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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 4 (July 1, 1935.)

The Wisdom of the Maori

page 62

The Wisdom of the Maori

The Taming Process.

The Maori of the old generation had a shrewd wit, with which he often made play at the expense of the pakeha. There was a Wanganui chief of whom my old friend the late Rev. T. G. Hammond used to tell this story. Hammond was “Te Hamana” among the Maoris; he was a veteran Wesleyan missionary to the West Coast Maoris. He and the Wanganui man had many an argument concerning the pakeha missions. The Maori waxed sarcastic. “Oh, you missionaries,” he said. “Do you know why you were sent to us? You were really sent to break us in, to tame the Maoris as we break in a wild horse—rub them quietly down the face to keep them quiet. Then when the missionaries had tamed us, another set of pakehas took the land from under us.”

Really, there was sound truth underlying that sagacious figure of speech.

Another simile bearing upon the white man's steady advance is an expression I have frequently heard among the Waikato and King Country Maoris. The surveyors sent into the Maori country to spy out and map the land were likened to a wedge. The Kai-ruri, they said, was the first wedge of maire wood driven into the log of Maori nationality. Presently other wedges would be driven home and the pakeha Government would split the log up. And therein, too, truth is embodied. That splitting-up process in the Rohepotae was inexorable and inevitable. The log symbolised not only Maori nationality but the land, and all that great territory could not be allowed to remain in its wild state when it was so tempting a place to be split up for the land-needing thousands of the pakeha.

The Missionary's Gun.

Mention of “Te Hamana” recalls to my memory another story told by him, one day of long ago. We were sitting on the flat top of an old hill pa called Pa-matangi, near the Whenua-kura River in South Taranaki. We had been treasure-hunting there, searching for greenstone relics—the missionary's favourite diversion, concerning which his Maori flock sometimes passed rather sarcastic comments. Mr. Hammond talked of his early mission life at Hokianga, and narrated that when he left there in 1887 to take up the work of his church among the Taranaki Maoris he sold his sporting rifle to a young Maori in the Waima Valley. That valley eleven years later was the scene of Hone Toia's armed but bloodless little rebellion against pakeha authority. When Hone and his principal men surrendered to Colonel Newall at Waima village after the Government military column had marched in from Rawene (the present writer was an eye-witness of that episode), one of the chiefs who laid down their arms was this man who owned the sporting rifle. On the previous day he was one of the seventy men and lads of the fractious Mahurehure tribe who lay in, ambush on the bush road aching to let drive at the troops as soon as the order was given. (Fortunately Hone Toia stayed his hand only just in time and fighting was averted).

When Mr. Hammond re-visited Waima in 1900, his friend told him of the happenings two years before, and laughed as he described how he lay in ambush with his finger on the trigger of his rifle.

“Why do you laugh?” asked Te Hamana. “It was no laughing matter, was it?”

“I laughed because it was a great joke,” the Maori replied, “to think that it was your rifle, the gun you sold me, that I was going to shoot pakehas with—the missionary's gun.”

“Well, well,” said Te Hamana, “I had quite forgotten selling my rifle to you. But did you surrender it to the Colonel when you all gave up your arms?”

“No,” said the Maori, with a grin, “I wasn&t so foolish as all that, Hamana. I put it away in a safe place—I have it still—and I gave the Government an old muzzle-loader with a broken lock. That was all the gun I had for the Government!”

Pets, Little and Big.

I read lately that a settler family in Taranaki had made friends with a colony, or shoal, of the little indigenous fish called kokopu, in a stream near the homestead. The kokopu were so tame, or unafraid, that they came up near the bank to be fed by the farmer and his daughter; they would eat out of their hands.

Other country residents have found that eels can be fed in the same way? and all visitors to Rotorua know how well tamed the trout are in the ponds in the Sanatorium grounds. But the Maori is entitled to regard all this small-fry petting with a superior kind of smile. He can—or could—do much better than that! He didn&t bother with kokopu and tuna. He had tame whales and even dragons, or something very like a dragon. It was all a matter of mana, he says; a chief possessed a hereditary powerful mana, the spiritual increment of generation after generation of, sacred ancestors, had amazing powers over the lesser world. There were famous whales which came at call, the Maori-Polynesian wireless, the exercise of will-power. A tohunga marooned on White Island by his enemies once escaped from that isle of volcanic terrors by means of his whale-god, which responded to his call and took him to within easy swimming distance of the mainland. There were pet ngarara—probably large tuatara lizards—around which all manner of folktales were woven by the tale-loving Maori.