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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter V. — A Maori Nation Maker

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Chapter V.
A Maori Nation Maker.

A young Maori Chief.—A Code of Laws for the Maories, submitted to Government.—A sincere Christian.—A Man of Mark.—A true Patriot.—He knows nobody.—Gets no hearing.—Retires disappointed.—Takes passage in a Coasting Cutter.—'Go ashore you Nigger.'—A Christian Gentleman in a Maori Mat.—Resolves to Make a Nation.—William Thompson the King Maker.—Begins his Work.—A Tribal combination.A Maori villagein 1856:—Houses and plantations.The Church on the Hill.Peach tree groves.The Mill in the Valley.The Post Office.The Chief's School-house.The Council House.Force and dignity of Maori oratory. The Church-going Bell.Communism.Individualism—The village of 1820:—Cannibals and Fortifications.Wars and rumours of Wars.Maori Chivalry.A Chief of the olden time.The Heralds.A Message of War.A Reply in kind.Silent but Effective.Peace unbroken—A real Savage.Target practice.The Missionaries appear.Nation Making continues.Thompson pursues his way Alone.His Policy on Two Lines.Combination—Stoppage of Land Sales.

Thirty-five years ago, a young Maori Chief of high rank arrived in the City of Auckland, to confer with the New Zealand Government upon the adoption of a simple Code of Laws for the better government of the Maori people. Straight as an page 33arrow, lithe and stalwart from personal toil, of great mental power, with the manners and feelings of a natural gentleman—not obscured by the dark skin and primitive garb of the Maories—a constant student of the New Testament, and a sincere Christian, the young Chief was a man of mark.

Though the only son of a warrior renowned in Maori story, he was a man of peace. He had been carefully taught and trained by the Missionaries, and was one of their most promising, as well as most distinguished converts. He had built a school for his people, and for some years before his visit to Auckland, had been its most active and capable teacher.

As he has often expressed to me, he desired to make his people into a Nation, capable of existence amongst the increasing numbers of the white Colonists, without being either demoralized by their vices or crushed by their power. The descendant of a line of warrior chiefs, he felt the pulsations in his own veins of the blood of a free, though savage race. A patriot of the first water, he wanted to make his people really free, not in antagonism to the Colonists, but under their guidance. He had pondered long on the difficult task of how to bring a fierce race of democratic, warlike communists—for, as I shall note in another chapter, the Maories were practical communists—into a condition of progress.

The increasing numbers of the Pakehas (colonists) and the granting of a Constitution to New Zealand, had stimulated his efforts, and he had drawn up a Code of Laws for the better government of his people, and page 34now visited Auckland to submit his ideas to the New Zealand Government for inspection and correction.

It was his first visit to the City and he knew nobody. Finding his way as best he could, to the Government offices, he attempted again and again to obtain a hearing, but in vain. After repeated efforts he gave up the attempt in disgust.

Carrying his Code with him, he took passage in a small cutter trading to the port nearest his ancestral domains. On the voyage, the master ran the cutter into a small bay to procure water. Ignorant of his passenger's rank, he roughly said,

'Here, you nigger, go ashore and bring some water aboard.'

The blue blood of the great Chief tingled, his eye flashed for an instant, at being commanded to do the work of a Taurekareka (slave) by a Tutua (low person).

Happily the savage instincts of the dark 'son of warriors' had been replaced by the placid temper of a Christian gentleman, and, without a word, he obeyed the rude command. Nevertheless, the incident deepened the conviction he had already formed, that if his people were not to continue savages, if indeed, they were not to be made subject to the white race, they must make themselves into a Nation.

This young Chief was Wi Tamehana te Waharoa, afterwards famous as William Thompson the King Maker, who with patient energy, consummate skill and steadfast courage, struggled long—but as the result proved struggled in vain, to accomplish his purpose—noble, if impossible.

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Arriving in his own territory, he began his work by convening assemblies of the Maories at various points At these meetings he unfolded his objects and plans; submitted a code of laws; combatted objections; reconciled ancient tribal feuds; revived in every district the ancient Maori Runangas (councils); finally, welding the Tribes into a powerful combination; and to give force and point to his efforts, proposed to make the renowned warrior Chief Te Wherowhero, King of the Maori Nation.

William Thompson's favourite place of abode was at the large Maori village of Peria. When I visited Peria in 1856, though retaining the best features of a purely Maori settlement, it bore abundant marks of the genius of Thompson. It was beautifully situated on a number of gentle eminences; on the summit of every hill were located the Whares (houses) of a Hapu (kindred families), each surrounded by its own little plantations of wheat, maize, kumaras and potatoes. Every cluster of houses was hidden in its grove of peach trees, and was provided with a Patuka (store-house) raised three feet from the ground on strong posts, with projecting timber caps as a precaution against rats. In these Patukas the better class of food was stored; potatoes being kept all the year round in Ruas (silos, holes), each holding about a ton, carefully excavated and provided with a well-fitted trap door. (Some idea may be formed of the number of inhabitants in Peria at that time, from the circumstance, that fifteen years later, when the settlement was de-page 36serted, I had nine hundred of these Ruas filled up.) The Patukas were generally ornamented with grotesque carvings coloured red to make them Tapu (sacred), and were very striking objects in a village.

A Maori-built church crowned one height, the ancient burial place another. Thompson's own house, nestling in a grove of peach trees, stood on an eminence, from which stretched north and south, the level plains of the great valley of the Thames. In the lofty mountain range opposite could be seen, like a streak of silver, the Wairere waterfall, five hundred feet or more in height From the same point could be seen Tarawera mountain—since famous for its volcanic eruption in June 1886—whilst far to the south, lay the snow-capped peaks of Ruapehu and Tongariro.

On an adjacent hill stood a post office, from which Thompson despatched letters to all the Maori villages. In the valley below the village, a stream turned a little flour mill, where the dusky farmers ground their wheat. Not far from this, stood the school-house, in which the Chief taught his scholars of every age, from the tatooed old chief to the boy and girl. A large Whare Runanga (council hall) occupied a central position, where from time to time the affairs of the Maori Nation were discussed by Chiefs of renown, in speeches marked by the fire, humour, action, dignity and decorum characteristic of Maori oratory.

Every morning and evening a bell called this orderly, simple, religious people to prayers. I never saw a more charming instance of simple idyllic life, page 37than this remarkable Maori village presented in 1856.

It seemed after all, that the enigma of how to graft the best form of civilization—Christ's civilization—on, not the worst form of savagism was about to be solved.

The ancient communal life of the Maori Nation seemed to be developing into a generous individualism, free from much of the inordinate selfishness, engendered by Companies, Syndicates and Trusts—the latest phases of modern civilization. As if, whilst a nation of savages were abandoning their communism, civilization was busy in hatching a communism, which, whilst it fattens one portion of the community, shamelessly plunders, or makes slaves of the other.

This partial abandonment of communism had been greatly due to the steadfast efforts of the Chief William Thompson, aided by the Missionaries.

Thirty years before, Pae-o-tuwaru (Peria) was a Kainga of the old style. Then, strong Maori Pahs (fortifications) frowned from every prominent hill; a fierce race of warriors, communists and cannibals, held their lands and lives, only by constant watchfulness; fierce attacks and gallant defences occurring at frequent intervals, followed by the usual cannibal feasts. Nevertheless, these contests were conducted generally with singular chivalry.

One lazy summer's day two messengers from a mountain Chief arrived at Pae-o-tuwaru with an announcement of an intended attack. The old tatooed page 38warrior Chief of the village, lazily reclining in the sunshine against a prostrate tree, and quietly killing the insects which usually torment the Maori, received the heralds. They delivered their warlike message, and gravely waited for the Chief's reply. According to Maori custom, he manifested no fear, not even surprise, beyond quietly raising his eyebrows. Then, when he had sufficiently displayed his indifference, without saying a single word, he quietly caught one of the insects, and with a turn of his thumb, killed it on the log.

That was all. The heralds had seen his action, and understood the reply it conveyed. After an interval, due to the power of the Chief and to the importance of their message, they departed. This piece of grim humour was more effective than any fierce challenge, for it meant

'Let your master lead on his warriors, and I will crush him, as easily as I have crushed the insect.'

No attack was made, and the peace remained unbroken.

This grim old Chief was a real savage. When guns first made their appearance in the village, by way of having the requisite target practice, he would squat at the door of his house, and fire at any unfortunate slave as he passed within range.

Not long after, the old Chief died, the Missionaries appeared, and through their teaching and William Thompson's growing influence, tribal contests, slavery and cannibalism disappeared, and the savage, warlike page 39Kainga of Pae-o-tuwaru became transformed into the peaceful, industrious, Christian village of Peria as I first saw it.

It was from this village, that the Chief William Thompson directed the work of Maori Nation Making he had commenced, until, as already stated, he has so far succeeded, as to have welded most of the tribes into a powerful combination, and taken measures for the election of a Maori King. Though the son of one of the most renowned warriors in Maori story, William Thompson was essentially a man of peace. A wonderful instance of the mental vigour and capability of the Native race, he nevertheless, perhaps not unnaturally, failed to grasp the consequences certain to arise from his patriotic policy. He neither intended, wished for, nor expected a contest to occur between the dark race and the white strangers who were swarming into the Colony. Failing to secure the guidance and help of the New Zealand Government, he pursued his way alone.

His policy ran on two main lines.

First, to combine his people, so that they might pursue their forward march, unchecked by tribal contests, and present a national barrier to the inroads of the restless White man.

Second.—To prevent absolutely any further sale or lease of lands to the Government or to White settlers.

To these, he added.—Education, the pursuit of agriculture, and the abstinence from rum or intoxicating liquors of any kind.