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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

III. The Natives

III. The Natives.

The New Zealanders, or Maories, as they are called by themselves and others, according to their own legends, came from Hawaiki about five hundred years ago.

In the large and fertile land to which they had come, although they took little advantage of the fertility till within the last seventy years, their numbers rapidly increased. Judging by page 6 their own traditions, and by the traces that remain of villages, the population cannot have been much less than 150,000. But unfortunately they brought all their evil habits and their love for war with them, and their numbers speedily began to decrease. And they are still decreasing, chiefly from these old habits, and partly from the state of semi-civilisation into which they have been brought during the last fifty years. There cannot now be more than 38,000, of whom about 2300 are settled in little communities over the South Island, the great majority being pretty equally scattered over the North Island.

Christian missions were established among them many years ago. These have been only partially successful in their highest ends. But though it is very difficult to change the manners and customs of a people, they have been the means, along with other influences, in putting down heathen practices, and to some extent in improving their social condition.

Unfortunately, in 1859 a dispute arose between them and the Government about land in the province of Taranaki. Not being amicably settled, war ensued, which by and by spread over a considerable part of the North Island. A few years before this a native king had been set up in the Waikato country, and though the king and his party took no active part in the war, yet this tended to complicate matters. Then a false prophet arose, who concocted a strange mixture of Paganism and Judaism, and under a pretence of inspiration succeeded in getting a great many followers, not only from the more remote tribes of the interior, but even from those who had for a considerable time been in close intercourse with the settlers. At this period every tribe in the country had made an open profession of Christianity, although some of them afterwards relapsed into heathenism.

This party, with their horrid rites and monstrous cruelties, directed not only against the colonists, but also against their own countrymen who adhered to British rule, still more complicated matters. With more or less intermission, and with some very sad occurrences, the war lasted for about ten years.

It is now practically at an end, although the pursuit of Te Kooti, and one or two other ringleaders among the insurgents, is still being carried on by the armed constabulary. Those who know New Zealand say that there is no likelihood of the renewal of native disturbances at any future time; for the natives have suffered so much, that many of the tribes who were hostile have submitted, and the few who have not, begin to see the hopelessness of carrying on the contest.

They still possess a very large quantity of land,—very much more than they can ever occupy. Part of this is rented by the colonists, who also pay them large sums of money in the form of wages for making roads, clipping sheep, &c. A system of direct purchase through the medium of the native land-court, page 7 which investigates and registers native titles, has recently been established, and appears on the whole to work satisfactorily.

In reply to statements that have from time to time been circulated in this country, it may be stated shortly, that the colonists have never oppressed the natives. On the contrary, the probability is, had not the British Government been established, that nearly the whole race would by this time have perished through their perpetual wars and barbarous customs—particularly the practice of female infanticide, which at one time was all but universal.

The habits of the people are now undergoing a rapid change. In the districts contiguous to European settlements, their advance in civilisation is already apparent in the better style of their dwellings, &c., while some of the more enterprising among them derive a comfortable income from sheep-farming on a small scale, and from other industrial pursuits. *

* The writer is indebted for the latter portion of this section to Walter Lawry Buller, Esq., Sc.D., F.L.S., &c., Resident Magistrate at Wanganui, who has also kindly read over the whole tract in MS., and given some valuable hints.