Seeing differently Understanding Pākehā construction of mountain landscapes in Aotearoa

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Lee Davidson


Mountains are central to how New Zealanders see themselves as a nation and the image that they project to the world. At the same time, Māori have been engaged in a long-running campaign seeking acknowledgement of the mana of their maunga, the return of their tūpuna names and new partnership models for conservation management. This article explores elements of the past that have made this struggle necessary, in particular the role of mountain imagery created by Pākehā during the nineteenth century, when Aotearoa’s mountains were used to construct a vision of a ‘new’ country in the minds of those ‘at home’. Colonists represented the mountains as untrodden and uninhabited, and set about renaming and mapping them. By the 1870s, the appropriation of mountains as a cultural landscape for tourism saw a proliferation of images that promoted European ways of seeing mountains, while Māori relationships to their maunga were often framed as quaint or romantic myths and legends. Tracing this history helps to better understand the  present need for cultural resress and highlights the need for public history that better acknowledges and communicates colonial constructions of mountains and their legacy.


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Public History in Aotearoa New Zealand