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The Maori Situation

XII—Maori Problems

page 100

XII—Maori Problems

Though the situation is to-day so much more hopeful, it should not be imagined that Maori difficulties are yet over. They are many and real and not all to be directly solved by the continuance and extension of land settlement, important as this is. In general Maori problems are not so much political or even economic as psychological, some most intimately so.

Though specific grievances persist in the minds of certain tribes, many such have in recent years been redressed, a real effort in this direction having been made when the Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates was Native Minister. The Waikato tribes, however, have refused to accept the sum of £3,000 per year recommended for them by the Confiscated Native Lands Commission, of 1926. They say that if the pakeha has at last admitted that he was in the wrong in regard to the excessive confiscations made, then the lands concerned should be returned to them. There the matter rests. They will go hungry rather than accept the money. Complicated South Island Maori grievances remain. But in general the younger Maoris, even in the districts where injustices have been so long and so keenly felt, have largely turned their minds to the farming schemes, to health reforms, education and other matters relating to the welfare of their race.

The present Government has declared its intention of proceeding with the farm development schemes and has recently legislated to make them more effective in several minor ways. The recent Commission called attention to the present position in regard to the matter of tenure and title of development scheme lands. The original conception of the development schemes included “a guarantee of eventual legal occupation of individualized holdings.” None has as yet been put on this page 101 basis and, the Commission stated, confusion exists on this subject. The matter is one for the Native Land Settlement Board and the Commission made a number of recommendations in regard to it. It is very doubtful if at once any clear-cut and quite specific policy can be generally adopted and immediately applied. The situation is rather one that calls for gradual adjustment as it is periodically reviewed. At the request of the Commission Sir Apirana Ngata prepared a Memorandum on the tenure of holdings and this appears as an appendix to the report of the Commission. It makes clear how varied are the circumstances of the different schemes; the impossibility of uniformity at the present time, and the undesirability of exerting pressure. The problem of the rating of Maori land is difficult and complex, and one of serious concern for a number of local bodies. That Maoris must eventually pay rates on lands they have been working or as they occupy and work developed lands no one will question, and the Maoris themselves are reasonable enough to recognise this. In 1933 this matter was investigated by a special Parliamentary Committee, which made certain recommendations which seem reasonable; but here again, while the recommendation in regard to the exempting of unoccupied native lands with no rateable value could at once be put into effect and would simplify the problem somewhat, other recommendations could only gradually be made operative. Again the problem is one which can be solved only progressively. It cannot be settled in a single stroke. It is at the moment conditioned by prevailing economic distresses and it will always be conditioned by the general policy adopted towards the Maori people and their mood in reaction to it.

There remains the important question of pakeha administration of Maori affairs. At the present time the office of Native Minister is temporarily held by the Prime Minister. To the Maoris their Minister is always more than any page 102 Cabinet Minister is to Europeans. He is their leader. The relation is always peculiarly human as well as political, and the Minister's attitude towards the Maori people and their faith in him affects their welfare certainly no less than do his administrative acts. No European administrator, however willing and understanding, has made or could ever make more than a limited success of this department; and the Maori situation is now very different from what it was when pakeha Native Ministers were the only possibility. For the first time in many years there is now no member of the Maori race in the Cabinet in any capacity, and perhaps at no time, in view of the need for confirming the Maori people in their renewed awareness of themselves in their new hold on life, has it been so necessary to have one. Scarcely less important is the question of the permanent head and officials of the Native Department. These obviously should be men with some real understanding of Maori matters and some real belief in the work they are doing. The Maori people are soon aware when this is not so. The results are unfortunate and Maori qualities are blamed.

Within the Maori world itself there are no really serious political problems. Inter-tribal relations have been vastly strengthened and improved in recent years, and this is to a great extent due to the policy and the work of the ex-Minister. Tribal individuality still markedly remains and will remain, just as tribal circumstances vary, but a consciousness of racial unity is gradually being superimposed upon it. Nothing so fundamental in the social economy of the Maori can readily disappear. “Our experience with our own people,” writes Dr. Buck, “has been that we have had to study the idiosyncrasies of individual tribes and avoid the assumption that they all think alike because they are Maori…. The tribal independence has always been present….It may be that our canoes brought little differences with them from page 103 their home islands. These they maintained in the new lands. I have always felt, since my Polynesian wanderings, that New Zealand was composed of a number of islands in spirit, though connected by land.” The policy of Maori leaders here has been to turn tribal spirit to account for purposes of emulation.

The King movement is still intensely real to the Waikato tribes. It has its own internal politics, which may seem trivial enough, or even comic, to the average pakeha, but which are of immense significance to many thousands of Maoris. The present King, the fifth, is Koroki, a young man the descendant of a long line of famous ancestors. His very person is sacred in the eyes of Waikato, Maniapoto and Tuwharetoa, who surround him with an elaborate ceremonial. He has never been educated in the Government schools, his people having been, as explained, long hostile to anything European. But there have been many indications of a new willingness among these tribes to co-operate with the Government, and that this is so is largely due to the enlightened outlook of the chieftainess Te Puea Herangi, cousin to the King. Koroki's attendance at the Waitangi meeting, in spite of the advice of some of the tribal elders, was significant. The King movement calls for more kindly understanding than it gets, and certainly calls for great tact in administration. The Ratana movement is quite a different matter. It is the latest, and in all probability the last of the Maori prophetic movements, semi-political, semi-religious, and hostile to the Europeans in a sense that the King movement never was. It swept over the Maori people and gained the adherence of a large section of them nearly twenty years ago. In its early stages it was characterized by an emphasis on faith-healing, Ratana himself for a time being a most spectacular healer. The movement has in general encouraged a hostility to anything relating to the Maori people sponsored by the Government. While page 104 this is explicable, it is also unfortunate; but the movement is now largely a spent force, having been for some time waning in influence so far as both its political and religious activities are concerned.

Maori problems, as has already been stated, are primarily psychological, and explicit mention may now be very briefly made of certain psychological principles which have been implicit in much already written. Mind and character do not, as is sometimes imagined, grow and develop mysteriously from within. The mind and character of any individual or any people is to a very great extent constituted by the social environment and its institutions. When a people is living in a state of equilibrium with its natural and social environment, and when each generation is inheriting a stable social tradition, mind and character are patterned in terms of this tradition, and mental and moral stability are thus achieved. This was the state of the Maori people before the advent of Europeans. Mind and character reflect the outward forms of social and cultural life. When these are progressively destroyed, as they were in this country, minds progressively disintegrate. Their re-integration in terms of the new culture, or rather in terms of a blend of old and new, with what remains of the old still determining some ways of thinking and feeling and with the manner of the cultural loss itself determining others, is a complex and difficult process. Under these circumstances mental and moral stability are difficult to achieve. To take a minor example, though Maoris are in general law-abiding, the instances of impulsive crime which occur among them from time to time are an index of this instability. This, then, in terms of present-day psychology is the Maori situation, and it has been incidentally illustrated in much already written. Of the quality of Maori intelligence there has never been any doubt at all. The problem is one of the progressively disintegrating and changing content of mind in relation to page 105 stability of character. It is asking too much of biological heredity to expect that stability of character is going to appear in the younger generation when institutions which so largely produced that character in the older generation have more or less disappeared. The results of this process of disintegration might indeed be much worse than they are, and would have been but for the comparatively recent efforts of Maori leaders themselves and of Government agencies. It is in terms of these principles that the need for every social form, Maori and partially Maori, being fully exploited to give content to mind and stability to character, is insisted upon.

Religion has for long been a powerful conserving agency in human society and a powerful determinant of mind and character, and it was certainly this in ancient Maori life. The effects upon the Maori people of the loss of their own religion can scarcely be exaggerated. The Christian religion, though widely accepted, has never entered into the constitution of the Maori mind and character as their ancient religion did. Its outward forms were meticulously observed, as indeed some of them still are, morning and evening prayers and grace before meals being features of every Maori gathering. But though there are and have been religious sects enough among the Maori people, the force of religion has been very largely lost. The semi-Maori, semi-Christian religions which have appeared from time to time, though unable to persist strongly, have secured for the time a relatively deeper hold on the Maori mind. At the present day Hauhau chants are still to be heard in many Maori villages, and Te Whiti's followers still regularly meet. The last census, nearly ten years ago, showed the adherents of the Ratana Church to be second only in number to those of the Church of England. Many have now fallen away from this cult. The appointment in 1927 of an Anglican Bishop of their own race page 106 gave great satisfaction to the Maori people, though possibly as much for a racial as for a religious reason. So far as religion is a stabilizing force in Maori life and a determinant of Maori mind and character at the present time, it tends to divide rather than to unify the people, a situation historically determined and maintained to some extent by the education of a proportion of Maori children in mission schools maintained by the various Christian sects. Whatever may be the professed religious adherence of present day Maoris many a fragmentary item of purely Maori belief remains.

The Maori attitude to work is much misunderstood. There is a belief, widely held if not always openly expressed, that the Maori is incapable of sustained industry. It would be a great mistake to imagine that this characteristic, so far as it exists, and for perfectly understandable reasons it certainly has existed in some degree, is in any way inherent. Early observers of the Maoris were impressed by the quality of intense industry necessarily displayed in their character. Samuel Marsden, who knew them well, wrote of them: “They are a very persevering people. No privations or hardships can prevent them pursuing any object their minds are set upon.” In their ancient life, as will be realized from what was said of it, every necessary undertaking was infinitely laborious. To take a minor instance, one need only think of the patience and care necessary to produce a single fish-hook, let alone a stone axe, and apart from the laborious activities in which these implements were employed. The coming of the pakeha, the adoption of his material culture, the extensive disintegration of the Maori mind as such, the wars and their aftermath, the dissipating of the proceeds of the sale of lands or the living upon rents from them, changed all this. And yet recent events have shown that, given the opportunity, industry can again be shown and with growing self-confidence and self-respect there is good reason to believe page 107 that it can be maintained. Once again it is a matter of the integration and stabilizing of character by social forms. It is true that Maori tribal and inter-tribal activities, the occasional attendance at hui and tangi may interfere with work, but these, as has been indicated, are justified by their importance as factors in the social background of the people against which alone character can be formed.

It is fairly safe to say that Maoris will never fully accept European ideas regarding money. Maori ideas of property and its use have had to change enormously, since in originally “selling” land they simply thought they were giving permission to the pakeha to make use of a certain area. Other ideas were soon forced upon them; but even now their attitude to property is far from being identical with that of the white man. With Maoris, in their handling of money, the idea, the sentiment is the thing, and they retain at any rate the remnants of a scheme of values different from ours. They have never, save perhaps when they were driven to secure firearms, been materialistic or personally acquisitive. They are not, and probably never will be dominated by the idea that the making and saving of money is the really sacred duty of man and the main means of happiness. Thirty years ago the late Mr. Justice Alpers, a sympathetic observer, said of the Maori: “In money matters he is utterly improvident; it is either a feast or a famine with him. He invariably anticipates his land rents before they are due, and squanders his wages before they are earned.” This is most certainly not now so true, though Maori young people down to this day have never been trained from childhood up in care and caution in the use of money as has the pakeha child. Apart from their original attitude towards property and their strong tribal sentiment such experiences as they have had with money have been for the most part unfortunate. Let the reader recall the condition and outlook of the Maori people at the page 108 end of last century when their lands so extensively passed from them. The moneys they received were often wasted out-rageously enough; but what else could happen under the circumstances? MacDonald, in Te Hekenga, speaks of what he himself observed, of Maoris whom he knew, “bewildered by the possession of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pounds, handed to them in a lump sum, plucked by every cheap shark and tout in the town which they had elected to spend it in: cheated by hotel-keepers, swindled by hangers-on of racing stables, and confidence men, until utterly amazed they realized that their money had vanished, and perhaps then for the first time fully realised that their land was also gone.”

One may fairly ask, is the blame all on one side? In some respects in their use of money the Maoris have taken it into their own patterns of life. Many acts of what may seem to the European shocking improvidence are survivals of what were once important and well-established institutions of individual and tribal hospitality and gift-exchange. Many examples of the Maori attitude towards money could be given. Two must suffice. Several years ago justice was at any rate partially though very belatedly done to the Taranaki Maori people in granting them £5,000 per annum for lands wrongfully confiscated in the 'sixties of last century. One of the first things they did on receiving the money was to hand back a portion of it to the Government, whose finances were in that year reported to be in a very serious state. At the Waitangi gathering the Wanganui Maoris made a gift to the Governor-General as Chairman of the Waitangi National Trust Board. The gift consisted of a number of the finest flax cloaks ornamented in the traditional manner. When the bundle was unfolded some time later the sum of £70 was found inside. No mention had been made of it. The sentiment is the thing. What could be more ironical than that we page 109 put Maori heads on our bank-notes and Maori designs on our new coins?

The significance in the Maori revival of the educational services provided by the Government has already been mentioned. The Maori had early shown his educability in the mission schools first established more than a century ago; but this phase of his European education passed with the tragic conflict of the two races. Government schools for Maori children were established at the end of the wars, though some districts for a long time refused to have them and Taranaki never accepted them. In this district Maori children have gradually attended the ordinary public schools. The ideal in these schools was the Europeanization of the Maori children, and it was assumed that this could be rapidly and harmlessly achieved. English was the language of instruction, and it had first to be learnt by the children before other subjects could be taught in it. The Maori language was strictly excluded from the schools, as it still is. The admirable work of Mr. J. H. Pope, for a quarter of a century in charge of Maori education, has already been mentioned. Great humanitarian and friend of the Maori as he was, he proved to be mistaken in his view that the Maoris could be rapidly and painlessly Europeanized, and that the need for separate schools would soon disappear with the achieving of virtual identity between the two peoples and the absorption of the Maoris at no distant date. As the years passed he modified his views. The first syllabus in the Maori schools consisted of a diluted dose of the highly academic syllabus imposed in the European schools. It was long before its inappropriateness, in some respects fantastic, was recognised. Indeed so strong is tradition that it is only now that an attempt is being made to adapt the schooling of Maori children to the actual needs of Maori life. At the present time over ninety per cent. of Maori children are being educated in the schools, and page 110 opposition to education on the Maori part is rare. Rather more than half of this number of children, however, attend the ordinary public schools. This situation results from the scattering of the Maori population in certain districts and from historical reasons, as in Taranaki. It cannot be regarded as other than unfortunate that in view of their different condition when they commence their schooling and of the inevitably different life which is to be theirs, so many Maori children should fail to receive a form of schooling specially adapted to them. The one hundred and thirty-seven native schools are directly controlled by the Education Department; which is undoubtedly good policy, since some Education Boards have little sympathy with special efforts on behalf of Maori children, goodwill towards the Maoris being by no means universal throughout New Zealand.

It is the realities of the present Maori situation and the aims of the Maori people now consciously emerging which should surely determine the nature of Maori education. It is only within the last year that a determined attempt, so long overdue, has been made to give practical realization to this principle, and actually to begin to relate the Maori school to Maori life. A new curriculum for Maori schools set out at the commencement of last year aims at relating instruction to the practical needs of the Maori, at stimulating an active, self-reliant participation rather than a passive attitude on the part of the pupil and at organically relating the school to the Maori community. All this seems to be in keeping with the present general policy of adaptation rather than imitation so far as European culture and the Maori are concerned. English is still to be the main concern of the schools, but Maori tradition and Maori history are at last to have a place, and emphasis is to be laid on such practical subjects as agriculture, handicrafts, simple housecraft and hygiene. All this sounds admirable, and one hopes that the page 111 new policy will be boldly and energetically and even drastically carried into effect. To do this will not be easy. The task of making the Maori schools fully effective in Maori life is immense, and its execution is far more difficult than anything demanded in the general school service of this country. Increased funds will clearly be needed if the newly declared policy is adequately to be carried out and difficulty will doubtless be encountered from the inability or unwillingness of some teachers at any rate to depart from what has long been a stereotyped and largely lifeless routine. Native schoolteachers are in general known to have done excellent work in the Maori community, much of it in spite of the school curriculum, but clearly special training is now called for if the new policy is to mean anything. Native school teachers should be equipped by an intensive study of Maori life, its past forms and its present problems, trained in the special methods of instruction necessary to teach Maori children as well as in the practical subjects on which emphasis is now to be laid. Ideally they should know the Maori language, especially if the school and the Maori community are really to be related, but perhaps this is too much to hope for. More might be done than is apparently at present being done in the encouragement and training of Maoris to become teachers.

The Government has provided no special secondary schools for Maori pupils. Maoris may attend the various public secondary schools as free-place holders, and some of them do, and a number of Maori pupils are awarded two-year scholarships available at some ten Maori boarding schools established by various religious denominations. Te Aute College is of course the best known of these institutions. For several years the Maori Purposes Fund provided a number of continuation scholarships enabling selected pupils to remain for two years longer at boarding school. These have now been withdrawn. Their re-institution may be urged. While it is not in page 112 general desirable that a large number of Maori young people should be encouraged to proceed with higher education of the academic type those few who show really special aptitude should be given every possible facility. The Maori world has profited enormously from this in the past and leaders of the type of the Young Maori Party will long be necessary for their own people and to negotiate between the two races. The question of the curriculum and relating it realistically to Maori needs applies no less to the boarding schools than to the village schools, and some of them are certainly due for a drastic overhaul in this respect. They have been weakened by the recent economic situation, but much more could be done with them than is at present being accomplished. Those who direct their activities seem to need, in some instances at any rate, a new vision of the Maori situation. The necessity for linking up their curriculum with what is now being instituted in the village schools is apparent. The falling off in the number of those attending the boarding schools may quite well be due in part to the unreality of the instruction offered; to the fact that it is largely out of touch with what the situation now demands. The double language problem is a real one, not only in relation to Maori schooling, but also in relation to Maori life in general. And it is a problem which is likely to become progressively more acute. The relation between language and thinking, in fact between language and mental development in general, is a peculiarly close one. The forms of language have much to do with determining ways of thinking; and language itself virtually makes sustained thinking possible. Hence the passing of a language raises psychological problems of quite peculiar importance and produces mental characteristics which may easily be assumed to be inherent. It is estimated that Maori is still the language of the home and so the language first acquired in the case of more than eighty per cent. of those attending the village page 113 schools. Admitting the need for teaching the English language to Maori children it is nevertheless the fact that making English the language of instruction hinders mental development, makes an effective integration of mind more difficult to achieve, and renders the schooling process more superficial in its results. This may be inevitable, but the problem is one which most urgently calls for a thorough study. Some Maori children acquire their own language very imperfectly; some do not acquire their own language at all; some acquire English thoroughly and some do not get a real grip on either language. Schooling Maori children in English often results in their alternating between the languages or even blending them in ways which make clear and sustained thinking practically impossible. The writer well remembers the shock he received when, having picked up a Maori lad for a lift along the road during a southerly storm and having remarked in Maori on the storm and its violence, he received the reply: “By cripes, yes!” Inquiry showed that the lad understood Maori fairly well, but never spoke it, though his understanding and knowledge of English was poor also. Such a situation is unfortunate in the extreme. The position varies greatly with individual cases and will undoubtedly become more complex. The relation of language and thought is so close that lacking a real linguistic grip an individual inevitably lacks real mental grip also. Experience cannot be clearly and definitely classified and everything tends to be vague and shifting in the mind. Though the vocabulary of the Maori language is now necessarily much changed with the changed life of the people, those who really acquire it in childhood, who think in it and who then acquire a sufficient knowledge of English to be able to use it when it is called for are in much better case. Those who know English but who know no Maori at all and so are cut off from their own people are unfortunately placed in other respects. However page 114 much sentimentalists may regret it, the Maori language will slowly disappear so far as actual speech is concerned. The schools will have much to answer for here. But its passing brings psychological problems so serious that fuller attention should be given to them. Research may show that some remedial measures are possible.

Though much has been done and is being done in regard to the health of the Maoris, a huge problem still remains here. The Maori people is certainly increasing in numbers, its birth rate being high, but its death rate is still approximately double that of the white population of New Zealand. The full story of the damage done to the health of the Maoris since Europeans came amongst them, introducing many new diseases and changing so profoundly the Maori ways of living, is distressing and it cannot be told here. The physique and health of the Maori people were originally excellent and won the admiration of those who first observed them. Deterioration very soon set in and persisted almost to our own time. Activities in regard to the health of their people were among the first undertaken by the members of the Young Maori Party and here more than in many other spheres they encountered strong resistance from Maori conservatism and Maori suspicion of pakeha ways. Changes in the direction of the sanitation of villages and even in regard to the ventilation of houses could be effected only very gradually. At the present day those engaged in health work among the Maori people encounter not so much opposition as ignorance and carelessness. That much of the old Maori attitude towards disease even now remains, however, is evidenced by the faith-healing movements which still appear from time to time and which are at least an offset to the amount of faith-killing which still goes on, the Maoris being more than ordinarily suggestible. The late Sir Maui Pomare did most notable work for the health of his people during his page 115 ten years as Maori Health Officer, and a revised edition of his booklet in Maori on maternal and infant welfare has just been issued. Maori infantile mortality is low for those under one month of age, but then rises three times higher than the very low European rate, indicating lack of skilled care and greater exposure to infection.

Within the last few years there has been an increasing interest shown in the problems of Maori health and they are now being attacked along a number of promising new lines. Several health surveys made by District Health Officers show that conditions vary in different districts, the position in the East Coast for example being better than that in the far North. Improvement in health proceeds along with advance in other features of Maori life, and much can be hoped for as a result of the farm settlement schemes. In some districts there is definitely poor nutrition, the quality and quantity of food available, though adequate at certain seasons, being for a large part of the year deficient. Health work is now being more fully linked up with the native schools, the children being given instruction in the elements of hygiene and the District Nurses co-operating with the school authorities. A course of lessons on infant welfare for the older girls has recently been introduced. Even the most superficial acquaintance with the Maori health problem makes it clear that it is not only one of preventive medicine but one linked up intimately with other features of Maori life, and this wider view is now being more generally taken. District nurses and native school teachers in the North have recently organized Maori Women's Institutes. Useful work has already been done and this would appear to be a most promising movement. Institute activities are not only in the direction of hygiene, but are concerned with all forms of housecraft, with the revival of Maori arts and crafts and the teaching of suitable pakeha arts and crafts, all designed to page 116 improve the Maori standard of life. The response on the part of the young Maori women has been most encouraging. A highly successful exhibition of work executed in Maori Institutes was held at Kaikohe at the end of last year. Much might clearly be done to extend and systematize this work, though great tact is needed. A beginning has been made with the introduction of spinning, and one feels that this is an idea with great possibilities. In the spinning and weaving of wool use might be made of traditional Maori skill in the working of flax, and something done about Maori clothing, which is only too often unsuitable in type and deficient in quantity. The problem here is of course one of equipment and instruction, but there can be little doubt as to the response that would result if the work could be really launched.

It is the fact that even now Maori children are in some respects superior in physique to white children. This was demonstrated recently by Dr. H. B. Turbott, who made a comparative study of the physique of Maori and pakeha children in the East Coast district. It is Dr. Turbott's opinion that such is the stamina of the race that when the task of preventive medicine is completed the Maori child may be placed in a position superior to that of the white child both as regards health and physique.

Maori housing is at present a most urgent problem, many Maori dwellings being wretched in the extreme, overcrowded and insanitary. The Maori death rate from all forms of tuberculosis is nearly ten times greater than that of Europeans, and that this is so is very largely a matter of housing. A comprehensive housing scheme, with provision for communal bath-houses and laundries in the villages, is most urgently needed. Fortunately it has already been mooted.

The present position in regard to Maori health should cause all white New Zealanders shame. No argument should page 117 be needed to show that the Maoris deserve the best and the most that the State can give them in respect of health services. Much is being done, certainly; but fuller financial provision seems to be called for.