Native Races Need Not Die
There is an old prophecy credited to a Maori seer who foretold coming events before white people arrived in New Zealand. ‘Behind the tattooed face,’ it runs, ‘a stranger stands who will inherit this land; he is white.’
If the pessimists who consigned the Maori to early extinction could come back to life, they would receive a great shock. The Maori population, which sank to an estimated 37,520 in 1871, has steadily risen until now it is reaching 90,000. The birth rate is four times as great as that of the white New Zealanders, and though the death rate is twice as high, the Maori rate of increase is still greater than that of the whites. There is little doubt that with steadily increasing knowledge in health matters, balanced diet and improved housing, the death rate will be decreased materially and the rate of increase correspondingly augmented. The psychology of the present generation is entirely changed from that of their ancestors in the latter half of the eighteenth century. The fear of extinction has passed with the tattooed men of old and their white contemporaries. The final word ma in the ancient Maori prophecy quoted is capable of being translated as ‘clean’ as well as ‘white’. The prophecy in the light of recent history may be rephrased as follows, ‘Behind the tattooed face, another stands who will live on in this land; his face is untattooed.’ Tattooing has been long abandoned, and the face of the Maori of to-day is as clean as that of his white neighbour. The problem to-day is not to smooth down the dying pillow of the Maori but to provide the steadily increasing population with adequate opportunities for living in order to justify the ideals that civilization has claimed for itself.
The claim that civilization has had a lethal effect upon native races is unfortunately true in a number of instances. The extinction of the Tasmanians was accelerated by treating them as animals and shooting them like game. The Australian aboriginal has disappeared in many parts of Australia, and the remnants subsist best in areas that have no economic interest to the invading whites. However, the assumption of the law of extinction of native races has been disproved by the history of the Maori branch of the Polynesian people and other branches as well. The Samoans have been increasing steadily, and the problem that faces government administration is to encourage and help such natives to bring more of their lands into cultivation to provide for the future. It is evident from past history that native races have suffered severely for the century following western contact. Epidemics and venereal diseases were introduced and it took a number of generations before governments were educated enough to introduce preventive and protective measures and before native people could develop a certain amount of immunity, to lessen the death toll. The native cultures were disorganized and western peoples were too engrossed in commercial exploitation to bother about assisting the natives in making adjustments to the changed conditions. It is apparent that native peoples have gone steadily down hill after European contact until they reached the bottom. Some have disappeared, some still survive as remnants, but others after plumbing the depths are steadily on the up-grade. Those who have emerged from extinction owe the fact to their innate pertinacity and courage combined with good leadership by their chiefs. Government officials have had to abandon the policy of watching a native people die out and are forced by the change in public opinion to realize the state's responsibility in inaugurating active and sympathetic mea-
sures for the betterment of its native minorities. Once recovery commences, it should continue.
All native peoples have had their problems of adjustment to climate, geographical conditions, raw materials, foods and their human neighbours. If we take the Polynesian people as an example, it is evident that, when their ancestors left the mainland of Asia and penetrated into the islands of Indonesia, they had to adjust their culture to suit the new environment and so develop an oceanic culture. They developed the building and handling of outrigger and double canoes. From landsmen, they became fishermen and seamen. They developed such skill and courage in their maritime pursuits that when the push of invading hordes came from the western mainland they were able to sail east into the open sea in search of new homes with confidence in themselves.
During their passage eastward through Micronesia, the Polynesians encountered changes in the physical character of the islands, with accompanying changes in raw material. The islands encountered in the Carolines were volcanic as far as Kusaie and hence provided basaltic stone for their tools. The volcanic soil also enabled them to grow the cultivable food plants that they carried with them, root crops and fruit-bearing trees. Beyond Kusaie, the islands changed to low-lying atolls without the soil necessary for their food plants. The only food plant of their introduced stock that would grow was the coconut. For vegetable food they had to rely on the coconut and the pandanus, which had perhaps preceded them through ocean currents. The lack of basaltic stone made them fall back upon marine shells such as the Tridacna for their necessary tools. The shell adze is a sorry substitute for the stone adze, and yet with it trees were felled and split into planks to make the large vessels with which the eastward voyages were continued. Thus a stone culture was changed of necessity to a shell culture. The eastward groping was carried out by successive generations until, at long last, voyaging ships reached what are now known as the Society Islands, set in the centre of the many islands know as Polynesia.
The Society Islands were volcanic, with fertile soil and rich supplies of basalt. Again adjustments had to be made and the shell culture changed back to stone. The food plants, however, had failed to cross the atoll barrier, and so had the three domesticated animals, the pig, the dog, and the fowl. Voyages to the west re-discovered the plants and animals in Fiji, whither they had come through the uninterrupted volcanic chain of Melanesia. Polynesian ships brought them back, and so they were restored to the culture that was developing apace in central Polynesia. From this centre, subsequent voyagers radiated out in various directions until all the islands of Polynesia were discovered and settled. But though a common culture pattern, the cultivable food plants and the domesticated animals were carried forth, different physical features in various islands necessitated further local adjustments. Some of the islands within Polynesia were atolls and, in such islands, the stone culture again lapsed into a shell culture, with the loss of food plants and domesticated animals. The richer and more varied food supply of the volcanic islands supplied material for richer social customs and religious ritual.
The Maori branch of the Polynesians made their way south-west to New Zealand, where the cold climate necessitated adjustments not required in the tropical isles whence they came. It is to be assumed that the Maori settlers took all the cultivable food plants and domesticated animals present in their island home. Owing to the climate, the coconut, breadfruit, plantain and banana would not grow. The root crops such as the sweet potato, taro and yam survived, but were limited to the warmer parts of the country. Of the three domesticated animals, only the dog reached New Zealand. The paper mulberry from which bark cloth was made in Polynesia did not do well, and in any case the cloth proved unsuitable for protection from cold and wet. A form of weaving was used to make more suitable garments from the fibre of the local flax (Phormium tenax). The form of Polynesian house with more open walls for ventilation was abandoned for structures with thick, padded walls, and the floor was sunk below the ground surface for warmth. The indigenous trees with large trunks enabled canoes to be made with wide hulls that needed no outrigger to balance them. Hence the outrigger canoe disappeared in New Zealand. Jade was discovered and furnished material for more efficient adzes and chisels and also for clubs and precious ornaments. Owing to the frequent wars that developed between tribes, hilltops and cliff-girt promontories were selected for defensive village sites and further strengthened with trenches and palisades. The food had to be carried up the steep hillsides, and as a result the Polynesian balance pole was abandoned
for plaited bands whereby the burden could be carried on the back. And so many changes were made in Maori culture to suit local conditions.
The approximation of one human race or tribe to another in culture or arts by contact has been termed ‘acculturation’. In acculturation, it is usually the weaker people who have to do most of the approximating. Between native tribes, the stronger will usually accept and adopt matters connected with fishing, fowling and local foods from a weaker tribe in prior occupation of the land, but the weaker tribe has to accept the systems of social organization and religion. Though acculturation has occurred among native peoples, the term is now usually applied to the changes and adjustments that are taking place between native people and the representatives of western culture, whether they be from Europe or America.
It was to material things that the attention of the Maoris was first drawn by contact with early European voyagers. The voyagers brought goods as part of their stock in trade to barter for food and other needs. Steel hatchets, hoop iron and nails were quickly recognized as being vastly superior to stone tools and, as soon as the supply was adequate, the Maori left the Stone Age for the age of metals. But in spite of the change in material much of the native technique was retained. Hoop iron and plane blades took the place of the stone adze head, but they were attached to handles of Polynesian form and lashed in position with native cordage. Nails were better than shell or bone for fish-hooks, so they were beaten out and shaped to the native form and for many years they were preferred to the trade hooks. Traders followed the voyagers and tempted the Maoris with various articles such as textiles, guns, tobacco and alcohol. Missionaries also entered the field and carried a supply of goods for exchange or to pay for services rendered. When white settlement took place, increasing supplies of goods made further inroads into Maori material culture. The gun and the steel tomahawk supplanted the native weapons of wood, stone, whalebone and jade. Loom-woven prints, woollens and blankets gradually displaced garments that were finger-woven from flax fibre. The clothing was altered not only in material but also in form, and hats and shoes made a further approach toward western culture. The houses thatched with local plants were replaced by buildings of sawn timber and corrugated iron, but the assembly houses retained their native form. Windows were added for light and ventilation and the sunken earth floor gave way to the raised board floor on account of rheumatism. The craft of the wood carver disappeared, but has been revived by the establishment of a school of carving.
Changes took place in regard to food. The yam disappeared, the taro lingers in some localities and the sweet potato is grown in smaller quantities than of yore. Their place has been taken by the introduced Irish potato, easier to cultivate and more prolific in a temperate climate. Flour and sugar became necessities. Tea displaced water as a beverage at meals, and the gourd water container disappeared before the complex of kettle, teapot, cup, saucer, milk jug, sugar basin and spoons. The further complex of dining rooms with their equipment of tables, chairs, table cloth, plates, dishes, knives, forks and spoons replaced the simple setting in which the people sat cross-legged on the ground and ate with their fingers from plaited flax platers. The iron cooking range with its iron pots and pans displaced the simple earth oven with its red-hot stones and cover of plaited mats and earth. It all seems simple and obvious, but the changes took time and the adjustments of native culture toward the western pattern are good examples of the process of acculturation going on.
Another series of changes took place in religion. The Maoris brought with them the pattern of Polynesian religion, with major gods ruling over various departments of life and minor gods created locally by deifying certain ancestors. In central Polynesia, public worship was carried on at open temples with a paved court and a stone platform at one end. The stone platform (ahu) was the strictly religious part of the structure, near which the priests officiated, and the paved or gravelled court (marae) was where the select congregation gathered. The general term ‘marae’, however, was applied to the temple and it was used also for social purposes such as feasts and festivals. In New Zealand, the stone platform was represented by a stone pillar or post or even some natural outcrop of rock, all located outside the village. To this detached symbol of the altar the priest, alone or accompanied by an assistant, went to consult his god. The open court of the Polynesian temple was represented by the open space before the village assembly house, and it was here that all social functions took place. It retained the name of marae; and thus the religious and social functions of the Polynesian marae
were divorced in New Zealand.
The voyagers and traders had no interest in religion. Missionaries, however, from various Christian churches came to evangelize the heathen. They made a direct attack against the Maori form of theology. The golden rule of brotherly love was preached, and war and cannibalism were condemned. The new religion was accepted by the chiefs, and their tribes followed. It was some time, however, before the various tribes would give up the satisfaction of using their newly acquired firearms against their hereditary enemies. Old scores had to be settled as a point of tribal honour. Finally, the new teaching prevailed and inter-tribal wars ended. With the cessation of wars, the supply of slain enemies ended and cannibalism ceased. By this time, the introduction of pigs, cattle and sheep provided a substitute that had previously been lacking. The ending of wars also led to the hill forts being vacated and villages being established on the flat lands near the food cultivations. With the change in site, the simple form of sanitation possible on the hilltops could no longer be carried out and water supplies were often contaminated by the introduced typhoid bacillus, which exacted a heavy toll. The Maori priests became normal citizens and the simplified form of altar, though it retained a superstitious taboo, ceased to function. The marae, however, because it had been divorced from religious sanctions, still functions as the social assembly place of the people. The missionaries compiled an alphabet, and the Bible was translated into Maori. Mission schools were early established, and the Maoris were taught to read and write in their own language and in English. Later a system of education was undertaken by the state. Unorthodox Maori sects have risen and fallen, but now the Maori people, with few exceptions, follow some form or other of Christianity. They have built churches, many have been ordained as clergymen, and the Maori diocese of Aotearoa rejoices in a Maori bishop.
In social organization, Maori culture changed more slowly. The people are grouped in tribes, with all members claiming descent from a common ancestor after whom the tribe is named. The tribe is composed of sub-tribes which, as population increased, budded off to occupy more land for cultivating. Chiefs succeeded to rank by seniority in the male line, and they ruled with the advice of heads of families freely expressed in public gatherings. Certain customs such as the birth dedication to a god and marriage by family arrangement without religious ritual were changed to the Christian forms of baptism and marriage by religious ceremony. Polygamy was also changed by the church to the system of one wife at a time. The death customs, however, have retained much of the old. The body lies in state while relatives and visitors pay their respects with wailing and speeches. The deceased is farewelled with old-time imagery as returning to the ancestral spirit land to join the multitude of his people. References are made to mythology, and classical dirges are sung to round off the speeches. The ceremonies throb with an emotion that is entirely Maori, and then the body is buried in a consecrated cemetery by an ordained clergyman of the Christian church to which the family renders adherence. The Government, the laws and the church have all taken something from the power and influence of the chief and yet the chiefs have remained the leaders of their people. The tribes have retained their identity, and they still regard their chiefs as the real heads of their blood groups. Though settlement upon scattered farms is breaking up the village life, the tribal assembly place with its marae court remains the rallying centre to which the tribe returns on call to weep for its dead and to discuss matters that concern the welfare of the living.
From recent experiences, it is obvious that the theory that all native races are doomed to extinction after contact with western culture is not true. The theory has been used as an excuse for neglect in the past. It is true that a period of depression has followed first contact and that the psychology of the people of that period has been profoundly affected. But, with wise administration and education, recovery follows and succeeding generations grow up in a changed atmosphere of hope for the future. The native culture may lose much, but it may still retain some of its best elements and gain much. It may through its mythology, legends, traditions, history, language and poetry add a rich storehouse of emotional value to the writer, artist and poet of both races. It may even add some traits of a humane nature that would not be amiss in the present state of maladjusted western culture. When the state recognizes its responsibilities to its native people, it is by wise co-operation with native leaders that the people may be guided to reap the greatest benefits from the process of acculturation.