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The Maori Situation

XIII—Pakeha Goodwill

page 118

XIII—Pakeha Goodwill

A feeling of regret is, I believe, very generally excited amongst thinking men, when they observe how little benefit has resulted to barbarous tribes from their intercourse with the people of civilized nations. Not only does the bodily frame of the savage lose its health and manly beauty, his mind its instinctive acuteness and primitive resources, but, either by the more violent means of wholesale murder, or gradually as if acted upon by a slow poison, the races diminish in numerical strength, until they cease to exist as nations or tribes.” So in 1843 wrote Dr. Ernest Dieffenbach, a German scientist, in his Travels in New Zealand. Nearly one hundred years later a member of the race which Dr. Dieffenbach had been observing and whose condition and probable future had excited these reflections in him, in an address before a scientific Society, said: “Under no other rule has it been possible to stage such a drama as has been unfolded in New Zealand—the deliberate lifting of a people of lower culture to full equality in political, social and moral communion with one of the most advanced races in the world.” In the face of the present. Maori situation one can accept neither of these interesting statements without qualification. The barbarous people has indeed not ceased to exist, but neither has Sir Apirana Ngata's ideal been as yet fully realized. In the extraordinarily able address on Anthropology and the Governing of Native Races in the Pacific, from which the above sentence is quoted, Ngata was generous as always in his attitude towards the Maori-pakeha relation. He has stated again and again that his people would never have been so well treated by any other branch of the white race. Though this is by no means the completely right or true way page 119 to put the position, and while pakeha self-congratulation would in face of all the facts be quite unjustified, it is yet highly important that the man who is in person the key to the Maori situation should take such an attitude. And it is important that it should be generally realized that this actually is his attitude since, when from time to time he finds it necessary to state what is in the minds of his people, there is a persistent tendency to misinterpret his remarks and to make it appear as though he were uttering threats and warnings. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In what has been here written the attempt has been made to trace briefly and fairly the relations between the two races in New Zealand, to analyse the causes which, when extinction seemed certain, have happily led to the changed condition and outlook of the Maori people in our day, and to state the case for Maori individuality as the only possible course if what remains of this people is to live a self-respecting existence in the country which was once their own. A fuller measure of understanding than they actually have received has been deserved by the Maoris since Europeans first discovered this highly interesting people and wanted and took their country. Looking back one can again and again see how the Maoris might and should have been more fairly dealt with and more fully preserved, how conflict and its resulting bitterness might have been avoided, how the idea of the Treaty of Waitangi which implied equality and promised “all the rights and privileges of British subjects” might really have been carried out. And yet looking back one can see also why this could not be. The Maoris have got over it all remarkably well. For many reasons the present is a supreme moment for a gesture of goodwill towards them, goodwill based on interest and real understanding. Their renewed confidence, so recently acquired, has for reasons that have been explained, received something of a check. At the moment they page 120 are hesitating and unsure. In welcoming New Zealand's royal visitor at the end of last year, a year when they felt they were under criticism, if not actually on trial—for they always identify themselves with their leader—they said: “We are troubled in spirit and are wondering what will become of us in the days to come… Come then to renew that message of goodwill which Victoria gave her people so that we may be assured once more of the mantle of protection which she spread over them, that the heart and faith of your Maori people may be strengthened.” The present moment offers a challenge to the generosity of spirit of the white population of New Zealand. “The pakeha is too hard,” writes a Maori chieftainess. Goodwill is indeed not lacking in official utterances; and the utterances and the acts of New Zealand's last Governor-General, Lord Bledisloe, were most markedly encouraging to the Maori people. But not in every case do deeds show goodwill to be so fully genuine, and in any case without full understanding it is not enough, as soon becomes apparent.

Anyone interested in Maori affairs at this present time soon becomes aware, not only of a lack of this full understanding of the condition of the Maori people, but also of a tendency towards resentment at and reproof of Maori race-consciousness on the part of the European majority. No attitude could be more mistaken. There is no race problem in New Zealand, nor is there likely to be, and to say that to put the Maori point of view and to plead for active goodwill towards the Maori people and encouragement of them in their efforts at race renewal is likely to “lead to trouble” is most mischievously untrue. Maori race consciousness, it has been said, is at the moment perilously near self-consciousness. If this is so the pakeha attitude or supposed attitude is responsible, and so far as it is true it should be only a phase in the development of an increased self-assurance. Any assertive- page 121 ness the Maoris may show is but the reflex of feelings of inferiority and can harm nobody. One genuinely friendly gesture disarms them at once. No one who has had even the briefest human contact with the Maori people or who has experienced, however occasionally, the genuineness of their hospitality can doubt their response to an equally genuine goodwill. Nothing in fact astonishes and moves them more, such has been the general lack of interest in them and so much have their recent efforts been their own, than any kind of sympathetic interest by the pakeha in their affairs, and they make the most movingly generous of responses.

In concluding his speech replying to the debate on the report of the Native Affairs Commission Sir Apirana Ngata indicated that he was unafraid regarding the future of the relations between the two races in New Zealand. “Let us have broad-minded and sympathetic administration,” he said, “and let the individual members of the administration come into contact with us. There is no problem that cannot be solved with the sympathetic aid of the British authority and the Maori alike. Fifty per cent, of the solution is for the Maoris to like the pakehas.” The responsibility in regard to this latter point is not wholly, but almost so, on the pakeha side. The equality which the Maori people was promised, and for which, ready as they are to feel inferior, they still look, is not the same thing as either similarity or identity. They have been working out their own adaptation of Maori life to European life and it is for us to accept it, realizing, as they do, that they have no other course. (Incidentally what has been happening in this country is of extraordinary scientific interest to the psychologist and the anthropologist, though this is not the occasion to attempt an analysis from this point of view.) No Maori, it has been said, will ever satisfy a pakeha. Granting what may be from the pakeha point of view limitations or even weaknesses, can we not learn to tolerate page 122 and even appreciate what from the general human point of view may be simply differences? New Zealanders, from their isolation and remoteness and resulting uniformity, are singularly intolerant of national and cultural differences. Maori welfare apart, it will do us good to tolerate, as in any kind of justice we should more than we do, a Maori population different in ideals and outlook from ourselves. To go further, are we in these days so very sure of the rightness of our civilization and its values that we can maintain the conviction that the greatest benefit we can confer on the remnant of a noble native race is to make them in every respect as we are? And is the very best and most interesting form of national existence in this land which we have occupied and grown up in to be obtained by everyone, Maori and pakeha, being precisely like everyone else?

If the present moment of Maori renaissance be lost in its effect through our lack of understanding and active encouragement, if their new hope be not confirmed, then the Maori people will most surely take their revenge. Not indeed actively, nor even by becoming extinct, but a long slow revenge in wretchedness by becoming a nation of paupers, a charge on the white population which has displaced them and pushed them on one side.

It is not for a moment suggested that the Maori people are from any point of view free from faults or without responsibilities, or that these should not be appropriately put to them. Maori leaders know the faults of their people extremely well and put them before their people often enough. But many of their faults are ultimately of our making and one may be quite sure that we will not hesitate to direct their attention to their responsibilities. At the moment however the very best thing we can do is to encourage them to find and feel their feet. The need for understanding is of course two-sided, but other agencies than such writing as the present page 123 must be used to interpret the pakeha to the Maoris and to enable them to understand their position as a distinctive minority in the midst of the now dominant white population. Often enough in the past they have only too well understood in bitterness their position and what was happening to them.

One prevailing tendency cannot be approved and should not be further encouraged if the Maoris are to be a self-respecting people. Rather too readily they are expected to provide the element of the picturesque and the romantic in the life of New Zealand, and to make of themselves a show for tourists. The effects of this situation are apparent enough in the case of one tribe and no one who really has their welfare at heart could wish to see the people as a whole exploited or permitting themselves to be used in this way. Loyal and hospitable to a degree, they will spontaneously give their own ceremonial welcome to distinguished visitors, but one notes a growing tendency to expect them to “put on a show” whatever their feeling about the occasion may be. No people can be really self-respecting if it, or even a section of it, is regarded only as a show for tourists. Nor should the Maori people be regarded as so many museum specimens. The days for gathering the materials of their ancient culture are practically over and much has been put on record by sympathetic students, for which they themselves are truly grateful. If what is on record of Maori life were more fully known to the white population of New Zealand their present situation would be better understood. There are two living races in New Zealand and two there are likely to be for a considerable time to come. The Maoris are a living and increasing people whose experience since we came amongst them has been on the whole a bitter one. Of their response to pakeha understanding and goodwill there can be no doubt at all. The Maori is generous to a fault.

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