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The Maori Situation

VI—The Re-Emergence of Leadership

page 40

VI—The Re-Emergence of Leadership

The extinction of the Maori race has been predicted for almost eighty years. In 1856 Dr. I. L. Featherston, who was much concerned in New Zealand affairs of that period, declared: “The Maoris are dying out, and nothing can save them. Our plain duty, as good compassionate colonists, is to smooth down their dying pillow. Then history will have nothing to reproach us with.” In 1881 Dr. A. K. Newman made the same prediction, but did not apparently fear any reproach; rather the contrary. “Taking all things into consideration.” he wrote, “the disappearance of the race is scarcely a subject for much regret. They are dying out in a quick easy way and are being supplanted by a superior race.” In 1907 Archdeacon Walsh was more sympathetic but no less sure of the end. Concluding a very careful survey of the causes of the decline of the race he wrote: “The Maori has lost heart and abandoned hope. The race is sick unto death, and is already potentially dead.” But the Maori people, when we had done and said our worst and were admittedly doing better, survived, though their number probably fell as low as forty thousand. Then the Maori saved himself, and one knows of no other instance of a native people, so largely dispossessed and destroyed, setting to work to regenerate itself and adjust itself to new demands. There has of course been pakeha assistance, especially in the way of education and health services; but the actual renewal of Maori life proves on analysis to have been the result of Maori leadership. Maori leadership in a new form to meet new conditions re-emerged in the 'nineties of last century. It came from the younger men. The older generation was still too distrustful and backward-looking to make a realistic attack on the condition of the people.

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The impulse towards the revival of Maori life which was to be effective came very naturally from those tribes which had suffered least, materially and spiritually, in the contact and conflict of the two races. This applies in particular to the Ngatiporou tribe of the East Coast of the North Island.

Towards the end of the century there had been a movement for a Maori Parliament and one was set up and its deliberations duly ridiculed in the newspapers of the country. It was hopeless enough, able to follow neither Maori custom nor English political forms, but it was an effort at national reorganization by a broken and scattered people. The most noteworthy feature of this movement was its aim of Kotahitanga, national one-ness. This was an ideal very different from the tribal economy of the old way of life. Faced with the possibility of national submergence, the Maoris had long seen the need for confederation, and the pakeha proverb of the sticks which cannot be broken as a bundle captured their imagination and made a strong appeal to them in their circumstances. But tribal experiences had been so varied, tribal attitudes towards the white men were in consequence so different, inter-tribal enmities and jealousies so persistent, and inter-tribal communication was so broken and difficult that it was to be a long time before Kotahitanga was to be realized, if indeed it can be said to be fully accomplished yet.

It was what came to be known as the Young Maori Party that was to provide the effective impulse towards Maori revival. To this loosely organized but intensely purposeful group of educated Maoris more is due than can be easily assessed or briefly described. As a movement from within for the regeneration of a native people, and as a conscious effort on their part to adjust themselves to civilized demands it is probably unique in the history of the many tragic contacts of civilization with native life. In some measure it was the result of opportunities of education given in the schools page 42 and in the University. Apart from what they may have obtained from academic and professional training, these young Maori students made wider contacts and were able to take a more objective view of the condition of their people. The Young Maori Party grew out of the Te Aute College Students' Association. In 1891 some twenty past students of Te Aute College, some of whom were then attending the University, met and formed a body to which they gave the ambitious name of “The Association for the Amelioration of the Maori Race.” The young reformers were intensely in earnest, but very inexperienced. They surveyed the condition of their people, found it in many ways deplorable and pledged themselves to work for their welfare. Some of them went on tour among their tribes preaching their gospel of health and morals, and distributing copies of “Health for the Maori.” This had been written shortly before by Mr. James H. Pope, first inspector of native schools, an enlightened and devoted man who gained the confidence and affection of the Maori people very fully and was their valued friend and helper. But the students received a discouraging reception. They met with opposition and even contempt. The young should not instruct their elders. The Association died but not the idea. The young men really meant it, and in 1897 a further conference was called, this time to study and discuss the Maori situation and formulate a more practicable plan of operations. Reviewing their previous effort, one of their number, Apirana Turupa Ngata, said: “The causes of its failure are easy to find. In the first place, our enthusiasm outran our caution, so that we proposed in our inexperience, with very weak instruments, to effect reforms of a most sweeping nature. We had none of us any great knowledge of Maori life; the little we knew was not to the credit of the Maori people. Beyond that little we did not look. It was sufficient for us that our people were dirty, idle, drunken and immoral; page 43 for we would teach them how to become clean, industrious, sober and virtuous. So we framed a constitution utterly impracticable, unsuited to the circumstances of Maori society, and beyond the power of the greatest organizing genius to effect.” The papers read at the conference were printed in a pamphlet and make most interesting reading. Young Ngata was quite the outstanding speaker, showing already in the four papers which he read that power of analysis and that comprehensive grasp of the problems of his people which have characterized his forty years of single-minded effort for their welfare. He urged on the others what was to be most conspicuously his own practice. Preaching the gospel of work he said: “I had rather die of overwork than live a life of aimless yawning, useless and purposeless.” Discussing what education might do for the Maori he said: “Never let us be false to our people. Whatever education may do for us. let it not put us out of touch with them, else our training will be a pitiful and lamentable failure.” Mr. Pope was present at the Conference, and reporting to his Department, he said: “Nearly every aspect of Maori life and activity was brought under review and there was vigorous but appreciative criticism of pakeha efforts to improve the condition of the Maori. Zeal and real ability are now being brought to bear on Maori questions by young men who, besides understanding the internal, the purely Maori conditions, have as firm a grip of the external as young men could be expected to have, and it will be something to wonder at if in the course of the next few years every abuse, great and small, connected with Maori affairs as managed by Maoris themselves, and with Maori affairs as dealt with by the pakeha, is not subjected to vigorous criticism and treatment at the hands of some of the young Maoris who have spoken at or prepared papers for this Conference.” The Association continued to meet in Confer- page 44 ence and to endeavour to analyse the causes of the decline of the Maori race and discuss and apply remedial measures.

Mr. Ngata became subsequently the organizing Secretary of the Association, giving up what would undoubtedly have been a brilliant legal career. In retracing the work done by the Young Maori Party one realizes how fully the whole movement and its results are due to the emergence of this leader of organizing and directing genius. To him far more than to any other single man is due the changed and bettered condition of the Maori people.

The influence of the Young Maori Party gradually permeated Maori society, arousing a new interest in life and health and work. Its extensive influence has been exercised partly through political agencies, though in the main through non-political ones, by the wise and patient use over many years of those forms of Maori society which still remain. The enactment of the Maori Councils Act, concerned with provisions for improving the social conditions of the Maori people, would seem to have been a first result of their efforts, but no European knows or can fully find out the details of the years of work done in the face of immense difficulties and discouragements in the Maori villages. Hone Heke, a grand-nephew of the famous Maori patriot of the 'forties, whose name he bore, ably represented the Maori people in Parliament, his work for them being, however, cut off by early death. Notable Parliamentary work was also done by the late Sir Maui Pomare, Dr. Peter Buck, and Ngata himself.

Thus leadership, always, as already said, a highly important feature of Maori social life, appeared in a new form. After the wars many of the rangatira families in their very natural resentment at what they felt so strongly to be injustice, and feeling keenly their loss of mana, declined to adapt themselves to pakeha ways and refused to seek opportunities for pakeha education; though these were sought by others of page 45 lesser birth and rank. Thus a new kind of Maori aristocracy, an aristocracy based on knowledge of the ways of the pakeha, arose; though to give effective leadership it had to secure the co-operation of the hereditary chiefs. Sir Apirana Ngata is himself a case in point. Though the acknowledged leader of the Maori people of New Zealand and of high rank, he is not by hereditary rank the highest in his own tribe, and on ceremonial occasions he gives place to others; but that tribe, the Ngatiporou, long ago wisely separated the mana of hereditary rank from mana in political and economic matters. There was also apparent in the new leadership which arose the infusion of a European element—the emergence, as leaders, of men of some degree of mixed blood, possessing, because of their wider training and knowledge, a certain mental ascendancy. Outstanding among these was the late Sir James Carroll, of Irish and Maori parentage. He was a man of remarkably engaging personality and considerable gifts. At a critical time in the relations between Maori and pakeha he was acceptable to both races and, with his tact, generous understanding and great powers of oratory, did much to bring about their political co-operation and social union. In the pakeha Government he created a sentiment favourable to the promotion of measures to aid the Maori race, and in the Maori chiefs he created a willingness to cooperate with the Government. He broke down the barriers between the races and but for him as forerunner, the Young Maori Party could not have been so readily effective.

It was not that hereditary chiefs had lost their own qualities. As one reads the accounts given oi the Maori people from the days when they were first discovered by Europeans, one finds at every stage impressive tribute paid to the qualities of mind and character of Maori chiefs. Merely to look at the paintings of leading Maoris executed by Lindauer, a faithful Germah artist of last century, which page 46 are now in the Auckland Art Gallery and which have recently been reproduced in Pictures of Old New Zealand, will convince any perceptive observer that here are men and women possessing character and mental vigour such as makes the average pakeha political or business leader flat and dull by comparison. Oddly enough at almost every stage save the very earliest regret is expressed that the chiefs of the old type are passing away. Yet the type persisted and still persists in a truly remarkable way. A Commission on Native Lands and Land Tenure reporting in 1907, said: “We have been amazed, in meeting some of the chiefs who have appeared before us, at their intellectual vigour. We doubt if among educated Europeans who have had no greater advantages than the Maoris there could be produced the same percentage of men of alert intelligence.” But in the new circumstances of adjustment to civilized requirements such men could not or would not use their abilities and assert the influence which they still possessed. More recently, however, as will be mentioned, this hereditary element, still highly important in Maori society, has again been deliberately and very wisely drawn upon.

Of the Maori contribution to Maori survival and renewal Dr. Peter Buck (Te Rangihiroa), now rapidly becoming one of the leading ethnologists of tke world and for many years associated with the Young Maori Party, has written: “I think New Zealand has been unique in the very powerful assistance she received from within. This assistance New Zealand has recognised publicly to some extent, but I do not think that she, or the world at large, realizes what the Maori himself has done to render the assimilation of culture forms possible. The resistance and struggles in which we were ever ready to engage have acted as the reagent which precipitated the incompatibles and separated die solutions which could be absorbed. The struggle to regain the elements of our own page 47 culture that could be retained, whilst at the same time assisting in the search for the assimilable elements, created that patriotic spirit towards our own people and the State that various Governments have availed themselves of at a very cheap rate.” Of the work of the leaders themselves and of the methods which they have had to employ Dr. Buck has written: “When I look back and think of the things we have discussed on the various marac throughout New Zealand I can say that the Maori people has been served by its leaders in a wonderful way. And the leaders can look to the work of years in the field comprised by the marae and the meetinghouse for the experience they need in propagating the scheme for the development and settlement of land. Whether it is a Prince of Wales Cup match, a tennis tournament, the ceremonial opening of a carved meeting-house, the unveiling of a memorial to a distinguished member of their race, or the tangi and minor gatherings, the tribes or representatives of them have been brought together and the meetings have led to the constant promulgation of new opinions… Some day pakeha thinkers may realize how much diplomacy was used by the Maori amongst themselves and towards the white man in order that development of the country would ensue. The marae and the meeting-house that formed the arena of many a stage in the upward and forward progress of Maori public opinion, how are-we to express them in terms that carry value to the pakeha mind? Scientists and skilled writers may use Maori facts to record what progress the Maori has made. They may get the facts cold and value them at some economic standard, but the mental sweat, the patient arguing and psychological stress cannot be put into the picture. Yet it is just that which cannot be measured by an orthodox system of valuation which forms the greatest contribution that men like Carroll, Pomare and others gave to the people and the country.” The very least that one pakeha writer can do is to refrain from comment.