A precious record

This map, hand drawn by Herries  Beattie, shows place names south of  the Waitaki. PHOTO: HOCKEN...
This map, hand drawn by Herries  Beattie, shows place names south of  the Waitaki. PHOTO: HOCKEN COLLECTIONS
The writings of a man once disdained by academics are now lauded for helping southern Māori rebuild lost knowledge and mana. Bruce Munro looks at the work and legacy of Herries Beattie.
‘‘The eel, and to a lesser extent the lamprey, was an item of great importance on the bill-of-fare of the ancient Māori,’’ Herries Beattie wrote in neat italic script at the top of page 15 of a lined notebook, in 1920.

‘‘In a country where freshwater fish were so few, the presence of great numbers of eels in up-country rivers, lagoons and lakes was a boon to the Māori travelling inland. The rich sweet flavour of eel flesh appealed with irresistible charm to the Māori palate and the collector [Beattie], himself a lover of the epicurean delights of the tasty eel, found many evidences of the esteem in which this food, so despised by the prejudiced white man, was held by the modern as well as the ancient Māori.’’

James Herries Beattie, ethnographer, journalist,  historian and bookseller. PHOTO: HOCKEN...
James Herries Beattie, ethnographer, journalist,  historian and bookseller. PHOTO: HOCKEN COLLECTIONS

This is the opening paragraph of 14 pages of closely written notes on eels, detailing their various types, mythological connections and lifecycle, as well as ways to catch, prepare and eat them — information gleaned from throughout the lower half of Te Wai Pounamu, the South Island.

In the same school notebook — and also based on conversations with dozens of often elderly, knowledgeable Māori — are Beattie’s copious notes on fish, sharks, whales and shellfish.

It is notebook XVI; just one slice of a massive body of now-treasured work by the early 20th century, self-taught ethnologist, whose complete and recently-digitised collection of writings will shortly be put online by Uare Taoka o Hākena, the Hocken Library.

James Herries Beattie was born on June 6, 1881, one of nine children to Gore draper and mayor James Beattie and his wife Mary.

Kāi Tahu archaeologist Prof Atholl Anderson, who wrote Herries Beattie’s Te Ara biography, says as a boy Beattie developed an ‘‘intense curiosity’’ about the history of southern New Zealand.

Despite being ‘‘not gifted academically’’, Beattie pursued his interest in collecting stories of Pākehā settlers and Māori elders alongside his work as a bookkeeper, journalist and bookseller.

In 1903, Beattie bought a second-hand bike that, for the rest of his life, he rode all over the lower South Island to collect information about historic people, events, place-names and ways of life.

By 1920, his work, published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society and the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, had been noticed by Otago Museum head H.D. Skinner, who paid Beattie £5 a week to make a year-long ethnological survey of southern Māori communities.

Beattie was thorough and patient; virtues also required of his interviewees; he had a list of about 1000 questions, which he worked through over several days.

One of Herries Beattie’s informants, Kurupōhatu Ruru, of Kaka Point, was renowned for his...
One of Herries Beattie’s informants, Kurupōhatu Ruru, of Kaka Point, was renowned for his knowledge of Waitaha and Kāti Mamoe history.  PHOTO: HOCKEN COLLECTIONS
Key among his informants were Kurupōhatu Ruru, of Kaka Point, who was renowned for his knowledge of Waitaha and Kāti Mamoe history and place names; Teone Taare Tīkao, of Banks Peninsula, who had a vast knowledge of Kāi Tahu history and natural lore; Tiemi Haereroa Kupa, of Colac Bay, who championed the cause of Kāti Mamoe and had an extensive knowledge of old place names; Taare Te Maihāroa, of the Waitaki River Mouth, who Beattie described as ‘‘the last great tohuka (learned man) of the Waitaha tribal remnant’’; Eruera Poko Cameron, of Bluff, who had extensive knowledge of Kāi Tahu whakapapa, history and place names within Murihiku, Southland, especially around Foveaux Strait; and, Tohi Te Marama, of Bluff, who was born in 1829 and was a Murihiku kaumātua.

Beattie had an ‘‘eclectic, anecdotal style’’ of writing, Prof Anderson said. And while he had a working knowledge of te reo Māori he relied, when necessary, on younger relatives of his interviewees to act as interpreters. Also, he did not always identify who was the source of his information.

In the 1920s, Beattie shifted his family to Waimate, South Canterbury, where he spent the next four decades continuing his research and writing.

He was given an MBE, in 1967, but was looked down on by academics who preferred the more formal writing style of ethnographer Elsdon Best. This, Prof Anderson says, ‘‘served to reinforce a perception of northern Māori traditions and customs as the New Zealand standard’’.

In recent decades, however, oral history has gained an equal seat at the academic table and there has been growing interest in southern Māori distinctives. These have redeemed Beattie’s reputation and elevated opinions of his work.

Prof Anderson says Beattie’s work collecting original material from oral sources in the South Island can be compared to a couple of others but otherwise ‘‘has no peer’’.

Beattie died in Timaru, in May, 1972, just as the Māori renaissance was beginning to bud.

Hocken Library Māori archivist Rauhina Scott-Fyfe says from the 1950s onwards Beattie progressively donated most of his written and collated research material to the library. More was donated by his family after his death.

In 2018, the sum of that collection, the James Herries Beattie Papers, comprised of more than 20,000 pages, gained international recognition when it was added to the Unesco Memory of the World heritage register.

At the time it was lauded as ‘‘an exceptionally rich collection'' and a ‘‘remarkable body of materials''.

But the real testament to the worth of this collection — which covers traditional stories and narratives; naming of places, things and people; pounamu, weapons and tools; and food-gathering, hunting and fishing practices — is how valuable it has been, and continues to be, for southern Māori leaders, researchers and families.

Ōtākou Marae upoko Edward Ellison describes Beattie as ‘‘a remarkable man who did a remarkable piece of work’’ at a time when showing that level of interest in the memories and knowledge of Māori elders was rare.

Edward Ellison’s great aunt Ema Umurau Wallscot, pictured with her daughter Magda Wallscot (left)...
Edward Ellison’s great aunt Ema Umurau Wallscot, pictured with her daughter Magda Wallscot (left), c1918, was an Ōtākou, Otago Peninsula, informant of Herries Beattie. PHOTO: MB444-15918, MACMILLAN BROWN LIBRARY, UNIVERSITY OF CANTERBURY
One of Beattie’s interviewees at Ōtākou, on Otago Peninsula, was Ellison’s great aunt, Ema Umurau Wallscott, the daughter of Kāi Tahu leader Timoti Karetai.

In addition to teaching te reo Māori to Sir William Larnach’s daughters, Wallscott was an experienced muttonbirder, harvesting tītī, shooty shearwater, from the Tītī Islands, near Rakiura, Stewart Island. She probably contributed to some of Beattie’s information about muttonbirding, Ellison says.

‘‘In the old days the birds underwent tītī-tahu,’’ Beattie wrote in nine pages of notes on the subject.

‘‘Wooden basins (known variously as opu, upu or ipu) were used and heated stones put in with the birds already in them. The birds, so cooked, were then put in pohas (kelp bags) and fat was poured in, the top of the bag tied to exclude air and there was your tītī-poha. It was left till [sic] cold and then totara bark was tied round to protect the kelp ... It is said that in the old days the birds were tahu’d in their down (hukahuka) without cleaning, but now they are plucked and cleaned. A certain number are still cooked in fat for Māori consumption but of those for Pākehā delectation most are now simply salted and put in pohas. This is modern, for the old Māoris never used salt.’’

Edward Ellison
Edward Ellison
Ellison, who played a key role as a treaty negotiator in Kāi Tahu’s Treaty of Waitangi claim against the Crown, said Beattie’s research helped the iwi in that work.

‘‘For the mahinga kai part of the claim, it was a very important source because it was information direct from the elders,’’ Ellison said.

‘‘He stands out as a significant contributor to rebuilding ... that pool of knowledge.’’

The Deed of Settlement, signed with the Crown, in 1998, included control and management of the Tītī Islands.

Paulette Tamati-Elliffe, the kaiwhakahaere, manager, of Kāi Tāhu language programme Kotahi Mano Kāika, says Beattie’s efforts were not always appreciated at the time.

‘‘I’ve heard some stories that he was quite — relentless,’’ Tamati-Elliffe says.

‘‘He would turn up on the doorstep with lots of inquiry. Some families went, ‘Oh, here he comes again’, and pulled the curtain.’’

But his work, which sits alongside other records left by Kāi Tāhu ancestors, is a gift to present and future generations, she says.

‘‘What he’s contributed to our archives of our recorded history is so valuable.

‘‘[It] provides us ... another collection of knowledge we can cross reference, which was really important for us with the loss of language and a lot of knowledge gaps in the intergenerational transmission. It does help us to support the knowledge we have.’’

Paulette Tamati-Elliffe. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Paulette Tamati-Elliffe. PHOTO: ODT FILES

His work has supported efforts to restore traditional place names. Thatknowledge has then informed educational efforts in schools and consultancy work with various organisations.

‘‘Many of the references from Herries Beattie’s published works helped inform Kā Huru Manu, the Kāi Tahu atlas of place names and histories.

‘‘Some of the cultural urban design work that’s happening across Dunedin city [including the George St redevelopment] has been supported by Herries Beattie’s work.’’

Beattie’s integrity has proved important, Tamati-Elliffe says.

‘‘He didn’t manipulate the knowledge he was given, like we’ve seen with other ethnologists.

‘‘He just stated what was given to him. He would state his thoughts on it, but he wouldn’t mix it with the knowledge he’d been given.’’

For example, Beattie recorded the name of a small island off Cape Saunders as Wharekakahu, whereas Kāi Tāhu ancestral records name it Herekakaho.

The discrepancy provides two avenues of research to determine the correct name.

‘‘So ... while his records are really important, it’s also important for us to cross reference with the knowledge of our ancestors.’’

A valuable source of many old place names was Tiemi Haereroa Kupa (left), pictured here with ...
A valuable source of many old place names was Tiemi Haereroa Kupa (left), pictured here with (from second left) Mahura Tiori, Wiriama Te Paro, Turia Morokiekie Te Kene. PHOTO: HOCKEN COLLECTIONS
Kane Holmes says his family, the Wybrow family, from the Catlins, used to call Beattie ‘‘tagata paiki, the man on the bike’’ because of his mode of transport to the various settlements where he collected stories and information.

‘‘He would call down to Granny Wybrow, that’s Sarah Wybrow, nee Perkins, on several occasions to talk about Te Puoho’s raids ... a Ngāti Tama chief who came down to raid our people in 1836,’’ Holmes says.

Holmes, an active member of the Māori community in Dunedin and ‘‘a descendant of all the first peoples, including Kāti Mamoe, and the Kāi Tahu people’’, says Beattie is important for two reasons.

Firstly, because Beattie took an active interest, the present generation is able to access its own history, he says.

When Beattie was doing his work many young Māori had moved to urban centres, cut off from the knowledge of the older generation, most of whom lived in rural areas.

‘‘I think, for our elders, a lot of it had to do with, ‘We’ve got to do something to conserve this knowledge. And we have to do it quickly. Because if we don’t, it’s going to be lost’,’’ Holmes says.

‘‘So, for this generation, the importance of Herries Beattie’s work is that families, through his rigour, are able to track back to be reconnected with the past, but more importantly, with their own family stories.’’

He is also significant because he recorded what he heard, Holmes says.

‘‘And I think this is really important ... He made a special mention of retaining the consonants L, V and B ... which is a dialect for our southern people.’’

Holmes gives examples from Beattie’s collections of place names; Waihola (south of Dunedin), Waikava (in the Catlins), Waikivi (an Invercargill suburb).

He makes special mention of Beattie’s conversation with Kaiporohu Bragg, of Foveaux Strait, about the Māori names for Stewart Island, recorded in Our Southernmost Maoris, published in 1954.

‘‘Bragg told Beattie, ‘When I was a young boy’ — and he was born in the 1800s — ‘the elders always called it Lakiula. And as a younger man, the youngsters started calling it Rakiula. Add now today, I’m an old man and they call it Rakiura’.’’

That conversation, along with more than 20,000 other pages of otherwise-lost knowledge, has now been digitised by the Hocken Library and will go live online on Beattie’s birth date, this Thursday.

Making it all freely accessible, to connected devices anywhere, is a cause for celebration Ellison, Tamati-Elliffe and Holmes agree.

‘‘It will be much more available, to access and share that knowledge,’’ Ellison says.

‘‘He produced a very valuable record that will now last forever.’’

‘‘As an iwi, it’s going to be fantastic,’’ Tamati-Elliffe says.

‘‘It can help inform not only Kāi Tahu descendants, but all people of Otago who have an interest or a connection to this place.’’

Holmes concurs but believes it should not be made too easy for people.

‘‘It definitely is a good thing ... but there are some sacrifices we make when we are doing really in-depth research,’’ Holmes says.

‘‘I would like to see that the youngsters coming through don’t just have it all given to them on a plate; that they’re still able to practice the art of research to find things out for themselves.’’

It is a sense of achievement Beattie, riding the long, dusty or muddy, gravel roads of 1920s Te Waipounamu, his pens and precious notebooks stowed safely away, clearly also felt.

At the age of 76, looking back on his career, Beattie added a few lines to a notebook he had not written in for more than five decades.

‘‘It illustrates my lifelong passion to know everything I could about everything that interested me, and also my tenacity of purpose in preserving the minutest details of my studies,’’ the usually humble Beattie wrote in a rare moment of self-praise.

‘‘The Māoris were never so impatient under fire (for details) as the white people were ...

‘‘These albums do show forth my quest to preserve historical information, and the amount of detail is just one of the proofs of my desire for accuracy.’’

• Note: This week the Central Otago District Council decided against an iwi recommendation to correct the spelling of Maniototo to Māniatoto. Beattie’s hand-drawn map of place names lists the area as Maniatoto.