New Zealand Publishes Banned Book

Monday, August 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — An Italian monk's stinging criticism of British mistreatment of the indigenous Maoris has been published for the first time in New Zealand — more than 100 years after it was written.

The banned volume, ``History of New Zealand and Its Inhabitants,'' written in 1896 by Benedictine monk Dom Felice Vaggioli, details the ``abominable behavior'' of British settlers, according to excerpts printed Monday in the New Zealand Herald.

Vaggioli, who came to New Zealand as a missionary in 1879, wrote that Maori people were ``denied justice and have been despicably robbed'' of their land.

The British government was so incensed by the book, it asked Rome to destroy all copies. A handful of volumes survived, hidden in monasteries and at the Vatican. It was largely forgotten until a translation project began six years ago.

New Zealand authorities no longer view the monk's account — which has been widely corroborated — as inflammatory. The government even helped fund the translation.

Auckland-based academic John Crockett, who translated the book into English, said Vaggioli's account could have sparked a civil war if it had been published in New Zealand at the time.

``It was potentially explosive ... Britain wanted to support the benign view that colonization was a great thing for the Maori,'' Crockett told the New Zealand Herald. ``With his view that it was an unmitigated disaster from beginning to end, you can understand why they wanted it snuffed out.''

The Maori, originally a Polynesian race, arrived in New Zealand in large, seagoing canoes about 1,000 years before the first Europeans. Exactly where they came from remains a mystery.

European traders arrived in New Zealand in the late 1700s, bringing disease and firearms. Settlers started taking over Maori land in the early 1800s sparking wars with the indigenous population who fiercely resisted attempts to dispossess them.

``The unfortunate Maori certainly have to use their wits to save themselves from the grip of the devouring serpent,'' the monk wrote. ``However, they will never succeed in freeing themselves from its tenacious coils, and will eventually perish forever, overcome by its brutal force.''

The Maori survived but remain an underprivileged minority. More than half a million live in New Zealand now, making up about 15 percent of the population.

They suffer from higher unemployment, mortality and crime rates, and have lower life expectancies and literacy skills than other New Zealanders.