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The Maori Situation

IV—Civilizing the Maori

page 20

IV—Civilizing the Maori

Captain cook had found the Maoris living, in a sense, in the stone age; in a sense, because their ancestors had known the use of metals and many features of Maori life were far beyond stone age standards. But the Maoris were far too intelligent to stay in the stone age once a civilized material culture had been demonstrated to them. The eagerness and excitement with which they received the materials of European civilization were astonishing; especially of course those materials which had reference to their own dominant institutions, such as weapons of war. When the tragic civil wars had ceased the Maoris began enthusiastically to adopt the externals of European civilization. The productive methods of the white man were adopted, and agricultural products of great variety were grown and exchanged for a wide range of European goods. There was now no real need to make and to decorate tools, utensils or garments. European goods could be secured from the pakeha-Maori trader. And it was not only outward habits that were changed. The minds of the Maori people were in many ways changed too. It was at this time that the missionaries began to make progress and the Christianizing of the Maoris proceeded rapidly. Their own laws of tapu were weakened, where they were notg abandoned for the requirements of the new religion. The younger Maoris learned to read and write with an amazing eagerness and great facility. Once writing had been introduced to them and their own language, through missionary effort, reduced to written form, the Maoris acquired almost a passion for this art. They wrote everywhere, on all occasions and on all substances: on slates, on paper, on leaves of flax, or on any broad leaf. Early converts to page 21 Christianity soon acquired the phraseology of Christian devotion and Christian theology, and when different religious sects were established in New Zealand the merits of the rival churches were discussed by their adherents with great gusto and much astuteness. The Bible, translated into the native language, was printed and widely distributed; the Maoris read it to considerable purpose, and, since it was their only civilized literature, quoted from it with great freedom— often with a logic embarrassing to those who had brought it to them. In their ceremonial speech-making and in tribal discussions biblical quotations began to be used as authoritatively as the sayings from their own traditions. The Old Testament naturally attracted them most, for they found there recorded a mode of tribal life in some respects similar to their own. Biblical names were extensively adopted and bestowed on converts at baptism, on children and on their villages. The new religion became the ruling fashion; natives travelled long distances to hear the missionaries and to obtain Bibles; some began to evangelize their own people before the missionaries came amongst them; and as there were insufficient Maori Bibles available to meet the demand, those who could write transcribed and carried home such portions as they could thus obtain. The outward forms of the new religion, like keeping the Sabbath, were meticulously observed, but, as later became apparent, the extensive adoption of Christianity was in most cases superficial and not a little determined by the idea that the new God was clearly influential in worldly matters, and, as the God of the Europeans, necessarily more powerful than their own gods. The missionaries for their part seemed to envisage the political development of New Zealand as a kind of theocracy with themselves in a position to exclude any influences that would menace the effect of their teaching.

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Maori agricultural production was both extensive and successful. The Maoris grew wheat and ground it in their own mills or sold it for export to Australia. At one period in the 'fifties the Bay of Plenty, Taupo and Rotorua people, about eight thousand in number, had upwards of three thousand acres of land in wheat, three thousand acres in potatoes, two thousand in maize and one thousand in kumara. They owned six thousand domesticated animals, four water-power mills, forty-three coasting vessels and upwards of nine hundred canoes. In the course of one year the Ngatiporou tribe of the East Coast supplied forty-six thousand bushels of wheat to the pakeha traders at a value of £13,000. It became the regular thing for the Maoris of certain districts to supply the growing European population with the major portion of its food supply, and at one stage Auckland merchants were almost wholly dependent upon Maori trade.

Outwardly at one time it almost did appear that the civilizing of the New Zealanders was proceeding and could proceed successfully. But meanwhile other things had been happening. All this peaceful industry was soon to be destroyed and much that had been adopted was to become confused or be rejected. In 1839 the first colonists for New Zealand were dispatched by the New Zealand Company. This forced the British Government to take long delayed action in regard to the appointment of a Governor and the cession of New Zealand to the British crown. The first settlers arrived at what is now Wellington a week before the Governor arrived at the Bay of Islands. A few days after Captain Hobson's arrival the Treaty of Waitangi was negotiated. This was on the 6th of February, 1840. By this Treaty the Maoris ceded to the British Crown the sovereignty of New Zealand—a conception for which they had no word in their language and one which they could understand only with the greatest difficulty—and the Queen for her part page 23 guaranteed to the Maoris the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of all their lands, save as the Crown might wish to purchase them, and imparted to them all the rights and privileges of British subjects. Largely on the advice of the missionaries forty-six Ngapuhi chiefs signed at Waitangi, and copies of the Treaty were then carried through the land, each chief who signed receiving a blanket and some tobacco. Over five hundred signed, some with little or no understanding of what they were doing. The missionaries, whom they trusted, advised them to sign and they wanted to get the “Governor's blanket.” Some tribes, however, would not sign. The nearest the Maoris came to understanding the Treaty was in saying, as one of them did: “The substance of the land remains with us; its shadow goes to the Queen.” There can be no doubt that the Treaty of Waitangi was admirable in its original intention and it did save the Maoris from being despoiled of their lands at the very beginning of the colonization of New Zealand. But this is by no means the full story, and it is unfortunate that something of a legend should have been created concerning the significance of the Treaty and its outcome. At the great Maori gathering held to commemorate the ninety-fourth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty and to acknowledge the generous and symbolic gift by Lord Bledisloe, then Governor-General, of the site of its signing, the Treaty of Waitangi was more than once referred to as the Magna Carta of the Maori people. It may be suggested that the Treaty of Waitangi was like Magna Carta in this one respect, namely, that its provisions were always the subject of contention and its principles the prey of the strong-armed. No Governor of New Zealand from Hobson onwards has ever done other than declare to the Maori race that the Treaty was sacred, but let any fair-minded person study Rusden's Aureretang—the Groans of the Maori, or Gorst's The Maori King and form page 24 his own opinion as to how far that sacredness was in effect respected. Few people are aware that as late as 1884 a deputation of Maori chiefs visited England and made their last but by no means first appeal to the Queen and to the British Government that the Treaty of Waitangi might be respected.

Speaking in the Upper House in 1863, Dr. D. Pollen, later Prime Minister of New Zealand, said: “I was present when the Treaty of Waitangi was proposed, and an attentive listener to all that passed. I heard Her Majesty's representative arguing, explaining, promising to the natives, pledging the faith of the Queen and of the British people to the due observance of it; giving upon the honour of an English gentleman the broadest interpretation of the words in which the Treaty was couched… The ink was scarcely dry on the Treaty before the suspicions which had been temporarily allayed by the promises of the Governor were awakened with redoubled force, and I need scarcely remind the Council that from that time to this, every action of ours affecting the natives had presented itself to their eyes, and had been capable of that interpretation, as showing that our object and business in this Colony was to obtain possession of the land of the natives, rightly if that were possible, if not then by any kind of means.” This gives us the key to the subsequent tragic conflict of Maoris and Europeans.

Roughly the scheme of the New Zealand Company was that the Maoris should part with their land for blankets, axes, fish-hooks, print and various trifles (sixty red cotton nightcaps were included in the goods with which Colonel Wakefield thought he had bought twenty million acres in the Wellington, Taranaki and Nelson districts); and having parted with their land, were then to supply the necessary labour for the white nation builders. Needless to say things did not work out quite in this way. For many years a bitter struggle, page 25 not always one-sided, went on between those who wished to see the Treaty of Waitangi respected and those who wished to secure the land of this country. In a very complex situation Government officials were in general defending Maori rights against the Company's settlers, and the latter, having in many cases been led to expect something quite different from what eventuated, were impatient with both the Government and the Maoris. The New Zealand Company had confidently sold Maori land in London before securing it from its owners here, and had drawn up an elevated scheme for preserving Maori reserves in the midst of its lands to act as a civilizing agency—a scheme which could not possibly work.

At first the Maoris had eagerly received the useful white man, and chiefs had regarded “their pakeha” as a valued possession. But organized settlement was something different, and the Maoris were quick to see the significance and realise the consequences of shipload after shipload of settlers (for the pakeha were apparently illimitable in number) with but one desire, which they had been led to expect would be very directly satisfied, and with little awareness of the Maori's feeling for his land or the complexities of his mode of holding it. When Europeans first came to this country every portion of New Zealand was owned by the tribes according to native custom and every feature of the country was known and named down to the last hill and stream. Tribes were extraordinarily jealous of their territorial rights, and well aware of their exact extent. It is difficult for Europeans to realize the intensity of the feeling which the Maoris had for their ancestral lands and the strength of their attachment to them. This was indicated in many of their proverbial sayings and made evident in many moving incidents. When the sale of the Waitara lands was insisted on by the Crown—the incident which precipitated the war of the 'sixties—Wiremu Patukakariki rose up and said: “Governor, Waitara shall not be page 26 yielded to you. It will not be good that you should take the pillow from under my head, because my pillow is a pillow that belonged to my ancestors.” The chanting of a lament, bidding farewell to one's home and lands as death was approaching, was a not uncommon Maori custom. Sometimes, after a battle, a captive would seek and be granted permission to sing his song of farewell to his lands before he was put to death; or he might ask that he be allowed to drink of the water of some stream that flowed through the lands of his tribe. Sometimes prisoners of war who were kept as slaves sent a message to their friends in their own tribe: “Send me a handful of earth that I may weep over it.” It is clear that when the first Europeans to settle among the Maoris, the so-called pakeha-Maori, were given or bought land the Maoris thought of them as being taken into the tribe and as having been given that right of occupancy and use of the tribal lands which they themselves as individuals possessed. Later they were to learn that Europeans had very different ideas as to the ownership of land. When the Wairarapa Lake was awarded to the Crown, by arrangement, not so many years ago, the local Maoris sang in the Native Land Court a strangely impressive song of farewell to the lake. In times of great stress the courage of the people was stirred by an appeal to their emotional regard for their tribal lands, and when they fought for them, as they felt they must, they said: “The blood of the white man is shed in his money, but as to the blood of the Maori, it is shed in his own land.” When some would sell the tribal lands, others would say: “Look around at those mountains and to that fine harbour; they are durable and cannot be destroyed. What we receive for it will give a small parcel for each of us and will soon be consumed; the tobacco soon smoked, the pipes broken, and the clothes worn out.” The late Elsdon Best, writing in the 'nineties, told of the affection of a Maori page 27 chief for the lost lands of his ancestors. “I stood on a hill,” he wrote, “overlooking the harbour of Ira in company with a lineal descendant of the great chief Whanake and his famous wife Tamairangi, and well do I remember the tone in which he spoke of the lost lands of his tribe. How well he knew every point and hill, bay and flat, stream and forest, and their old names, together with many strange tales connected with them. With what pride he pointed out the scenes of former combats in which his people had been victorious, and recounted to me the legends of the land of Tara. How earnest he was in showing me the places named in remembrance of his ancestors—how he described to me the beautiful appearance of the harbour in those pre-pakeha days. Coming down to later times he spoke of the encroachments of the white people and the disappearance of the Maoris from their old-time homes. No trace of anger or resentment could I detect in his words or tone, but a certain spirit of proud melancholy as he said: ‘Very great is my love for this land.’” Faced with an increasing host of colonists and seeing the substance pass as well as the shadow the Maoris did not yield up their lands without a struggle. The wars of the 'sixties, precipitated by an act of purchase, clearly unjust, insisted upon by the Government, were for the Maori part a struggle to retain their lands and a struggle to preserve their national existence. Bèfore this time, alarmed at what they felt was a growing threat to their national existence, namely the steady loss of territorial dominion, they had formed land leagues to resist the further sale of land. It was not only that they wished to retain the soil that they loved but also that, being a proud and spirited people, they wished to avoid national submergence or extinction. An indication of the intensity of nationalist fervour was a patriotic haka, “Hold fast the land,” expressing the growing anti-European feeling in quite untranslatable terms and sung with frenzied en- page 28 thusiasm at a great gathering of tribes in Taranaki in the 'fifties. From this time forward those who wished to sell land were made to feel that they were traitors to their race.

By 1860 the Maori people had reached a desperate state. The effects of the abandonment of their own ways of life and order were becoming apparent. The laws of tapu which they had obeyed in superstitious reverence had been overthrown by the teaching of Christianity. No real attempt had been made by the Government to provide them with institutions to replace those which had been destroyed. One is amazed as one reads of the administrative neglect of the Maoris, who, as may be recalled, had been solemnly promised all the rights and privileges of British subjects—a neglect careful nevertheless to separate them from their lands. There were many things to make them, always a proud people, feel socially and politically inferior. Gorst, in his fine book, The Maori King, says: “The hopes of social advancement which the natives had formed when they first consented to share their country with the stranger, were disappointed. They did not fail to contrast the rapid alienation of their land with the slow improvement of their condition, and they feared that at this rate their lands would be gone before they had attained the desired equality with their white neighbours. Every function of Government seemed paralysed in comparison with the Land Purchasing Department. They were willing to exchange their land for civilization and equality, but for no other price. Despairing of obtaining those boons from Government, the desire to withhold land altogether became nearly universal, in order to check the aggrandizement of that power which might hurt them as an enemy, but did not much benefit them as a friend.” The Maoris found themselves abused and reviled by the poorer type of colonist, and were made to feel themselves an inferior race, expected to get out of the way of the white page 29 nation builders. Potatau, the first Maori King, well aware of the threatening and abusive language of the newspapers, with fine irony sent, as he was dying, a message to his friend, Sir William Martin: “Be kind to the niggers.” The Maori chiefs made appeal after appeal to successive Governors to have their authority in some way restored to them. Its loss had a most seriously destructive effect upon their people. But nothing effective was done to restore it or to provide a substitute for it. Some chiefs made pathetic attempts to govern their people in the European manner. Quite twenty years too late an effort was made, then utterly futile, to introduce civil institutions into the Waikato. Though armed resistance to European authority was never by any means universal in New Zealand a state of native lawlessness virtually was. Unfortunately it was the policy of Sir George Grey, twice Governor of New Zealand at critical periods in the relations of Maori and European, to use his own personal authority with the Maori people, rather than maintain and make use of the power of their chiefs. Sir George Grey was genuinely interested in the Maori race, as his collection and publication of their mythology shows, yet he contrived to make a thorough mess of his administration of them.

Eventually the Maoris despaired of ever being governed successfully by the pakeha, and not without reason came to feel a profound distrust, and even a contempt, for him and for his government. The desire for a separate national existence, ever more strong and passionate, expressed itself in the King movement. This movement, centring in the Waikato, was a complex one with several causative factors, joined by various tribes for different reasons and itself changing in character as events proceeded. It was never characterized by any real animosity towards the pakeha until he himself made this inevitable. It could have been sympathetically understood and dealt with, but it was not. The Maori idea was to fix page 30 the boundaries of European encroachment and within their own territories to live under laws suitable to their condition, maintaining friendly relations with the pakeha and gradually adapting themselves to his civilization, but preserving autonomy and equality. By a King they never understood what Europeans did and they never rejected Queen Victoria. Ironically enough they found their justification for their idea in the Old Testament, which Wi Tamihana, the “king-maker,” had read with great earnestness: “One from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee,” he quoted. “Why should the Queen be angry,” another chief argued, “we shall be in alliance with her, and friendship will be preserved. The Governor does not stop murders and fighting amongst us. A King will be able to do that. Let us have order, so that we may grow as the pakeha grow. Why should we disappear from the country? New Zealand is ours. I love it.” Gorst, who knew the situation in the Waikato intimately and at first hand, wrote: “Of the wisdom of the King's Council I feel bound to speak in the very highest terms. In all questions which I have heard discussed by them, they have argued with calmness and good temper, keeping steadily to the point at issue, and facing all the difficulties. They usually came to a just decision. Calm in discussion, the strongest opposition never provoked personal rudeness. It would have been impossible to get together a body of Maoris with whom the Government could have more advantageously consulted upon the management of the native race.” But war was declared upon them and ten thousand British troops, and nearly as many colonial troops, defeated the Maoris in the war of 1863–4. Confiscations of Maori land to the extent of nearly three million acres followed, confiscations which were unjust in their incidence apart from the injustice of the whole policy. Fighting dragged on for years in a mood finally, on the Maori side, of bitter and even fanatical hatred, page 31 and gone now was that chivalry which had so won the respect and admiration of the British troops. National aspirations were followed by national despair and it was in desperation that fighting was continued.

One direct result of the wars was the appearance and spread among the Maori people of an extraordinary movement, semi-religious, semi-nationalistic, known as the Hauhau movement. It had begun mildly enough but when defeat was becoming apparent and the idea of the King movement was destroyed it gathered among some of the tribes an amazing and fanatical force. At times it was almost a form of madness and psychologically it may be interpreted as a kind of group neurosis. As a religion it was an attempt on the part of the Maoris to have a faith of their own which should be independent of the white man. Its beliefs and ritual were an almost meaningless mixture of ancient Maori religion and Christianity. It aimed at the destruction of the pakeha and in the scattered warfare which persisted right through the 'sixties it promised its followers miraculous immunity from the bullets of the enemy and roused them to a mood of violent hatred. It is not difficult to understand the appearance and appeal of such a movement. When a spirited people feel themselves to be in a desperate situation, with their very existence, cultural and national, at stake, what may be termed a messianic mood supervenes. Prophets arise who promise a miraculous deliverance, and Te Ua, the founder of the Hauhau movement, and Te Kooti, who was associated with its most bloodthirsty excesses, were the first of a line of Maori prophets which has persisted with diminishing force down to this day. There are many parallels in other times and places, though perhaps the prophetic movements among the North American Indians are the closest. Te Kooti, who is generally believed to have been nothing but a bloodthirsty and savage rebel, had not only the general situation of his page 32 people to inflame him, but also personal injustice. He was deported to the Chatham Islands without good cause and certainly without trial, and on his escape led the other deportees and such followers as he could gather to a bloody revenge. Those among whom he took his revenge could scarcely have been expected to understand all that had produced it, but it should not be altogether impossible to do so to-day.