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The Maori Situation

III—The Coming of the Pakeha

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III—The Coming of the Pakeha

All this had very largely to pass away. A way of life possessing values of its own had to be destroyed. With the first appearance of Cook and his men the equilibrium of Maori life was at once disturbed. This was a very real thing. The Polynesians who had colonized Ao-tea-Roa had achieved an equilibrium with their new environment; making full use, with the means at their disposal, of its resources and developing well understood usages with one another. If we look for parallels to their condition when Europeans discovered them there is one which comes close to ourselves. The social state of the Maoris towards the end of the eighteenth century was not altogether unlike that of the inhabitants of Britain when that island was first colonized by the Romans; and we have already seen how the Briton impressed one Roman student of character. In some respects the mode of life of the Maoris was superior to that of the ancient Britons, and certain customs apart, and allowing for the lack of materials, it will in many ways bear comparison with that of the Scottish clans down to a much later date.

It is difficult for us at this date to realize at all fully the excitement, the courage and the subsequent tragedy of the encounter of Maori and pakeha. For the first time as a result of the visits of Cook and others, the Maoris became acquainted with a white race and with one vastly superior to themselves in all the arts of civilization. Nothing could have been more startling than the arrival in their country of an unknown people whose appearance, language, customs, garments, weapons and vessels were utterly unlike their own and of whose existence on the earth they had been entirely ignorant. Interestingly enough they had in their traditions page 14 the far-off record of a race fairer than themselves and the name they gave to the Europeans, pakeha, meaning pale or fair, is connected with the word pakehakeha, their name for this fair race which had taken on in their traditions a semi-mythical, semi-divine character. These men must be gods, with all their wonders and with their sacrilegious indifference to all those observances on which the Maori believed his life and welfare to depend. As soon appeared, they were human enough. The arrival of Cook and his men was like the opening up of a new world to the Maoris. At one bound their ideas became enormously enlarged. This expansion and disturbance of mind was much increased when the two peoples became acquainted with each other's language and the Maoris began to learn of the other countries of the world, which they were eager to do. Cook was in general humane and just in his treatment of the Maoris, and certainly desired to make friendly contact with them. Yet tragedy occurred on the very first day, and several Maoris were shot down. Both parties were excited and on edge, and Cook, rendered apprehensive by the spirited behaviour of the Maoris, could not know that they were much given among themselves to making sudden and violent displays of emotion by way of threat. The Maoris however were never cowed by Europeans, and always challenged them and boldly came again if fired upon. In view of subsequent happenings and subsequent opinions regarding the Maoris it is worth noting that Cook recorded of them that “all their actions and behaviour towards us tended to prove that they are a brave, open, warlike people and void of treachery.” And again: “Notwithstanding they are cannibals they are naturally of a good disposition, and have not a little humanity.”

On his return to England after his first voyage Cook's account of New Zealand and its interesting inhabitants aroused much attention, and in particular attracted the notice page 15 of the celebrated Benjamin Franklin, the American philosopher and man of letters then living in England and at the height of his fame. He and others, impressed by what they had heard, projected a “scheme for carrying the benefits of civilization to the New Zealanders.” A Mr. Dalrymple, who was in charge of the enterprise, published a pamphlet entitled, “Scheme of a voyage to convey the conveniences of life, domestic animals, corn, iron, etc. to New Zealand, with Dr. Benjamin Franklin's sentiments upon the subject.” Nothing came of the scheme. It was to cost £15,000; there were no profits to be made, and apparently not enough wealthy persons shared the philosopher's humanitarian sentiments. The New Zealanders received the benefits of civilization in quite other and less philosophically planned ways. But Cook and the promoters of his subsequent voyages were influenced by the idea, and Cook carried with him and introduced into New Zealand many kinds of seeds and plants, as well as the domesticated animals. Meanwhile the French had visited New Zealand, and though they were hospitably received by the Maoris their conduct towards them was very different from that of Cook and much bloodshed was the result. It would be easy to misunderstand the instances of violence offered to some early visitors to New Zealand. The Maoris were often outraged at the behaviour of Europeans, which broke their intricate laws of tapu; while further, definite ill-usage was followed by vengeance, and vengeance was a powerful Maori motive—being taken on the next members of the pakeha tribe encountered. At this time, about the end of the eighteenth century, the New Zealanders were held in great terror by mariners on account of exaggerated reports regarding their ferocity and their cannibalism; a fact not without an advantage of its own, for it prevented New Zealand being chosen as the site of a convict settlement.

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That it was possible to make friendly contact with the Maoris if only the visitors would behave decently had been proved in 1814 by Samuel Marsden, who in that year established the first Christian Mission in New Zealand. It was proved again in the year 1820, when H.M.S. Dromedary visited the northern part of New Zealand to secure a cargo of kauri spars for the use of the navy. One of the officers on the ship was a Major Richard Cruise, and his Journal of a Ten Months' Visit is one of the best early accounts of the Maoris that we possess. Cruise was deeply interested in what he termed “a people eminently fitted with every natural endowment,” and spent much time in their company observing their behaviour and customs. His friendly and sympathetic attitude evoked, as always, a generous response on the part of the Maoris. “If,” he wrote when departing, “on our arrival the people felt a friendly disposition towrard us, it was now considerably increased; mutual confidence was perfectly established; to the hut of the Maori and to his humble fare the white man was ever welcome, and, as a guest, his property was sacred from violation… We had the satisfaction to think that not only a high degree of respect for the British character was excited among the natives, but that we carried with us, at our departure, their general good wishes, and the sincere and disinterested regret of many individuals.” Very different was the conduct of the men, not to say the masters of the many whaling and sealing vessels which made New Zealand their base about the beginning of the nineteenth century—rough fellows, long separated from their own womenfolk and showing little or no consideration when ashore for their Maori hosts. About this time also escaped convicts from New South Wales began to make their way to New Zealand, as they did in fact to all the islands of the Western Pacific—again wild and even desperate fellows, brutalised by the treatment they had received and restrained page 17 by no feelings of humanity in their treatment of native peoples. The first white residents of New Zealand were, in fact, for the most part a very mixed lot: shipwrecked and runaway sailors, escaped convicts, ex-convicts and the like, illiterate and often vicious men. By the second decade of the nineteenth century a state of anarchy had set in at the Bay of Islands, where a heterogeneous collection of several hundred white men, living without any pretence of government, showed the barbarians just what civilized men could be and do. At this time new diseases to which the natives had no immunity were introduced and epidemics began to take extensive toll of the Maori population. Little wonder that the young Charles Darwin, later to become the great naturalist, visiting the north of New Zealand in the course of the world voyage of the ship Beagle, formed a poor opinion both of the country and its ill-used inhabitants. The mission station at Waimate seemed to Darwin the one bright spot in a depressing and disordered land.

The missionaries had, as mentioned, been active since 1814, but though trusted and respected and regarded as a useful source of iron and other civilized goods, they had made little progress in converting the Maoris to Christianity. It took ten years to make one convert. But during this time the missionaries did endeavour to stand between the Maoris and those who were all too ready to ill-use them. Also they stood between the Maoris themselves; for the most striking first result of the coming of the pakeha to New Zealand was a great intensification of Maori inter-tribal warfare. Their warfare, which with their own weapons had not been very deadly, became vastly more so with the introduction of firearms. Right throughout the Pacific, as a sequel to the coming of the white man and the disturbance of the forms of native life, extensive civil wars took place. In New Zealand warlike expeditions on a new and hitherto unprecedented scale were page 18 undertaken. Early in the nineteenth century Maori warriors heard of the magnitude of wars in civilized Europe and set out to equal them. Several great Maori chiefs of the time— Hongi, Te Waharoa and Te Rauparaha—were definitely fired by what they heard of the exploits of Napoleon, and endeavoured to emulate his deeds. The acquisition of muskets enabled chiefs like Hongi and Te Rauparaha, both men of outstanding ability, to undertake extensive campaigns, pay off old scores and establish themselves as mighty warriors among their own people. If other tribes were to survive, they must secure muskets also, and this they did by desperate exertions in the production of flax. A ton of dressed flax was required for a musket and a little powder and lead. Food production was neglected in the interests of this one urgent purpose, and semi-starvation was in some cases the result. As one old Maori said later of this time: “All the men were wandering about the face of the earth and all that men thought of was to save their lives and get guns.” It has been estimated that in these murderous campaigns fully one-half of the Maori population was destroyed. The missionaries did what they could to prevent fighting and slaughter but they were practically powerless to control the forces that had been released. On the death of Hongi there was composed a song, in part cursing the white man for bringing about this fearful slaughter of Maori by Maori:

“Curses on thy head, thou stranger from afar
That brought hither to this land
The strange and powerful weapons
That felled the mighty of this land
And laid them low in death.”

Some of the traders and sea-captains were nothing but ruffians. The enormities committed by such Europeans were known in England, but proper responsibility would not be page 19 accepted. Of one singularly outrageous incident, however, the Secretary of State wrote that: “It is impossible to read without shame and indignation these details. The unfortunate natives of New Zealand, unless some decisive measure of prevention be adopted will, I fear, be shortly added to the number of those barbarous tribes who in different parts of the globe have fallen a sacrifice to their intercourse with civilized men who bear and disgrace the name of Christian.” In 1832 a British Resident had been appointed to New Zealand; but he was without real authority or the means of backing up such authority as he possessed. One thing, however, was done for the inhabitants of New Zealand. It was decided that they should have a national flag. Three patterns were sent from England and the chiefs of the North were asked to vote for the one they favoured. This they solemnly did, the chosen flag was publicly hoisted and saluted, and the chiefs sent an address to King William IV thanking him for their flag.

When the tribal wars died down in New Zealand the peace which resulted was largely a peace of exhaustion. But this was not to last long, for soon Maori and pakeha were in armed conflict as a result of Hone Heke's vigorous gesture for Maori independence. This, usually known as the war in the North, lasted for some two years, and included a good deal of sharp fighting. It was not however by any means as serious and significant as the subsequent wars of the 'sixties.

Thus the story of the coming of the pakeha to these islands cannot, if we are really prepared to face it, be said to be exactly a pretty or a romantic story; though there is a persistent tendency to romanticize it.