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Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays


It seems necessary to begin with some survey of Maori attempts at adaptation to European occupation before the period in which these novels and stories were written. This sketch is, of course, a compilation from the research of historical writers and may contain errors of interpretation (though I hope not of fact) for which I am responsible.

We should recall that in pre-European times the Maori were an industrious people, that their main energies went to producing food and clothing and shelter with primitive implements, that their tribal fighting was confined to the season between planting and harvesting. It page 47 was after the Pakeha's introduction of the musket that fighting became so fierce, so destructive and depopulating. Hongi's murderous campaign killed tens of thousands. In the north, the Ngapuhi were exposed to rum, disease and traffic in women, from escaped convicts and deserted seamen. Throughout the North Island, the missionaries were destroying old beliefs, and the new religion was quickly accepted by the tribes ravaged by the wars of Hongi and Te Rauparaha. The Maori at first welcomed the Pakeha, and recognised that they could learn much from him: they were very adaptable and soon began to make progress. By the mid-century, a very high proportion of Maoris could read and write. They grew wheat, potatoes, maize and kumara for the Pakeha market in Australia and New Zealand; they ground the wheat in their mills and bought and manned schooners to deliver it.

But this prosperity was interrupted by a sudden fall in prices, which they could not understand. Then, when the Pakeha population came to equal that of the Maori, when the Maori could see that, in spite of the Treaty of Waitangi, their land was steadily being bought and that the Government was encouraging the sale of land from individuals who, by tribal tradition, had no right to sell it, Maoris sought to forget their tribal differences and to oppose the further sale of land. So there was the King Movement and then the bitter wars and the confiscations of land that followed. Yet it was not the defeated tribes who were first adversely affected and whose population first began to decrease. Ironically, as Mr Sorrenson has shown,2 it was the friendly tribes, from whom the Native Land Courts were busy prising their lands. The Courts would establish the title of those Maoris who were willing to sell. Storekeepers would ply Maoris with goods on credit, especially liquor, and run them into debt, and then claim their land in payment. Since the Courts met in towns away from the tribal lands and since they sat for months but did not announce when cases would come before them, those Maoris who were opposed to sale of land and wanted to establish their title to it, were forced to spend months in town with unsatisfactory shelter, poor food, accumulating debts. As well they had to pay Court and survey expenses and the expenses of a Pakeha lawyer. When the bills came in they had to sell the land to pay them. Either way they lost. Maoris said the white man's peace was more devastating than his wars.

The consequence was a disruption of the old Maori social organisation. Those, like the Taranaki Maoris living at Parihaka under Te Whiti, who tried to preserve their old social forms and at the same time adapt themselves effectively to the new Pakeha order, were successful and maintained their self-respect and rate of population till their settlement was destroyed by the Pakeha government. Any attempt at social integration was impossible without land, and Government and settler were hungry for land. Except for those areas which had been least subjected to pressure for land sales, the Maori people were defeated, their leaders dead or dispirited, their lands gone, and their old traditions broken: besides this, page 48 they no longer had much confidence in the Pakeha, in his laws or his religion. This distrust was old: writing of the period before the outbreak of the wars, Keith Sinclair has said: 'The European, as the Maoris saw him, was as unpleasant a figure as the settlers' stereotype Maori: he was greedy, arrogant, lacking in courtesy, selfish—in a word, "individualistic". He treated Maori women as prostitutes, and being without natural decency, deserted his half-caste children.'3 If in the fifties the Maoris were so suspicious of the Pakeha, they were even more so in the seventies and eighties.

The Maori lost confidence in the future. This is the period in which the Maori population declined (42,113 in 1896), and the race was thought to be dying; when the Maori tried to make adjustment in the form of part-religious, part-nationalistic cults, beginning with the Hauhau movement and ending with Ratana, which tried to incorporate old Maori traditions with European innovations as a means of survival; when Maori prophets arose; when the Maori got the reputation among the Pakeha for indolence, improvidence, shiftlessness and unreliability. He was inactive because there was no hope for his people; the Pakeha found him unreliable because the Maori didn't trust him; he was improvident because there was no future for him. The old people smoked their pipes, brooded and asked, E taea te aha? What is the use? Many Maoris worked under contract, clearing forests, draining swamps, cutting flax, surveying, building roads, fencing; when they worked for the Pakeha, they worked mostly at unskilled jobs.

In 1906, Dr Pomare, Maori Health Officer, wrote: "There is no alternative but to become a Pakeha . . . There is no hope for the Maori but in ultimate absorption by the Pakeha."4

2 Sorrenson, M.P.K., 'Land Purchase Methods and their Effect on MaorMaori [sic] Population, 1865-1901', Journal of Polynesian Society, 65, 1956, pp. 188-99.

3 Sinclair, Keith, A History of New Zealand, Penguin, Harmondsworth 1959, p. 114.

4 Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives 1906: H-31, p. 67.