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The Maori: Yesterday and To-day

The Genius of the Race

The Genius of the Race.

Coincidently with this material renaissance of the race, its ascent in health and comfort and industrial habits, there has come a new interest in the cultural side of the Maori, the artistic and poetic tradition and the varied forms it assumes; features that will strongly colour the New Zealand national life and character of the future. The native talent in artcraft, the poetry that so deeply permeates the Maori being, are discussed in chapters in this book; a vast amount more could be written about them. A great body of Maori lore and ancient wisdom and poetry has been placed on printed record. But these records should not be regarded as so much museum lore, an interesting relic of the past and no more. Much of it is at least as worthy of use among the Maori of to-day as pakeha traditional practice is among the pakeha. I should like to see the young generation of Maori take more pride in his nationality, in other things than sport. He is too ready to accept his pakeha environment and to believe that what the pakeha believes is also the right and proper thing for him. There are many of his grand traditions he can practice to-day without sacrificing his opportunities of advancement in the arts and industries of his English fellow-New Zealanders.

The soul of the race, the individuality and peculiar genius of the descendants of the old Pacific sea-rovers, bards and mystics, are expressed in the national tradition, poetry, song and artcraft. Long page 13 discouraged by neglect and by those who desired to see the Maori individuality merged in the white and Anglicised out of all likeness to the original type, these rich fields of knowledge and inspiration are now engaging the attention of students of both races. The beauty of much of the old Maori religion has come to be recognised. The best type of missionary among primitive races is now an ethnologist, with a mind broad enough to appreciate the nobility of primitive religion even when it runs counter to the dogma and prejudices of his own church. All present-day church people, however, do not seem to realise the merits of the immemorial Maori system of faith and ceremonial ritual, and there is an unfortunate tendency to supplant even what little remains of the original karakia with the customs of the pakeha. As an example, there is the Maori service for the opening of a newly-built carved house. Nothing in a pakeha service for the blessing of new buildings is so finely poetical and so appropriate as the Maori house-opening chant given in Chapter 10 of this book, an Arawa karakia that is a true house-warming prayer. Custom and wholesome veneration for the unseen and the divine are bound up in such ceremonials. I should like to see the Maori people generally insist on preserving such observances as these unspoiled by the foreign element.