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


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Whakaakona, “the art of teaching,” scil: Education.

This word comes into my mind, in consequence of old Jeremiah having handed me lately a long document, purporting to be a letter from him and his tribe to the Governor, respecting the appointment of a schoolmaster in his district. It covers three sides of foolscap, and is endorsed with a number of strange looking marks, as if a hen had dipped its claws in the ink bottle and scraped over it, which hieroglyphics stand for the signature of himself and people. (I hope the Governor can read them.)

Jeremiah asked me to sign it. If I thought such a step would be of any benefit, or that the school would be ever supported, if they got a schoolmaster, I would not hesitate; but as my belief is, that Jeremiah and his people do not care a rap about education, I decline, and the reasons I have for forming this opinion, I now proceed to give.

Some years ago, Smith, Tomkins, and myself, made a pilgrimage up the country, and finding ourselves late one afternoon in the vicinity of a clerical acquaintance, who was rural dean of that part of the diocese, we thought we would look in there for page 85 the evening, having heard a great deal respecting his school, and having a faint idea of having seen a representation of it in a panorama in London. We accordingly made our way there.

The road to the parsonage lay through the pah, which it is needless to say much about, as it did not materially differ from any other pah, save in being smothered in docks, which we were led to understand had many years ago been sedulously cultivated by the natives, under the delusion that they were growing tobacco. A disgusting smell pervaded the atmosphere, emitted from the corpses of defunct sharks, that were gibbetted on scaffolds, for the purpose of being sun-dried and cured; and so tainted the air that we ran a perfect gauntlet of stenches ere we arrived at the door of the parsonage.

Our friend the rural dean was not in, but as he is something of a pastoral turn of mind, in both senses of the word, he at that time was witnessing the branding of his calves, and we shortly after found him perched on the top of a stock yard post, note book in hand, jotting down their description. Two or three native athletes, in excessively airy habiliments, were hauling up the calves to a post and branding them, according to the directions of their pastor.

It appeared that this was a farm nominally conducted for their benefit; how far it answered I don’t know; nobody can ever get hold of the books; but doubtless the Bishop knew, and who else I should like to know had any business with it? Some inquisitive Commissioners once paid the rural dean a visit, with a view of investigating the matter, and reporting thereon; but i’faith the rural dean sent them off with a flea in their ear! and served them right, I say.

page 86

Well! we were not Commissioners, so we at once paid our respects to the reverend gentleman, stating that we had come to see his celebrated school, that we had heard so much of.

At this announcement, a transient spasm shot across the face of his reverence, but whether it was owing to our mentioning the school, or because one of the calves had been all but choked with the rope, I can’t exactly say, the probability being that it was the latter. He was a humane man was the rural dean.

A bell shortly afterwards commenced “jowing” forth from an adjacent building, and the rural dean thereupon informed us that he was about to perform evening prayers, and suggested the propriety of our attending the service forthwith.

I do not exactly know what the duties of a rural dean are, but it strikes me that part of their duty extends to looking after the repairs of chapels, and if so, I must admit there seemed room for the devotion of part of the energies of his reverence being extended towards his own. The windows either never had been totally glazed or they had been sadly broken. The general appearance indeed of the exterior of the building was mildewy in the extreme.

The interior, however, was something better; the totara posts that formed the studs were deeply carved, and inlaid with pawa shells, the panels between being composed of the reeds of the toe toe, ingeniously stained with all sorts of colors. There were no pews, the congregation I presume squatting on the floor, which was neatly covered with matting: a few forms were placed at one end, I imagine for the minister’s family and friends, (as we occupied them,) and singular to say there was no pulpit, but the rural dean read the service from a table at one page 87 end of the building. The aspect in fact was rather dreary.

The congregation seemed to be very limited, as with the exception of ourselves and the young gladiators of the stockyard, there were not half a dozen people in it.

I cannot say much respecting the service, as the fleas tormented me so, (the place seemed infested with them) that I was in agony; and the strong smell of burnt hair emitted from the gladiators who had branded the calves, did not render matters more pleasant. Fleas and the smell of burnt hair in fact, always remind me, to this day, of the rural dean and his chapel. The service finished, we accompanied his reverence over the farm, and upon our return, he apologised for not being able to accommodate us for the night, as some members of his family were indisposed. (Tomkins says he has since found out they always are so, when visitors come that way.) We were therefore handed over to the hospitality of the gladiators, with whom the fleas, and mosquitoes, we passed the night.

From their direction, on the following morning, we made out a cramped little weather boarded shed, slightly inferior to the rural dean’s calf house, and were informed that “that was the school.”

We paused as we entered, and crowded round a mild easy going sort of a looking man in spectacles, and ten small children in whom he was endeavouring to instil the alphabet—this was the school. The mild man stepped forward to meet us, and we boldly opened on him a battery of questions, and to condense matters, received the following intelligence in his replies. The district, for the benefit of which this school was established, contained a population of about six hundred, one fourth of which might be page 88 put down as children capable of receiving instruction. The attendance that day was about the average.

He accounted for this lax attendance most sensibly, and I have heard the same tale in scores of places since. “The natives were indifferent about education, they had no control over their children and if the slightest discipline was exercised in the school, the scholars left. In general the highest degree of education that any arrived at was a smattering of reading and writing, and a trifle of arithmetic. Upon receiving which instruction, they considered that they had learnt enough, and left school.

Native parents residing at a distance, in general, refused to send their children, unless they accompanied them to the village, and in fact seemed to consider that the fact of their permitting their children to be taught, put all the obligation on their side.”

The pedagogue rather shirked the idea of our questioning the children, evidently mistrusting us as some “spies in his land;” but Tomkins, who labours under the common delusion, that it is only necessary to set all cases, moods, tenses, and syntax at defiance, and talk the most broken English you can, and aborigines of every country are sure to understand you, put thereupon some strange question to one of the children, which failed to draw forth any reply, save a stare of intense astonishment.

Smith, who had been some time in China and was a “dab” at “Canton English,” which peculiar language consists in being able to ring all the changes on the words “Savey,” “Comprador,” “number one,” and the everlasting “pigeon,” then tried his hand, and the little wretch set up a hideous squall-page 89ing, being half frightened out of his wits by such a lingo.

The Dominie here came to the rescue, and drowned the crying, by favouring us with a chorus, the burden whereof was—

“Twi wonna too
“Twi too ah po-ah
“Twi tee ah tikit”

(I write as it was pronounced), of which ditty, Tomkins was donkey enough to ask the meaning. They were singing the multiplication table in English! We felt relieved by the explanation.

We further discovered that the Maories can pronounce but little more than half the letters in our alphabet.

We asked if English was taught at that school? “No that was the industrial method.” We have since made seme enquiries respecting those institutions, but they have not had any scholars for some years.

If we were to be allowed to form an opinion of this school from what we saw, we should put it down as a mistake. The schoolmaster seemed to us to have been selected upon the colonial creed, that a man unfit for anything else will do for a teacher.

The attendance at this school the last time I heard of it had dwindled down to four.

Some others that were in existence at that time are now shut up.

Now the question is, what is to be done with the rising generation of Maories? If their parents will not educate them, what sort of senators are the young “Nobility” to be, that my honorable friend the member for Noodletown, (of whom more anon) hopes to see in the Colonial Parliament! Are we to look for any great things from a nation adopting page 90 our language, who cannot pronounce half the letters in it? or look for any amount of political sagacity from a race utterly destitute of any foresight, or notions of economy? If we have any respect for them or ourselves, can we introduce them into our assemblies, for which by manners and education they are so utterly unfitted?

How have our schemes of education answered so far? Those we have partially educated, do not appear (as we expected) to have any notion, and I fear little desire, to impart it to the rest. They are too conceited and vain of their own accomplishments for that, and those who are the exception, are too indolent.

That tribe that have received probably the greatest educational advantages, (I need hardly say I allude to the Ngatiruanuis) are the greatest rascals in the Island.

The old saying, “Ingenuas didicisse, &c.,” seems a dead letter here at any rate. Surely there is “something rotten in the state of Denmark.” Would it not be as well to ask ourselves, whether we have not already done too much? Made religious and educational advantages too cheap, and now have the regret to see them spurned as worthless, or nearly so.

The native question loses none of its intricacy, when we consider the state of education, present and prospective.

But is there no Œdipus to solve the ridle? No Alexander to cut this gordian knot? Certainly there is. Hear him!

Œdipus is the member for Noodletown; he has been a resident in this colony for twenty years; has amassed a vast amount of property, and spends his existence in a colonial city; but upon the strength of a visit to Taupo, in company with a bishop. on page 91 which occasion he signalized himself by narrowly escaping being boiled in a hot spring, and returned home desperately bitten with fleas, he has set up as an authority on native affairs ever since. He solves the riddle of the native question with greater ease, than his prototype did that of the Sphynx. This is the solution—“Amalgamate the races,”

Œdipus, my friend! You have hit it. A great idea my worthy sir, Amalgamate the races, and educate the offspring. The half-caste race at present, you say, are not as a body to be taken as examples, because, in many cases, their parents were not a very eligible sort.

You are a moral man Œdipus; and I know would be horrified, if I were to ask you if to accomplish this end, you desired us to turn semi-mohamedans at once, and en masse. “Morality shudders at the idea,” you say. Be it so. How are you to do it then? By inter-marriage of the races, I presume. Just so, and thank you.

Now Œdipus, my philanthropic sir, I believe that most folks have in one shape or other, some prospective ideas before they marry, of what is known as conubial bliss. Perhaps you had when you married Mrs. Œ. You based your hopes of obtaining it on reciprocal affection, mutual confidence, and sympathy of feeling and idea. I will go a step further. You will admit that unless a man has these ideas, he had better remain in single blessedness.

Now if you from your Taupo, or any other experience, will point out a few native females, from an alliance with whom, any amount of matrimonial felicity, can with any show of reason be expected, pledging yourself that those individuals who may, on your recommendation, marry them forthwith, shall not forfeit their position in society here or at home, page 92 that you will admit them to your drawing rooms, introduce their wives to your daughters, and guarantee that the husband’s feelings shall never be hurt by any slight towards his wife; why, then some of the respectable bachelors of this island, may be philanthropic enough to give your scheme a trial.

If you had not a constitutional tendency of blood to the head, which I imagine you have from your Parliamentary speeches, I might be tempted to ask you to commence the system by giving the happiness of your daughters to the care of a Maori; but as I know such a suggestion from me might throw you into an apoplectic fit, and your shade might haunt me in consequence, I shan’t do so, but content myself with thanking you for your kind feeling toward me.

It is a well known fact amongst those who employ native youths, that so long as they are within range of the influencd of their friends and relations, they are no use whatever. The slightest coercion, or discipline, they will not submit to. Education a few years back was a mania, at a premium, now it is at a lamentable discount.

A man who hopes to educate his half-caste children with any idea of respect for their intellectual welfare or moral training, must either doom his wife to perpetual banishment from her own people, or separate the children from the mother.

If the happiness of any of the parties can be obtained by such a domestic arrangement, I have done at once; but I may tell Œdipus that by recommending his fellow settlers and constituency to adopt such a domestic union, for the sake of making a philanthropic experiment for his satisfaction, he pays them a compliment that few will thank him for.