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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1935


page 51


Study in Brown and White

The present is a most critical moment for the Maori people," writes Dr. I. L. G. Sutherland in his recent pamphlet on The Maori Situation. Reviewing the state of affairs in Maori-pakeha relationships to-day, the author reaches the conclusion that more complete understanding of the Maori people by white New Zealanders, and the active goodwill based upon that understanding, are most urgently needed and fully deserved. The writer's aim throughout the book has been to provide the pakeha with a basis for this fuller understanding and sympathy; and his work seems calculated amply to fulfil this mission.

At the close of the introductory chapter Dr. Sutherland writes: "If the Maori people are to be understood and fairly regarded to-day, some account must be attempted, in predominantly human terms, first of the form of life which was their own, and then of what has happened to them since Europeans came amongst them and decided that Ao-tea-Roa was a desirable land in which to live." The following chapters proceed to deal with the coming of the Maori, his surroundings and their effect on his character, his religion and social structure. Successive phases of the impact of white civilisation are then depicted, showing the Maori's beliefs and mode of life subjected to shattering blows—his religion destroyed, inter-tribal warfare turned to massacre with the aid of firearms, lands filched away piecemeal. Depression, resentment, and defeatism became the Maoris' leading traits, until they were emphatically declared a dying race.

But, though dispossessed and destroyed, they did not die. And not only did they survive, but to-day the Maori population is steadily increasing. What is yet more important is that the outlook of the Maori people and their hold on life have most markedly changed. Largely through the instrumentality of the Young Maori Party ("probably unique in the history of the many tragic contacts of civilisation with native life"), there has been a re-emergence of leadership in the persons of such men as Carroll Pomare, and Ngata. New life is flowing in Maori veins. A Maori renaissance is at hand.

The technique of change, in the author's view, is predominantly a matter of adapting civilized institutions to Maori needs. Maori individuality, with a blended culture partly European and partly Maori, is, in his opinion, the only means of self-respecting survival for the Maori people in the country which was once their own.

The story of the contact between the two races, and the analysis of the causes which have led to the changed condition and outlook of the Maori people to-day, are presented with keen sympathy and the insight possible only to one closely in touch with Maori thought and feeling. The function of the dominant English majority at this time requires, above all, a true comprehension of the human situation involved, and an attitude of goodwill. For this cause the author not only shows but imparts enthusiasm.

The work is brief, but comprehensive, being happily adorned with tale and anecdote, and with extremely pertinent references to parliamentary papers and debates, and quotations from a wide range of writers, including Dr. Dieffenbach, Major Cruise, Samuel Marsden, Condliffe, Elsdon Best, Mr. Justice Alpers, and Dr. Peter Buck. While regarding Maori problems as primarily psychological, the writer nevertheless diverges sufficiently to touch on many interesting allied questions in politics and economics. He discusses the King Movement, the rating of Native lands, Maori education, and questions of health and housing.

The issue on which the author really comes to grips with current opinion relates, however, to the problem of land development at large. At the moment, over 80,000 members of the Maori race are dependent on the Native land development schemes. Three-quarters of a million acres go to comprise the 44 schemes in operation. The initiation of this undertaking has not only been a task of tremendous proportions, but, further, it has formed the core of the renaissance of Maori life. The author reviews the origin of the schemes in the first Maori projects and in subsequent legislation. With perfect justice he points out the regrettable fact that nearly all that is publicly known of these schemes has become general knowledge through unfavourable means. Indeed, one of the principal virtues of this book is its endeavour to counteract the harm done to the cause of native land consolidation and development by the recent Native Affairs Commission.

page 52

On several specific questions the report of that Commission is here opposed. The Commission considered, for example, that the "communal elements" in Maori life would hinder the development of good farming, and that if these were encouraged, Maoris would be unlikely to succeed in the industry of modern farming for profit. This view Dr. Sutherland strongly and convincingly challenges.

He is less effective, however, in discussing the report of the Commission as regards the administration of Native Affairs, and in particular in his remarks on the resignation of Sir Apirana Ngata. "The Maori people," says the writer, "knew that they had been robbed of their leader." It is unfortunate that the author should have lent countenance to such a view, the correctness of which is by no means established by the argument he adduces. Equally contentious is the treatment of the question of native administration. From the Commission's report the conclusion is drawn that the financial organisation of the Native Department had been inadequate to meet the demands made upon it by the development schemes, and that "serious irregularities" (or, more specifically, faults and dishonesty) had in consequence resulted. Even in human terms the logic of this statement is Questionable, and the attitude of those who cannot accept it is not likely to be modified by reference to that distressingly elusive thing, "the real inwardness of the Maori situation." to which appeal is made on page one of the Foreword and reiterated passim.

It remains nevertheless true, as the author says, that the Commission laid unfortunate emphasis on the demand for immediate financial stability and sound farming, rather than first a rehabilitation of native life such as would give to the Maoris a definite cultural background.

The book concludes with a warm appeal for pakeha goodwill. "The Maoris," it is said, "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."

The production of the volume itself is of the pleasing quality for which the makers of Art in New Zealand are well known. To readers at large, and the University public in particular, The Maori Situation carries Spike warmest recommendation.

Another Argo

Under this attractive title come three poems from the Caxton Club Press—producers of the historic "Oriflamme."

Opening the group with "Doom at Sunrise" Allen Curnow somewhat elusively runs through four stanzas typical of him. The poem reaches, at its best, quite epic heights—

the poised peaks will not fall on us
the folded wings of rock not cover us
in this our day of doom striking.

But elsewhere his common fault recurs, of leaving too much to those colossal terms pain, fire, birth, love, beauty. Up to a point these will convey, in half a line, more than a chapter's length of common prose; yet relied on too much they turn conciseness into mere abstraction.

A rather pitiful lament arises from A. R. D. Fairburn, who, noting the decay of England, writhes in sarcastic verse. With little or no feeling for the inevitability of things he pines for crusading days and roving knights. Eminently entertaining withal, he nevertheless plies his pen in vain except for Fascists.

With pleasing directness Denis Glover condenses an almost fatalist philosophy into the space of a brief poem:

When all the world is bombed to pungent dust
The earth will conquer and the quiet moss grow.

With simple phrase and unextravagant metaphor he reveals a new "peace on earth"—when devastation's work is done. Yet this unpeopled world he paints so warmly that, after the jangle and the pain of our twentieth-century days, one might well see in this a longed-for consummation. The humanist almost defeats his purpose.

Leo Bensemann contributes a frontispiece—"Another Argo's painted prow." In keeping with the lines of Yeats it is indeed a flashy bauble, brilliant in execution, yet so plainly derivative from the work of Beardsley that the merit of its conception can hardly be appreciated.