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Author defends Maori cannibal book

Last updated 09:42 27/08/2008
FIONA GOODALL/Fairfax Media
DISAPPOINTED: Historian Paul Moon is defending his book 'This Horrid Practice' and stands by his research - a racism complaint has been made about it to the Human Rights Commission.

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The author of a book on cannibalism in Maori history is disappointed a racism complaint has been made about it to the Human Rights Commission.

Historian Paul Moon is defending his book This Horrid Practice and stands by his research.

"I spent several years researching this book, using an enormous body of documentation, and I'm not about to denounce it just because it upsets a few people," he told the New Zealand Herald.

An anonymous complaint said the book "describes the whole of Maori society as violent and dangerous. This is a clearly racist view claiming a whole ethnic group has these traits".

The commission has taken no action on the complaint yet but a spokesperson told the paper any mediation would occur in confidence and the complainant's name would not be released.

The book suggests that consuming vanquished enemies' mana had little to do with the underlying reason for Maori cannibalism.

Instead cannibalism, in pre-colonial times, was simply about "rage and humiliation".

Dr Moon said he approached the topic "honestly" and applied standard methods of research to it.

"I think it's just very sad that it's come to this stage that when you write about certain topics in New Zealand history you get complaints and accusations of racism levelled at you."

The book had received mixed reviews with Canterbury University's Rawiri Taonui calling the book an example of "poor scholarship" which "demonises" pre-European Maori society as obsessively violent.

"He's looked at no Maori language evidence, nothing from the Maori Land Court. He sets that all aside and makes a giant-sized conclusion about pre-European Maori society that's based on the view of a few Europeans."

However, Auckland University of Technology's Te Ara Poutama dean Pare Keiha - Dr Moon's boss - said the book was "inspired" in some areas.

"So, yes, if some wish to call him a racist we will defend him, we'll be right alongside him."

-NZPA

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