Settlers and Pioneers
22 — The Changing Times
The Changing Times
An old Maori friend, who now and again, from his kainga near Tauranga, sends me a story of his ancestors or his views on subjects of the day, discoursed in the last letter on the altered conditions of life on the land. Like many pakehas, he declared that even the climate is not what it used to be. The burden of his reflections may be summarised in the pakeha lament for the good old times. He is a farmer and an orchardist, and though he appreciates modern methods, he believes life was more comfortable in the days of his youth.
'I am thinking,' he says in Maori, 'of the cultivation of the land in about the year 1877. Our principal labour then was the growing of wheat. That continued until about the year 1888. Our crops were always abundant. The world was well nourished then; there was plenty of food for all. The land was much better in those days; there were no blights. With a small amount of labour the people were abundantly fed. The children did not need many page 143clothes; when it was cold they ran about to keep themselves warm. There was little trouble or sickness. Because of the plenty of food, men and women and children and the animals grew strong and healthy. The world was healthy; the beautiful waters of the earth were unspoiled, and also the air. We had fruit and flowers that the missionaries brought about the year 1840. About 1880 a great many more English people and other pakehas came to the country because steamships were beginning to run, and the products of the land increased greatly in variety. Our fruit trees up to that time were clean and bore abundantly.
'But with the coming of many new pakehas and all their fruit trees and seeds and manures of all kinds, there came the blights. Weeds of all kinds came, too, and the healthy growth of our fruit and other crops gradually declined. Now the earth does not possess the strength it once did for the growing of food. The good soil was poisoned with bone manure and other noxious stinking fertilisers. When we grew wheat and ground our own corn in our waterwheel mills, the flour we produced was better than any we can buy to-day, and the bread was better for us. And, what is more, our pakeha friends said the same thing.
'I have thought a great deal over these matters,' the old philosopher continued, 'and I am wondering whether all the strange inventions that are so page 144numerous and powerful now are the cause of some of the changes that have come over us. Can it be that the falling away in the strength of the land, the changes in the atmosphere* and the water and dews that nourish the earth are caused by all these electric currents, these electric light and power wires that are everywhere? May it not be that they have influence on the air of the spaces above us? Besides the poisoning of the earth, there is the loading of the air with man's lightning† and the inventions of the restless and war-filled pakeha mind, may not all this have a bad influence on the tribes of the world? Perhaps some of your wise men may be able to tell us ignorant people.'
I can only pass those questions on to our wise men. As for the rest, my correspondent's countrymen are grappling now with the new conditions of life and labour and are beginning to make a success of it. But with all the new avenues opening up before them, and with all the new hope that increase in population should give them, there is the wistful look back on the less anxious and more spacious life. Therein our Maori friends are no different from the pakeha. It was ever thus. The earth was cleaner, the page 145peaches were bigger and sweeter. There was no detestable ragwort to turn the paddocks into deceptive fields of cloth of gold. There were fewer bills to pay. It may be that now and again a great depression visited even Maoridom—only they did not know it in those days.
* 'Hau o te takiwa' was the expression used here, signifying the atmosphere—literally 'wind of the outer space.'
† Uira, lightning, is the comprehensive word used for electricity and all electrical contrivances.