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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 2 (May 1, 1934.)

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 41

The Wisdom of the Maori

Vanishes Like the Dew.

The Maori is ever apt with his metaphors and aphorisms. An old chief at Makarau, Kaipara, was engaged in an argument with a Government agent, touching land-selling. The pakeha official was bent on a purchase, the conservative owner of many acres was determined to hold on to them. “Money—your money!” he said. “What is it? We sell the land, and the money vanishes like the dew on the taro leaves, licked up by the morning sun.”

The Way of a Rangatira.

From the Kaipara district, too, came this story, told by Judge F. D. Fenton, of the Native Department, in illustration of the generosity and disregard of self-interest often exhibited by the Maori chief of high rank. There was a land-sale gathering at Tokatoka, on the Northern Wairoa, many years ago; the price had been settled by the people, and the Government agent and the present business was the distribution of the money. The principal chiefs there were two grand old men, Tirarau and Parore te Awha. The Government agent, who was accompanied by Fenton, had the money, eight hundred sovereigns, in a bag. The gold was first set down on the grass in the centre of the people, squatting there in a half-circle.

For half-an-hour it remained there, and not one spoke a word. Then one of the chiefs set the heavy bag in front of Tirarau. He presently set it back in its original place. Then he rose again and placed it before Parore. That chief sat contemplating it for some minutes and then returned it to its place on the green. All this time not a word was spoken.

At last the bag was lifted and set in front of Tirarau again. There it remained for half-an-hour of dignified silence. Now, due consideration having been shown to the principal men, Tirarau rose and proceeded to distribute the money. He took out a handful of sovereigns and gave them to one of the men, and went along the silent line, giving a handful to each man. In no instance did he trouble to count the money. Then, when all the sovereigns had been distributed, Tirarau lifted up the bag with both hands and shook it, to show that nothing remained. He did not keep a single sovereign for himself.

What could better illustrate the proud generosity and the dignified self-sacrifice of some of the old-time Maori chieftains? And no doubt that money soon vanished like the dew on the taro leaves.

Taipari, Squire of the Thames.

The Maori was quite a moneyed man in many a North Island district in the pioneer days. The gold-mining rush was responsible for some of the wealth acquired by the sons of the soil. Sixty odd years ago the Thames was at the height of its gold-getting tide, and the Ngati-Maru landowners shared in the boom. Describing the town of Shortland, as it was first called, at the mouth of the Thames or Waihou River, Governor Sir George M. Bowen wrote to the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1868:

“There is one peculiar and very interesting and suggestive fact connected with the town of Shortland, viz., that it is arising on ground belonging to the influential Maori chief Taipari. He declines to sell his land, preferring, with a view to its rapid increase in value, to let it in lots on building leases. But he has made liberal gifts of sites for churches for the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, the Presbyterians, and the other principal Christian communions, as also for a public hospital, a cemetery, a park, and other public purposes. He employs Europeans to survey and lay out roads and streets and to construct drains, culverts and the like.”

The shrewd and benevolent Taipari appeared to the Governor to be as capable of maintaining his just rights and as desirous of improving his property as any English landlord. The chief's income from rents and mining licenses was at the rate of nearly #4,000 yearly. “He has caused a commodious house, in the English style, to be built for himself on a slope commanding a beautiful prospect over the sea and the rising town. Taipari's example and knowledge of the wealth which he is acquiring by allowing the colonists to occupy his land on equitable terms are beginning to exercise a beneficial influence over many of his Maori countrymen who have hitherto lived in sullen and hostile isolation.” That was truly the golden age of the Europeanised Tangata Maori. The pity was it didn't last!

The Wheat-growers.

The Maori was an industrious grower of wheat in the days when it paid to grow breadstuffs in the North Island. Before the refrigeration process made meat-raising and dairying profitable, potato and maize and wheat were the market staples, and particularly wheat, which at one time fetched as much as ten shillings a bushel. That was in the days when vessels were loaded with produce at Auckland for the great gold-diggings in California and Victoria. Some twenty years later there was still good money in it for the Maori as well as pakeha. It is on record that at Tauranga alone the Ngai-te-rangi tribe threshed out 15,000 bushels of wheat from their crop of 1874–75. The price that season was 4/3 a bushel, a little lower than usual, but even at that the farmers of the tribe were able to take their wives and families for a few days’ vociferously enjoyable shopping in Tauranga town.

Much of that wheat was ground into flour at a water-mill on the Wairoa River, operated by a white miller who charged so much per bushel of wheat ground. There were many such mills driven by waterpower in the various Maori districts, and here and there still one may see the old mill-stones, long useless, lying in the fern or on the riverside.

Home Brew at Maungatautari.

But the ingenious Maori here and there applied his talents to other branches of industry besides wheatgrowing. Like the Tahitians and Rarotongans, our native sons learned the art of making cheering liquors from the products of the soil. They derived the idea from the pakeha, of course. This is an illuminating note I have turned up in a report made to Sir Donald Maclean, Native Minister, in 1875, by Mr. R. S. Bush, who was a Government native agent and interpreter, and afterwards Magistrate in Auckland:

“Ngati-Koroki and Ngati-Kahukura are tribes living near Cambridge, Waikato. One of the latter tribe, Turo, from Maungatautari, has become quite an expert at distilling a kind of intoxicating drink from maize, potatoes and pumpkins, which the natives say is much stronger than the pakeha waipiro. One glass will make a man drunk. Those who indulge too freely do not suffer any after-effects, hence its popularity. Turo sold all he could make, at three shillings per bottle.”