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


page 58


The “Hui Maori” has been already treated under the head of “Hakari.” The term “Hui,” however, though strictly meaning a feast, is used commonly by the West Coast Natives, for a sacramental gathering, a “Hui Hakara Meta,” and it is under this latter head, I purpose now discussing it. When the first of this series of articles originally appeared it bore the title of “Missionary Influence,” and to avoid any charge of inconsistency that might appear after the perusal of this, I submit an explanation. “Missionary Influence” was sketched out some years ago, after a very short residence in the colony. It was shaped a little subsequently to meet the topics of the present day, but was published with the intention of returning to the subject again. It merely represented what my early impressions were on the moral condition of the Natives, and like many others, closer intimacy with the Maori race has considerably shaken the opinions I then formed.

Jeremiah had informed me some time ago, that there was to be a Hui held at his village and I made up my mind to attend it. My determination was further strengthened, when I heard that a young page 59 Missionary (whom I shall here term Clericus), was to officiate on the occasion. I accordingly made my way one Saturday evening, to the village of Upokototo, and was duly installed the guest of Jeremiah during my stay. Clericus was not very far behind me, and was received by the Natives with great cordiality. I had previously had the pleasure of seeing Clericus, some years ago; he was then a student at all Saints’ College, Camford, and on that occasion was frantically running along the towing path of the river, opposite the well known Inn of the “Harrows,” habited in a red shirt, commonly known as an “All Saints’ Blazer,” enthusiastically cheering Rowlock of St. Bridget’s, who was pulling his “time race” with Badger, of St. Swithens, for the Normandy sculls. Clericus, in due time took his degree, was ordained, entered the church, and became one of the Church Missionary Staff. In spite of a degree of stiffness, and a tendency to maudlin “tea partyism,” Clericus is a very good sort of fellow, thoroughly in earnest in his work, and full of energy and perseverence. He has tackled the Christianisation of these Maories, as if he meant it, and does not shirk any amount of inconvenience and annoyance. I wish, however, that he had not imbibed his opinions so much from hearsay, and that he would admit the bad side of the native character as an unpleasant fact, instead of inventing all manner of excuses for them.

The preparation for the Hui seemed to me very much the same as for any other feast; people had come from all parts, and of course they had to be accommodated and fed. Huts were rather short at Upoko toto, and many of the visitors were obliged to erect extempore dwellings, and these ingeniously made by hanging a blanket across a ridge pole, gave page 60 the scene a gipsy kind of character that was rather pleasing.

As I strolled amongst the tents, making numerous acquaintances, the iron pot hammering commenced as a signal for a gathering, and I followed at the heels of a troop of the “unwashed,” to hear what was going on. The natives rapidly mustered in front of one of the huts, and took their seats with great gravity, while Clericus gave a variety of directions from under the verandah for their guidance.

I found out that it was customary for the officiating minister to catechise the congregation on the sacramental eve, as a preparatory exercise for the duties of the morrow; they accordingly seated themselves in rows, and Clericus forthwith commenced putting them through the Church Catechism. The congregation seemed to be well up in this part of their duty at all events—and well they might—since, (from Parnapa’s information), I found out that they had repeated it as part of their daily service for some weeks previously. I can’t say much, however, for the replies they made to extraneous questions put to them, for I fancied Clericus answered them himself, and I was not surprised at it either; for Parnapa had given me some most vague and foggy answers to one or two questions I had put to him respecting the sacrament; and he, I considered, was the best informed of the lot.

The catechising finished, I took the first opportunity of having a little quiet conversation with my friend Clericus. I put it very mildly to him, “whether he thought the assembled natives were really fit to understand the solemnity of the service they were about to engage in on the morrow.” My reverend friend replied “he hoped they were, he had explained the nature of the subject to them as page 61 far as he was able, and he could only trust in the Divine blessing on his labours, &c., ultimately clinching me with the text “Judge not and ye shall not be Judged.” As I did not vouchsafe any reply to this, my reverend friend proceeded to deliver for my special benefit, a gratuitous lecture, respecting my duty to my neighbour in general, and Maories in particular, laying strong stress on the argument of human equality, and the necessity of extending a great amount of charity toward my “dark skinned brother.”

The conversation at this point, was interrupted by old Jeremiah, who arrived in a great state of fuss, requesting us to inspect our night’s quarters. He had fenced off about nine square feet off one of the huts, for our united accommodation, and appeared to be intensely gratified with the completeness of the arrangement.

To my great astonishment, Clericus, loudly protested against this lodging; “He was not used to this sort of thing—he must have a hut to himself,” and forthwith worked himself into a great state of excitement. In vain Jeremiah pointed out “that his village was small, and that he had a great number of visitors to provide for.” Clericus would not hear anything about it, and insisted on two or three very dirty looking families being forthwith turned out. Jeremiah had to give way, and Clericus bundling up his blankets and saddle bags, proceeded to ensconce himself. He very kindly offered me a lodging with him, which I declined.

It certainly struck me, that this was rather a singular example of equality, that he had laid so much stress on; that he should refuse to lodge with his people; and the further step of turning some five and twenty individuals out of the place, to roost page 62 where they could, may be sit up all night, led me to have some mysterious ideas of his charity.

I, upstart and sinner that I am! look upon myself as being a trifle higher in the social scale than a Maori, and do not scruple to tell him so. If Jeremiah and Co., pay me a visit during meal time, I push the potatoe pot over to them, and they squat on the floor and eat, perfectly satisfied with the arrangement, though I sit at the table. If they stay all night, I give them a bundle of straw, and a few sacks to cover themselves with—but I don’t preach equality—whereas Clericus, who is full of “Poor Maories,” “Rangatiras,” and “Nature’s Gentlemen,” takes precious good care that few get farther than his back kitchen—Clericus perhaps thinks the Maories don’t remark this—He is rather mistaken, that’s all. I did not tell him this, then, nor the reasons I had for declining his hospitality; but the fact was, I came there to take mental notes of what was going on, and my object would not have been gained, had I not mixed with my hosts—Clericus had an early evening service, and shortly afterwards I turned in.

The hut I was put in, was I imagine, about fifty feet long, and was tenanted by somewhere about seventy individuals of both sexes, young and old. Jeremiah tabooed me a corner to myself, and rolling myself up in my blanket I proceeded to put my eyes and ears on express, duty. As regards the conversation, perhaps the least I say the better; I have not an English gradus at hand, to select an epithet to apply to it, and I therefore select the mildest I can to describe it. It was filthy, and that is quite enough.—As I was a guest, I have no right to criticise their domestic manners, especially their evening toilets, I shall therefore term them simply rather too page 63 airy, to suit a fastidious taste; I however chose to go, and if my senses were occasionally slightly jarred it was my own seeking. But, reader! I shall never go again. Jeremiah, it appeared had put his dirty policemen on full duty, and assisted by six specials, they patrolled most part of the night. Absalom kept perpetually annoying me, by coming in and out the hut during the night, furnishing Jeremiah with reports; I had the curiosity to ask that worthy, what it all meant. The police it appeared were put on, for the purpose of checking the Social Evil. (Jeremiah put it rather stronger than that). How many cases he has tried since that Hui, I cannot tell, their name is legion.

As I looked out in the moonlight on the scene and at the fires slumbering in front of the red and white tents that were dotted about, I could not but identify it with some of the gipsy encampments I had witnessed at home; but I much question if gipsy camps were the scenes of so much immorality. I don’t wish to make this scene appear worse than it was, but I may be permitted to say, that this is a mild version of what I saw and heard, and sinks into comparative shade with the glaring accounts I have since heard from others.

I fell asleep ultimately, and did not awake until I heard the iron pot melody performed for matins. This I did not attend, but occupied myself in putting the notes of this sketch together. Clericus and I breakfasted together, and I was then treated by him to a long account of “the delightful feelings with which he witnessed the state of these natives, and the orderly conduct they had shewn during the night—no “haka’s,” or any of those lewd songs—they had shewed so much earnestness during the services; how thankful he felt, &c., &c.” I so un-page 64mistakeably shewed my doubts on this point, that Clericus forestalled any reply that I might have made, by observing, “that irregularities he knew did occur, but he had suggested the employment of the Police; if there had been anything of the kind he should have heard of it, &c., winding up with another lecture; the burden whereof was, that I was a very great sinner, a maligner of Maories, who were living examples for me and Christendom at large and that I ought to be covered with confusion,” (which I undoubtedly was;) and soothed by the reflections cast upon me, I left him preparing for the sacrament.

After Clericus’ lecture number one, I know I ought to remember the remark respecting “Judges and Judgments;” but I cannot forbear stating, that I should not have imagined the individuals now collecting, were about to receive the sacrament; and as an idea may be gathered of the opinions some of them, I quote one anecdote out of a number “Are not you going to take the sacrament?” said an old man to me. “No;” I replied, “I am not—Are you?” “Oh, yes;” said he, “All the Maories take the sacrament,—“ka pai te waine”)—the wine is very good;” and here the old heathen mimicked the act of drinking from a cup. As a further proof of their ignorance I may mention, that I once gave a Maori a glass of spirits in a harvest field. He took the glass in his hand, and repeated the sentence from the Communion service, commencing “The blood of our Lord, &c.” He than drank the contents off, and broke into a hoarse laugh, in which he was joined by a number of his friends. These Maories lived at a mission station.

But now the congregation began to muster, and seating themselves in rows, Clericus gave out the page 65 hymn “Ka tirohia te ripeka,” which I take to be a version of “When I survey the wondrous cross.” Clericus, however, I consider made a mistake in trying to sing the tune “Job” to it; for, from the mess they made of it, the patience of the Patriarch would have been sorely tried had he heard it. Parnapa was full of his turnshakes and quavers, and the effect was about as harmonious as a good strong rookery. Clericus then delivered a short pithy sermon with much energy, which seemed to have about the same effect as if he had been preaching to a lot of stones; another hymn was then sung, and Clericus commenced the service for the sacrament. I listened a while, but when he came to that portion of it, pointing out the certain damnation that awaited unworthy recipients, I could stand no more. From what I had seen, and what I knew, my presence appeared to me very like a connivance at blasphemy. I only hope that I am wrong.

The scene itself was pretty and pathetic. I have seen it often before in woodcuts in old Missionary Magazines, when I was a boy. My kind old friend Mrs. Grundy, of Peckham Rye, used to show me them. She, good old soul, has never missed a May meeting at Exeter Hall for the last twenty years, and never will, I suspect, so long as she lives, and there is a cab to carry her.

The picture was effective, and had I not known what I did, would have impressed me strongly. But who were the communicants? There were old men—Pagans you may call them—firm believers in Makutu (witchcraft)—disciples of Rongo, Emaru, Korongomai, and other hosts of divinities, belonging to their original creed; who will attend Divine Service in the morning, and go lizard hunting (kai ngarara) in the afternoon; who in all their afflic-page 66tions and sicknesses fall back upon the comforts of Makutu. There, I say, they were admitted promiscuously to one of the most solemn ordinances of the Church! Let me close the picture.

Now, when I tell you Clericus, my friend, that from the particular circumstances under which you see Maori character, you over estimate their moral and religious condition, and I advise you to disguise yourself, and spend a month among them, study their character in private, when your influence as a missionary is removed. You tell me that you know Maories far better than I do, that I am mistaken, or if you do admit a few of their irregularities, I am to look at home among the lower classes, and after that, not to talk about Maories being so depraved.

My kind Sir, these little facts you tell one respecting St. Giles, Ratcliffe Highway, or Houndsditch, are all strong exceptions, as in fact I may answer all your other tu quoque arguments. In this sketch I am justified in saying from my own and the evidence of others more capable of judging than I am, that I am shewing you the rule and not the exception.

Either you know the truth of these things, and will not admit it, or you are in a melancholy state of ignorance, respecting the moral state of your flock. If you are the first, you are wilfully deceiving; if the latter are in such a state of moral blindness, as to render you unfit for the office you hold.

When you tell me through your friends the clerical Boanerges who declaim from English platforms, that what evils there exist amongst the Maories, are mainly introduced by me (I speak as one of the laity); I tell you plainly I don’t like it. But when you get those mouth pieces of yours, to page 67 blaze forth the moral purity of these same Maories you wilfully, or ignorantly, (I don’t say which) make those enthusiastic gentlemen repeat statements that I will not characterise. I admit the melancholy state of the lower classes of England; it is a fact that no one attempts to deny, and a vast amount of charitable aid is extended to assist in their evangelization. I, however, do not think them worse than Maories in the aggregate, and I never heard of the Bishop of London preaching in the open air to these unfortunate mortals, and administering to them the Sacrament promiscuously. I say, I admit the bad state of my miserable countrymen, and am so far consistent—whereas you will not do so for the Maories, but continue sending home reports of my evil influence on them, and their happy moral condition; maligning me thereby, and deceiving my old friend Mrs. Grundy with either isolated cases, things you are duped into believing, or fictions. My dear Clericus, this sort of thing won’t do; You are losing caste fast among your European flock, and I fear among your Maori one. They are shutting their toll gates against ministers, and “bailing up” Bishops. They are a bad lot my dear friend, let us stand by each other in their amelioration—“They are (as the Scotchman said, when he persisted in occupying the pulpit with the minister) a faithless and perverse generation, and it will tak’ us baith to manage ’em.”