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A year among the Maoris: study of their arts and customs


page 5


Miss Frances Del Mar is by profession an artist of English extraction and education, who for some years has resided in the United States. On account of her interest in ethnography she has assisted several important American museums in providing and describing material obtained in the course of her travels in Polynesia and elsewhere.

On her return from a visit to New Zealand, Miss Del Mar showed me some of the results of her observations among the Maoris, and asked my help in securing the publication of her descriptive notes, illustrated by her own remarkable photographs. I was glad to do what I could to assist her. Miss Del Mar's interest and enthusiasm for her subject, her capacity for observation, and her undoubted talent as an artist convinced me that the publication proposed would be welcome as an attractive first-hand account of a valiant native race whose history and characteristics are not sufficiently generally known, although the Maoris still occupy a unique position in what is now the great British Dominion of New Zealand.

Miss Del Mar having been obliged to return to the United States, the task of preparing her notes for publication was undertaken by Mr. Pemberton, who has most efficiently completed the work.

It is eminently desirable that the history and essential features of the native races of the British Empire should be well known throughout its length and breadth, and especially in the Mother Country. It is hoped that the publication of Miss Del Mar's notes may be the means of promoting this object, and lead many to seek further knowledge of the Maoris and the early history of New Zealand.

The future of the survivors of these immigrants from Polynesian islands, who some five hundred years ago occupied New Zealand, and whose history records many sad pages, is still in doubt. At present they page 6number about fifty thousand. A less virile and less intellectual and adaptable race would have disappeared long before now. The Maoris, however, have shown not only a remarkable aptitude to follow in the wake of modern civilisation, but, in addition, intermarriage with Europeans has apparently also led to successful results. There is therefore some hope that the surviving remnants of the race may in some form be preserved. Maoris and their descendants are represented in many public activities as well as in the Legislature of the Dominion, and they were among those who fought for and with us in the Great War.

Inevitably the survival of the Maoris unfortunately involves the progressive loss of much that is of supreme interest. It also means the gradual adoption of our own habits and customs, even down to the cinema and the modern dance. It is satisfactory that the beauty of Maori art, as shown chiefly in decorative design, is not likely to be lost sight of.

Miss Del Mar has been fortunate in unearthing from some of the surviving Maoris much that tells of the ways of that savage race of whom we learnt through the voyages of Captain Cook, and whose survivors are now well cared for under British rule.

To those who through these pages may be stimulated to learn more of New Zealand's history there are fortunately several excellent accounts in existence. First and foremost is Mr. Pember Reeves's fascinating volume entitled "The Long White Cloud," notable not only for its erudition, but also for the literary brilliance with which the history of New Zealand is written without a single dull page. Mr. Reginald Horsley's later volume on New Zealand in the "Romance of Empire" series, with Mr. McCormick's striking illustrations, also deserves special mention.

Wyndham R. Dunstan.

October, 1924.