Ihumatao: Winning Back Stolen Maori Land

Gordon Campbell on the Ihumatao dispute | Scoop News

Ake, Ake, Ake: The Story of Ihumātao

Directed by Whatanui Flavell

Film Review

This three part documentary series describes a successful land occupation that successfully blocked (in 2020) the conversion of illegally confiscated Māori land into a private housing development. All three episodes can be viewed free at the Māori TV website.

Part 1 describes the history of Ihumātao from its first settlement by Māori 1,000 years ago. Owing to its volcanic soil, it became rich agricultural land, providing food for iwi throughout the North Island .

Organizers of the recent occupation describe the brutal 1863 eviction of their great grandparents from 11,000 acres by British troops to be sold to European settlers. Of the 11,000 acres, only 38 hectares remains undeveloped. Prior to 2015, it was publicly owned (by Auckland Council).

In 2015, local iwi began passively occupying the land when they learned that Auckland Council had declared it a  Special Housing Area (SHA) status without public notification. The 2013 SHA law (later repealed) allowed regional authorities to release rural land for development without going through the formal consent process.

Auckland Council subsequently sold the land to Fletcher Building after approving their proposal to build 520 houses.

For the first four years, occupiers pursued all legal avenues to stop the housing development and get their land returned. This included filing a claim under urgency with the Waitangi Tribunal;* filing petitions with Auckland Council, Mayor Phil Goff and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern; and requesting the Māori Select Affairs Committee to intercede with the prime minister.


Part 2 begins when the police present the occupiers with an eviction notice in early 2019. Together with a large contingent of European supporters, they begin planning and training for a nonviolent occupation of the land.

On July 23, 2019, 100 cops show up to execute the eviction order, and hundreds of supporters from all over New Zealand arrive to support local iwi. While the adults focus on preventing police from closing the public road, children race through the adjacent paddocks adjacent to plant Tino Rangatiratanga flags atop the volcanic plateau central to the disputed land. Adult protestors respond by spilling out into the paddocks and pitching tents.


Part 3 describes how thousands of supporters continue to arrive from around the country, as well as sending blankets, warm clothes, firewood, food and money for the continuing occupation.

The Māori king visits the occupation in mid-2020 and agrees to mediate between iwi on different sides of the issue. After winning his support for their demands, they request that the government buy the land back from Fletcher’s and invite the prime minister to visit.

Although she declines the invitation, she agrees to stop the housing development from proceeding without formal negotiations to resolve the issue.

In December 2020, two months after the parliamentary election, the government agrees to buy Ihumātao from Fletchers and to establsh a Ropu Whakahaere to decide the future of Ihumātao. The Ropu will consist of a majority of Māori members from affected iwi, as well as Auckland Council and government representatives.

Although the occupiers have carried out extensive habitat restoration during the five-year occupation, the Ropu is given a mandate to “consider” housing.


*The Waitangi Tribunal is a New Zealand permanent commission of inquiry established under the 1975 Treaty of Waitangi Act. It’s charged with investigating and making recommendations on claims brought by Māori regarding confiscated land.

The series can be viewed free on the Māori TV website for the next few weeks.


How the Colonization of Africa Replaced Slave Labor Lost to Abolition

Menschenhandel - Eine kurze Geschichte der Sklaverei 1789-1888

Slavery Routes – a Short History of Human Trafficking

Part 4 Slavery’s New Frontiers

DW (2020)

Part 4 begins by examining Brazil’s unique history in the international slave trade. Two million African slaves landed in Brazil during the 18th century. At present, it has the second highest population in the world (with Nigeria at number one). One of the last country’s to end slavery (in 1888), it’s currently world leader in police violence against its Black residents.

In 1791 a massive slave revolt in the French colony of St Domingue (where African slaves comprised 90% of the population)* successfully defeated Napoleon’s army to overturn the white government and end the plantation system. The Haitian revolution destroyed the most productive slave colony in the world and reduced the Atlantic economy by half.

White plantation owners and foremen fled Haiti to use their experience in running plantations in Cuba, the US and Brazil. Their relocation effectively consolidated slavery (on cotton and coffee, as well as sugar, plantations) throughout the Western hemisphere.

In 1807, the British Parliament passed a law abolishing the British slave trade, and in 1815, the British Navy was granted authority to intercept slave ships from other countries. After 1815, the US would become the center of industrial-scale slavery. Spain would abolish slavery altogether in 1824, Britain in 1833 and the Netherlands in 1863.

In 1864 (in the midst of the Civil War), President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery in the US. In the South, slavery ended in name only, owing to laws that denied southern Blacks freedom of movement, the right to vote, the right to protest their working conditions or treatment by whites and Jim Crow laws that caused many to be incarcerated and sentenced to forced labor for minor offenses.**

Following the abolition of the slave trade, many European countries sought to replace the slave labor they lost in the New World by aggressively colonizing Africa. This occurred by means of  wholesale land confiscation and forced labor that amounted to de facto slavery. The filmmakers devote the last third of the documentary to this history.

*The island of St Domingue is currently home to two countries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

**The most common offenses under Jim Crow were vagrancy and failure to show proof of employment.

For information on broadcast times, see https://www.dw.com/en/slavery-routes-part-4/a-52207639

How Britain Came to Outlaw Slave Trafficking in 1838

Doku KW12 | Menschenhandel - Eine kurze Geschichte der Sklaverei

Slave Routes: A Short History of Human Trafficking

Part 3 From Sugar to Rebellion

DW (2020)

Film Review

Part 3 is about the Middle Passage and the commencement, by white Europeans, of industrial level human trafficking.

By the time of the 1620 Sugar War, the average slave only lived to age 30, translating into constant demand for replacements. Because women labored alongside side men (and both were drastically underfed), infant mortality was extremely high. Only one out of ten slave infants survived to adulthood.

In 1620, the French, English and Dutch formed an alliance to break the Portuguese/Spanish monopoly on the sugar industry.

The triangular British-slave-sugar trade provided the capital foundation for the emergency of European and North American capitalism. In the 17the century, it would totally transform the British banking system. After wealthy London merchants invited the Dutch businessman William of Orange man to assume the British throne, he granted the (private) Bank of England control over the money supply by enabling them to create the official national currency.*

In France slave trading families would be responsible for building the modern cities of Nantes, Bordeaux, La Rochelle and Le Havre around the slave/sugar trade.

Vastly outnumbered by the slaves they oversaw, especially in the Caribbean islands, white plantation owners were terrified of  slave revolts, which were occurring constantly.

The frequent slave revolts, along with the highly publicized Zong Massacre** in early 1781, would help enlighten the white population of Europe of the ugly role the slave trade played in sugar production.

A 1789 biography published by former slave Gustavo Vassa describing the Middle Passage, also strengthened the British abolition movement. In 1838, Parliament enacted on total ban on slave trading in the British empire.

*See https://stuartbramhall.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/the-lost-science-of-money-wars-are-won-by-bankers-not-armies/

**During the Zong massacre, the slave ship’s captain threw 130 enslaved Africans overboard in pursuit of a fraudulent insurance claim. When Lloyd’s of London denied the claim, the Zong owners took the company to court – and lost.

For information on viewing times consult https://www.dw.com/en/slavery-routes-part-3/a-52206653

The History of European Slave Trafficking

DW Doku KW11 | Slavery Routes

Slave Routes – A Short History of Human Trafficking

Part 2 For All the Gold in the World

DW (2020)

Film Review

In 1441, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to establish a foothold on the African continent. Portugal was still embroiled in the Crusades and thought an African military presence would confer an advantage in battling Muslim Arabs.*

The Portuguese intended to pay for their African military adventures with gold from Africa’s Gold Coast. In the end, the triangular trade they set up exported slaves they exported to Sao Tome** sugar plantations. The sugar they exported from Sao Tome made Lisbon the richest city in Europe.

Within decades, the Flemish, German, Venetians and Genoese also established slave trading outposts in Africa. As Europeans began to expand south of the Equator, the came in contact with the kingdom of Kongo. As the Islamic Empire had no prior ties with Kongo, the king converted to Christianity and was the first in southern African to establish a major trading relationship with Europeans.

Fond of Portuguese luxuries, the Kongo aristocracy became the kingdom’s first slave traders. They sold slaves to mine gold in Akan (north of Kongo), as well as to Sao Tome to grow sugar. As slaves were notoriously overworked (14+ hour days) and underfed, it was rare for them to survive more than 10-15 years. This meant they had to be continual replaced.

In 1595, after a series of armed slave uprisings in Sao Tome, the Portuguese abandoned the island’s sugar plantations and began transporting African slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean.

*The Crusades didn’t end until 1453, when Constantinople fell to Muslim invaders. In other words, the Europeans lost.

**Sao Tome is an island off the West African Coast

Film can be viewed on Enhance TV at https://www.enhancetv.com.au/video/slavery-routes-for-all-the-gold-in-the-world/52102


The Roman Military Occupation of Britain

When Rome Ruled Britain

Directed by Eric Tenwolde

Film Review

Apart the filmmakers’ claim that Roman military occupation substantially improved life for early Britons,* this documentary seems to provide a reasonable account of the Roman conquest and pacification of the British Isles.

This documentary starts with Julius Caesar’s two failed invasions of of Kent in 55 and 54 BC, based on the preposterous claim these remote islands posed a threat to Roman security (sound familiar?). More likely Caesar coveted the islands’ rich tin reserves Rome needed to produce brass. Despite strong resistance from British tribes unified by the warlord Cassivellaunus, Caesar eventually marched his troops through Middlesex as far as the Thames, forcing Cassivellaunus to surrender and pay tribute to Rome.

It would be 100 years before Roman troops returned to Britain under the Emperor Claudius in 53 AD. They did so at the request of a pro-Roman king, who was under attack from anti-Roman warlords who had ceased to pay tribute. Making use of fierce Germanic auxiliaries recruited in Gaul, the Roman troops defeated the the rebels and progressed as far inland as Colchester, where the emperor Claudius made a triumphal entry on an elephant.

Caratacus, king of the Catubellauni tribe, retreated into Wales where he resisted Roman incursion for more than a decade. In 57 AD, Roman legions attacked the Druids in Anglesey (island off Northwest coast of Wales), seeking to end their ritual practice of  human sacrifice. Roman troops also gradually progressed northward despite large scale revolts that persisteed until 69 AD.

In 78 AD the Roman governor of the province of Britannia led a brief incursion into Caledonia (modern Scotland), but Emperor Vespasian, dealing with a civil war in Rome, ordered him to retreat. The territory was considered of dubious value.

By 100 AD, Rome had established a stable military occupation of the territory comprising most of modern day England. The Romans brought the bronze age to Britain, as well as bustling cities, the Latin language, aqueducts carrying drinking water,  mosaics, Roman money, massive road networks and pottery. Despite their subjugation by Rome, residents of Britannia enjoyed the right to become Roman citizens if they so chose and were free to follow their own religion

In the North and West of Britannia (modern day Wales), city life never took hold and the Celtic tongue remained preeminent.

In 117 AD, Rome built Hadrian’s Wall to hinder Scots from invading the province of Britannia. Between 176-210 AD, following penetration of the Wall by an army of Scots, Rome dispatched 50,000 troops to Britannia in an unsuccessful attempt to invade and occupy Caledonia.

During the third century, instability in other parts of the empire (and declining military strength) laid to an increase in raids on the province by Scottish, Irish and Germanic tribes.

In the fourth century Constantine (who would become emperor in 306) fought alongside his father in yet another war against the Scots. In 383 AD, the Scots would join forces with Saxons from Germania to invade Britannia. From 388 on, Rome was occupied with a series of civil wars and barbarian invasions on the European continent and allowed trade, defenses and troop numbers to steadily decline in Britannia

In 410 AD, Rome declined a request from Britannia’s governor for a return of troops to protect the province against marauding Angles and Saxons. Within decades Germanic law replaced Roman law in the British Isles and paganism replaced Christianity.**

*I suspect that, as with most colonies, it was mainly wealthy elites who benefited, at the expense of farmers and laborers.

**Christianity was first introduced to Britannia during the third century. In 380 AD, Constantine declared it the official religion of all Roman provinces.

Hidden History: The 2014 Israeli Bombardment of Gaza

Killing Gaza: A Documentary About Life Under Siege

Directed by Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal (2018)

Film Review

Dan Cohen has made this documentary free-to-view on Vimeo in light of the most recent Israeli air bombardment of Gaza. It was filmed immediately after the ceasefire in the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. The latter was triggered by Operation Brother’s Keeper, a one-sided Israeli military raid following the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Gaza militants. Then, as now, the resistance by Gazan militants to the Israeli invasion resulted in the wholesale bombing and shelling of Gazan infrastructure and civilian homes.*

In 2014 2.500 Gazan civilians were killed (including 3400 children). In contrast, Israel lost 7 soldiers, 5 civilians (including one child) and one Thai civilian. The UN estimated that more than 7,000 buildings housing 10,000 Gazan families were razed. An additional 89,000 homes were severely damaged.

The film largely consists of interviews with Gazan civilians who lost homes and loved ones as a result of Israeli bombardment. Those made homeless during the war were still homeless a year later.

The film includes scenes of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) members jubilantly celebrating the carnage caused by their shells and bombs. Along with a very troubling account of an incident in which the IDF deliberately ambushed two Red Crescent ambulance drivers sent to rescue a Gazan civilian they tied to a tree after breaking both his legs. One of Red Crescent workers would be fatally wounded.

*Deliberately targeting civilians in this way is a war crime under international law.


The Life of the Super Rich in Central Africa

The Life of the Super Rich in Central Africa: Between Luxury and Misery

DW (2021)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the 600 millionaires in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The majority of DRC residents on less than two euros a day. Even miners (including 40,000 children) who work in the lucrative coltan mines earn only 5 euros a day.

The film profiles three specific multimillionaires: a rock star, the former rebel leader who currently owns the largest coltan* mine (and serves as a member of parliament) and a prophet who cures people with miracle juice made from gasoline and lemon juice.

The main reason so many DRC residents live in abject poverty is extreme corruption. Mobuto Sese Seko, brutal dictator between 1965 and 1997 (when DRC was called Zaire), embezzled four billion euros from the government prior to being ousted by rebel forces. Joseph Kabila, president of DRC between 2001 and 2019, embezzled three million euros. In 2021, DRC is number one on the list of the 20 most corrupt countries.

Tax evasion also continues to be a major problem, leaving the current government starved for funding to improve infrastructure. Most rural roads are unpaved, electrical outages are common and less than one-fifth of the population have access to electricity.

Owing to the fragile September 2020 ceasefire (enforced by 16,000 UN peacekeepers), many former DRC expatriates have returned to take the country’s limited middle class jobs. The filmmakers profile a couple who earn a total of $3,500 a month (100 times the country’s average salary) working as bankers. One third of their income goes to pay rent in a luxurious Western-style high security enclave.

*Coltan is refined to produce tantalum, a rare metal essential in cellphone technology.

Where Money Comes From and Why They Don’t Teach It in School

Money Puzzles: A Film About Money and Debt, Austerity, Solidarity and Alternative Solutions

Directed by Michael Chanan (2016)

Film Review

This film starts by examining the history of money, which developed in all civilizations except the Incan civilization (the Incas had gold but didn’t use it for money). The first coins seem to have appeared independently in China, India and Ionia* in the 6th century BC.

Our current system of money creation, sometimes referred to as “fractional reserve banking,”** began in the Netherlands and the Italian city states in the 17the century. It came to Britain (and most of the British colonies) with the formation of the Bank of England in 1694.

Contrary to popular belief (and most economic courses), 97-98%*** of the world’s money isn’t created by government (or central banks), but by private banks when they issue loans. The money banks loan out doesn’t originate from reserves or savings accounts. Banks create it out of thin air.

The documentary’s main focus is the debt crisis that collapsed the Greek economy in 2015. Unfortunately the film mentions, but fails to explain clearly, that governments also create money by borrowing from private banks. At times, when banks stop making private loans, governments are forced to increase borrowing to ensure there is sufficient money in circulation to keep the economy going (ie to prevent recession and/or economic depression).

What many people fail to realize, is that most governments have the constitutional authority to create money. Their decision to borrow it from banks (rather than create it themselves) is purely political.

The film explores the collapse of the radical Greek party Syriza when its leadership  ignored a 2015 popular referendum rejecting the EU’s austerity bailout proposal. 61.3% of Greek citizens opposed the bailout, essentially opting for Greece to default on their debt and withdraw from EU.

The filmmakers also explore the Argentinian decision to default on their debt in 2001. Although UN General Assembly passed a resolution in support of the Argentinian default in September 2015, a new Argentinian government took out new IMF loans in 2016 to resume debt repayments.

The documentary concludes with a number of innovative grassroots alternatives Greek citizens have initiated to support each other in meeting post-collapse survival needs (see Debt and the Economic Colonization of Greece), Spain, and Argentina have adopted in the face of extreme economic austerity. These include local currencies, squatting and a variety of community-based mutual aid cooperatives to ensure people don’t go without food, clothing or other basic necessities.

*Ionia was an ancient civilization in the western part of modern day Turkey. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greek settlements.
**Under fractional reserve banking, banks are required to hold in reserve a minimum percentage (10%) of loan’s face value. In reality, most central banks discarded reserve requirements at least a decade ago, essentially allowing private banks to decide how much money to create.
***The other 2-3% of the money supply is issued by central banks as notes and coins.  97-98% is electronic money created via computer entries.

Debt and the Economic Colonization of Greece

Laboratory Greece: The Crisis that Change Our Lives

Directed by Jacopo Brogi (2019)

Film Review

Despite its length, this documentary is well worth watching.  My favorite part was the beginning, which concerns the liberation of Greece from Nazi occupation during World War II. Greece was the only country in Europe in which the resistance movement defeated the Nazis long before the Allies arrived.

In fact in October 1944, Greece was re-occupied by British troops demanding the restoration of the Greek King (George II) to the throne. Then British prime minister Winston Churchill ordered Greek that resistance fighters seeking to establish democratic rule arrested, beaten, imprisoned and tortured.

When British forces proved unable to restore Greece’s authoritarian monarchy, US President Truman massively increased military and economic aid to the Greek king, as well as bringing hundreds of Greek intelligence agents to the US to be trained by the OSS (the Office of Strategic Services was precursor to the CIA).

The CIA would also be instrumental in propping up the military dictatorship that woud rule Greece between 1967 and 1974.

The filmmakers believe the current enslavement of Greece by the European Union and global banking institutions is comparable the British/US military occupation following World War II. The only difference is the US of debt (by the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission), rather than troops, to oppress the the Greek people.

For me the other high point of the film concerns the role of US intelligence in building popular and political support (in Europe) for the European Union. Shortly after the CIA was formed in 1947, the CIA and State Department funded a secret action committee for a European economic committee. In addition, no European country could receive Marshall Plan* funds unless they committed to forming common market that would abolish tariffs and facilitate foreign investment and movement of capital across borders.

Most of the film is devoted to examining the major political corruption that led to the punishing debt repayment program and austerity imposed on Greece following the 2008 world economic crisis. The price the “Troika” (IMF, ECB and European Commission) has imposed on Greece for ongoing loans to repay their debts include privatizing nearly all Greek public assets and services, closing hospitals and schools and reducing the size of pensions and other unemployment benefits in half. With unemployment over 25%, there is massive homelessness, malnutrition and needless death from treatable conditions.

The filmmakers interview numerous local activists who applaud Britain for voting to leave the EU. They hope to force the Greek government to leave, as well

The Hidden History of African Voodoo

In Search of Voodoo: Roots to Heaven

Directed by Dijimon Hounsou (2018

Film Review

Produced and narrated by Binenese actor and model Djimon Hounsou, this documentary is a autobiographical documentary film exploring the history and characteristics of African voodoo. Despite a lengthy discussion of European colonizers to wipe out voodoo belief systems, most of the film focuses on voodoo drumming, dance and sacrifice rituals. Personally, I was quite disappointed by the scant focus on the importance of trance-formation in voodoo rituals.

Hounsou describes Benin* (where it’s an official religion) as the birthplace of voodoo, although many Africans adhere to this belief system in Nigeria, Ghana and central and southern Togo. The word voodoo derives from vodu, meaning “spirit” in several West African languages (eg Ewe and Fon).

The voodoo currently practiced in Benin acknowledges a supreme (female) being called Mawu-Lissa, as well as lesser gods of the sun, mood, sea, rivers and Earth. There is also a trickster god who facilitates communications between the gods. Most practitioners deny that voodoo is a religion, but rather a way of life that emphasizes strong interconnections between humankind, the rest of the natural world and a spirit world consisting of the gods and the spirits of deceased ancestors.

Voodoo practitioners in Benin also engage in Ifa, a system of divination, involving the decoding of over 200 binary symbols to predict a person’s destiny and character.

Drumming and ritual dancing are heavily emphasized in African voodoo rituals, largely because they result in trance formation. This enables practitioners to better communicate with Legba or deceased ancestors who intervene between human beings and various gods. Blood sacrifice of chickens, with participants consuming the sacrificed animal, is also important in voodoo rituals.

African voodoo thrives in rural Benin, though a few shrines persist in the cities. There is still considerable competition between voodoo and Christianity and Islam, the other major religions in Benin. In many churches, Catholic and voodoo rituals are combined.

Sorcery (spells and curses associated with voodoo in the New World) is frowned on in African voodoo. Likewise healing undertaken by voodoo practitioners is based solely on the healing properties of specific plants.

*Benin is a country in West Africa. Formerly known as Dahomey, it’s bordered by Nigeria, Togo, Burkino Faso and Niger.

The full film can be viewed free on Kanopy.