The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1 (May 1, 1930)
Among the Fascinating Maoris — Two Famous Villages
At both Ohinemutu and Whakarewarewa you will meet the descendents of those doughty sea-rovers who crossed the Pacific in the famous Arawa canoe during the main Maori migration of 1350. They are splendid representatives of a proud and noble race, which is foremost among native peoples throughout the world.
Whakarewarewa and Ohinemutu
Ohinemutu, which lies close to the north-western shore of Lake Rotorua, was founded, about five hundred years ago, by the Chief Ihenga, grandson of the leader of the Arawa Canoe. Since that day his descendents, known as the Ngati-Whakane branch of the Arawa tribe, have pursued a very pleasant existence, enjoying the good things of life without that toil and anxiety which ever follows in the wake of the white man. In the lake they found an abundance of indigenous fish; they had a climate never very cold and often luxuriously pleasant; and bubbling up at their own back doors have always been the perennial hot pools, serving the triple purposes of baths, cooking pots, and washing coppers. The cessation of inter-tribal conflicts and the coming of the white tourist introduced new elements of peace and comfort, while producing little change either in the picturesqueness of the inhabitants or the even tenor of their ways. Truly, more recent years have added many superficial modern touches, particularly to the younger Maoris, but the atmosphere of old times still persists strongly. Indeed, the Government is exerting itself to preserve in both this and the Whakare-warewa village all the essential characteristics of the typical Maori village, so far as that is consistent with modern needs in sanitation and convenience.
The main part of the Ohinemutu village faces the lake, some of it extends a few hundred yards inland over a slight rise. Naturally, the outstanding feature of interest to the visitor is the thermal activity. It is not spectacular, but eerie. Everywhere they bubble up, those fussy, energetic pools which you eye respectfully, but dare not touch. In the lake itself a tiny area close in shore steams and hisses furiously, while only a few yards further on, the water lies quiet and cool. At all points take care where you place your feet; you may be treading on solid ground, or you may blissfully be suspending yourself over the mouth of an inferno. Ordinarily, however, there is little danger to fear.
Home of Maori Arts and Crafts.
The centre of interest lies close to the lake end of the village. Here, around a large open space, are clustered several buildings of exceptional interest. The most outstanding of them is the Maori meeting house, a building of broad dimensions and a fine specimen of Maori architecture and carving. Close by it is a smaller building, finished like a pa at the front, but otherwise entirely European in style. To this place you must pay a visit, for, fascinating as you will find Ohinemutu in other respects, you have here an attraction unique and unparalleled in the Dominion, since it is the home of the only institution in the country devoted to the active encouragement of Maori Arts and Crafts. It is under the general control of a Board of that name, and is directed by a man whom it is a joy to meet, namely, Mr. Hamilton, whose father's monumental studies of Maori art in every shape and form are regarded as one of our national treasures.
During my last visit, I had a long chat with Mr. Hamilton, and spent some time in wandering around the workshop. In 1926, largely owing to the efforts of Sir Apirana Ngata, parliament passed a special Act with the aim, in the words of one of its supporters, the Hon. Mr. J. G. Coates, “of making a real move forward in the preservation of something which, in a few years, will be a lost art.” It was intended to set on foot a properly equipped school with quite an elaborate syllabus, so as to give the young Maoris that thorough training in the arts and crafts of their fathers, which they would have page 53 received as a matter of course in the more leisurely days gone by. Lack of finance, however, and some doubt as to whether pupils so trained would be able to make a living out of it, are factors which have hindered the development of the original plans. The school, if it can be called such, is at present leading a hand-to-mouth existence, concentrating on carving only, and limiting itself entirely to fulfilling orders actually received. Even so, much valuable work is accomplished.
Hive of Industry.
At the time of my visit Mr. Hamilton was working with a staff of about eight. They were all busily engaged doing the complete carving for a new and important pa to be erected in the Gisborne district. When I first entered I was astonished at the air of industry in the place. Every single man was working as if his very life depended on each stroke of the chisel. You could see the perspiration flowing off their faces. It was their evident enjoyment of the work that struck me even more forcibly than their display of energy. The explanation is interesting. In the first place their livelihood does not depend on the work. Sometimes a man approaches Mr. Hamilton in a slack period. “Oh, what chances of a job, boss?” “Nothing doing now, but you can come back in three weeks' time.” Away goes the Maori grinning cheerfully, returns faithfully in three weeks' time, and just as cheerfully departs again if he is not wanted. There is no need to worry for, in the meantime, he can attend to his little plot of ground or live on the communal resources. And when the work does come, he tackles it with an enthusiasm that Mr. Hamilton finds positively embarrassing. For example, the men pleaded with him to start work at six o'clock in the morning. Finally, he had to meet them half-way by commencing at seven. Again, on the day after New Year's Day, usually a holiday, they elected to work. They love their work, and do it very much for its own sake, since the desire to create something, to achieve some artistic effect, is an impulse deeply rooted in the Maori mentality. Perhaps I should drop one hint in case you should visit here in the near future: One or two of the present staff are of gigantic bodily size, and they are extremely self-conscious and sensitive about it. Mr. Hamilton himself is a person apart. From a life-long association with the Maoris, he is intimately versed in their ways and outlook, and impresses the observer as being more of a foster-father than a boss. Here, in a quiet way and in a quiet place, and with unbounded capacity and enthusiasm, he is pioneering a work for which the whole Maori race will have reason to thank him.
The third interesting building is the Maori Church, which stands at the other end of the open space. The carvings in the church are exquisitely done, and near the vestry are suspended the historic, tattered flags, which were carried by the loyal Arawas during the Maori wars and afterwards presented to the Church. On either side of the entrance, too, are interesting reminders of the past in the shape of hand-some tombstones and monuments erected to the memory of distinguished chiefs whose records, unfortunately for the curiosity of the page 54 average Pakeha, are locked up in the Maori inscriptions.
Penny for the Haka.
Dispense with all its special attractions and Ohinemutu is still a place where you can spend many a pleasant hour. It is delightful merely to wander in and out aimlessly among the narrow streets of the village. Here you will encounter little fellows of three and four and upwards who will clamour loudly to honour you with a haka so that you may reward them with a penny. Such a haka, too—what they lack in skill they make up for in gusto, conscientiously determined to give you your “penn'orth.” Perhaps, further along, you will meet one of the old wahines. She smokes her pipe contentedly. She stops when you come up to her, and, giving you a hearty “Tenakoi,” shakes hands quite vigorously, and says a number of things in Maori which you know from her broad smiles must be some friendly message. The wonderfully happy spirit of camaraderie which the Maoris show to everybody alike is their most delightful characteristic, which we are able to appreciate the more keenly because of our natural aloofness.
So we leave Ohinemutu. though we have touched only on the fringe of its inexhaustible charms.
Erection of Model Village Proposed.
Whakarewarewa lies in a valley at some distance from the lake, and one and a half miles from the town. Every other attraction is, of course, entirely overshadowed by the thermal activity, which is much more intense and spectacular than that at Ohinemutu. The village itself is a collection of huts and small houses all thrown irregularly and close together on a narrow area. To the right, as you enter, is a native reserve, a comparatively small section. Here there are a number of boiling pools, some of them too deep to fathom. There is also one large pool where the village youngsters may have their cleansing bath as often as they please without mother having to turn on the caliphont or father lighting up the copper. Much of the village cooking and washing is also done here; there are even several houses scattered around almost on the brinks of the pools. To live on this thin crust of ground, which shakes and trembles and might at any time blow up altogether. seems absolutely foolhardy, yet the Maoris have been born and bred to it, and hence feel no concern. There is, however, the real danger of tuberculosis, for which the continual warm, moist, unhealthy atmosphere provides an ideal breeding ground. This was one of the reasons which prompted the Government to set up a Commission in 1926 to investigate among other matters the desirability of demolishing the present village and reconstructing it along model lines some distance up the adjoining hill. A new road was put in hand some time ago, but nothing else has been done owing largely to lack of finance and the difficulty of concluding negotiations. page 55 Here, as elsewhere in Maori settlements, the ownership of land is a very complicated problem. One piece, no larger than a small room, is said to have thirty-nine different owners! In the interests of the Maoris themselves, however, change of site and reconstruction are urgent needs, and it is hoped that difficulties may be smoothed out before very long.
Geysers at Play.
The Whakarewarewa geyserland is too well known to justify much description here. Only two of the geysers now give a spectacular display, and that at intervals. These are the “Prince of Wales's Feathers” and “Pohutu.” I was one of a fortunate few to see them play on a misty afternoon in the middle of January. Both were shooting up side by side to a distance of some thirty or forty feet. making an awe-inspiring sight not to be forgotten. Later on I saw them asleep. Quiet, gentle pools they were then, with clear, innocent-looking depths and only a wisp or two of steam to suggest their hidden terrors. Without these star attractions, there are many other sights of absorbing interest. There are, as Sir William Fox once vividly described them, “repulsive looking mud volcanoes boiling in a sluggish and laborious manner like very thick soup. They look like the natural home of a family of huge ugly bullfrogs who, were it not for the heat, would doubtless have been placed there by Nature to sprawl and croak and enjoy their slimy life.” There are, too, boiling and cold streams running side by side, and on top of the hill a complete model pa, about which, and everything else of interest. the guide will give you a store of information for the modest fee of one shilling. Upwards of one hundred guides do duty at Whakarewarewa. yet so great is the demand for their services that few of them are long idle. Some have lost the charm and grace of youth, some are only young girls; but they all have the reputation of being delightful companions and of taking pains to show and explain to the Pakeha all that is worth seeing.
A Famous Guide.
Perhaps, without doing injustice to the others. it is possible to mention one who is an outstanding figure among them all—that is, the Guide Rangi. In the middle thirties, she has a slim. youthful appearance and a wonderfully engaging manner. All the distinguished people who visit Whakarewarewa invariably select her as guide. She has conducted a prince, famous statesmen, bishops, business magnates of world reputations, sporting celebrities, distinguished soldiers and sailors, and lords and ladies without number. When she has finished showing them the sights, she then takes them to her meeting-house nearby, entertains them with selections from a very complete repertoire of Maori records, and delights them with clever anecdotes, which she tells in a way that holds them spellbound. Though not a Chieftain's daughter, Rangi carries herself with regal air. and there are probably few women in any country who entertain in one year so many world-famous people, and the charm of whose personality has spread so far.