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No. 4 (Autumn 1953)
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MAUI POMARE
and TE ORA O TE MAORI

Perhaps it was not entirely by chance that Maui Naera Pomare was the first of his race to qualify in medicine—the family name originated through an ancestor who had the unusual pre-pakeha experience of catching a cold and spending a night in coughing. (Po, night; Mare, cough.)

He was born at Pahu Pa, near Urenui, in 1876. His boyhood was passed partly in Taranaki and partly in the Chatham Islands; on his father's death he was sent to board at Christchurch Boys' High School, and later to Te Aute. When he was included in Massey's first Cabinet he was the first Old Boy of Christchurch Boys' High School to attain Ministerial rank.

It was at Te Aute, and in his thirteenth year, that Pomare helped to lay the foundations of a movement which became the Young Maori Party of the early nineteen-hundreds, and which did so much towards the elevation of Maori social life. At that time pupils of Te Aute did not go home for the winter holidays, so, spurred on by John Thornton, headmaster of the College—a man who preached that the regeneration of the dwindling Maori race could come only through its own exertions—three school-boys set out to convert their own elders.

The leader was Rewiti Kohere, of the East Cape; with him Timutimu Tawhai, of the Bay of Plenty; and Maui Pomare, of Taranaki, packed their swags and set out to tell the people that unless they changed their ways of living they must die out and disappear as a race. Their reception was a mixture of incredulity, anger and indifference, for they knew little of the deep-rooted conservatism of the Maori character, and their elders declined to be judged and directed by schoolboys. Nevertheless, they initiated a movement which became first the Association for the Amelioration of the Conditions of the Maori Race, later the Te Aute Students'. Association, and finally the Young Maori Party.

While he was still a student at Te Aute, an acquaintance with some people of the Seventh-day Adventist persuasion led to the suggestion that he should enter the Adventist Missionary College in Michigan, U.S.A., and train in medicine. So we find Maui Pomare becoming for a time probably the only Maori on the American continent. The Battle Creek ‘Moon’, reporting a meeting of the missionary society, wrote: ‘After the usual devotional exercises and a song by the college quartette, the speaker of the evening, Mr Maui Pomare, a young chief of the Te Atiawa tribe of Maoris (pronounced Mowrys) of New Zealand, was introduced and gave a very interesting and instructive talk concerning his people, their religion, manners and customs. Mr Pomare is a sturdily built, sunny-faced young man, a pleasing speaker, bubbling all over with good nature; a lineal descendant of those gentlemen who, in times past, were said to have had an extreme fondness for the missionaries—stewed, fried or toasted.’

Commenting later on the reporter's flippant allusion, Pomare showed the mixture of diplomacy and humour for which he became so well known, by admitting the partial truth of the statement, and ending: ‘But you need not be afraid of me—I am a vegetarian!’

After completing the prescribed course of studies at Battle Creek, Pomare went on to the American Medical Missionary College at Chicago, from whence he graduated M.D. in 1899, returning to New Zealand in 1900.

He returned at an auspicious moment. The Seddon Government, perturbed at the continuing decline in the Maori population, had passed the Public Health and Maori Councils Act, by virtue of which a Native Health Officer was

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to be appointed. His duties would consist of investigating health problems, and lecturing on hygiene. The Native Health Officer would normally have been a European, but the advent of a Maori doctor, by birth a chief—one who had the mana of pakeha learning as well as the authority of lineage—was providential. Dr Pomare was twenty-five, and full of enthusiasm. He had need of it.

‘What we should first do,’ he wrote in a Departmental report, ‘is to educate the mothers how to bring up their children…Educate the mothers to recognise the efficiency of the bath-tub, clean warm clothes, plain and wholesome food, and you will regenerate the Maori quicker than by teaching the youths and maidens embroidery, Latin and Euclid, and then sending them back to live in the same groove as their parents.’

Dr Pomare was quick to see the shortcomings of the education system. ‘We educate them up to a point, then leave them to drift just when we ought to hold on to them, and make them into useful members of society,’ he declared.

Undeterred by rebuffs, Dr Pomare threw himself into his work with an enthusiasm equalled only by his lack of material resources, for words alone are poor weapons against inertia and indifference born of ignorance. Every word of advice he gave cut across customs and traditions; horrified remonstrances and threats of personal violence followed his suggestions that old and disused whares should be pulled down, but his answer was to take a fire stick, and within three years burn nearly two thousand such breeding-grounds for rats.

The fiercest and most consistent opposition came from the village quacks, who had usurped the position of the old-time tohunga, who were learned men and versed in the medical knowledge necessary for the treatment of the few ailments of pre-pakeha days. Their degenerate successors coupled witchcraft with charlatanism of the grossest description, to the detriment of Maori health. Pomare wrote:

‘I cannot be emphatic enough in condemning these “tohunga”, for I have seen the result of their work. In one pa alone, seventeen of what might have been the hope and pride of their tribe were, I consider, cruelly murdered by the wanton practices of a “tohunga” in whom many natives have faith. I do not think a single one of the seventeen children who were sacrificed need have died, for they were only ill with measles.’ His cry went unheeded, and he battled on alone.

He battled on alone, but not unsuccessfully, in the general field of sanitation. As a result of his representations, Maori sanitary inspectors were appointed to see that his recommendations were carried out, and the 1906 census disclosed the heartening fact that the Maori population had increased by 4588. The tide had turned, and his work was justifying itself. During these uphill years another young Maori was studying medicine at Otago University, and in 1905 Dr Peter H. Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) was appointed Assistant Health Officer, and was stationed in the West Coast area, which included the Wanganui and Taupo districts. It is a coincidence that the first two Maori doctors were born within a few miles of each other, in Taranaki, at that time the most backward of the provinces. Dr Pomare's next victory came in 1907 when his continued importunities resulted in the passing of ‘The Tohunga Suppression Act, 1907’. The penalties were substantial, and tohungaism was a dying force from that day.

Maui Pomare was first elected to Parliament in December, 1911. His decision to enter politics resulted from his keen interest in one of the burning questions of the day—the Taranaki land claims. He no doubt felt he could do more to advance the cause of the Maori people of Taranaki as a member of the legislature than in any other capacity.

The seat was, however, in the gift of Waikato, and Waikato was approached with the request that for at least one Parliament the Western Maori seat should be relinquished in favour of a Taranaki nominee. Pomare was offered the nomination and accepted, and in the time-honoured way the request for support was sent in the form of song, by Hapimana Tauke, on behalf of Taranaki:

Tena koe,
Tuku mai koia ra
Te tau aroha —
He po kotahi nei
E awhi ai au,
Ka hoki atu ai
Ki te hoa tapua
Na Hapimana Tauke.
I greet you,
O let her, O do let her come,
The one beloved
For but one night
With me in fond embrace:
Then we will return again
To you whom she loves.
From Hapimana Tauke.

Dr Pomare secured sufficient Waikato votes to be elected, and found himself in Massey's first Cabinet, with the post of Member of the Executive Council representing the Maori Race,

(Continued on page 46)

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Maui Pomare with the then Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) during their visit to New Zealand in 1927.

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Leper Hospital on the island of Makogai, which serves Samoa, the Cook group, Niue, Tonga, and the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, as well as Fiji. Maui Pomare, as Minister of Island Territories, was the prime mover in the establishment of this hospital.
Photo: Rob Wright, Fiji Official Photographer.

 

MAUI POMARE (Continued from page 24)

and Minister in Charge of the Cook Islands.

The 1914–18 War put an end to all plans for the advancement of Maori health for the time being, and, as Chairman of the Maori Regimental Committee, Pomare worked day and night for the war effort.

As a result of his insistence the provisions of the Military Service Act, 1916, were widened to include the Maori race. For him to advocate Maori conscription was to court hostility in a large part of his electorate, but to sponsor the project and then to invoke the penal clauses against recalcitrant tribes was to commit political suicide. He knew the consequences and was prepared to accept them. He ended a speech in the House thus:

‘Sir, I do not care if the introduction of conscription were to mean the end of my political career. I say “Let it end!” What matters as long as the British flag continues to fly over these islands, for then I know my people are safe.’

August, 1918, saw the end of one tragedy and the beginning of another, for the influenza plague which had already ravaged Europe struck in New Zealand, and caused more deaths than four years of war. Dr Pomare devoted himself to fighting the epidemic, and for months the Cabinet room saw little of him—politics were not important when his people were dying in hundreds. Twice he was laid low himself, but as soon as he could stand he continued travelling from kainga to kainga setting up temporary hospitals and organising preventative measures. The worst was over by December, but over a thousand Maoris had perished, and the doctor had undermined his own constitution to such an extent that the foundations were laid for the disease that carried him off at a comparatively early age.

Sir Maui Pomare—he was knighted after the war—was returned with an added majority in the 1919 elections. There followed three years of administrating the Cook Island portfolio and successfully fighting monopoly interests in the fruit trade.

Pomare was made Minister of Health in 1923, and did some of his best work in the field of public health, for both pakeha and Maori.

Mental hospitals were his special care. He was not satisfied with the condition of the buildings, the comfort of the patients, or the system of treatment whereby all types of mental illnesses were housed in the same institution. The staffing, also, was beyond credence — for instance, in the Auckland Mental Hospital he found that two medical officers were expected to care for nearly one thousand patients. The staffing of other like institutions was almost as bad, and he advised Cabinet that nothing less than a complete reorganisation of the Mental Hospital Department would give the unfortunate inmates the care that they were entitled to. Cabinet agreed, and Sir Maui went ahead with reforms in treatment and accommodation until the death of the Prime Minister, Mr Massey, threw the Reform leadership into the melting-pot. He was the sole Ministerial survivor of Massey's first Cabinet, and there was some support for his nomination as Premier. He, however, offered his support to Coates. In the new Cabinet he was Minister in Charge of Cook Islands.

Although no longer Minister of Health, Sir Maui was to complete a project he had been working on ever since he had called attention, over twenty-five years before, to the indifference displayed by the State towards those afflicted by leprosy. Year after year he had referred in his annual Departmental reports to the fact that there was no provision for segregation of lepers, and that they could move at will throughout the country. It was not until his term as Minister of Health that the Government had come to an arrangement with the authorities of Fiji, and Makogai became a haven for lepers from New Zealand, the Cook group, Samoa and Tonga. Sir Maui was insistent that the lepers should be sent to Makogai at the earliest possible moment; after months of delay the Hinemoa was fitted as a temporary leper hospital, and left on April 30, 1926, to collect the unfortunates and transfer them to Makogai. In the course of the round trip the Hinemoa called at Raratonga, Mangaia, Mauke, Atia and Aitutaki, in the Lower Cook group, Palmerston, Penrhyn, Makahanga, Manihiki and Pukapuka, in the northern group; Apia, in Western Samoa; and Suva. Dr Pomare, of course, was in charge, but the expedition could have been a total failure, for there was no authority to remove the patients against their will. The mere thought of removal to a distant part of the Pacific, and separation from friends and relatives, was almost as horrifying as the certainty of death if they stayed at home. But so great was their trust in Pomare, that they willingly left their homes for the far-away island of Makogai. His interest in the lepers did not end when he handed them over to the good Sisters of the Roman Catholic Mission, whose lives were devoted to the care of lepers, for when he went out of office his one and only request was granted. He asked that he retain in his charge the care of the New Zealand lepers at Makogai.

Sir Maui Pomare died on a health trip to America four years later.