The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 79
Maoris' Amusements, Habits, and Customs
Maoris' Amusements, Habits, and Customs.
A favourite amusement amongst Native children in the good old times, was a moori (Native swing), consisting of a number of flax cords fastened from the top of a pole which is usually fixed into the ground on the sloping side of a bank. The children, when swinging, take hold of the cords, running down the bank, strike out into the air and swing back again to the bank. Occasionally they run round in a circle as in the gymnasium of Europeans. This amusement is rarely to be seen. The only place I have seen it was on the banks of the villages of Manawatu.,
The numerous groups of children upon the sea beach and shore lent much animation to the scene. Old age, middle age, and children were all well represented, though on the shore the first and last were considerably in the majority—the youngster just able to walk alone, and who, reed in hand, was receiveing from some older baby his first lesson in the spear exercise; the old page 15 man, who had nearly run his course, and who, quickened for the moment by the warm, spring sun, held open his dim and closing eyes while he peered, with passing pleasure, on the stir and life around him; the men and women, old too, but not yet past all labour, who drank in the sunshine while they carved a weapon, scraped a paddle, or rubbed a piece of green jade with sandstone I—the tiresome process by which, literally, in the course of years, they sharpened their weapons and tools. Most of the younger women were busy with the leaves of the flax plant, scraping them for flax, weaving them into garments, cutting them into strips or strings for the purpose of making into fishing nets, or twining them into the food baskets so largely used at every meal, and invariably thrown away after being once used. The older boys were practising running, wrestling, and reed throwing.
Animated as all these groups were, not a hasty exclamation, not a quarrelsome sound was to be heard. Discord was unknown; days, weeks, and months passed without an angry word being spoken; without an oath being uttered; indeed, the Maori language was almost absolutely destitute of profane terms, the term "curse it" being such an awful one that it was only applied to a public enemy, or those about to become so, and its use was almost invariably a sign of immediate war.
In the open air the Maori entered life, in the much loved open air he spent his existence, and in the open air his spirit took its departure from the mortal tenement it had inhabited. The field of battle was considered the most fitting death-led for a warrior, failing which the more sudden his departure the better pleased, or perhaps we should say, the less grieved were his friends. A lingering illness was deprecated, as entailing useless pain and trout:le upon the sufferer and his family, and, above all things, death within doors was avoided, for the departing spirit would thereby have felt insulted, cribbed, cabined, and confined.
There being no machinery in those days, all the large trees acting as pillars in buildings such as the Otaki Maori Church were erected, as was the Maori custom, by hand labour. Te Rauparaha got Natives from the Manawatu district to come down and do the carrying, which is indeed a work of art. The lace work was also carried out by these people. It was in the good times when Christianity spread through the Maori tribes with amazing rapidity. We rejoiced over their capability for accepting doctrines of high and pure religion, never perceiving that they accepted it simply because they thought from our superiority in ships, arms, tools, and material prosperity m general, that the mana (i.e., luck, power, page 16 prestige) of Christianity must be greater than that of their old superstition, and they were quite ready to leave it. Again, when they found out this was a mistake, the bubble of Maori civilitation burst. The idea that seemed at one time not unlikely to become an actual fact, of a native race becoming truly Christianised and civilised, and prospering side by side with their white brother, has gone where many a noble and well-fought-for idea has gone before. The true level of the Maori, intellectually I and morally, has become tolerably well known. Moreover, his I numbers are diminishing year by year. Contact with the British settler has of late years effected a marked and rapid change in the manners and mode of life of the Maoris, and the Maoris of the present day are as unlike what there were when I first saw them as they are still unlike a civilised people or British subjects.
Talking of bygone habits and customs of the Maori, in those good old times, when first I came to New Zealand, we shall never see their like again. Since then the world seems to have gone wrong, a dull sort of world this is now; the very sun does not seem to me to shine as bright as it used, and potatoes and fruit have degenerated, and everything seems unprofitable. But those were the times, the good old times, before Governors were invented, when everyone did as he liked, except when his neighbours would not let him (the more shame for them) and when, there were no taxes, or duties, or public works, or public to require them. The Maoris were bigger and stouter in those days, and money was useless, and little did I think in those days that I should ever see here towns, Prime Ministers, and Bishops, and hear sermons preached, and all other civilisation and plagues. Here I am now, a good 80 years ahead, and the deplorable state of affairs which began when this country became a British colony, I did not think it would come to. I give my true idea of the good old times. I have lived amongst the Maoris as one of themselves, helped them, and have been helped by them in peace and in war. I know their good qualities, and their bad ones, their knowledge and their ignorance, their wisdom and their folly. I think if we had acted more on the motto, "Be just, and fear not," in our dealings with the Maoris, it would have been better for both races. I believe our intentions have been excellent, but most of them have gone to pave a well-known road. All can hope is that the road will never reach its terminus. [unclear: H]urgatory is fair enough for both pakeha and Maoris. We have, I fancy, just reached that stage, and I think I have done no harm in showing how the Maoris of New Zea- page 17 land think we have got there.