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The Autobiography of a Maori

Chapter V — At Canterbury College

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Chapter V
At Canterbury College

When Mr. Thornton asked me to join the teaching staff of Te Aute College I was greatly pleased for I had always entertained a high opinion of teaching as a profession.

I was given a private room and, as I sat at the master's table, I could not help taking a mental review of my life and, though I felt quite pleased, I was disappointed that my father, who had done so much in giving me a good education, had died in 1886 and was thus unable to share my satisfaction.

I rather enjoyed my work and felt glad that I was at last earning my own living. Mr. Thornton one day congratulated me for the progress my classes were making, but I always felt that he did not like my being on friendly terms with people outside the college. There were people who thought that Maoris should be kept in their place and to show them too much kindness would spoil them. The kindness shown to me by many white families who received me into their homes remains with me as a guiding star for which I am profoundly thankful. I realize they showed much interest in me because I was a humble follower of Jesus Christ.

In my second year as a teacher at the college I was not very happy. Mr. Thornton, in a very officious manner, sent me a note which said that the headmaster had seen me sitting down with my legs crossed and that I had mispronounced the name Hooker. It made me feel quite uncomfortable for I did not know it was wrong to sit down with legs crossed; and as to the pronunciation of Hooker, I wondered how on earth I was page 87supposed to know any difference. I had a wish to proceed to the university and Mr. Thornton's attitude increased that desire. I confided in my friends and they at once set to work to pave the way for my desire. As a result, in 1895, I found myself in Christchurch, an undergraduate at the Canterbury University College. I stayed at College House under Canon Walter Harper. I was not there to obtain a degree, as Sir Apirana Ngata had done earlier, but to gain further insight into the life of the pakeha. I enjoyed my three-year stay at College House and while there I made it a rule not to go out and have a good time though I made the acquaintance of a few families who were all very good to me. I enjoyed my Sunday walks over the Port Hills to the native settlement at Rapaki where I conducted divine services. I often spent a weekend here, staying at the Tikao's.

I also often rode on my bicycle to Tuahiwi and was on many occasions accompanied by young white friends. I was once asked by the Presbyterian clergyman at Kaiapoi to preach in his pulpit and I consented to his request. Not long after this, Canon Harper called me aside for he had received a complaint that I had preached in a Presbyterian Church and he advised me not to do it again, not that he minded, but he thought it best not to give people occasion to talk.

As a matter of fact, I found myself in great demand and spoke at many meetings of various kinds, Church meetings, prohibition meetings and I once spoke at an annual meeting of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I was curious to learn what the latter meeting would be like and, to my surprise, I found Bishop Julius there. He was to speak first and I was to follow him. It was a large meeting and I observed that the ladies were quite well dressed. I knew that, since the foundation of the society, annual meetings had been held and speakers had generally page 88spoken on kindness to dumb animals. I knew also that I was asked to speak because I was a Maori, the only Maori undergraduate at Canterbury College. It was a novelty and, I must say, something out of the ordinary. Evidently Bishop Julius had a similar line of thought for he gave a very interesting address as only he could give. He described a trip he had once taken to the wild West Coast where he found birds and animals were not at all timid, the inquisitive weka having almost fed out of his hand. Years later, he visited the same spot and found that the conduct of the birds and animals had changed, even his friend the weka gave him a wide berth. They had learned in the meantime that man was a beast! I was tickled by the bishop's metaphor and I have never forgotten it, though in all probability the bishop has by now forgotten all about the meeting and his brown seconder.

To follow an orator like Bishop Julius was an ordeal. But I had to say something. Whatever I said, I would probably make a fool of myself. The bishop had tried to be funny and humorous, and I intended to be the same. I spoke on the evolution of the dog. I pointed out that in the past Maoris ate their dogs but that today they slept with them. I was too confused to observe the effect of my speech but I noticed some of the ladies giggling. Next morning one of the newspapers referred to my speech as having given the ladies "a creepy feeling."

It was my habit to saunter down to Cathedral Square to listen to soap-box orators. I found the prohibition advocates the most interesting, particularly that unique character, T. E. Taylor. The liquor traffic, to me, is one of the world's enigmas. How a traffic that has caused so much suffering in the world could be accepted and bolstered up by Christian nations, is beyond my comprehension. Thinking of the beautiful girls who are led astray by the influence of drink, I am sure, page 89would make even the angels weep.

I was one of the delegates from the Canterbury Christian Union who went to attend a conference in Sydney. It was my first trip from the shores of New Zealand. We had a pleasant trip across the Tasman and I looked forward with pleasant anticipation to seeing Sydney and its famous harbour. The harbour was beautiful, but it struck me that it looked more like a crack in the coast-line, and was very different from the Waitemata harbour in the picturesque Hauraki Gulf.

I found that my friend, Hamiora Hei, was in the Auckland delegation. We stayed at the same home which was across the harbour. I have forgotten now all that took place at the conference, remembering only that I was asked to read a short paper on missionary literature. I seemed to have made another hit, like I did at the S.P.C.A. meeting in Christchurch, for everybody laughed. I stressed the importance of reading missionary literature if the Church folk wished to push on missionary enterprise. I said, "People find missionary books dry, they would rather read 'The Sorrows of Satan.' I tell you, if we kept ourselves posted up with what the Church is doing in the missionary fields our own faith would be quickened and then Satan's sorrows would be real." At that time, Marie Corelli's novel was very popular.

I saw as much of Sydney as I could and visited the royal mint, the museum, some Chinese factories where I saw the chopsticks being used, Anthony Hordern's great stores and many other interesting places. A friend was kind enough to take me to historic Parramatta where I actually stood by the grave of Samuel Marsden, the man who said of the Maoris: "From my first knowledge of these people, I have always considered them the finest and noblest race of heathens known to the civilised world."

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As I write these words, my friend, the charming Bishop of Aotearoa, accompanied by a Maori choir of young people, is in Sydney where he has been invited to attend the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of the great missionary, Samuel Marsden. In all probability he will stand by that grave, as I did over forty years ago.

My guide and I returned to Sydney from Parramatta in a little boat which was loaded with peaches for the Sydney markets.

I rode also out to Botany Bay, where I thought I might come across King Billy and his tribe, but not a black soul did I see. The first and only Australian aborigine I saw was on a railway platform in the Blue Mountains, and he was either the worse for liquor or just being idiotic.

I went with a number of friends to Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, where we spent a delightful week. I also went with some friends for a day in the bush expecting to find snakes but we found only the shed skin of one. I was later told that a snake had been seen not far from the cottage we occupied.

I went everywhere inspecting the sights of the Blue Mountains and at the top of Govett's Leap my friends and I had a swim in the warm pool. There was I, a Maori, far from home, in the Blue Mountains, splashing in the water with white-skinned young men. There was no colour-line there for we were all brothers in Christ. The next day I felt adventurous and set out on my bicycle on the road to the far-famed Jenolan Caves, but at Blackheath I turned back.

The Deck family were very good to me—they could not do enough for me. Dr. Northcote Deck is now a well-known missionary in the islands.

Mr. Quong Tart made me a guest at his fine restaurant for as long as I remained in Sydney.

When, for three years, I was resident in Christchurch, page 91I regularly attended morning services at St. Michael's and yet I never knew one family in the whole congregation. I knew some Presbyterian and Methodist families very well, particularly the Gardner family to whom I owe much, and I often wish I had more leisure and freedom so that I could go and see them. Mrs. Batten, one of Mrs. Gardner's daughters, named her son Rawhiti because I came from the rawhiti, or east. Another family named a little boy Kohere. Since leaving Christchurch I have not met either Rawhiti or Kohere. They must both be grown men now, probably with families of their own. In accordance with Maori custom I should have adopted both boys or given them some land, but my hands are full just now and for over thirty-eight years I have striven to recover my ancestral lands.

The only Anglican family I had the pleasure and privilege to know in Christchurch was Mrs. Grant's, and I met them again later in Napier.

I have indeed been rich in the number of my friends. It is, I know, for His sake that they show interest in me.

I was at Christchurch when Mr. J. R Mott, organiser of the World's Student Christian Federation, arrived. He was accompanied by Mrs. Mott. When we said good-bye to them on the Lyttelton wharf we knew we were wishing godspeed to two of the greatest people in the Christian world.

As a result of Mr. Mott's visit, a Christian Union was formed in Canterbury College and it was pleasing to note that there was no hostility in any shape or form shown to the introduction of religion within the college precincts. For social activity, we opened Gordon Hall in the city, where we might entertain lads, the riff-raffs of the city, in the evenings. I was surprised to notice how attentive the boys were when I addressed them.

We wanted better premises and I wrote a letter to page 92one of the daily papers asking for assistance. It was bread cast upon the waters. A few years later I read in the newspaper that Sir John Hall had in his will left a sum towards the Gordon Hall building fund. It was decided that the money should be paid to the Y.M.C.A., Christchurch.

I went to Canterbury College intending to learn, and, I think, I learned a great deal, although I did not obtain my degree—I obtained only the first half of it. I could not pass in mathematics which was a compulsory subject. The reason for my failure in this subject was because I had never had a proper grounding in the subject and not, as somebody once said, because I had reached the end of my intellectual tether. Instead of taking two years study in mathematics I tried to get through in one year. It is comparatively easy to obtain a B.A. degree without mathematics.

All the learning I have had has been of little material benefit to me, but other people might have made more use of it. For instance, I applied for the headmastership of the Waerenga-a-Hika school and was refused. I was teaching at Te Rau College at that time, but I wanted to teach boys, not men.

I have suffered injustices nearly all my life and have struggled to keep a large family clothed and fed and to give them a good education. In spite of it all, with faith in the fatherhood of God and with a mind attuned to face troubles, I have led a happy life. My mind has been so trained that there is hardly a subject that I cannot grasp intelligently or explain to others. I am an optimist, and I thank God for that blessing. The homes of uneducated people are monotonously dull.

I have learned also to concentrate on whatever I am doing; speaking is no effort to me for I am never at a loss for something to say. I state all this, not to brag, but to show those who may be interested in knowing what education has done in broad-page 93ening my mind, in sharpening my intellect and in cultivating my tastes. My mental horizon has been extended. I may almost say that it is universal. I take the keenest interest, not only in local, but also in national as well as international affairs. I love reading and, of course, writing also. I suffer with those who suffer and rejoice with those who rejoice.

I should not attribute all this to mere college education, for that is only a gateway to the higher college of the world. I have been very fortunate in my friends, especially in my pakeha friends. If there is anything worthy in me I owe it to them, to their sympathy and to their love. Alas, except for one or two, they are all gone.

Lastly, whatever sort of Christian I may be, life without religion and faith would, to me, be desolate and meaningless. Truly, "man liveth not by bread alone."