Denying history both ways
This is one of those posts which is too short to be a Monday update but too long to try and express properly on Twitter.
One of the things which stuck me about Max Hill’s thesis in “To the Ends of the Earth and Back Again” (reviewed here) is how Hill both denies the history of Māori in this country but also the history of, variously, the Spanish, the Chinese, the Ancient Greeks, the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Celts, et cetera. Hill wants to rewrite the pre-history of this place, and thus deny Māori proper authority over their history (suggesting, as he does, that Māori in part do not know their own history and are complicit in a cover-up of their “real” history). Yet for Hill’s thesis to have legs, he also has to deny the histories of the people who he claims made it here first. The evidence Hill uses for his various pre-Māori claims is never direct evidence of settlement or contact but, rather, supposition based upon “what ifs”, folk linguistics, reinterpretation of maps (often of various age and sometimes dubious authorship) and the like. He is making claims about ancient peoples that just aren’t part of orthodox history.
Now, either these ancient peoples came here and forgot all about it, leaving behind very crude evidence of their material culture, or they came here and have engaged in some latter day cover up. In the former case, that shows that whatever evidence there is in said cultures is not particularly strong (given that no one outside a few fringe theorists in Aotearoa is pursuing such claims), whilst in the latter case we have to believe that no one wants to talk about that colony in the Southern Hemisphere some Egyptians and Greeks set up two thousand years ago. But why would they cover that up? What’s in it for the Ancient Egyptians, for example, who trumpeted everything (including their spectacular military failures)?
Hill’s rewriting of history is not just the reinterpretation of the pre-history of this place; if we accept Hill’s thesis we have to re-examine all history. That’s actually a problem for Hill, because then much of the ancillary evidence he uses to bolster his case becomes suspicious as well. I don’t think he wants to bite that bullet, but he kind of has to…