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Legends of the Maori

Part VIII. — New Life for the Maori — The past and the Future — (From a paper read before the Australasian Medical Congress at Melbourne — in 1906 by Sir Maui Pomare (then Dr. Pomare) when Health Officer — to the Maoris.)

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Part VIII.
New Life for the Maori

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The past and the Future
(From a paper read before the Australasian Medical Congress at Melbourne
in 1906 by Sir Maui Pomare (then Dr. Pomare) when Health Officer
to the Maoris.)

AWAY back in the twilight of fable we find my race parting from our common Aryan mother. Ethnologists tell us we journeyed south and eastward through the ancient Empire of Irania, coming into contact with the Egyptian and Semitic branches of the human race, and then on to Sumatra, coming into contact with the Indonesians. You pakehas went towards the setting sun. You had the fortune to strike the metal-key which has opened to you the vast stores of knowledge. You had the fortune to come into contact with superior races to your own, from whom you acquired the arts and sciences which to-day have made you leader in the arena of civilised nations. My ancestors, bold, venturous vikings, journeyed across the chartless seas of the east, peopling its many islands and exploring the unknown realms beyond; while yours were journeying overland through Europe, being afraid to traverse the trackless deep for fear of falling off the edge of a flat world. We were unfortunate not to come across superior races to our own. We were of the stone age, and fate kept us with the stone till to-day destiny has brought us together once again. The stone axe has been loosened from its handle: the spirals and works of art cut by our stone and obsidian are no longer to be seen in our Maori village and kainga, but only in the pakeha’s house of antiquity, the museum. Long before the dawn of pakeha civilisation one of our ancestors dreamt this prophetic dream, “Shadowed behind the tattooed face a stranger stands. He owns the earth. He is white.” Two hundred years before pakeha feet trod on these shores another dying kaumatua called his children about him, and thus spoke, “Weep not for me, but rather weep for yourselves and your land, for the time is coming, and now is, when alien white feet shall desecrate my grave.” That time has come. The tattooed face is now an article of commodity, sold to the highest bidder in civilised England. “The white stranger owns the earth”; that time has come. The white feet of vandals have desecrated the seer’s grave; his children are weeping for their vanishing glory and land. Enough! For are not these sayings old and true? “Kua kotia te taitapu ki Hawaiki.” (There is no returning to Hawaiki). “Ka pu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi.” (When the old net is full of holes it is cast aside, and the new net goes a-fishing). The useful net of Maori days, page 254 now full of holes, has to be cast aside. We know the old net caught many big fish in its time, but that time has passed. We recognise that the fishing of to-day must be with the new net our pakeha brother has brought us.

In the year 1900 our benevolent parent, the Government of the Dominion, after much travail brought forth a son whom we christened “Te Pire Kiore” (The Rat Bill). This was not a premature child, but its birth-mark was a peculiar one, for it was a rodent rampant. This is not to be wondered at, for at that time our parent was much agitated owing to multitudinous rumours and scares concerning rats and plagues. Indeed these rats were so bold they crossed the Sea of Kiwa, laid siege to some of our cities, and two of our inhabitants died of “buboes.” Now, I was chosen from among my fellows to herald the birth of “Pire Kiore” and to explain his mission. I was much troubled because I knew my people were a sceptical race, slow to change and fixed in their ways. However, with a kind sympathetic chief—a Ministerial Captain of Health—I launched forth in my new duties full of hope, fear, and trembling. Fear and trembling did I say? Yea! for I knew the deeply-rooted superstition of ages, the strongholds of tohunga-ism, the binding laws of tapu, the habits and practices of centuries, the mistrust of the pakeha, for these were the Goliaths in the way of sanitary progress amongst my people. For what did sanitary reform mean? It meant the dissolution of some time-honoured customs, the tearing down of ancestral habits and teachings, the alteration of Maori thought and ideas of living; in fact, a complete revolution in their socialistic, communistic and private life. It meant more—it meant the gentle persuasion, the authority not of force, but of clear convictions of the evils of the present system of half European and half Maori ways of living, and the benefits of a better, more sanitary and higher and nobler mode of life. Who cares to have a stranger poking around his back door, condemning the hundred and one things which sanitarians know are detrimental to public health? Who cares to have his habits disturbed, his wrong-doings pointed out, the tapu’d house of his ancestors destroyed? Was it likely that tribes which were at one time at war with mine would take kindly to the words that I would utter? And yet it was because of the utter hopelessness of the Maoris’ sanitary condition—the thought that, unless the flagrant infractions of Hygeia’s laws were quickly stopped my people would surely disappear with the moa—that gave me courage and hope to fight the cobwebbed customs of the past and to introduce the new.

Listen, and you will hear in the words of many chiefs as to how I fared:—“Welcome, thrice welcome! Our hearts are made light at last. Our forbears adopted Christianity; but their lands went from under their gaze; it was death. We signed the Treaty of Waitangi, but went to page 255 war; it was death. We send members to Parliament, but death remains with us. We have been disappearing with our lands. At last, at last there is life!” And thus spoke another: “Come! Welcome! Come to show your nation the ways of health—the good ways of the pakeha and other nations of the world you have seen. Come! our hearts are made glad, our hearts are made light, our wailings shall cease. The light of life dawneth; we bid you thrice welcome.”…. “Come upon the wings of knowledge. Come and teach us. Give us the ways of health; warn us from the ways of death. Give us to drink of the same cup as the pakeha. Hide nothing from us that we may live and bless thee.”…. “Come! the descendant of Maui! Come and fish for us the great fish of life [health], like your illustrious ancestor who fished up this land from the depths of the sea. Come and behold the place of the people who are no more. Come and see the remnants who are so few of days. Teach us that our tears may cease to flow.”

My reception was surprising as it was cheering. The audiences were most appreciative. Wherever I went I was received with open arms. The new gospel was preached everywhere with practical results. Yea! have I not seen the smoke of the whare circling heavenward as an offering to the God of Health as the landmark for the parting of the ways of the old and the new?

Now, when our ancestors landed in New Zealand some five hundred years ago they found another race living there, and amongst them a fair-haired people. These races they conquered and absorbed. On the eve of their departure from Hawaiki the people on shore, in bidding farewell to our ancestors, said, “Depart in peace. Leave war and strife behind you.” But our people did not give heed to this parting injunction, for as soon as they reached the new land they quarrelled, and so the different crews of the various canoes separated, and thus they spread over the country. They waged continual warfare with one another as in the old baronial days of the pakeha. Now, this was productive of several things. First, it made the race active, and thus physically fit. The weaklings and the deformed were often strangled at birth. It made them build their pas or strongholds on inaccessible heights for protection and a good outlook. This resulted in much good, because the air was pure and the pa easily kept clean. In fact, in olden times each pa was almost as well regulated in regard to public health as in some of our more modern villages. This was so striking that Captain Cook marvelled at their advancement, and bears testimony to it in his journal to the detriment of European cities of that period. Rubbish of all kinds was swept out at regular intervals. Latrines were properly constructed and placed on the edge of some cliff or hole, the woodwork often page 256 being elaborately carved. The water supply was nearly always obtained from some fresh mountain spring, either in the pa or just outside of it. The people had but two meals a day—one at sunrise and the other at sunset. The sick were attended by duly qualified men who had received their instruction at the whare wananga, the college of learning. The dying were set apart in separate houses which were burnt after death. All clothing belonging to deceased persons were either burnt or buried with them. Corpses were sometimes buried, or more often secreted in some cave. Bearers of the dead were tapu’d for a certain number of days, and had to wash in running water. Mothers were set apart, and considered sacred till eight days after their accouchements. Lepers were isolated in caves. Tonsils were removed. Poisonous bites by the katipo spider were cauterized. The Caesarean section was sometimes performed. In tutu poisoning the patient was made to vomit, beaten with branches of trees and douched with cold water. In karaka poisoning the patient was buried standing so as to keep the arms and legs from being distorted. Wounds were washed with astringent juices from several trees, bandaged with leaves and plastered with clay. Splints and clay plasters were used in fractures. Massage was used for stiff joints. Steaming with the hangi (native oven) was employed in cases of amenorrhoea and rheumatism. The hot springs were resorted to in all skin ailments and other affections. Herbs were extensively used as tonics, anti-arthritics, astringents, purges.

Child engagements were entered into, and girls so engaged were called puhi, or virgins. If they, by chance, violated the laws of chastity they were immediately killed. In this way the Maoris lived and multiplied till the dawn of civilisation, when the race became decadent.

At this time a new instrument of warfare came into use which proved most destructive to the Maori population. Hongi, a northern chief, went to England—was presented before King George IV., and given many useful presents. He kept the steel tomahawks and axes, together with a coat of armour. He sold the rest of the presents when in Sydney, buying guns with the proceeds. With these he devastated hundreds of pas, and killed thousands of his enemies. He, with Te Rauparaha, must have wiped out at least a quarter of the population. The whalers and traders commenced coming in about this time, and they were not all over-scrupulous men, for the gun was their chief article of commerce. The earliest white men as aforesaid were not the most moral, consequently syphilis was introduced, the results of which are too horrible to mention. It left a terrible mark on the vitality of the race. Riotous living, trading in smoked Maori heads, drunkenness and debauchery were the order of the day till eventually Christianity stopped the marauding expeditions and a good many of the page 257 introduced vices. Slavery was abolished, and peace more or less reigned in the country. This brings us to about the year 1840, when the united tribes declared their independence under the sovereignty of Great Britain. By this time the race was fairly weakened, and thus the ground was well prepared for the introduction of measles, scarlet fever, enteric, and consumption, the two former being the most disastrous. Typhoid and consumption became more prevalent after peace had been declared, because the natives then commenced to descend into the valleys. They left their healthy homes on the hilltops, and began to build their pas near the plantations and the swamps where eels and birds were plentiful. This produced a state of inactivity, and together with bad drainage their numbers were depleted to a great degree.

When we deal with the statistics of the Maori population we find them to be most unsatisfactory, as in a great many instances the statistical returns are nothing but surmises. Nevertheless, no one for a moment can doubt the steady decrease that has set in within the last fifty years. The returns were made by conscientious men, but frequently a good deal of the returns were mere guess-work. This was due to two reasons: First, because of the troublous times then existing, and secondly, the unreliable sources of information. So in calculating we have to deal with generalizations rather than the correct figures. The question naturally arises as to whether the Maoris are increasing or decreasing. And bright as are the hopes held out to us by the last census of their increase, yet the Maoris have been gradually but surely decreasing. Who has not noticed the gradual decay, the deserted villages? What Maori living will not tell you of the numerous inhabitants that were?

The census has only been correctly taken since 1878, and even then several of the tribes were not included, and that is why you will find that the returns decrease and increase in an astonishingly contradictory way. The matter of census taking has now been adjusted with correct returns by the aid of Maori councils.

Since the year 1858 the death-roll has been 12,906, or an average decrease of over 280 per year. Since the year 1874 the numbers have been fairly uniform until 1896, when we find a sudden drop, showing the decrease between the years 1858 and 1896 to be 16,195, at which average it would not have taken very long for the native race to become extinct. As most of these early numbers were only estimates, as already pointed out, I have grave doubts in regard to the number of actual deaths which are supposed to have occurred at that time. Wars and disease have been accounted as the chief causes, but mainly disease. With the introduction of civilisation came destructive diseases which have proved fatal, and will prove fatal till page 258 the natives have acquired immunity like the pakeha. The last census gives the assuring increase of 4,588, which I hope will now be maintained, and will be the commencement of better days.

While upon these statistics, I will not pass over an important factor in the causation of the ultimate end of the Maori, and that is the half-caste. Whenever two communities live together throughout the world, the weaker must tend to become absorbed in the greater and more powerful; this then will be the destiny of the Maori—not extinction, but absorption. This process will take many years, but it is inevitable. The decrease of the future will be in the purity of the Maori blood. I would like to prove this to you by actual figures, but unfortunately, the Government returns being mere approximations in the earlier censuses, makes it unsatisfactory; however, even allowing for these fallacies, since 1886 there has been a continual increase of half-castes, till to-day we have 6,516 half-castes in our midst, to say nothing of those hundreds who have already become absolute pakehas, and thus are not included in this enumeration. A further interesting fact is that there are 211 Maori women who are the wives of Europeans, besides a few men who are married to European wives. Generally speaking, these women are prolific when mated with Europeans; in fact, much more so than when mated with one of their own. I know families of such unions to range from two to seventeen. Then again,.as we progress, the half-caste girls will give more consorts to the pakeha, who is better able to give them the luxuries of life. The half-castes who marry Maoris are lightening the blood in their progeny, and so the process goes on, till in time we shall have a new race.

That when the old is past and gone,
We still may find its trace
In nobler types of human kind,
With traits wherein there blend
The white man’s more prosaic mind,
The poet Maori trend.

Aside from the diseases which are prevalent, there are a few customs which have played a great part in the causation of our decrease. In ancient times clothing was scarce—a man only wore the korowai, or toga; thus a good part of the body was more or less exposed, making the wearer a stranger to colds. It is not the English clothing that does the mischief, so much as the ignorance of the laws concerning pakeha clothing. Some days “Madam” can be seen stylishly dressed, even to the waist-squeezer, the corset, and the tight-pinching shoes; the next day you will find her with nothing but a thin print dress on, without the warm under-garments. This half-and-half mode of living has been productive of much harm.

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The Maori’s food supply in olden times was fairly wholesome, but since the introduction of pakeha food he has learnt to emulate the Englishman’s gamey cheese and pheasant by steeping his corn and potato to such a concert-pitch that their humming could be distinguished a mile off. This eating of putrefactive food has also been productive of much harm.

Smoking among women and children has also been common.

Alcoholism has had its day, though it is still bad in some districts.

The tangi, or wake, is another pernicious custom, as the relatives from near and far congregate to weep for the dead, to eat the family out of house and home, and to spread diseases of all descriptions.

Tohunga-ism, or witchcraft, was one of the worst evils we had to deal with. The strong arm of the law was the only potent medicine that could cure this cancerous malady. A few doses of the lock-up have had the desired effect. It is wonderful how superstitious even the most enlightened are. Who has not seen a delicate silk-attired lady of fashion sigh her wishes over her left shoulder at the inconstant moon? Who does not dream of bad luck when thirteen sit at a table? And who has not seen an old shoe cast at the happy wedded pair? And if these things can happen in the far advanced, we can surely excuse some of the peculiarities of the Maori, who has barely emerged from the neolithic night of superstition into this blazing sun of civilisation. However, I do not by any means excuse the acts of the tohungas. The immersion of the sick in cold rivers has been stopped by the councils; not that a bath, even a cold one, is altogether detrimental, but the attending risks in exposure are so numerous, and the result so disastrous, that it has been deemed wise to stop all such treatment.

It is quite a common thing to hear the expression “re mate o ana tupuna” (“the disease of his ancestors”), and there is no hope. The disease has been handed down through generations by a powerful curse. Though the theory has often been advanced that consumption was unknown to the ancient Maoris, and that it was introduced by the pakehas, yet this was not so. The Maoris had several names for the disease, the common one being mate kohi (the wasting malady). This term was also applied to the waning of the moon. “Ka kohi te marama” (the moon is wasting away). And, as in the case of the moon, she was restored to life and health by bathing in the living waters of Taane, in the heaven of lakes, so the individual, by potent incantations to Motiti, the guardian god of the chest, could be restored to health again.

What has been done and what we are doing.—At the passing of the Public Health Act of 1900, the Maori Village Councils Bill was also passed. This was practically an Act giving the natives a certain amount of local governing authority. It gave them the power to appoint councils and page 260 sanitary committees, and inspectors, further, to make by-laws in regard to sanitary and health matters. The Health Department, under its native branch, has been in touch with the Maori village councils, for these councils stand in the same position as the ordinary local authorities. There are 46 medical practitioners subsidised by the Government to attend indigent natives, there are nine sanitary inspectors, and two health officers. Within the last three years we have destroyed 1,057 houses, 1,183 new houses have been built. Every village, and practically every Maori house within the Dominion has been inspected. The houses destroyed for sanitary reasons have not cost the Government of New Zealand a single penny for compensation. Seven-tenths of the entire Maori population have been vaccinated. Lectures on sanitation and hygiene have been delivered throughout the Dominion and outlying islands. Maori girls are now being trained in our hospitals in order that they may go back to their people to teach and uplift humanity.

The gospel of work has been preached. Already the Maori is responding by milking cows and farming sheep. Communism is being broken up by the individualisation of the land. The new day has dawned. The individualistic idea, the push and energy, the turning of time and sod into gold has shaken the foundation of the old Maori world. Henceforth Maoriland will be the cradle of a new race whose predecessors knew the steel, and, yet, the stone also.

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