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Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays


There were the 'Maori romances', like F. O. V. Acheson's novel Plume of the Arawas (1930), like two of Grace's Maoriland Stories 19 and his Atareta, Belle of the Kainga, like H. B. Vogel's novel The Maori Maid (1896), and like two of Robin Hyde's stories.20 These often concerned the tragic love of two Maoris, or the tragedy of a half-caste girl. It is strange that Pakeha writers felt that they could best confer a noble dignity on the Maori when he could be made a tragic figure, as Jessie Weston had done with her half-caste heroine Mary in Ko Méri (1890), daughter of a British general and a Maori chief's daughter, whose tragedy was to return to her people from genteel London society and share 'the primitive, soulless existence of a barbarian race'.21 Often too the subject is the love of a white man for a Maori maiden, sometimes a 'princess'—it is often she who dies—but hardly ever of a white woman for a Maori man. That would be getting too close to the bone, because these stories tended to move from real possibilities into an idyllic world of the imagination.22 G. B. Lancaster's page 52 'The Story of Wi'23 is a story of a Maori baby most improbably abandoned by its tribe because its mother had died of disease, just as improbably bought by a white man who raises the boy and, determined to train him to serve his people, trains him so hard that he whips him and draws blood. However, just as improbably, the boy is grateful and is training to be a parson, until he makes the mistake of falling in love with a white girl. He is smartly put in his place and rebels against the white man's culture and religion, and says he will sit in the sun and drink brandy instead. It is not a good story: its people act like puppets and it is worked out like the solution to a problem in algebra. But it is a rare demonstration of a discrepancy in the Pakeha attitude to the Maori.

There had been novels and romances of the Maori wars, in which the Maoris were either ferocious and treacherous, or, later, were sentimentalised melancholy and noble savages and brave warriors.

There were also James Cowan's Tales of the Maori Coast (1930) and Tales of the Maori Bush (1934), all of them yarns rather than stories, and not of great merit. Like Satchell's The Greenstone Door (1914), they represent the Maori with dignity; but like that novel they are an attempt to record, before it is too late, the old Maori life before the Pakeha and after his coming till the end of the Maori wars. Some are comic, pathetic, romantic; they emphasise the Maori as a warrior and perpetuate the idea of the noble savage, now no longer with us, a pious memory.

19 Grace 1895: 'The Chief's Daughter', 'Reta the Urukehu'.

20 Hyde, Robin (Iris Wilkinson), 'A Ceiling of Amber', in Gillespie 1930; 'The Little Bridge' in Allen, C.R. (ed.), Tales by New Zealanders, British Authors' Press, London 1938.

21 Weston, Jessie, Ko Meri: or a Cycle of Cathay, Eden, Remington & Co., London 1890, p. 365.

22 It is probable that there were in fact no liaisons between Maori men and white women well-bred enough to qualify as models for fiction. Grace's Hone Tiki thought so and had his explanation: the pakeha woman did not attract the Maori man since she was thin, ugly, too talkative and unsubmissive, whereas the pakeha man preferred the Maori woman because she was plump, quiet, kind and submissive.

23 Lancaster, G.B., 'The Story of Wi' in Allen 1938.