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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

The Good Old Days.—Maori Character

page 42

The Good Old Days.—Maori Character.

Let us old settlers remember the year 1840, and what our expectations were when we left our Native land ! How bright a prospect was open to our views ! how ardent our hopes and energy, and how vigorous ! Let us look at the realisation of our hopes, and the fruits of our expectations, and then say what is due to those whose interference and maladministration have dashed the promised cup from our lips. How different was our condition, how different our prospects during that short period previous to the interference of the British Government, when we first established ourselves on these shores, before our amicable relations with the Natives were disturbed, and our pecuniary resources drained into a distant treasury ! How easily traceable are all the subsequent evils which have accrued to us—to the mischievous and wicked misgovernment under which we have laboured. We were then a happy little republic, governed as far as government was requisite, by officers of our own appointment, or still more, by our own mutual good feeling towards each other, and not the undoubted influence on the prosperity of the Dominion by the serious land disputes between the New Zealand Company and the Natives, as well as with the European purchasers to whom the Company had sold land in London on the chance of obtaining possession in New Zealand, and the New Zealand Company, whose recklessness in land buying and selling were certainly largely to blame for the Wairau massacre. There was no evil intended by Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeata in the commencement of this trouble, for land was the foundation of all our troubles with the Natives, and twenty-two of our country-men had been murdered at Wairau. The rights of the Natives to their lands, and the Treaty of Waitangi, should have been respected by the New Zealand Company, for the treaty guarantees to the Maori chiefs and tribes of New Zealand, and to the respective families and individuals thereof, the full, exclusive, and undisputed possession of their lands and estates, forests, and fisheries. Now the Maori chiefs see that their possession is being taken away, and the details of the Treaty of Waitangi had only been held out as false hopes to them, and is being broken without a just cause. It was when the tide turned the Maori war for Great Britain that the treaty was no more, and those times, when the average man would rather die than tell a lie, have passed away.

On many occasions I have been plied with questions about the character of the Maori. It is true that I have spent nearly my page 43 whole life among them, and have had the utmost opportunity of learning very nearly all there is to be known about the character of these interesting people. No one can doubt the mental capacity of the Maori, and had it been possible to have educated them, and inculcate habits of sustained industry they might by this time have altogether cast aside their old habits and associations. It is true that the missionaries did effect good work, but the unfortunate dissensions amongst ourselves have not only prevented the gradually awakening mind from receiving fixed and decided principles, but have rendered it very nearly impossible to convert them to other channels of modern thought. Gratitude is unknown to the Maori; no word expressive of this feeling being found in their language. Theft is very rare amongst them, revenge being their strongest vice; in many instances feelings of revenge are kept alive for generations. They are liberal in giving presents, but presents are merely mode3 of trade, as return gifts are always expected. They are, as a rule, gifted in oratory, possessing a great flow of words. They are indolent, strong against the weak, but weak against the strong. When mastered, either physically or mentally, they became as manageable as children, but any power possessed over them must be exerted in a right way. They are more easily overcome by gentle and skilful management than by ill-directed force. The Maoris value life, but, die with indifference when death is inevitable; they have no benevolence, and are cruel to their old men and women, Long-absent friends are greeted with a profusion of tears, but, as with children, this grief is destitute of any intensity of feeling, Maoris have the minds of children and the passions of men; they respect ancient laws and customs, but are ready to embrace new views and opinions given out by men in authority. So constituted are their minds that it is impossible to foresee how certain circumstances will affect them. Futurity is seldom looked into, although, like all mankind, they long for what is unknown, and regret what is lost. Fondness for novelty is a passion, but it is almost impossible to excite wonder. Vanity, arrogance, and independence are universal; they are more vain than proud. In all their actions they are alive to their own interests, in pursuit of which they are not, at the present day, overburdened with conscientiousness.