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The Coming of the Maori


page 537


Kei tua i te awe mapara, he tangata ke. Behind the tattooed face, a stranger stands.
Mana e noho te ao nei—he ma. He will inherit this world—he is white.
Matakite Maori prophecy

A prophecy, to be on the safe side, should be capable of more than one interpretation. The Maori seer, like the Polynesian gods, could not err. It was left to the interpreter to make mistakes. A Maori seer uttered the above prophecy before the white man came. The words te awe mapara refer to the soot (awe) collected from burning pieces of the heartwood of white pine (mapara). The soot was mixed with water to make the pigment with which tattooing artists added a more manly beauty to the faces of men of rank. Thus, in the figurative language of our ancestors, te awe mapara meant the person with a tattooed face. Before him, in the vista of time, the seer envisioned a person of different appearance who would occupy this world, a person whose face was ma. One meaning of ma is "white", hence during a period when the Maori population was decreasing and the white population increasing, the seemingly obvious interpretation of the prophecy was that the Maori would become extinct and his place would be taken by white people of another race.

In view of the marked increase in the Maori population, the mournful prospect of extinction happily may be cast aside. As for the interpretation of the word ma, the error lies in restricting it to one meaning, "white" and thus assuming it refers solely to the white Caucasians who are now sharing this land of ours. However, the widely spread Polynesian word for "white" is tea, as our people used it in the well-known name of Aotearoa (Ao-tea-roa). The Maori word ma was coined originally, I believe, to express the condition of being "clean". Our faces are ma after we have washed the dirt off them and, figuratively speaking, since we have washed off the tattooing of our ancestors. Today, there is not one man in New Zealand with a tattooed face. Therefore, we of the untattooed faces have qualified for the classification of ma. The seer did not err, but he was misinterpreted. To express the present state, the prophecy may be rendered as follows:

Behind the tattooed face, a different man appears.
He will continue to inhabit this land—he is untattooed.

page 538

We have interpreted the present, but what of the future? Though the Maori word ma also means "white", it creates no difficulty for, owing to the intermixture taking place between the two races, the rich brown skins of our Maori ancestors are changing to a paler, or whiter, tint. We are becoming ma a second time. The future of the Maori people is to be neither extinction nor absorption so complete as to make them lose their identity. What is taking place and what will continue to take place is a blending of the two races, a blending which will, in time, produce the future New Zealander who has derived physical and cultural superiority through the intermixture of the two bloods.

In the blending of the two cultures, the Maori people have much to contribute. The myths, legends, traditions, and history, so barely outlined in this book, should be as much the heritage of the future New Zealander as they are ours today. The Maori arts and crafts may lose items unsuited to changing conditions, but practical selection will preserve and adopt things which can blend into the unified culture of the future. Writers, poets, and artists will draw inspiration from our past history and art; ethnologists will find ample food for thought in our systems of social organization and religion; and the Maori past will blend into the New Zealand future.

Our Maori ancestors have endowed us with a rich heritage, and we cannot take credit to ourselves by basking in the sun of their reflected glory. We must be up and doing. Work is the keynote to success, physically, and mentally. Each generation must develop leaders whose ideals make for the common good. In the selfish world of today, we may be able to contribute something of the spirit of kindliness, hospitality, and toleration that are in danger of being extinguished by the current standard of material gain. We must hold to something of the spirit, toward both things celestial and things terrestrial. The tattooed seer prophesied changes, and Sir Maui Pomare envisioned them as leading to a happy blending when he wrote the following verse:

Our Maori blood shall still flow on
In a new and coming race
That when the old is past and gone,
We still may find its trace
In nobler types of human kind
With traits wherein there blend
The white man's more prosaic mind
The poet Maori trend.

And so, to the present generations and to the generations yet unborn, I give this simple yet heartfelt greeting—A happy blending!