New Zealand town mulls removal of Picton name and restoration of Māori original
A mirror to Wales’ debate about Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Picton is developing in New Zealand as the town of Picton, named after the colonial overlord, mulls changing its own name.
Picton in New Zealand was called Te Weranga o Waitohi in Māori before colonial settlers changed the name to Picton, despite him never setting foot there.
Picton from Pembrokshire had previously been hailed as a public hero but has now become equally notorious for his cruel involvement in the slave trade and for sanctioning torture during his governance of Trinidad, from 1797-1803.
His portrait has been boxed up for removal in the National Museum of Wales, and his statue in Cardiff City Hall has met with the same fate, following the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
Historian Mike Taylor has written a history of the Waitohi community and Picton and said there was now a growing consensus there that the name should be changed.
“It’s always been Te Weranga o Waitohi, it’s always been known as the Waitohi Valley, and it still is,” he told Stuff.co.nz.
“He (Picton) used to slaughter women and kids, he’s never stepped foot in the country. It’s not only Māori who want it changed, it’s people from the whole community.
“Speaking to people who have approached most people back a change, even the schools that I’ve been in contact with seem to be going in that direction too.”
The councillor who originally proposed the name change, who is now retiring, however said that there was some resistance in the community. David Oddie said some people “just stopped talking” to him when he proposed the change.
“When I raised it a few years ago we had those that were determined to keep the name Picton and those that were really looking forward to it being changed to Waitohi,” he said.
“It’s always one of those difficult political conversations to have, and there were people that just stopped talking to me after I said that I wanted the name changed to Waitohi – but that’s just life in a small town.”
Amgueddfa Cymru’s director of collections and research Dr Kath Davis told the news site that she was aware of the debate in New Zealand and that it was relevant to Wales too as a bilingual country.
“What resonated with me about it was there was obviously a Māori name for Picton beforehand,” she said.
“And, what again really resonated for me as a Welsh speaker, and somebody from Wales where we’ve got two formal languages, was something happening here about Welsh speakers reclaiming certain names for famous Welsh landmarks like Mount Snowdon.”
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