Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Maori Situation

V—The Maori Dispossessed and Destroyed

page 33

V—The Maori Dispossessed and Destroyed

The effect upon the life and mind of the Maori people of this ten years' struggle with the white man was profound. The war made for them a break with the past which was almost complete and from now forward the relation between the two races and the Maori situation were inevitably very different. The disastrous consequences of the war were not only a matter of those killed, nor only one of material loss. Its psychological effects were even more important and far-reaching. The whole people, “rebels” and “friendlies” alike, were kept for these years in a state of uneconomic activity and unnatural tension. Economically the people suffered severely. All the able-bodied men were withdrawn from the work of food-production, and many who had been dependent upon them perished from sickness and privation. Cultivations had been neglected, and homes, goods and stock had been wholly or partially destroyed or consumed. Habits of industry were lost and took a long time to return. Those from whom their best land had been confiscated felt an acute sense of injustice and more than one generation was embittered in this way.

The Maoris saw the white man increasing numerically and continually a growing power in the land, while they felt themselves to be passing away. A mood of profound depression very naturally resulted. They said: “As the pakeha rat drove out the Maori rat, as the introduced grasses drove out the Maori fern, so will the Maori die out before the white man.” This generation of the Maori people saw, or imagined that they saw, the end of their race at hand. There was at this time a distinct reaction against all European ways, a rejection page 34 of much that had been adopted, and an attempt to revive lost features of their own life and economy. Some tribes isolated themselves from the white man, resolved to have nothing further to do with him economically and politically, and determined to live out their lives on what remained to them of their own territory. The King movement persisted, and still persists, though now a power only among the Waikato tribes, whose social organization is still centred around it. These tribes have maintained their exclusiveness in a remarkable way down almost to the present time. The mood of the Maori people at this time was something much more intimate and profound than what we would describe as a loss of self-confidence. However much one may now believe the moral victory in the war to have lain with the Maoris, and however much they may have felt themselves to have been in the right, the result was the same. They had suffered not only outward, but what was much more serious, inner defeat as well. The mana Maori was destroyed. They gave their own reasons in their own terms for their condition and mood. Their mauri ora, their sacred life principle, was lost. They had believed, in their own times, that this spiritual principle was necessary to maintain the physical and mental welfare of man. If it was lost, death must result. In a fatalistic mood, and in terms of their old magico-religious beliefs the people now felt that they could never regain physical, intellectual or spiritual vigour. Some looked back, and one old Maori said: “I tell you that the Maori is in fault. He has deserted his old gods, institutions and beliefs; now they have turned against him and are destroying him. How is it possible for us to survive? I say to you that I am resolved to return to the beliefs of my fathers.” But most had not the heart even to make this declaration. There could be no return to their own way of life; it was lost for ever and the future was without hope. The people acquired an page 35 acute sense of impotence and of inferiority and a kind of apathy supervened. The spirit of enterprise and adventure which had formerly characterized them was gone.

This mental attitude had a profound effect on the Maori. Lack of interest in life led to a careless disregard of provision for the future. Through subtle interrelations of mind and body in a people of strongly imaginative and suggestible temperament it led to physical deterioration and affected birth rate and numbers. The Maori population continued to decline until the end of the century and its extinction was freely predicted.

Several years ago there was published an excellent book called Te Hekenga, being the reminiscences of Mr. R. McDonald, of Horowhenua. It is an account, personally observed for the most part and skilfully and sympathetically analysed, of the old order of Maori life and its gradual “passing away,” which is the meaning of the Maori title. The “passing away” of the Maori is illustrated in the case of a comparatively small and unimportant tribe within whose territories the author was born. Every significant feature of the whole process of the relations of Maori and pakeha is illustrated in miniature. The account of all the disgraceful jobbery connected with relieving the tribe of its lands is particularly revealing. There is a Maori saying to the effect that “the peace of the pakeha is more to be dreaded than his war,” and its truth requires little demonstration. It was in the twenty years following the cessation of fighting that, by legal sale now, the Maoris lost the great bulk of their lands to the white settlers of New Zealand. The history of legislation dealing with Maori lands reveals an astonishing number of changes and reversals of policy. With successive Governments policy has moved between the extremes of restriction of private sale and free trade in Maori land. But one thing is clear: whatever the changes of method and whatever the page 36 resulting chaos the land has steadily passed into European hands. In 1865 the Native Land Court had been established to determine the titles to lands that had been or might be sold and to determine them according to Maori customs and usages. Of the seventy years of its work it is probably not unfair of Condliffe to write (New Zealand in the Making): “Throughout its history it has been a means of facilitating the separation of the Maori from his land as equitably and as painlessly as possible.” In this way, he truly adds, “it has been the chief mechanism in the break-up of Maori economy and the destruction of tribal order and discipline.”

In 1873 an Act established the principle of individual title to land, in the face of the communal nature of Maori land tenure and in spite of the fact that the Maori people had been given a guarantee that that title would be determined according to their own usages. An account of what followed down to 1892, when pre-emption was definitely resumed, is contained in the words of a Royal Commission which reported in the previous year. Rehearsing the evils which followed upon the Act of 1873 the Commissioners said:

“The tendency in the Act to individualize Native tenure was too strong to admit of any prudential check. The desire to purchase Native estates overruled all other considerations. The alienation of Native land under this law took its very worst form and its most disastrous tendency. It was obtained from a helpless people. The crowd of owners in a memorial of ownership were like a flock of sheep without a shepherd, a watch-dog or a leader. Mostly ignorant barbarians, they became suddenly possessed of a title to land which was a marketable commodity. The right to occupy and cultivate possessed by their fathers became in their hands an estate which could be sold. The strength which lies in union was taken from them. The authority of their natural leaders was destroyed.

page 37

“They were surrounded by temptations. Eager for money wherewith to buy food, clothes and rum, they welcomed the paid agents, who plied them always with cash, and often with spirits. Such alienations were generally against the public interest, so far as regards settlement of the people on the lands. In most of the leases and purchases effected the land was obtained in large areas by capitalists. The possession of wealth, or that credit which obtained it from financial institutions, was absolutely necessary to provide for Native agents, interpreters and lawyers, as well as to distribute money broadcast among the Native proprietary. Not only was this contrary to public policy, it was often done in defiance of the law.

“Of all the purchase-money paid for the millions of acres sold by the Maoris not one sixpence is left. Their remaining lands are rapidly passing away. A few more years of the Native Land Court under the present system and a few amended laws for free trade in Native lands, and the Maoris will be a landless people.

“But it was not only in the alienation of their lands that the Maoris suffered. In its occupation also they found themselves in a galling and anomalous position. As every single person in a list of owners comprising perhaps over a hundred names had as much right to occupy as any one else, personal occupation for improvement or tillage was encompassed with uncertainty. If a man sowed a crop, others might allege an equal right to the produce. If a few fenced in a paddock or small run for sheep or cattle, their co-owners were sure to turn their stock or horses into the pasture. The apprehension of results which paralyses industry cast its shadow over the whole Maori people. In the old days the influence of chiefs and the common customs of the tribe afforded a sufficient guarantee to the thrifty and provident; but when our law enforced upon them a new state of things, then the lazy, the page 38 careless, and prodigal not only wasted their own substance, but fed upon the labours of their own industrious kinsmen.”

Great numbers of the Maori people lived on, and were assisted to spend, the moneys they received from the sale of their lands in ways which certainly did not tend to their welfare. The wave of alcoholism which swept over the Maori people at this time was made possible by the money they received in this way, was encouraged by the unscrupulous means adopted to persuade them to sell, was intensified in its effects by the poisonous nature of the liquor supplied to them, but was really motivated by a deeper cause, namely by the mood of despair which so many factors had contributed to create. It is little wonder that in these years the Maoris should have acquired a poor reputation in the mind of the average white New Zealander, especially among the new settlers who did not know and understand and respect them as the earlier settlers had done. Characteristics resulting from the destruction of the forms of Maori life and from their bitter and disillusioning experiences were assumed to be inherent in the people and the white man blamed the Maoris for becoming what he had made them. Nothing was more common than to have the Maoris described as lazy, improvident, incapable of sustained industry. The more sympathetic and philosophically inclined said: “The Maori is going to his doom, dying of a broken heart.” The extent to which the Government of the day could still misunderstand the Maoris and the stupidly apprehensive way in which it could act towards them was made clear in the treatment of Te Whiti, the Taranaki Maori prophet. He was most determinedly pacific and gathered his followers into his village of Parihaka to await the day of miraculous deliverance from the pakeha. But the Government took alarm and poured an overwhelming armed force into the village. The Riot Act was read to an unarmed and orderly crowd of men, women and page 39 children, wholesale arrests were made, the villagers were evicted and the village and the natives' cultivations were destroyed. Some people were openly disappointed that there was no war, the only casualty being a soldier who shot his own foot. An extract from a newspaper letter by Mr. Robert Stout, as he then was, is interesting as showing the racial situation at the time. “I suppose, amidst the general rejoicings at the prospect of a Maori war, it is useless for anyone to raise his voice against the present native policy. I do so more as a protest than with any hope that any one colonist can ever aid in preventing the murder of the Maoris, on which it seems we, as a colony, are bent. I call it murder, for we know that the Maoris are, as compared with us, helpless, and I am not aware of anything they have done to make us commence hostilities. The race is dying, and if we were at all affected with the love of humanity we should strive to preserve it, or to make its dying moments as happy as possible… We are powerful, they are weak, and that is the only explanation that the future historian will give of our conduct.” After this affair certain Maori grievances were righted and before the end of the nineteenth century the worst phase of the Maori attitude of defeatism, depression and resentment at injustice had passed, while a new adjustment to life, aided by several welfare measures promoted by the State and by a more conciliatory attitude on its part, had begun in some tribes at any rate.