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The missionary position

posted 23 Apr 2012, 23:02 by Sandra Kirby   [ updated 23 Apr 2012, 23:17 ]
Tonight Tony and I are heading to have dinner with Marg and John Little - it is Marg's birthday.  Went to look for a present for her thinking of the Wellington Book.  Mark we sent you this for Christmas and you need to know it is a rare and precious thing - out of print and not being reprinted in its current format - because it was successful??!  
Anyway that meant I was looking for a present for Marg in a bookshop so books were logical.  Came across this amazing biography of William Colenso.  Now I kind of knew that Colenso had been a missionary in the early days of NZ, and that his eye witness accounts of the signing of the treaty are used as the benchmark for what actually happened.  I also kind of knew that he was associated with the Hawkes Bay - but not much else.

Colenso came young to New Zealand, where he was treated like a minion by more senior missionaries like Bishop George Selwyn, who preferred priests who knew their Greek and Latin to printers like Colenso, who spoke Maori fluently.  He was responsible for printing large numbers of works in Maori and must therefore take quite a prominent role in the reality that for the first 50 years of cohabitation Maori were better educated and more literate than European. 

I didn't know for example that he is described as "a noisy, disputatious, multi-hatted poltergeist: missionary, printer, politician, polemicist, philanderer, businessman and natural scientist"  Isn't that a wonderful description.  Nor that he apparently stood up during the signing of the treaty and questioned the benefit to the Maori people for what they were signing.  Nor that he had fathered a child by a Maori woman who worked with them and because he insisted on recognising the child he lost his job, his other children and his home.  Apparently Colenso had a pronounced stutter and whether because of this or not he was a prolific writer - over 1000 letters in the last year of his life alone.  

One reviewer says of the Colenso's letter writing skills "Take his reply to his ex-wife's last letter to him: It begins with a harsh form of address – no longer ‘My dear Neho’, but ‘Sir’. Sir. (You who are a stranger to me.) And from here he lets rip. It is a magnificent letter. It is a letter glinting with permafrost."


Needless to say I bought the book and am now hoping Marg will lend it to me to read!

Who ever said missionaries were boring?  

 

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