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The Autobiography of a Maori

Some Greedy Men I Have Met

Some Greedy Men I Have Met

The following instances of greed and selfishness may seem trifling, but, though they happened many years page 148ago, they are vividly stamped on my memory.

It was a rainy day and, without any pre-arrangement, quite a number of people came together to Hinerupe, the runanga house, and the usual rendezvous for talk, gossip and cards. We all began to feel hungry, but being hungry was preferable to getting drenched. Out of the rain emerged a good Samaritan, old Riria, carrying between her hands a large dish of green corn on the cob. The oldest in the company, a man of some standing, flopped on the mats, crossed his legs and picked out not one but two large cobs of corn, one of which he placed safely between his legs while he began to eat the other, quite unconcerned that there was not sufficient corn to go round.

There being a Native Land Court sitting at Te Araroa, the small township was full of people and in accordance with Maori custom, the local people were to some extent obliged to find food for the visitors although they had come on business. Waiheke Puha and others had left early to fish near Matakaoa Point. When the boat was seen returning a large number of people were at the landing, in hope of getting some fish. I was among them. As the boat touched the land, Waiheke threw a hapuku at my feet, but before I had touched it a Rangitukia man, who might be regarded as a rangatira, dashed in and carried off my fish. I went home with nothing for my family, even though I was in charge of the pastorate.

My wife and I had gone to Te Araroa to help with the tukutuku1 work for both the meeting-house and the hall. Only young people were engaged on the work and we were not paid, though other workers were all paid. The least the tukutuku workers could expect was decent meals. Even this we did not receive, for as a rule the meals were rushed by some who did very page 149little work. A woman took pity on me and brought me a small crayfish. An oldish man who sat at the farthest end of the table noticed the woman bringing me the crayfish and followed her. Before I had touched the crayfish the man came along and grabbed it and took it away without even offering me a piece of it. He devoured it all. I may perhaps add that the man came from Poverty Bay.

The chief Hori Mahue and I were invited to a birthday party at Whakaea. The table was laid out on the green grass. Hori, with his grandson, and I were asked to sit at one end of the table where I noticed the only wild pigeon, a fat one, was placed. We were the honoured guests. I said grace. Before the "amen" was said, a man, on the opposite side of the table stretched across and lifted the pigeon from under our very eyes. After securing the bird, the man turned his back to us and ate it all himself.

I have mentioned elsewhere that the Maoris regard stinginess as a cardinal fault, yet these four instances of greed and selfishness were not instantly condemned. I also know that some Maoris regard grabbing food with respect, for they term it kamakama, or smart. I have taken the trouble to record these four instances of brazen greed and selfishness and I have also termed them trifling. They are extremely trifling compared with the gigantic and organised greed that occurs all over the world. The principle involved, however, is the same. I may also add that a person's character is often betrayed by his conduct at the table. The Maoris have a saying, "To te ware tona-patu he kai" — "Eating is the downfall of the low-born."

1 Ornamental lattice work between the slabs of a carved house.