Actor Jack Nicholson gets some of the best lines and in the movie A Few Good Men as Colonel Jessep, he serves up the memorable quote “You can’t handle the truth.”
Professor Gary Hook can handle the truth - in fact multiple truths. He is leading a team of researchers who are working alongside hapū and iwi to write up their histories for the Ngāti Raukawa Treaty of Waitangi claims. He thinks they will be dealing with the issue the hapū and iwi will have “multiple versions of the same story that might differ significantly from each other.”
Professor Hook is of Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Mutunga, Te Āti Awa and Ngāti Toa descent and in answering on whose version should be listened to says they “should be prepared to accept multiple perspectives.”
“Variations enhance the richness of the stories and we as a people will be the better for it. We should not pick and choose those perspectives we find agreeable nor by suggestion or otherwise attempt to impose our particular ideas on those we interview.”
Professor Hook with both a PhD and a DSc in biochemistry spent 31 years working in the USA as an environmentalist and research scientist. He says acceptance of multiple perspectives might seem counter to western knowledge.
“Knowledge advancement from a western science perspective is about replacing old theories with new ones. Māori permit multiple perspectives to exist and are comfortable with that which might have no definitive answer.”
He says however both Māori and Pākehā accept multiple perspectives and is nothing new.
“It becomes more difficult when science gets involved. There is a perception amongst Pākehā, scientists especially, the oral traditions of our Māori people are unreliable.
Professor Hook says while it is true there are inconsistencies within Māori knowledge it is no more than those that exist within western knowledge, scientific included.
Examples of multiple perspectives show up in whakapapa (genealogy) for example in the descent line from Hoturoa, captain of the Tainui waka to Motai there are two versions.
“Some list Hotuope and Hotumatapu as descendants but there are some who view these two as brothers. We accept both views and acknowledge there are different perspectives.
“The Pākehā might say there can be only one descent line and in a sense that is true; however, Māori would say we don’t know which one is correct and so we accept both.”
Variation of perspectives can be seen back as far as the creation story itself. Hapū and iwi across the motu have their own stories but these differences are seen to add to the overall mātauranga and is thus accepted.
In mythology, stories differ such as in the stories of the demigod Maui and the naming of the tieke (saddleback) - there are two versions.
“Variety and variations in our stories are the norm; however, in nearly every case similarities exist in the overall story and the variations arise only within the finer detail.”
Professor Hook said in their research it doesn’t mean anything goes. The stories should all be expected to be basically similar but where one story goes against all others then they would “tend to dismiss such a story as questionable.”