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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

Exploded Ideas about Savage Races

Exploded Ideas about Savage Races.

Nothing makes us more distrustful of conclusions drawn from uncertain premises than the blunders which scientific men of high position have made in matters that are ascertainable. What could be further from the truth than the opinions that have been almost universally held concerning the intelligence of barbarous races. Consider the case of the Maori. Less than a century ago the aborigines of these islands were regarded as among the most barbarous and intractable of savages. Their cannibal orgies, their primitive stone implements and weapons, their perpetual wars, were cited as indicating a thoroughly vicious people. Close acquaintance, however, has utterly dispelled the illusion. We have found the Maori fully equalling the illiterate Caucasian in intelligence; brave and hospitable, possessing a remarkable poetry and mythology, a strong realistic belief in immortality, and preserving genealogical and historical records, the accuracy of which has been established by searching examinations in the Native Land Courts. Their representatives—of pure blood—take an active part in the Parliament of the country, speaking intelligently, not only upon native questions, but on general subjects. And (Colonel Trimble) who is not remarkable for philo-Maori proclivities, speaking in the House of Representatives of one of these so-called savages, declared his opinions in these words (vide page 15 Hansard reports): "I agree with everything that has been said in regard to the moral and intellectual qualities of To Whiti. . . . I have not the slightest doubt that Te Whiti is as good as any man in this House; and in intellectual qualifications I believe that he exceeds a very large proportion of the gentlemen of this House." We cannot, in view of statements like these made in the Parliament of the colony, and receiving confirmation from our everyday experience, fail to admit that the savage who alarmed our infantile imagination is largely, if not altogether, as pure a myth as those other bogies that caused the youthful horror-monger to draw his head shudderingly under the bed-clothes. Who does not remember those terrible coloured plates depicting Captain Cook clubbed by a band of monsters. Yet we know that those very people were the mild Sandwich Islanders, who, in the first instance reverencing their pale-faced visitors as superior beings, soon discovered from the licentious behaviour of the crew that they were very ordinary mortals indeed; and roused at last to indignation by the ruthless desecration of their sacred places, mustered courage enough to revenge their wrongs. If there remained any lingering belief in the faithfulness of that picture, the appearance of King Kalakau as an honoured guest of the English Court and American President must ere this have dispelled it. Moreover, a civilisation which has not yet discarded war as the arbiter in international disputes cannot afford to say much about that recklessness of human life which is the worst feature of pure barbarism.