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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 75

Drink and the Native Race

Drink and the Native Race.

The historians of Captain Cook record his important testimony in relation to the health of the Maoris of New Zealand. They say:—"In all the visits made to their towns, when men and women crowded about our voyagers, they never observed a single person who appeared to have any bodily complaint, nor among the numbers that were seen was once perceived the slightest eruption upon the skin or the least mark that indicated that such an eruption had formerly existed. The wounds they receive heal with the greatest facility. In the case of a man who had been shot through the arm with a musket ball, the wound seemed so well digested, and so fair a way of being healed, that if Captain Cook had not known that no application had been made to it, he declared he would have enquired with deep interest after the herbs and surgical art of the country. Old men abounded in New Zealand; men who, by the state of their hair and teeth, were evidently patriarchs, and yet none of them were decrepit. They might be weaker than the youngsters, but they were quite as lively and high-spirited. As far as could be discovered, the New Zealander drank nothing but water."

Before the advent of the European, the Maori endurance was wonderful. Old Mohi Tawhai, of Hokianga, in his younger days would run further in a day than any man would care to ride a horse.

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His son, the late Hone Mohi Tawhia, when a youth, ran from Kaihu to Waima in a day. Such exertion is quite impossible to any Maoris of to-day.

It is quite correct that the Maoris of these islands knew of no intoxicants until the coming of "God's Englishmen." the Maoris contend also that they were practically free from diseases prior to European civilisation. The causes of death in those days were witchcraft, war, and old age.

The missionaries and whalers were the first agents of civilisation, and while the Maori was under the more direct influence of the missionary, he lived a better life than ever in his past history. There were so many new things to be purchased, that he was kept busy producing dressed flax, timber and food supplies as barter for implements, clothing and weapons.

The successful work of the missionaries made colonisation possible, and the influx of settlers and demand for land opened up a new life to the Maori.

From the first, the Maoris took kindly to tobacco, but not to strong drink. They called it waipiro (stinking water). But slowly and surely they copied the example of the European, and in time outdid their teachers in debauchery.

The early legislation of this country denied drink to the Maori people. In effect, we said to the Maoris, "Drink is good for Europeans, and bad for Maoris." the European could purchase as much intoxicating drink as be could pay for, and the Maori, suspecting some other than the real motive, and having cultivated the taste, used every means in his power to procure and consume the forbidden luxury. As no great harm came to Europeans by these illegal scenes of drunkenness, and as many persons were deriving considerable profits from these sales of Maori rum, the trade became more open, and the law a dead letter. Maori drinking became the custom in the out-lying hotels, and no Maori feast was rangatira (respectable) without the hogshead of rum, or many cases of strong drink. We have heard, from the Maori tales of those days, of men, women and children drunk together, and infants cruelly neglected; quarrelling and jealousy became common, and violence was done to every law of decency.

The Maori copied our custom of "shouting," and did it in his own way. One chief of whom we heard, having received payment for some land, said "I will 'shout' for everyone who fought against me in Heke's War," while another, not to be outdone in large-heartedness, cried, "I will 'shout' for every one who knew my late son John.

Chiefs receiving payment for lands, in which there were many claimants for small sums, spent the whole in drink, so that each one might drink his or her share of ancestral forest or plain.

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The war had the effect of estranging European sympathy from the Maoris generally, and many good men wished them all safe in heaven. Many colonists did not care which world they went to, as long as they did not remain in this, and when a cessation of hostilities came about, and the Maoris drank to drown their troubles, there were few sufficiently interested in them to take any great pains to save them form this curse. Even such a large-hearted philanthropist as Sir William Fox, said to the writer, with his own peculiar shrug of the shoulders, "There is little, can be done for the Maoris; they are a Boomed race." the Maori swallowed his land, drank himself down to death and Hades, while Englishmen looked on, and talked of the survival of the fittest. But are those who are indifferent to the sins and sorrows of others, and those who make unholy gains out of a dying race, the fittest to survive?

The sale of land and the possession of large sums of money destroyed the simple home life of the Maori, and the coming together the whole of the tribes, and their attendance at protracted Land Courts, promoted idleness, gambling, drinking, and attendant vices, doing more than any other institution to debase the people.

The manner in which land purchases were conducted was hurtful in the extreme. Negotiations either for leasing or sale were more frequently than otherwise opened by presents of drink. The Day of Judgement will unfold many tales of wrong in these matters, which the chief actors fondly think are forgotten for ever.

We have but a passing word to say about the Land Court as an institution. It is unnecessary, and productive of every kind of dishonesty. It has slain its thousands, and may be recorded among the most conclusive collateral evidence of the existence of the devil.

It was during the premiership of Sir George Grey that Maori drunkenness reached its highest tide. Whatever of good came to this and during that Administration, must be discounted by the fact that those associated with him were forgetful of the grave responsibilities of rulers, and did little to uplift, but much to debase, the Maori people.

During all those dark days of Maori drinking, there were some among them who took a determined stand against it, and never came under its destroying influence; and among those who suffered by its use, there were some who made efforts to control or lessen its evils. So long as twenty-three years ago, the Waima Maoris passed a prohibitory law that is in existence to-day, and has never been broken—strong drink as a beverage has not been tolerated. The residents of that valley may go from home and drink, but must not, and never lave, brought it home for consumption.

In another part of Hokianga, a public-house was forced upon a Maori community by the Licensing Committee. The chief of these people (though himself a drinking man) called his people together, and said: Listen, men, women and children! This is my word to you all: If any of you enter that public-house, erected in defiance of our page 18 wish, I will banish von from this settlement, and from your land." the house was closed the next year, and has remained so since.

There are many communities of Maoris who have decided against the use of drink at public gatherings, and slowly but surely the strong Temperance convictions of the Europeans of this land are having a corresponding influence for good upon the Maori people.

I have no political idols, nor do I hold a brief for the present Government, but fairness necessitates that I give honour where honor is due, and I am glad to say Mr. Seddon's Bill prohibiting drink to Maori women has so far been of considerable good. Women still procure drink, but not to such an extent as formerly, and they are no longer found under its influence in the towns and public-houses. Little has been done, however, to make this law effective in the Native settlements, the failure of which remains a reflection upon the Police force, whoso interpretation of law in these cases certainly tends rather to the personal ease of the officer of the law than the impartial discharge of plain duty. Our liberties are only perfectly conserved to us, when we are governed by our law-makers, and not by the individual opinions of persons paid to sacredly enforce the law.

May I further add that we live in stirring times. Current events are making large calls upon a spirit of loyalty to our nation. We contend our nation leads the way in industry, enterprise and intelligence. Our commerce, inventions, institutions and language find their way to the ends of the earth. There are consecrated men and women ready to carry the message of God's love everywhere. We are growing more like gods every day, in the wonders we accomplish in manufacture, science and art. We give to the heathen of every land our manifold blessings; we reveal to him the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God; we tell him he is a man and a brother, But how much greater would be our self-respect, were we satisfied our good-doing was not mixed with evil, and that we did not strew curses among the blessings!

We may be thankful for that whereunto we have attained, and loyal to our British name and prestige, but we dare not relax our efforts until it is everywhere apparent that gold is not our god, and the sin of Ephraim no longer our reproach.

We have done great things for the Maori people, and we hope and expect that there is yet a good future for the remnant of the race. But the humilating fact remains, that we have made it possible for thousands of them to destroy themslves with our strong drink, and that which humbles right-thinking men to the dust is, that this has been tolerated because Englishmen made money—money at the expense of human happiness and life.

Every Temperance advocate amongst us who shall endeavour to do good to his Maori brethren in urging them to abstain from strong drink, will be met with the statement—

"If you do not want me to drink, why did you bring it here? It is your drink, not mine; take it away."