The New Zealand Novel 1860-1965
The Maori Again
The Maori Again. This belief that the Noble Savage was doomed was one sincerely held in the nineties; A. A. Grace entitled his Maori sketches of 1901, Tales of a Dying Race. Dora Wilcox, in her poem Onawe, 1905, speaks of the ruin of a great Maori fortification at Akaroa in these words:
Tena koe Pakeha! within this fortification
Grows English grass—
Tena koe! subtle conqueror of a nation
Doomed, doomed to pass!
E. H. McCormick links this idea with the beginnings of Pakeha endeavours to preserve Maori tradition before it was too late, as evidenced by the founding in 1892 of the Polynesian Society, and the sponsoring, in the years that followed, of many studies of the Maori race such as those of John White, already noted. At least the belief that he was doomed enabled writers to dignify the Maori in fiction by giving him tragic stature, as Jessie Weston does. The tragic figure is a little more human and convincing than the comic stereotype.
Four other novels of the time deal with the half-caste theme: A. A. Grace's Atareta, Belle of the Kainga, 1908; H. B. Vogel's A Maori Maid, 1898 ; A. H. Adams's Tussock Land, 1904; and Banner- page 26 man Kaye's Haromi, 1900. Katherine Mansfield also was attracted by the topic; in 1908 she considered writing a story Maata which would be a "psychological study". Part of a novel survives, but has not been published.
A Maori Maid is really very well done. Harry B. Vogel, a son of Sir Julius Vogel, has several novels to his credit, one set in Tasmania. In A Maori Maid, a Wellington surveyor John Anderson meets in his Taupo camp a Maori heiress, with whom he contracts a "Maori marriage". A daughter, Ngaia, is brought up by Anderson's evil stockman Jake as his own child. Ngaia is sent to a Napier school to be made into a lady, but Jake soon claims her, and leads her a life of misery on Anderson's Te Henga sheep station. There, English cadet Archie Deverell, son of a baronet, falls in love with her. They spend their honeymoon in the bush, prospecting for gold. Sensational elements are provided by Anderson's white son, a gaolbird, and by the sequences of a manhunt. In the finale, Ngaia inherits Te Henga. The problems faced by Archie and Ngaia in reconciling their differences of race and background are well handled. Vogel has a keen sardonic humour, and has contrived some really funny Maori episodes, the tangi at Tokaanu, for instance.
A. H. Adams was known as poet, journalist, and playwright. His five novels are all readable, Tussock Land in 1904 being the only New Zealand one. The central issue is the same as Vogel's, the relationship of a half-caste girl and a white boy, and is treated with imagination and insight. In spite of a clumsy exposition and a rather too contrived ending, the book has form. It opens in the tussock hills of Southland, with their homesteads full "of the usual furniture of up-country stations", prints, photos, shells, woollen mats, and "glacial sofas". Here Aroha Grey at nineteen finds her fairy prince first in her father's ploughman, then with more discernment in twenty-year-old, white King Southern of Dunedin. She, the half-breed, is the true New Zealander, for she belongs to a "newer people, a nation that has no past". The story of her relationship with King is most sympathetically handled. King, of what Adams emphatically calls the "dying race", is weak, and after repudiating Aroha when she comes to his home town, retreats to Sydney. There life teaches him to grow up. In the end he finds that New Zealand is his real home, to which he must return. A. H. Adams finally brings the tired King and the disillusioned Aroha together without sentimentality or romantic passion. So the white man finds strength, the half-caste finds security, and the future lies before their children.
This solution—that New Zealanders must find their future in a racial and cultural blend, was highly unorthodox in 1904, though it may yet be the verdict of history.