Dame Judith Binney / Te Tōmairangi o Te Aroha was one of New Zealand’s most distinguished historians.
Her early work ranged from the MA thesis on Thomas Kendall that became an award-winning book, The Legacy of Guilt, to the richly illustrated history Mihaia: The Prophet Rua Kenana and His Community at Maungapohatu (co-authored with Gillian Chaplin and Craig Wallace), and the following oral history Ngā Mōrehu: The Survivors – The Life Histories of Eight Māori Women (co-authored with Gillian Chaplin). In these two collaborative works, Judith Binney brought scholarly principles to new research in oral history and took this community-based Māori history out to a mainstream readership through powerful visual narratives.
The two magisterial books – Redemption Songs: A Life of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki and Encircled Lands: Te Urewera, 1820–1921 – grew from this early connection with the people and land of Te Urewera. These award-winning books continued her commitment to rigorous scholarly research and drew also on oral history and the visual record. Above all, they make manifest Judith Binney’s respect for and commitment to the people of these histories, the people of the land. This was recognised by Tūhoe elders who gave the name Te Tōmairangi o Te Aroha to Judith Binney at the launch of Encircled Lands at Waikirikiri Marae in Te Urewera in December 2009.
By that time, Judith Binney had begun the collaboration with Atholl Anderson and Aroha Harris that led to the publication of a new Māori history, the award-winning Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History in 2014. This tremendous undertaking took forward her commitment to Maori history in multiple ways – expanding the visual narrative, drawing together different disciplines, working with indigenous perspectives that connected place and community to the longer arc of a 5000-year history.
As Tūhoe scholar Rawinia Higgins has written:
Ka mau, ka mau ō kōrero
He mutunga kore.
Your stories will be enduring
Your stories will be without end.
Rawinia Higgins, ‘He Poroporoaki: A Farewell to Dame Professor Emeritus Judith Binney’, Te Pouhere Kōrero, 5 (2011)
Judith Binney on History
Storytelling is an art deep within human nature. Good narratives not only tell us about ourselves; they tell us about the beliefs of others. Stories are the essential way by which we expand our empathy and our imaginations; stories are the means by which we communicate across time and across cultures.
The historians’ craft is to tease out the larger narratives from … competing versions, missing parts, and conflicting ‘truths’. ‘To know ourselves’ is to search to recover hopes and losses; dreams and hard realities; innocence and calculated manipulation; violence and quests for ways to share knowledge, power, and resources. In knowing ourselves, hopefully we may manage to avoid cruelly or crudely revisiting the past as we make current decisions.
Biographies are essentially personal histories… [yet] they may tell us more than the story of one life: they may reveal the struggle for the survival of an entire community.
History is often remarkably arrogant. It can too frequently dismiss whole groups of people as lost causes, or as merely irrelevant. Entire sections of society, usually the poor, the minorities, and the politically powerless are thereby obliterated from memory. Oral history, particularly as it has recently developed, aims to recover the aspirations and visions of those who otherwise have left little record in written public sources.’
Oral history is transmitted by narrative, by song, by proverb and by genealogy. We who write down our histories in books transmit our chosen perceptions to readers rather than to listeners, but both forms are structured, interpretative and combative.