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Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays


It was in this period that Alfred A. Grace's stories and Baucke's sketches were written. Pakeha attitudes to the Maori throughout this time were either hostile or patronising. According to Dr Sinclair: 'They called these brown folk, whom they regarded as dirty, degraded, lazy or immoral, "blacks" or "niggers". They despised them: but in many parts of the country they also feared them.'5 Allen Curnow has drawn my attention to the ambivalent attitude much earlier than this in Alfred Domett the poet, who found it poetically appropriate to see the Maori as the noble savage:

A fine old sturdy stalwart stubborn chief
Was Tangi-Moana the "Wailing Sea":
Both brave and wise in his degree . . .
Did he not look, aye, every inch a chief?
Did not each glance and gesture stamp him then,
Self-heralded a God-made King of men?

But as a practical politician speaking in the New Zealand Assembly in 1860 his attitude was very different. When he was invited by T. F. page 49 Forsaith, member for the city of Auckland, to envisage the deathbed of Reretawhangawhanga, father of Wiremu Kingi, and to imagine the dying father's last instructions to his son, Domett was reported: 'he had gone in imagination with him into the hut, in spite of the many disagreeable little occupants it probably contained, and had pictured to himself, emerging from the gloom in the corner, the red eyeballs and blue face of the old—ruffian he would not say, but of the venerable marauding cannibal and freebooter.' Domett imagined his 'ferocious features' illumined by 'the last gleams of baffled cupidity', and presented in opposition to Forsaith's touching description of a dying father, a picture of a vigorous man in full health, with 'jawbones probably yet aching with the mastication of title-deeds in the shape of the limbs of former owners.'6

At worst, the Pakeha attitude was that he had every right to occupy the land of uncivilised heathens and the sooner they died out the better. At best, it was one of indulgence, as in two of Blanche Baughan's stories (1912)7: being kind to them, showing yourself as cunning as they are, and then giving them some tobacco. Naughty, lovable children, but you could manage them if you understood them.

Grace's stories, Tales of a Dying Race (1901), do make some effort to understand. Grace had had a lot of experience of Maoris and he had quite a respect for them. His attitude is a little like that of a Pakeha-Maori, who, as he calls it, 'speaks the lingo'. He takes it for granted that they are rogues, but he prefers to write of their way of living rather than of conventional and self-righteous Pakeha life for which he had little sympathy. 'The heathen in his blindness,' he said,8 '[is] blessed with an ideality of which the cultivated, artificial, unnatural pakeha knows nothing.' So he tells two stories in which white men 'take to the blanket' and marry Maori girls, when their Pakeha fiancees have jilted them because of their (till now, innocent) acquaintance with the Maori girls.9 Grace was the son of a missionary and he has a dislike for missionaries, for the tohunga of either Maori or Pakeha religion. He admires the Maori's freedom from puritanical conventions and he likes to offend conventional Pakeha tastes with stories of Maori warfare and cannibalism. One of his Maoriland Stories (1895) is of a Maori girl spurned by a white lover, who agrees to marry a Maori suitor if he will go to Auckland and bring back the head of her old lover's new Pakeha wife—and he does.10

'Te Wiria's Potatoes' is told in Grace's usual clumsy fashion of short episodes, like scenes in a play.11 The people are the Ngati-ata, a small hapu on the coast. Te Wiria is Villiers, a Pakeha who has built his house on an old pa and farms the land around it, and who maintains an attitude of benevolence towards the Ngati-ata. Their chief Tohitapu offers him the manpower to dig his crop of potatoes, but in the night the fifty sacks disappear. When Villiers goes to Tohi to complain, all the chief does is reproach his men, and he resumes his meal of pork and baked potatoes. Grace makes no generalisations: he only says that these people helped page 50 themselves to Villiers's potatoes, and that if they were unrepentant, Villiers was a romantic old fool to expect them to feel grateful to him. It is ironic that while Villiers, who has dispossessed the Ngati-ata, feels that they are downtrodden, and that they are his protégés, Tohitapu their chief calls him his Pakeha, as if he is his protégé. But while Grace thinks Villiers's original attitude to the Maoris sentimental, he does not conclude that the Ngati-ata should be treated harshly. He prefers Villiers's attitude to that of a prim maiden aunt in another story who is scared out of bed and back to England by an early-morning visit from a toothless, half-blind, half-dressed woman a hundred years old.12

William Baucke was a successful farmer in the King Country and like Grace, he had a natural sympathy for the Maori and many Maoris respected him. His book Where the White Man Treads Across the Pathway of the Maori (1905) is a selection of articles contributed to the New Zealand Herald and the Auckland Weekly News. He is more earnest than Grace, less tolerant. We haven't treated the Maori well, he argues, and we've got to elevate him whether he likes it or not, and that is 'the weight of the white man's burden'. The trouble with you Maoris, he says, is that you are lazy, you imitate the vices of the Pakeha, and you keep intermarrying within your own tribes. What you have to do is marry women of other tribes, forget your tribal jealousies and your distrust of the Pakeha, and learn to imitate the Pakeha virtues while avoiding the vices.

One of his sketches, 'A Quaint Friendship',13 tells of a meeting with an old Maori woman first on a train and later at her whare in the King Country. There he meets also the old woman's grandson who is rude to both of them. This particular sketch is, as Miss Sturm has pointed out to me, comparable with Goldie's paintings of the same time and attempts to show the changes happening to the race: changes symbolised by the gulf between the generations—the old grandmother living on her memories, condemning the modern generation as drunkards, gamblers and lechers, and her demoralised, ill-mannered grandson. She is of Ngati-Maniapoto; her husband had been killed in the wars in the Waikato and she had strong reason to hate the Pakeha. And though she despises the ways of her grandson, she loves him because for her he represents the future of the race. Baucke, admiring the grandmother and despising her grandson, represents the sensitive conscience of the Pakeha, appalled at the results of his own work, and he is anxious that this continual reproach should be removed.

5 See note 3.

6 Curnow, Allen (ed.), A Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse, 1960, p. 72. The passages quoted are from Alfred Domett's Ranolf and Amohia. A South-Sea Day-Dream, Smith, Elder & Co., London 1872, pp. 88, 94; and New Zealand Parliamentary Debates 1860, p. 213.

7 Baughan, B.E., 'Pipi on the Prowl', 'A Grandmother Speaks', Brown Bread From a Colonial Oven, Whitcombe & Tombs, London 1912.

8 Grace, Alfred A., Tales of a Dying Race, Chatto & Windus, London 1901, p. 90.

9 Grace 1901: 'Told in the Puia', 'Why Castlelard Took to the Blanket'.

10 Grace, Alfred A., 'Hira', Maoriland Stories, Alfred B. Betts, Nelson 1895.

11 Grace 1901: 'Te Wiria's Potatoes', reprinted in Davin 1953.

12 Grace 1901: 'Pirihira'.

13 B[aucke], W[illiam], Where the White Man Treads Across the Pathway of the Maori, Wilson & Horton, Auckland 1905, reissued 1928. 'A Quaint Friendship' was reprinted in Davin 1953.