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No. 1 (Winter 1952)
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Progress in the North

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Progress in the North

The article by Prof. I. L. G. Sutherland facing this page was specially written by him for Te Ao Hou. It was prepared shortly after Professor Sutherland had visited Tokerau on one of his searching tours to study the welfare of the Maori people. Professor of psychology at Canterbury college, Professor Sutherland, who died last February, had made a profound study of the relations between Pakeha and Maori. When he died, he had a large work on this subject in preparation, so that the article printed here is one of his last complete contributions to the history of Maori progress.

The Maori tribes in the north took the first and most intensive shock of contact with the white man and his civilization and early in the nineteenth century Maori culture was rapidly and extensively lost among them. Inter-tribal wars and war with the white man took place and later there were extensive alienations of land and the northern Maori people remained for many years in a depressed and more or less static condition, with the kauri gum industry supplying a rather uncertain means of livelihood. To take one item, the loss of culture may be illustrated by the disappearance of the characteristic design and decoration of the Maori meeting house and the adoption throughout the north of a europeanized style of hall. Or it may be illustrated by Sir Apirana Ngata's remark, when preparations were being made for the 1934 Waitangi gathering and when the northerners had to be coached in the entertainment they were to offer, that the rhythm of the haka had died out in the ears of the northern tribesmen. Recent years have seen an interesting revival of some features of Maori culture in the north, as will be mentioned.

Maori land development and farming had commenced in the north before the schemes authorized by the 1929–30 legislation were initiated. The introduction of the latter was made difficult by the scattered nature of land interests due to alienations, but early reports state that the commencement of the schemes was characterized to a notable extent by co-operation and selfhelp. The northerners, it was said, worked for one meal a day and provided that themselves. The present state of Maori farming in the north, the number of settlers involved and the butter-fat yields represent a really big forward move in economic and social progress, even if complicated to some extent in recent years by social security benefits and the temptation to take well paid jobs on public works. The feature that most immediately impressed the writer was the much needed improvement in housing which has taken place. Maori housing in the north was particularly bad and while there are still some very poor homes, they are now the exceptions. (The twenty families living in Army huts at Moerewa* certainly deserve something being done for them.) The new houses in the north are modest and more attention might have been given to their planning and appearance.

*Land has recently been obtained for this purpose and housing is being provided.

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Along with economic progress has gone a movement for marae improvement and the building of carved and decorated meeting houses, the latter stimulated no doubt by the fine centennial house at Waitangi. The ‘poplar house’ at Mangamuka and the partially completed dining halls at Otiria and Panguru (with their plans for carved houses) are significant signs of a returning vitality among the Maori people in the north. Incidentally, the loss of the art of carving had been so complete that most northerners had lost all knowledge of their own style of carving or were unaware that they had ever had characteristic patterns and it is the Arawa style of carving that has been used in the new buildings. It is to be hoped that the traditional northern patterns will in time be revived.

Though the land development schemes of the past twenty years represent the greatest single movement of Maori economic progress and though one would not like to contemplate what the condition of the Maori people might now be had they not been initiated by Sir Apirana Ngata, it has long been recognised that they do not at one stroke provide for the rapidly increasing Maori population. This is particularly true of the North Auckland district. Many young people have in recent years made their way to Auckland and elsewhere, a movement which the conditions during World War II greatly accelerated. But the problem of numbers (something like 25,000) in relation to economic resources and vocational opportunities remains in the north, with particularly acute spots like the Te Hapua community where more than half the population is under fifteen years and where the outlook for local employment is practically nil. It was interesting to hear of the attempts at developing local industries at Te Kao and to hear many suggestions for local industries in the north generally. But nothing practicable has been suggested nor seems likely to eventuate and the only solution to the problem of numbers and lack of resources would seem to be boldly planned group migration. Already as a result of the existence of welfare officers the movement south is less haphazard than it was.

It was pleasing to see in the north some instances of economic self-help by Maori groups. The small sawmill at Otiria is an example and Teaka Rapana's settlement at Te Tii is a more extensive and a more interesting one. Space does not permit a full account of the Rapana movement, the latest of a long series of Maori prophetic movements, but a visit to the community of some 300 people at Te Tii gave an impression of industry and order based on strong religious leadership. Rapana is a prophet of a new sort, with a good deal of practical common-sense, and during the past three years much has been done by his people by hard work on an unpromising site. It was impressive to hear the local schoolmaster dispose of rumours about the settlement and say: ‘This is a healthy movement. The people are sober, honest and hard-working.’ While social security benefits, which are partly pooled, are a large source of the community's revenue, working parties go out daily on contract to nearby farms and bring in cash which again is partially pooled, with a sharing out at the end of each year in accordance with labour put in. Housing is still primitive, but gardens are neat and well-filled and the marae is really well laid out with lawn, flower beds, shrubs, and trees and a set of community buildings which are the result of local effort. Customs and etiquette of the marae are well carried out. How long the movement may be sustained is a matter for speculation, but it has survived the early official prophecies that it was economically unsound and that nothing could be done with the site. One got the impression that its main difficulty may be the lack of recreational outlets available to the young people. Meanwhile it provides a wellordered way of life for several hundred people.

Facilities for secondary education have considerably increased in the north in recent years and the establishment of Northland College at Kaikohe in 1947 represents a big step forward in educational facilities. This school, with its varied courses, is an institution admirably equipped to meet the educational needs of both pakeha and Maori young people in its area.

In any inter-racial situation rumour and myth develop very easily and they have developed in regard to the Maoris in the north and elsewhere in recent years, especially in regard to abuses and misuse of social security benefits. Even a brief enquiry shows to what extent rumour grows beyond the actual facts. The latter, so far as they exist, should, however, be closely studied and frankly reported by those dealing with Maori affairs. Contacts and observations made during a visit to a Maori district today show the Department of Maori Affairs active in a many-sided and increasingly enlightened way.