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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day


Three-quarters of a century ago an officer of the Royal Engineers stationed in Auckland put this prophecy in writing: “In fifty years there will scarcely be one New Zealand native left alive. All that can be done is to let them die out as quietly as possible…” Many Englishmen after Captain Collinson's day made a similar prediction, and in the Sixties there were politicians and newspaper writers who did not content themselves with the mere hope that the race would die out; they counselled a war of extermination. Even such sympathetic men as Alfred Domett, poet and statesman, regarded the Maori as a fast vanishing race.

The Maori himself has given reply to these confident prophecies of his melancholy fate by declining to lie down and die. There was a time when in his fatalism he was ready to accept the extinction like the moa that the all-dominating pakeha march meant for him. The process of disappearance from the earth to which the South Sea Islander and the Red Indian alike were submitting before the unconquerable advance of the white man, seemed inevitable also in the land of the Maori. Forty years ago the condition of the race was considered by many New Zealanders void of hope for the future. Like the forest-tree page 2 encircled by the ever-tightening and strengthening coils of the rata, the fate of the Maori, though long deferred, it was impossible to avert. He would gradually perish from the land, leaving nothing but his ruined hill forts and some military traditions and poetic literature to remind the coming generations of the New Zealand nation of the men who traded and fought with the pioneers of British colonization.

But to-day the Maori is 65,000 strong. Every census shows an increase in population. The race is established as a factor of permanent importance in the growth of New Zealand nationalism. In social conditions, in hygiene, in industry and the production of wealth, the Maori has exactly reversed the common belief of two generations ago. To a considerable degree the race is amalgamating with the Anglo-Celtic colonists who outnumber it nearly twenty-five to one, but there is a distinct increase in the purely Maori population and a faith in the future of the people as an individual entity in the life of the Dominion for many generations to come. The Maori, in short, stands on his feet once more. He rejoices in his renewed virility and hold on life, and he is opening a way for himself to a new world of contentment and prosperity. The agencies and influences that have contributed to this happy reversal of the mournful decline are manifold; the cumulative effect is a result that is peculiarly creditable to enlightened British methods in dealing with a native race. For it is only in British Colonies and Dominions in the South Seas, or groups largely under British influence, that the native races have picked up new heart after the early tragedy of contact with the European, and are regaining something of their ancient pride of nationhood and the olden fecundity.

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In the old Maori belief everything animate and many things inanimate were endowed with a mauri and a hau, by which terms were meant a soul, an individuality, and in the case of man, a “vital spark” which by various means, natural and supernatural, could be extinguished. When the white man's influence transformed the face of Maoridom, and the native race began to decrease, the wise men of the tribes attributed the decadence of the people to the neglect of the ancient religion, and the decay of the sacred hau which had been conquered by the spirit of the new age.

But there must be in the Maori a strong racial quality of physical and spiritual resilience, a power to rise superior to hostile natural forces. At any rate the outlook for the people has completely changed during the present generation. Factors which have contributed to this happy condition are the Government's sanitation crusade, medical and nursing attention, improved diet, better attention to young children, a return to the agricultural industries, increased sobriety, regular habits of work—all these have helped to overcome stagnation, moral and physical, which was an inevitable condition of the violent transition from a primitive state of society to the modern.

You see the depth of the despairing spirit of racial decay in the Marquesas group to-day. There a once splendid Polynesian people is disappearing, smitten to death by the impalpable enemy, the breath of the intrusive white man. The hau of the race has been overrun, trampled in the dust; the Marquesan has lost his mauri ora, his living soul. Conversely, the Maori of New Zealand regained his, or at any rate, has plucked up courage, the will to live, that makes all the difference in the world to a Pacific Islands people.

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First in the agencies that have transformed the outlook on life for the Maori is the work of the State's doctors among the people in the last quarter of a century. It was in 1901 that the pioneer Maori doctor, Maui Pomare—now the Hon. Sir Maui Pomare, M.P.—a young New Zealander of high pedigree and great natural gifts, the first native graduate in medicine, who had returned to his country full of zeal for his profession and his people, was appointed to the staff of the newly-formed Department of Public Health. That was the beginning of the great work, the task of staying the downward drift of the race. The enthusiastic young doctor who went into the kaingas from end to end of the Maori districts and earnestly preached sanitation and exhorted and pushed the people into new and higher modes of life, has won high honours as an administrator since the early days of this century; but his greatest work was that first almost heartbreaking effort to stop the all-but-inevitable end of the Maori race and its South Sea Island kin. Pomare, in his first report to the Chief Health Officer, wrote that “it was with a heart full of fear and trembling that my mission was undertaken.” He had strong antagonism to pakeha science to overcome, deeply rooted belief in tapu and the tohunga, racial mistrust of all pakeha counsels; agelong social habits and practices. No pakeha doctor, or host of doctors, could have begun that breaking-down process: only a man of their own race, followed by others as they were trained, could turn the Maori into the path of life and progress. The campaign against disease and unwholesome ways has been carried on by several of the young generation since the way was opened twenty-seven years ago—Dr. Te Rangihiroa (Peter Buck) good soldier and distinguished ethnologist, Dr. Wi Repa, and page 5
“The Light of Other Days.” “…. The memory of joys that are past, pleasant and mournful to the soul….. Slant looks the sun on the field; gradual grows the shade of the hill.”—Ossian. The venerable Patara te Tuhi, Chief of Ngati-Mahuta clan of Waikato. A picture at Mangere, Manukau Harbour, by James McDonald.

The Light of Other Days.”
“…. The memory of joys that are past, pleasant and mournful to the soul….. Slant looks the sun on the field; gradual grows the shade of the hill.”—Ossian.
The venerable Patara te Tuhi, Chief of Ngati-Mahuta clan of Waikato.
A picture at Mangere, Manukau Harbour, by James McDonald.

page 6 Dr. Ellison—after the foundation of a new sound life was laid by Dr. Pomare.

An admirable summary of the Maori health situation and its interrelated problems was contained in Dr. Pomare's official report in 1906. He wrote:

“We have lived in hopes, and at last I see a glimmering of realisation in the reconstruction of the Native Department. Not that we did nothing in the past years, far from it, but we laboured under great disadvantages and difficulties. The field was too great for one man, the task too herculean for one body, the distances that had to be travelled were too great, the roads in parts were often impassable, but yet never a call came that we did not respond, a cry that we did not heed.… Recent changes in the Native Department give promise of having this done, and, further, we can expect more systematic work being carried out in the sanitary inspecting of kaingas, medical attendance to the Maoris, and the proper care of the old men and indigent natives.”

“We have looked into the question of the decline of the Maori, and have found that the causes of this were legion. Bad housing, feeding, clothing, nursing, unventilated rooms, unwholesome pas, were all opposed to the perpetuation of the race; but a deeper knowledge of the Maori reveals to us the fact that these are not the only potent factors in the causation of his decay. Like an imprisoned bird of the forest, he pines for the liberty and freedom of his alpine woods. This was a warrior race used to fighting for liberty or to death. All this is gone, fighting is no more. There is no alternative but to become a pakeha. Was not this saying uttered by the mouth of a dying chief many generations ago: ‘Kei muri i te awé kapara he tangata ke, mana te ao, he ma’ (‘Shadowed behind the tattooed face a stranger stands, he who owns the earth, and he is white’)? There is no hope for the Maori but in ultimate absorption by the pakeha. This is his only hope, if hope it be, to find his descendants merged in the future sons of the Briton of the Southern Hemisphere. Sons who will not forget that in them runs the warrior blood of unconquered chieftains of centuries, and who, on the other hand, will be imbued with loyalty and imperialism, proud of being members of the Empire to which belong their fathers. While, however, this is taking place we must recognise the fact that these people must live under hygienic conditions, not only because it would be to their own advantage, but also that the public at large demands it; and that is why the crusade must be carried on, the war waged with increased vigour and untiring effort.”

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That was the situation as it appeared over a score of years ago. Pomare's prophecies have been fulfilled in some respects. The war against disease and ignorance has been carried through with the result that many of the old habits that were dragging the race down have been given up. But it is happily apparent also that the Maori of the new generation is not likely to merge his individuality completely in that of the pakeha. The Maori community in many a district will continue thoroughly Maori in many of the features that distinguish a proud race of immemorial poets and warriors from that of the commercial-minded pakeha.

The second great factor in the regeneration of the race is the return to the agricultural life, and the growing interest in pastoral pursuits. The Maori is now a successful farmer in many districts; he has even taken to the dairying industry, which at one time was distasteful to a people impatient of the steady attention to one job which the milkingshed demands.