The Maori Farmer.
The Maori in the pre-European era was the most industrious of men. Probably no other race had to work harder for its very existence. Enormous works, such as fortifications, were carried out by communal labour, and these scarped and terraced hill forts stand to this day in many hundreds of examples, as monuments to the skill, perseverance and
Maori Skill in Military Engineering.
These detail drawings of the Ngapuhi fortifications of Ruapekapeka Pa, in Hone Heke's war in North New Zealand, 1845–46, illustrate the ingenuity with which the Maori adapted his defences to the needs of the firearms era. The Maori was particularly skilful in “digging in” against artillery fire.
working capacity of the native people. Tree-felling and timber-working, clearing land for cultivation, making great canoes, building large and beautifully-carved houses, obtaining food from forest, sea, river and lake, were occupations that called for strenuous effort and great ingenuity. Agriculture, though primitive and restricted to one or two staples, provided subsistence for a very large population. Then, in the early days of contact with the pakeha
, the rush to obtain firearms and gun-powder set every tribe toiling with feverish energy at flax-cutting and scraping for the traders. In a later era, the first two decades of British colonization, the Maori became a grower of wheat and other new foodstuffs, and there was a time when the infant cities in the North Island drew much of their wheat and flour and potatoes from the Maori farms. The long wars ruined this happy industrious age, when thousands of acres of wheat and other crops were raised by the tribes on the coast and far inland, and when nearly every large community had its flourmill, driven by waterpower, and when flour from the heart of the Waikato was even shipped to the new gold-rush towns in California and Australia. The wars that lasted for ten years set the Maori back fifty years; and the dealings in land that followed, the interminable Land Court sittings, with their scenes of drunken dissipation—until the Government changed the venue to purely Maori districts away from the temptations of the public-houses—the chicanery and double dealing of pakeha
agents, the unsettled conditions of life, the lack of definite aims and hopes—all these factors made for deterioration of the moral and physical fibre of the race. Life's handicap sat heavily on the Maori of forty years ago. Now the change that has come over the scene is pleasant indeed. The old
racial bitterness has gone, or is all but gone; the old despair has given place to hope and faith in the future. The knowledge that the race is increasing in numbers, as shown by every census that is taken, has enormously heartened up the Maori people. The increasing virility of the race, the increase in the proportion of children, the general steady growth within the last generation have given the people courage to attack the industrial problems of life. And above all the life on the land is engaging the physical energy and the brains of the young Maori. There are still some sections lingering in the old paths, reluctant to learn and adapt themselves to the new era. But the Maori generally is manfully shouldering the pikau
of this twentieth century and is in some quarters showing that, given the same facilities, he can even outstrip the pakeha
in the walks of civilized life. He has come to realize that the pakeha
regards him as a member of the community whose value, social and industrial, to the nation increases with every year that passes. He appreciates, too, very acutely the fact that his pakeha
fellow countryman—and now his racial kinsman—places high value on the spiritual and intellectual gifts of the ancient race, and looks to the Maori for inspiration in art and poetic conceptions and the distinctive characteristics that go to build up the national ideals.
The Maori, wherever he is given a fair chance to win a living from the soil of his ancestors, is manfully doing his best to keep up with his more experienced pakeha neighbours. As for his standard of living, it is relatively high. The native is a “good spender” as the tradespeople say, he is no miser, no coin-hoarding Chinaman or Hindu. No doubt he would sometimes be better, like his pakeha friends, for a little of the frugal spirit, but
generosity and hospitality are the soul of the race, and the communal spirit of giving reaches its pinnacle, perhaps, in the kainga Maori.
The Maori people have only about four million acres of land remaining to them, and from this area there have to be deducted rugged mountains unfit for settlement and other useless land, so that the area available for farming is now too small for the requirements of the increasing native population. Not merely should the Maori be secured beyond all fear of dispossession of what land remains to him, but he should be given State facilities to obtain more land for his present and future needs. The truth is that in some districts the people have not sufficient land for their subsistence. They are forced to take to other occupations to earn their bread. If the Maori is to take his natural and most fitting place in the industrial world he must be assured in the possession of land for himself and his children after him. In Taranaki, in Waikato, and in the Rotorua district, and other parts, there
In the potato field, Whakatane Valley, Urewera Country.
[J. A. Baine, photo.
are Maoris willing and anxious to farm the land, but they have no land to farm. The call is for more population for the Dominion, but the human material native to the soil is far more valuable to the nation than any immigration from overseas. Happily during the last few years the Legislature has exhibited an excellent sense of its duty to the native race, and measures passed during the 1926 session enabled the various Native District Boards to assist Maoris in farming and otherwise making use of their properties, and this financial help has given a desirable impetus to the work of cultivating and stocking the land. There was at the last return over half a million in funds held by the Native Land Boards, and farmers are able to obtain loans from this source. The work of consolidation of interests in land, so that each owner shall have a usable block or section to work, instead of having a number of small and comparatively useless interests in various parts, is a most necessary preliminary to satisfactory farming, and this task has engaged the Native Department of the Government for some years.
In those districts such as the East Coast where sheep-raising and other branches of farming have been carried on for some years with success, the people have received practical help from their pakeha fellow-settlers, and now that they are able to stand on their own feet, and even to exhibit a fine example to the European stock-owner and agriculturist, they are a distinct source of economic strength to the nation. What Ngati-Porou have done in the East Cape country can be emulated in other districts, given the financial and technical help that the Government is now making available. But an assured sufficiency of workable land is the first essential to the building of a prosperous and contented Maori people.