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Book Review: History or Myth?

Forbidden History by John Dudley Aldworth, Truthful History Publications, Price: $48.00

Reviewed by Christodoulos Moisa.



Departure: Bamboo plate by Christodoulos Moisa 2003


Forbidden History (2016) is authored by John Dudley Aldworth. He has been a journalist and has not only worked for the Daily Mail of London but also for several New Zealand magazines and newspapers including the Dominion. The hypothesis of this book is that New Zealand’s baseline for human arrival of 800 years ago is wrong and Aldworth uses compelling evidence to support it. He also cites stories told by the Māori that when they arrived on these shores there were other people here who were conquered and killed.


From the outset, I may as well get my criticisms of the book out of the way. I think Forbidden History needs editing and should include a bibliography, more footnotes, and an expanded index. Also, an appendix could have contained all the peripheral information not pertinent to the main argument. This does not mean that this book should be dismissed out of hand, and I do not agree with K.R. Howe’s paper (Māori /Polynesians and the “New Learning”) that although “these ideas exist in particular intellectual or psychological contexts ... they can be revealed to be culturally problematic, and indeed can be detrimental to scholarly enterprise.” Obviously, there will be racists, religious fundamentalists or even Treaty of Waitangi antagonists who would exploit those theories. Historian and author Barry Brailsford (The Song of Waitaha, 1995) has been branded as a “New Ageist”, and even Otago University archaeologist Professor Atholl Anderson (co-author of Tangata Whenua - An Illustrated History, 2015) hasn’t had an easy time. What one must remember, I think, is the cautionary tale provided by amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann (1822 –1890) and his claim that Homer’s mythical Troy (Ilion) did exist. The intelligentsia of the time boohooed the idea but soon had to eat humble pie for an ancient multi-layered city and treasure were found by him on the coast of Turkey.


In 1967, an uncle of mine who served in the Pacific during World War II told me the following story: A Māori comrade and mate who had returned on leave to Wellington invited him to go up to his marae in the central North Island and attend a hui and also a hangi that was put down to welcome him. While there, after the kai was served, a very old kuia (female elder) took my uncle aside and confided to him that her tribe’s genealogy featured Greek ancestors. Too much good kai and beer I thought at the time.


In 1974, I read an article in the Listener by Harvard Zoology professor Barry Fell claiming that the Māori originated in from Libya. They were part of an expedition that took place around 232 BC. Fell’s evidence was his deciphering of various inscriptions that he found all around the world, including the Pacific islands. That claim was of interest to me because of what my uncle told me but it was derided and immediately shot down by archaeologists and linguists, and he was labelled a “diffusionist” or his theory as “pseudo history”. A few years ago, a book was published by Maxwell C. Hill, To the ends of the Earth, in which he asserted a similar thesis to that of Aldworth, providing intriguing evidence. Since then there has been a Plumtree Productions documentary Skeletons in the Cupboard, Part I and II, and other books.


A tradition has been established in New Zealand law that a tribe’s oral whakapapa (genealogy) can be used in land claims dating back before the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal. Māori whakapapa is used to define a tribe’s identity, its mana, customary rights and with evidence of prolonged habitation claims to specific land areas. In his book, Aldworth uses the whakapapa of two Māori elders to pose his hypothesis that New Zealand was settled by people before the arrival of the Māori and that they were of Caucasian descent. Those people are now represented by Monica Matamua for the Patupaiarehe (Te Ngati Noho) whose whakapapa goes back 74 generations and George Connelly or Te Upoko Ariki Hori Kupenga Manuka Manuka for the Waitaha (Te Upoko Ariki) and formed two tribes who are to have lived, according to their narrative, in different parts of New Zealand, one in Northland and in the South Island and the second in Whakatane and (more recently) in the upper reaches of the Whanganui River. It is claimed that they lived peacefully until the arrival of a warrior invader from the northwest Pacific, the Moriori - the ancestors of the Māori. Unable to defend themselves against the newly arrived warriors, they were conquered and forced to assimilate.

I think if Aldworth had used one kaumātua (elder) as the centrepiece to his thesis, he would have met with more success in articulating what is a fascinating story. He could have chosen to discuss whakapapa and presented the example of the “Table of Nations” from the Book of Genesis before revealing other, in his view, pertinent evidence. That would be: DNA linking Monica Matamua to Persia, Egypt and Peru, George Connelly’s whakapapa link to Egypt and Peru, the ancient Greeks’ formidable navigational analog device, the Antikythera, an early computer and ossery “to predict eclipses (for finding longitude), and to forecast lunar distances (to find longitude)” (Richard Saunders - Science and Technology Magazine) dated 150-100 BC, similarities in architecture, art, language and customs, Inca mosaic representations where white people are sacrificed to the gods, rat bones found in ash before the 232 AD Taupo eruption (which if correct proves that they were brought here much earlier by humans than previously thought) and the two Ancient Egyptian exploratory expeditions, one sent by Pharoah Queen Hatshepsut in 1400 BC and the other by Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) in 232 BC.

According to DNA arcaheologists, all of Homo sapiens originated from the Rift Valley of Africa. As in many of us, my paternal DNA identifies Egypt as my ancestors’ exit point from Africa 40,000 years ago, and initially they were not white. The white skin pigment was developed by people who migrated to cooler northern climates so they could attract more light to absorb crucial vitamin A. I mention this because a Celtic (Caucasian) connection for the red-haired Māori of New Zealand (Celts originated from around Austria in central Europe) is invoked in this book. We now know that there was an earlier exit migration from Africa that allowed the Aboriginal people to arrive in Australia. Neanderthal DNA, belonging to Europe’s earliest humanoid ancestors, offers a conundrum that has not been fully explained yet. The Hatshepsut expedition may have brought maize back to Egypt; Ptolemy II’s expedition may have helped later to create a world map by cartographer Claudius Ptolemy (234 AD), a copy of which was dedicated to him in 1507 by German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller. Astonishingly I admit, there is a high probability that the latter’s map shows Australia and New Zealand.

However it is Aldworth’s photograph of corn and pineapples, endemic to South America, on Hatsheput’s temple murals and his positing that the eastern kingdom of Punt, “the Land of the Gods”, may have stretched all the way to the Americas and is probably the most compelling evidence up to this date, has been added to this debate, in New Zealand at least. The possibility that Monica Matamua’s ancestors also brought corn from Peru to New Zealand, is now out there to be speculated on and discussed in the future.


I remember years ago visiting the tomb of Tutankhamen at the Cairo Museum and seeing an array of boomerangs. Immediately the question arose: which way did the boomerang travel: From Australia to Egypt or vice versa? Or was it discovered at the same time in both places? We now know through carbon dating that the Aboriginal people have been on our neighbouring continent for 70,000 years, doubling the previous estimate of 35,000 years. The DNA of the ancestors of the Māori shows that they set out from China between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Those ancient travelling peoples, whatever their origins, achieved heroic feats and should be honoured by us through keeping an open mind when reflecting on the past.



POSTSCRIPT: Based on her DNA Monica Matamua's people the Patupaiarehe (Te Ngati Noho) whose whakapapa goes back 74 generations have been granted rights over their current lands by the Treaty of Whaitangi Tribunnal.

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