiting possible settlers. For example: plate 9, number 28 shows Brees’s own home as an outpost of civilisation in the wilderness which fills up the rest of the picture plane (fig. 9).

9 Samuel Charles Brees (engraved by Henry Melville), “Mr Brees’ Cottage, Karori Road, 1849”, hand-coloured engraving, 9.0 x 14.6 cm, in: Samuel Charles Brees, Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand, London 1847, pl. 9, no. 28 (photograph: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand)

[17] The serpentine, fenced-in road wrested from nature leads to the wooden cottage, which is illuminated by the sun breaking through the clouds. This lighting effect lends – literally – the cultivation of the once wild landscape enlightening features. In the dark foreground debris of the work is still visible: after the clearing of the woodlands, tree stumps protrude, stark and useless, signs of a transitional phase between a wildness that no longer exists and civilisation yet to be implemented. Discarded branches recall cannibalistic scenes, like discarded limbs they lie around in a gruesome memento mori of the vanquished barbarism. The grazing goats also function as intermediaries between the two worlds: on the one hand they are domesticated animals helping the settlers to become prosperous in the future, on the other they are not (yet) fenced in, feeding on what they find on the wayside. And so in the middle ground, at the divide between the two poles of human existence, there is an encounter full of symbolism, between a white, elegantly dressed settler and a man in dark tones, presumably a Māori, sitting on the ground like a vagabond. Exchanging a few words, they lead the viewer to the brighter landscape of British influence.

[18] A watercolour of 1901 adorning the cover of a testimonial presented to the Surveyor-General and Secretary for Crown Lands on his retirement reveals a similar conception. Three pictorial planes, to be read from top to bottom, map a chronology of New Zealand’s colonisation as the progress of civilisation (fig. 10).

10 George Neville Sturtevant, “The true pioneer, The first attack, Victory!”, 1901, watercolour, 23 x 15 cm, covering a testimonial presented to Stephenson Percy Smith, Surveyor-General and Secretary for Crown Lands on his retirement. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand (photograph: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23205618)

In the first picture, captioned “The true pioneer, the surveyor”, colonialists are presented in sand-coloured ‘colonist uniforms’ with tropical hats, tiny specks against the backdrop of impenetrable nature, an enormous rainforest thick with hanging vines. Temporary tent-like huts symbolise the cultural mission, and rising smoke refers to the fundamental steps on the way towards civilised society: the making of fire and sedentary life – this view of human history is analogised in the colonial history of New Zealand. The second picture – “The first attack, roadmaking” – places the subjugation of nature through roadbuilding and infrastructure associatively in a military tradition. The victory over nature is finally achieved in the lower picture, “Victory! The smiling home”: nature has been turned into an English park landscape, stripped of large trees and with even the impassable hills and rough terrain flattened, so that now it is even possible to promenade around in a Victorian carriage. This domestication of the wilderness stands in stark contrast to the frame, made up of ornamentally stylised traditional New Zealand carvings of anthropomorphist figures. The threatening wilderness has been tamed into an ornament and literally pushed to the margins.

[19] Alois Riegl, to name one example, instigated both art theoretical and more popular discourses around the ornament that discussed Polynesian tattoos and imputed moral implications.40 In the same spirit, classifications of exhibited artefacts were debated in the context of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition with reference to the ornament, with the British standard the quality they were measured against:

In certain of our Colonial possessions, where a savage race with a strongly accentuated feeling for ornament, as was the case with the New Zealanders, has been displaced by European settlers, it is interesting to note how entirely the Art-work of the aboriginal inhabitants has failed to produce any impression on the decorative work of the colonists. Nowhere have we been able, even after careful search, to discover any traces of the existence of such an influence.41

[20] While India is praised as a culturally highly-developed colony and Malta described as partaking of “the refinement of Italian culture”,42 New Zealand is accorded nothing but a label, “the savage arts of New Zealand”.43 This radical aesthetic denigration of the indigenous language of form in New Zealand took place in the context of an intensive theoretical debate and study of the ornament44 of the ‘other’, which considered it, on the one hand, a source of inspiration (e.g. Jugendstil), or as a sign of aesthetic and moral depravity of indigenous art and artists on the other. The ornament was identified as a ‘primitive’, pre-artistic level of aesthetic expression and understood as “the beginning of art” prior to any intellectual activity. In particular the moko of the Māori were paralleled with an ‘instinctive’, but yet ‘primitive’ will to form.45 This aesthetic denigration of the Polynesian ornaments, which always implies a pre-historic positioning of its producers and a disqualifying them from being capable of conscious artistic practice, forms a tradition that perhaps reached its climax in Adolf Loos’s polemical analogy between ornament and crime. Loos claimed that the aesthetic ornamentation of Jugendstil was a ‘degenerated’ type of art:

The Papuan covers his skin with tattoos, his boat, his oars, in short everything he can lay his hands on. [...] What is quite natural for the Papuan and the child is a symptom of degeneration in the modern adult. I made the following discovery, which I passed on to the world: the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornamentation from objects of everyday use.46

Overcoming ornamentation is tantamount to overcoming the cultural stage he assigns the South Seas islanders (referred to as ‘Papuans’), namely the lowest. Loos concludes with a comparison to his own modern culture and devalues the ornamental art of the South Seas cultures, seeing it as nothing more than a source of inspiration: “Freedom from ornamentation is a sign of spiritual strength. Modern man uses the ornaments of earlier or alien cultures as he sees fit. He concentrates his own inventiveness on other things.”47

[21] In this tradition, or more precisely anticipating Loos’s thesis, the reviewer of the Colonial and Indian Exhibition views New Zealand, along with a few other colonies described as ‘savage’, as primarily a provider of raw materials – the precious materials “seem [to be] only waiting for the touch of the skilled artificer in order to yield us lavishly new forms of delicate and graceful handiwork”.48 Here an absolute boundary is drawn between Britain and its colony New Zealand, and almost fifty years after the colonial incorporation of the land it still seems necessary to maintain strict dichotomies which, in the lived reality of the colony itself, were certainly far less strictly regimented.

[22] The review goes through the colonies one by one. Extremely brief, the description of the New Zealand presentation at the exhibition emphasises the economic importance of its products and raw materials for Britain, before the arts of the Māori are again described as the expression of a ‘primitive’ culture doomed to extinction:

The arts of the Māoris are well illustrated in the New Zealand Court, and we find numerous specimens of the carved works, weapons and implements of the savage races now so rapidly becoming extinct. The native inhabitants, although cannibals, were a fine and warlike race, and appear to have been rapidly converted to a semblance of Christianity.49

The Māori are thus incorporated into the ‘dying race’ discourse that was concurrently being exploited to justify the factual enslaving, colonialization, and in part deliberate decimation of indigenous populations, in particular in North America.50

[23] Although several private journals kept by crew members on Cook’s Pacific voyages in the eighteenth century had reported cases of ritual cannibalism,51 the emphasis placed on the cannibalism of ‘primitive peoples’ itself took on a ritualistic quality in the nineteenth century until it was nothing more than a cheap sensationalist mark of discrimination. The token remark that many Māori had converted to a “semblance of Christianity” is hardly endorsing any civilising ‘progress’.

[24] The Colonial and Indian Exhibition was not the only one of its kind where New Zealand was presented to the public. The Pacific Islands were first featured at the 1851 World Exhibition held in the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Already here, the dual aspects of ‘wild nature’ and key economic resources, for decades to come the determining factors, were emphasised:

While the primary focus of the international exhibitions was trade, it was predominantly the use of New Zealand's unique natural environment [...] and the use of Māori people and cultural objects in these displays that enabled the construction of a distinctive and appealing identity. This was deemed essential in order to distinguish New Zealand from the other Australasian colonies, in particular in the competition for emigrants, investment and trade.52

[25] The World Exhibition of 1851 was considered an opportunity to reinvigorate the process of flagging industrialisation, and the presentation of the colonies as part of this industrial upswing was to play an eminent role in the self-conception of the colonializing nations as ‘modern’ states.53 Anne McClintock has described the world trade fairs “as imperial commodity spectacle(s)”, the manifest expression of efforts to make the world consumable on the one hand, and to produce national identities in distinction from the colonised cultures on the other.54 Categories like ‘race’, ‘gender’ and ‘contemporaneity’ were approached and discussed under the aegis of consumerism. In 1851 New Zealand was still only sparsely populated by Europeans, with most of the land still yet to be surveyed and mapped; the 1840s had been marked by a series of military and armed conflicts between settlers and the Māori. The Crystal Palace presentation, though, was that of a tropical paradise rich in resources and offering bright future prospects, in particular for the peaceful settlement of the land and the harmonious coexistence between settlers and the indigenous people – and was thus in stark contrast to the reality of the situation.55

[26] Relocated from Hyde Park to Sydenham, the Crystal Palace was once again the location for an exhibition featuring New Zealand in 1911, the Festival of Empire. The focus now shifted to tourism:56 Māori lived in a village reconstructed for the exhibition, while a miniature railway linked the attractions and turned New Zealand into a consumer spectacle.57

[27] The colonial and world exhibitions are paradigmatic for the erosion of the boundaries between high and low culture that took place across many segments of life and gathered pace towards the end of the nineteenth century. Espousing positivism and empiricism, currents of thinking also understood as a mission to educate ‘the people’, popular science publications addressed a broad middle- and lower middle-class audience. It also became fashionable to buy encyclopaedias and read illustrated magazines, which covered a wide spectrum of topics, while trading cards and calendar sheets also took up the mission to educate the people. Education seems to have been a legitimating strategy for taking up exotic themes.

[28] In 1911, now integrated even more into race theories, the Māori are shown in encyclopaedias as one type of ethnicity amongst others, with the facial tattooing, almost always mentioned and discussed, set alongside lip pegs and decorative scars of African ethnic groups and other seemingly curious physical peculiarities (fig. 11).58