The Blade and the Chalice:

The Flagpole of Nationhood and the Cup of Sport

Benjamin Peri Nathan celebrates smashing the America's Cup. Sir Peter Blake: "It's a kick in the stomach for us" Tau Henare, Minister of Maori Affairs and Associate Minister for Sport: "Damaging the cup is akin to destroying the Treaty of Waitangi and could lead to the public treating Maori aspirations with contempt" (NZ Herald 15 Mar 1997)

A group calling itself Tino Rangatiratanga Liberation Organisation claimed responsibility for the attack. Their founder, Peneamine Pere Paruwawa accused the Government of 'illegal occupation of the country' and said the objective was to establish an independent Maori state 'by whatever means is necessary'.

Stamps commemorating the America's Cup victory and New Zealand's original name.

Black Magic tactician Brad Butterworth said the atack was "an absolute tragedy which we can't understand ... we heard we are going to be racing forthe America's Plate now". In 1980 Ben Lexcen, Alan Bond's designer had declared: "When we finally win the America's cup were going to take it out and put it under a road roller and call it the America's plate".

Maoridom would be happy to pay for the cup repairs said the Maori Council chairman Sir Graham Latimer

The Vice Commodore of the New York Yacht Club, George "Dooie" Isedale said "We feel so very sorry for the people of New Zealand - but remember it's just a thing, but it's not going to effect the America's cup competition. We are still going to sail for it - it can be reparied.

Gerrards say it will take two months to repair. There is some concern expressed about the areas which have the previous engraved entries from the competition. [It is now of course repaired]

This act follows in a long tradition, beginning with Hone Heke's cutting of the British flagpole at Waitangi 1844 and more recently by Mike Smith's cutting of the lone pine on One Tree Hill, a prominent Auckland volcano which once had its own Totaras felled by council workers in a dispute. Mike's reputed visit to Gadafi's Libya with a Maori activist group adds international intrigue.

The Auld Mug has a reputation as the oldest, ugliest, cheating-est trophy in the world and as the most renowned sporting trophy. It was bought from an identical set of 8 by Queen Victoria from Gerards in 1848, four years after Heke's cutting of the flag pole, as her annual trophy to the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes, on the Island of Wight. In 1851, the schooner America won the trophy and took it to the US. Her four owners went to New Your with "the Queen's Cup" using it for dinner parties until the last surviving owner George Schuyler donated it to the New York Yacht Club under a deed setting out a prescription for "friendly competition between yacht clubs of defending nations. It was held bythe club amid allegations of cheating for 132 year, until won by Bond for Australia, San Diego and now New Zealand.

The cup has since been subsequently been repaired/rebuilt.

The Aftermath

A political vandal, the Crown said at his court trial. A terrorist in many eyes, he acknowledged when he took the stand. But that same man broke down, in what was seen as a significant part of his defence, when he showed the jury photos of his pet eels in the creek behind his childhood home at Kaihu, near the Waipoua Forest. The fish lovingly cared for by the young Nathan first bought home to him the injustice of the Pakeha system against Maori. His father, Raro Nathan, of Ngati Whatua/ Ngapuhi/ Te Raroa ancestry, held the eels dear to his heart. He dreamed of leaving the drudgery of his surveying job and breeding the fish for an overseas market. The turning point came when Nathan senior 'a proud Maori man who was nicknamed Mohammad Ali" died suddenly in a car accident when Ben was eight. As the eldest son, Ben was handed the mantle of the family and a tapu was placed on the - eels. "Despite the tapu, the council came along and killed them when they cleared the waterways for the farmers, without any respect for us." Nathan, in his own words, told of a happy childhood but one in which his young eyes noticed the gulf between Maori and Pakeha. He lived in South Auckland until he was five, then moved north to whanau land with his father and his English/Irish mother, Elizabeth.

Taunts about his father's dark skin and his humble lunches remain a strong memory. He noticed that his Maori relatives were on the dole, or farmed the Pakeha land that had been stolen from them. He escaped the barbs of racism as a child with his fair skin he could often pass as a Pakeha. The lawyer who has stood behind him since his arrest in March, Lorraine Smith, says it was these inustices at an early age that helped to shape 28-year-old Nathan. Added to the equation is a flourishing knowledge of his Maori culture in the past year. He enrolled in a Maori language course at Manukau Polytechnic and joined Tino Rangatiratanga liberation Organisation, which pledged its members to risk death or imprisonment for Maori sovereignty. Nathan said that he intended to destroy the cup because it stood for everything he despised. Lorraine Smith, backed by activist and lawyer Annette Sykes, argued that her client had a moral and legal light to attack the cup. He had been active in hui land hikoi (protest) for his iwi but had lost patience with the Government in its effort to address grievances. Under the ancient Maori law, Muru, as stated in the Treaty of Waitangi and the Declaration of Independence, he had the right to fight back at the Government. Crown prosecutor Meran Raftery scoffed at the suggestion. The attack was a simple piece of political vandalism" and despite Nathan's political views there was one law for all New Zealanders, he said. The jury of five women and seven men found Nathan guilty of the attack after deliberating for only 60 minutes.

Nathan's aunt, Naida Glavish, said he knew the consequences before he damaged the cup, but wanted to send a strong message to Maori youth about the injustices to their people. He strived to focus the world's attention on Maori grievances, she said. Strangely enough, it was the words of a former American President Theodore Roosevelt "a good joker even though he's a white fella," says Nathan that gave the activist the courage to commit the crime on March 14. A blood-splattered copy of Roosevelt's speech was put tenderly among the broken glass after Nathan belted the case and the 150-year-old 'auld mug" up to 50 times. It read: "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by sweat and blood ... his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory or defeat." Nathan said that he knew many New Zealanders would see him as a "disgusting terrorist." However, in the six months since his arrest he had been given a chance to think. In place of his radical righting for an independent Maori state he now believes in giving his people political and -economic power "so they can live according to their own customs and beliefs."

The Sentence:

Initiailly Two years and nine months - September 1997. This sentence was reduced on appeal to one year and today - 9th Mar 98 - is release day. The cup cost $56,000 to repair.

"Oath of Allegiance: Please read the following information carefully. If you are considering joining the TRLO be aware that it is an extrememly serious commitment. Due to the fact that we will be using "direct action" against the governemnt the possiblity of being jailed or even killed will be extremely likely. So if you are not prepared to face such dangers, do not sigh up for you will be simply wasting your own time as well as ours"


Basset J., Sinclair K, Stenson M 1985 The Story of New Zealand, Reed Methuen, Auckland NZ

Condliffe J, Airey W. 1960 A Short History of New Zealand, Whitcombe and Tombs,Christchurch NZ.