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Mahoe Leaves; Being a Selection of Sketches of New Zealand and Its Inhabitants, and Other Matters Concerning Them

Missionary Influence

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Missionary Influence.

Missionary Influence! What an expression this has now become? I am haunted by it. In every newspaper it stares me in the face,—at every fireside it is hurled at one as the source of all colonial woes,—and in every hotel and cafe it is a staple topic on which to heap maledictions and execrations! There must be some meaning in it, though to me it has ever been involved more or less in mystery. I get into conversation with my friend, the honorable Member for Coalingsby, (and an uncommonly good member he is), upon the all absorbing topic of the war; and he, in that crushing style of oratory that renders him so terribly feared as a political opponent, observes. “I tell you, Sir, that that ban, that curse, that has hovered over us from the infancy of the Colony, that has complicated every Land Purchase from these natives, that has perplexed every Minister of the Crown, that has rendered negotiations with these savages all but impossible, that now haunts the lobbies of our Government Offices, and the corridors of Government House, is “Missionary Influence.”

“My honorable friend has by this time lashed himself into such a virtuous fury, that I forbear asking him the meaning of the term, as page 2 indeed all the reply I am likely to get is a pitiful shrug of the shoulders at my contemptible ignorance. I take leave of my honorable friend, and enter the counting house of my excellent agent Mr. Tret. After running over Debtor and Creditor accounts for the last twelve months, we become friendly, and fall into consideration of the affairs of the country generally. I complain of the bad times, of the doubt and uncertainty that hangs over the Colony, of the mismanagement of the war, the helplessness of commanders, the chapter of blunders that has marked the whole of the war policy of the Government, and ask him for an explanation. Why is it that Generals make “saps” that cannot possibly entrap a foe, that have always a back door open? Why is it that the “Ngati what d’ye call ’cms” are now fattening on the spoils of the ruined settlers, and are allowed to buy and sell, and utter their braggadocio to whom they please? And with a score more questions of an equally perplexing and gloomy character, I put the brains of my friend in steep, and pause for his reply. No sooner do I draw breath than my excellent friend’s visage assumes a fearful aspect. He turns violently purple, his eyes roll in his head, and he fetches his desk such a thump with his fist as to set inkstands, pens, rulers, and such small gear, jumping and rolling over one another like a lot of harlequins, and vociferates. “Why Sir?’ Do you ask me why? Shall I tell you? Rather alarmed at his insane aspect, I only modestly reply, ‘If you please?’ It is then, that darting a glance of ferocity utterly indescribable on paper, but most uncomfortable to the sensations, he bangs the desk if possible, more heavily than before, and fairly shouts, “Missionary Influence.”

I put it candidly to any body, whether they could expect anything like a satisfactory explana—page 3tion from a man in this state of mind. I therefore, of course, decline requesting it; besides, it not unfrequently occurs, that the rise of markets, so far as one is privately concerned, depend upon the graces, good or bad, that one is on with an agent, and we might differ. I have a “run” up in the back country, and I now purpose visiting it for a change. I shall go the inland route, and as I like taking books to read on my travels, I shall take “Angas’ Scenes of Savage Life,” and endeavour to find out what the normal state of these savages was, so far as European knowledge extends. I know very little of the interior of this country or the Inhabitants thereof, I have invariably made my travelling by sea, and the smattering of Maori I have picked up, has been about the towns. I meet many of my own countrymen on my road, in general men who have risen to moderate affluence from the lower ranks, and of course I fall into conversation with them. It is a surprising thing, but so it is, that every one anathematizes the missionaries, and equally surprising, that the reasons they assign invariably break down. One man tells me “that all parsons are alike, all bad together,” and diverges into the subject of tithes in the old country. Another says they fill the heads of the natives full of mischief, that they are always up to some games, and “he knows it.” Space would fail me to mention all the other reasons that are assigned for the consignment of the missionaries to a place that shall be nameless, but whence they are never likely to go of their own accord.

This horrid Missionary Influence becomes a perfect bugbear to me. I pursue my way through woods and wilds barren of interest to me. Landscapes in all the primeval tints of nature, rude, rugged and undefined, relieved occasionally by an isolated station, shepherd’s hut, or native settlement; at one time my page 4 track lies along cliffs, beneath me the waves of the South Pacific dash themselves recklessly in pieces against the seaworn rocks, as if disgusted with their dreary journey from the South Pole or some other region; while a number of sentimental looking mutton birds gaze at the shattered billow with a most anxious visage, curious no doubt to discover whether any confiding oyster or cockle, trusting to the faithless wave, has met with the fate of his bark and had his shell broken about his ears for his ill timed confidence. I descend into the flat country and pursue my way, with swamps and fern on all sides of me, my companions sand flies and my evil thoughts. Occupied too much with them, I suddenly find I have lost my way, and those who may have been in a similar predicament, are left to judge my feelings. I wander away through country the roughest of the rough, and am only too glad to espy in the distance, smoke curling through the trees. What doubts I might have had respecting its being a human habitation are speedily cleared up, for I hear that diabolical whooping and yelling which has been dignified by some Maori enthusiasts into the term “Song” and which, Mr. Heaphy, I think, made the remarkable discovery, was very musical. I make my way thither, and along with a pack of the most miserable mongrel curs, that come snarling and creeping about my horses heels, comes an old man, who in years as well as limbs, seems to be dwindled to the shortest span, who salutes me with uplifted eyebrows.

It is a picturesque spot by the edge of a river flanked by a noble pine bush, the most noble of all the New Zealand forests. There are just enough huts to make a pleasant feature in the Landscape, and the few peach trees laden with blossom that are dotted about the small palisaded Court yard, give a freshness of foliage, contrasting with the page 5 sombre hue of the surrounding trees;—the graceful ko-whai (Edwadsia Microphylla) droops over the banksof a small creek that forms one of the boundaries of the little plot, intermingled with the Koro-miko (Veronica) in full flower, and the fresh leaved Mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus). The low eaved huts with their deep gables smeared with kokowai (red ochre), and curiously tattoed with hieroglyphics that may tell the root of many a genealogical tree; taken collectively with the extreme wildness of the adjacent country, in sympathy wherewith the denizens of this little oasis personally appear, tend to impress me more with the picture of Maori life in its normal state than I can well describe.

“What do you call this place,” I asked the old man, whose name I discover to be Jeremiah, “Upoko toto” (bloody head) “And that spot yonder” “Kaihoro Karu” (To eat heads greedily), pleasant names, very!

In the mean time I tether out my horse, and as my friend Jeremiah sets to work to rub out a few cobs of Indian corn for a feed for him, I accept the pilotage of a dirty little child, who conducts me in safety through the pack of mangy curs, and I proceed to make the acquaintance of my hosts. I discover a counterpart of Jeremiah, who indeed proves to be his brother Ezekiel, sitting under a verandah in a great state of dishabille and perspiration, engaged in manufacturing a fish hook out of an old horse shoe. Judging from the state of his file, I should say he had been thus engaged for some years, and is just as likely to be engaged for as many more. This is the man, I am led to understand, in whose honour the latter locality derived its name. How many human heads he devoured on the occasion referred to, I do not know. It appears, however, that he suffered from some stomachic disarrangement for some page 6 months afterwards. I am regaled with some potatoes and a bit of fish, admirably cooked in a native oven; which I find is made by burning a quantity of fire in a hole, at the bottom of which are a few large stones, and the fire being then removed, the fish is wrapped up in several layers of leaves, is deposited in the hole, and covered up with the hot ashes; a layer of earth being put over the surface. I make my meal, taken altogether, with considerable gusto; and though no epicure, I may cursorily remark, that if any body wishes to eat fish cooked to perfection, let them pay a visit to the village of Upoko toto, and make the acquaintance of my old friend Jeremiah. The great objection to native hospitality is, that they are not scrupulously clean, in either their persons or apartments; and in addition to affording comfortable lodgings for a colony of fleas of the most sanguiniverous propensities; by a habit they have of burning fires on the floor of their houses, it is impossible to avoid any position but a recumbent or squatting one.

I consequently request a mat to lay my blanket on, and wrapping myself up, Jeremiah further supplies me with a Paua shell full of fat, in which a piece of old rag is floating, and by the light of this apology for a lamp, I at once plunge into Mr. Angas, and his “Scenes of savage life” The specimens of humanity I have about me agree in outward appearance almost entirely with his descriptions, for their is very little European about them. As I glance from the page to the grotesque figures squatting about the fire, I draw inferences very far from complimentary to my hosts. “Am I here peacefully lying,” I mentally exclaim, “among a group of individuals, who, within the last quarter of a century, or little more, thought of little save war and cannibalism, and have I here the identical individual page 7 who feasted upon the heads—of goodness knows, how many victims, in the shape of my indefatigable friend of the horse shoe? Should I not rather fancy that his inventive faculties were at present concentrated on the manufacture of a spear head, or some other rude weapon, than a peaceful fish hook? And in fact, posing myself with a score of similar queries, I eventually arrive at the serious question as to why am I here alive at all? Why was I not despatched an hour ago by Jeremiah, and a portion of that part of my anatomy, that is the offspring of these reflections, now undergoing the process of digestion within the internals of the gluttonous Ezekiel? What has caused this serious change in their sentiments? Has it been the society of whaling stations and escaped convicts? Perhaps “Missionary influence”!

Lost in this field of reflection, I knock the ashes out of my pipe, and prepare for rest. Just as I am dosing off, I catch the remark, that awakens me with a sudden start, “Is the (pakeha) white man asleep?” exclaims the voice of a young woman close to my ear. I feign sleep so successfully, that the paua shell is passed across my face, and the light thrown down on me without my showing signs of being awake. I shall not say here, what ideas passed through my mind, the isolation of the spot, the probability of my being murdered, for the sake of what I had about me, the improbability of, in that case, my fate being ever known; and I confess to a shudder as I ran these ideas through my mind. In such circumstances I feel resistance would be useless, and I therefore lie still, and watch the proceedings from the corners of my eyes. The hut rapidly fills with the remainder of the inhabitants of this little village, and they quietly take their seats round the lamp—;and now to keep the reader no longer in suspense. What were they about to do? To plot page 8 or scheme for my demolition, or what? The fact was, they were simply about to go through a form they have been in the habit of doing, I subsequently find, almost morning and night, for the last 20 years, —prayers. It is nothing to me that their Rubric is deficient, that they adopt a squatting posture of devotion, not essentially orthodox. I do not pause to enquire why they happen to be reading the Athanasian creed, for the evening service, nor do I stop to speculate on the probable ideas that my old friends Ezekiel and Jeremiah, may have respecting the damnatory clauses in it. It is sufficient for me to find christianity in any shape existing in this out of the way spot, and among such apparently unpromising disciples. I close my eyes to ponder on the change from what I have been reading, and in spite of all my arguments, pro and con, as to the sincerity of the religious profession of these semi-barbarians, and the probability of its permanancy; its probable causes of force of habit, superstition and what not, I invariably come back to the heading of this article, “Missionary Influence,” and aiming at no satisfactory conclusions on the point, I ultimately drop off to sleep, with the figure of old Ezekiel rasping away at the old horse shoe. Whether his energies and faculties were thus employed the whole night I cannot say, but as I awoke at the break of day, I still found him at the old post, and to all appearance his work just as far on to a satisfactory completion as it had been the night before. Had this been a Pagan age, I should have been disposed to imagine that for some sin against the gods, (his gluttony for instance at Kaihoro karu,) he had been doomed to this task for an indefinite period of years, as one of the brotherhood of Sisyphus, Tantalus & Co. I take leave of him and the rest of his family, and Jeremiah having put page 9 me in my track, I reward him for his hospitality with a few figs of tobacco, and pursue my way northward.

As I at last get upon the open track, I perceive a group of individuals some distance ahead of me, and, as they appear to be travelling the same way as myself, I make Hobson’s choice of their companionship or none, and putting spurs to my horse I make up to them. Half a dozen stalwart natives, each with a pack on his back, accompany a grey haired middle aged gentleman of clerical appearance who greets me with cordial frankness. Though past the prime of life, and perfectly grey, his swarthy complexion and firm steady gait, shew him to be a man of iron constitution, and one who has passed a life of great activity. The stride he walks with and the firm elastic step, shew a man whose pedestrian powers are not put to the test for the first time to-day, while his rapid enunciation of Maori, and the quick change of expression he exhibits when replying to their queries, point him out as one who is thoroughly acquainted with their manners and language. He in fact is a Missionary, one of nearly forty years standing, who has sons in the same calling, and who has entered the Missionary field as one of the colleagues of the veteran Marsden. If there is such a thing as “Missionary Influence,” I imagine him to be a man who possesses it,—and if I require information respecting these natives, who more qualified, from experience, to give it? To this topic I therefore gradually draw the subject, having previously discovered that he is returning from a month’s tour of his circuit, every settlement in which he has visited; that the average distance he has travelled has been at the rate of thirty miles per day, and that frequently he has held as many as three services per day. I therefore broach the subject thus:—

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“I fear Mr. ——, that this king movement is unsettling the natives very much?”

“I fear so.”

“Have you any influence with them?”

“We had, but it is fast dying out.”

“How do you account for this?” (The old stereotyped reply.)

“The influx of Europeans has caused it.”

“True!” I reply, “but seeing that you have set your faces directly against Immigration–endeavoured to thwart the Government and New Zealand Company in the alienation of lands, you have made yourselves enemies of those whom it was your duty to have considered as a portion of your flock; many of you have not scrupled to lay claim to blocks of land of large extent for no particular indemnification; have interfered in political matters; have anathematised the settlers of these Islands as the source of much mischief in the minds of the New Zealanders; and in general, have rendered yourselves unpopular. You are supposed now to exercise an influence over these natives, tending to thwart a speedy settlement of the unfortunate disputes at present existing betwixt them and the Government, and by espousing their cause so warmly, you have led them to believe more in injustice done towards themselves, than it is possible they themselves would have ever conceived, and by your sympathy made negotiations almost impracticable. In a word, the course you have thought fit to adopt, has been most inimical to the interests of both, when in reality the success of either depends on their unity.”

“My reply,” said he, “to this, is this. What we may have done for the benefit of the aborigines of these islands, or what may have left undone, is a matter we are answerable for to a higher tribunal than a human one. The work you hold in page 11 your hand, and which you were last night perusing; gives you by no means an overdrawn picture of the life and manners of the Maories, when I first trod these shores. Take that picture of the past, and contrast it with the present! We opposed the introduction of Europeans for various reasons, and on various grounds. Our work was but begun, and considering the examples that the whaling stations exhibited of European life, and their prejudicial effects on the native mind, we dreaded the introduction of more. The society of Australia and Van Diemen’s Land in those days was far from the most choice, even in the cities. Emigration of a free character, was little thought of in England, except to the America’s; and from the length of the passage from England, the atrocious character of the natives, and the very little stimulus given to emigration, we were not disposed to imagine that a community the most choice in point of character would be landed on these shores. Hence at this juncture we opposed immigration, we opposed the alienation of lands through the fear that the natives who had little idea of their value would soon become impoverished, and seeing that large blocks were in reality bartered away for a few Jews’ harps. It is not improbable that such would soon have been the case, and had the titles been thoroughly extinguished (which they were not), many thousands of acres would have been bartered away for a mere song. We perhaps held delusive notions of the rise of the Maories to be a nation of importance, and in some instances may have encouraged them in the idea, though not under a crown of their own; but when you consider that our whole lives were devoted to their amelioration, and all our energies concentrated on that end, you can scarcely wonder that, in our zeal for them, we occasionally made their interests to clash with yours. page 12 In the dealings with the British in early days, you cannot deny that, in many cases the Natives were disgracefully cheated, and it was an ordinary point in the Colonial creed, that it was perfectly fair to do so. Can you therefore feel surprised that we, sworn to be their spiritual pastors and advisers in all temporal matters, should shut our eyes to the villany constantly practised upon them, and warned them against it? How much of the unpopularity of the missionaries in early days may not in reality be traced to this? Again, if we occasionally inveighed against the Europeans, and laid much mischief at their door; were we not a by-word amongst them, and our names cast up with reproach in the faces of the natives themselves. With regard to the claim for land made by one of our number, it is an isolated case, and even if we, who were the pioneers of civilization amongst these savages, and to whom, say as you will, Europeans are indebted as a community, had asked for a few acres of land, on which to lay up on our old age, or settle our families on; should we have asked such a hard thing? You grant it to officers and privates in the military and naval services, and do you not honestly think our claims for compensation will bear comparision with theirs? Apostolic poverty cannot be quoted as a rule, unless all come to the level of the Primitive Christians in point of worldly means. So far as regards our interference in political matters, between the Government and the Natives, the question is, were not our opinions asked? And have we not honestly stated our opinions and convictions as we believe them?

“Missionary influence,” my dear sir, “is all but a myth. It exists where their opinions coincide with the Natives, but little further, and when you find rebellion openly encouraged by Europeans sueing for debts in the King’s Courts!—murders committed page 13 on the Queen’s highway, winked at by the Government; while the storm is brewing, arms put into the hands of the natives, and by promises unbroken, threats never carried out, and force of arms all but impotent, a universal feeling of distrust and contempt planted in the breasts of the natives towards the Government;—I say, put these facts on one side, and “Missionary Influence” on the other, and honestly weigh the two, one against the other. And, lastly, remember the class of men from whom many of the Missionaries have been selected; who, by talents, education, original social position, and comparative isolation for so many years, far out of the regions of society and social advancement, are often placed in positions and called upon for advice that they are utterly unqualified to give; who entered the ministry when “the harvest truly was plenteous but the laborers were few;”—and extend that indulgence, that charity towards their failings, that you expect yourselves from your fellow creatures. Man is but mortal,—an erring being, and it by no means follows that Missionaries are exempt from the failings of mankind. Ever remember the injunction of your divine master to the Jewish crowd, as it swayed in anger round the harlot “Let him that is without sin amongst you, first cast a stone at her.”

* * * *

I need scarcely add, that I finished my journey duly, and since then, have lost a good deal of faith in the term “Missionary Influence.”