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Aureretanga: Groans of the Maoris

Dedication to My Countrymen at Home and Abroad

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Dedication to My Countrymen at Home and Abroad.

More than three hundred years ago a humane Spaniard was reviled for denouncing cruelties committed, not by all, but by some of his countrymen, against the Americans.

Bryan Edwards, the historian of the West Indies, depicted those cruelties in terms which can never be forgotten.*

“All the murders and desolations of the most pitiless tyrants that ever diverted themselves with the pangs and convulsions of their fellow-creatures fall infinitely short of the bloody enormities committed by the Spanish nation in the conquest of the New World:— a conquest, on a low estimate, effected by the murder of ten millions of the species. But, although the accounts which are transmitted down to us of this dreadful carnage are authenticated beyond the possibility of dispute, the mind shrinking from the contemplation, wishes to resist conviction, and to relieve itself by incredulity.

Such at least is the apology which I would frame for (Robertson) the author of the American History, when I find him attempting in contradiction to the voice and feelings of all man kind, to palliate such horrible wickedness.”

At page 110, Edwards, declaring that his hand trembled as he wrote, and his heart devoutly wished that the statement could be proved false, quoted, from Las Casas, the fearful record— ‘I once beheld four or five principal Indians roasted alive at a slow fire…”.

My own hand refuses to transcibe the atrocious particulars which follow the above words.

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Las Casas failed to arrest, though perhaps he modified the injustice of his own time; but Robertson (arraigned by Edwards for palliating the wrongs done) was compelled to acknowledge “the malevolent opposition of Las Casas’ adversaries,” and to accord “great praise to his humane activity, which gave rise to various regulations that were of some benefit to the unhappy people” whose cause he espoused.

Robertson himself testifies that the Spaniards robbed the Americans of their lands—parted the despoiled owners as slaves in time of peace—and in “war paid no regard to those laws which by a tacit convention between contending nations, regulate hostility, and set some bounds to its rage.” He tells us also that Las Casas, in pleading for the Americans, “censured the conduct of his countrymen settled there with such honest severity as rendered him universally odious to them.”

It may be hoped that hatred of “honest severity” was not so universal as the historian supposed, and that some just men concurred with Las Casas; for few Spanish civilians can have resembled Roldan, nor can all Spanish Commanders have been so base and brutal as Ovando.

A later historian paid a higher tribute to the philanthropist. Not denying that Las Casas, like other men, was liable to error, Prescott says: “He was inspired by one great and glorious idea.… It was this which urged him to lift the voice of rebuke in the presence of Princes, to brave the menaces of an infuriated populace, to cross seas, to traverse mountains and deserts, to incur the alienation of friends, the hostility of enemies, to endure obloquy, insult, and persecution… Who shall say how much of the successful efforts and arguments since made in behalf of persecuted humanity may be traced to the example and writings of this illustrious philanthropist?”

Thus did Prescott write of one whom he nevertheless blamed for “exaggeration and over-colouring.”

“Great and glorious ideas” are seldom entertained without enthusiasm, and, unless an author feels deeply, he will not stir the sympathy of his readers.

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Strong colours are required in depicting startling events; and the world is generally too much absorbed in its pleasures and profits, its panem et Circenses, to allow its attention to be readily diverted to remote occurrences.

What less sorrows can command attention when my lost friend, the hero of our time, has been allowed to pass away beguiled by an appeal for his help in the sacred name of patriotism, thwarted, betrayed, maligned, abandoned to starvation or death, and yet standing alone on the ramparts of Khartoum contending for the honour of his country, whose rulers were earning “indelible disgrace” by his fate?

History will in due time fasten that disgrace upon those to whom it is due; but who can aver that the people of England, in the day of disgrace, did their duty to punish its authors?

Las Casas, in a worldly sense, failed in his crusade on behalf of humanity. But the day has come when his “actions blossom in the dust,” and his detractors are only known as an ignoble herd because they were his detractors.

For myself, although I have laboured in the cause of humanity, I have as yet failed to bring before my countrymen, as I desired, the manner in which infractions of a solemn Treaty have inflicted hardships on the Maori race, and, in my humble judgment, dishonoured the name of England.

The pages of general history are so crowded with events, that it is perhaps impossible to enforce sufficiently in them the consideration of special grievances. A shorter work may effect my purpose better; and, therefore, I have compiled from the most authentic sources, and in the most unimpassioned manner, the following brief record of a few of those dealings which have caused the groans of the Maoris, to which the following pages are devoted in the hope that past wrongs may yet in some degree be atoned for.

Some portions of their father-land still remain in the hands of the Maoris; and the “system of fraud, under the authority of law,” denounced by Dr. Pollen in the New Zealand Parliament, may yet be applied at Waikato, Kawhia, and elsewhere, unless a healthy public opinion can be aroused.

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* Vol I. p, 105.

Thus benevolence is called in aid of cruelty, and apathy among many becomes in time an accomplice in the crimes of a few.