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No. 8 (Winter 1954)
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Maoritanga

The keynote to Maoritanga is the fact that the Maori race has distinct racial personality, and what we have come to term Maoritanga is the expression of that distinctive racial personality in language, poetry and art, customs and usage, rite and ceremony, work and play. Maoritanga, secondly, is the recognition of that distinctive racial personality and the accompanying pride of race, and the corresponding demand that the sacred rights of that racial personality shall be recognised and safeguarded. In the third place, Maoritanga is the action taken to secure provision and satisfaction for that racial personality.

There is, of course, nothing singular in the nationalism of the Maori, which is the expression of this entity which we have come to call Maoritanga. Indeed, the intensification of the pressures on life of modern circumstances seems to have deepened this national spirit everywhere. It is certainly not confined, as is sometimes assumed, to the coloured people of the world. A visitor to Scotland or Wales today will find this spirit as active and vocal as we have it here today in the demand for the recognition and protection of our Maoritanga.

Let us look at some of these components of the Maori heritage which are the substance of Maoritanga. First of all language. Language can never be a coincidence. Each race has developed an expression which in beauty and in adequacy to frame its thought processes is the expression of its own very being. The form of a language is one of the indications of the racial spirit which gave it birth, and the limitation or the adequacy of a language as a full vehicle of thought is an immediate indication of the racial capacity of the people whose utterance it is.

The Maori language as it was before the advent of the white man was a very full and adequate expression of thought in the world in which it was situated. The Maori language is widely appreciated because of its beauty of expression, flowing so naturally as it does in similes and metaphors and figures of speech, but not only is it beautiful in thought pictures but it is beautiful in euphony. We were particularly impressed in our work on the revision of the Maori Bible with the fact that wherever a transliterated personal or place name had a harsh sound, Maori people had uniformly rejected that form and adopted one that was musical and pleasant to the ear.

Literary appreciation is a widespread Maori endowment, and even older Maori people who have had very little European education have a keen sense of quality in the use of their own language. Literary taste in the keen appreciation of beautiful words is common to a high percentage of the Maori people. The Maori is famed as an orator. That accomplishment issues from the fact that the art of speech and the adequate mastery of speech is a recognised and valued attainment of the Maori people. An ancient literary practice which has we fear, fallen into disuse, was the game of finding how many synonyms could be stated for a given word.

All these things denote the fact that language in its comprehensiveness and fullness and beauty is one of the treasured possessions of the Maori race and the cornerstone of Maoritanga. A decadent people are likely to have a decadent language. A people who are vital and full of progress are sure to esteem and develop the language which supplies the tool-kit of thought, which conveys what is their individual racial personality in the words and expressions which have been evolved to give utterance to their particular thought and aspiration as no other words can do.

We are well aware of the fact that there are some things which we can say in Maori much more effectively than they can be said in English. These, of course, are Maori matters and require Maori language for their description. It has been well said that the language is the shrine of a people's soul, and however much need there may be, as is true of the present Maori situation, that a people should have a competent knowledge of another language, should they lose their own tongue they have lost the most sacred inward shrine of their being. Maoritanga is the realisation of these things and the valuing of the most sacred heritage of the Maori person and race, his language, and the Maori certainly has in his language a treasure of which he may well be proud.

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I recall the present Bishop of Aotearoa quoting some lines from a Maori song in welcoming the Rev T. G. Niles at Turangawaewae Pa, Ngaruawahia, last year, and then stating: “that is as fine poetry as anything in Shakespeare if it could be adequately translated”, and there is no doubt whatever that both in its prose and in its poetry the Maori language has attained expression of a very high and beautiful order. Part of the action of Maoritanga undoubtedly is the realisation and revaluation of the things that are distinctively Maori, and outstanding in that category is the language, which is the very breath of the Maori soul.

Allied to language as an elementary fact of the racial entity designated Maoritanga is the art of the race, evidenced generally in carving, weaving and reed work. Just like language, this is an emanation of the mind, an expression of the inner self. It is surely notable that the Maori people, who had never had the fortune to dwell in a country where metal could be developed and who were therefore limited to stone tools—wherewith tree felling, canoe fashioning and house building had to be carried out with great labour—were not content to create things of mere utility, but in those untoward circumstances lavished art on carved prows and stern posts of the ocean canoe and on the door posts of the tribal houses, and developed the arts of weaving and beautiful reed work.

This art and the appreciation of it is surely inherently an article of Maoritanga. These are the accomplishments which are indigenous to the race, and which are the utterance of its very self. And if perchance we encounter at times some members of the race living in very unaesthetic circumstances, it should be manifest that this is not a feature of the true-to-type Maori life that spontaneously gave birth to carving and art in spite of great handicaps, but that it is the degeneration consequent on the inpact of pakeha civilisation on the life of the Maori.

And because the Maori has innate within him an appreciation of art and beauty, true Maoridom must always regret any members of the race finding need, or voluntarily choosing to live in slum conditions and the spirit of Maoridom should lead every informed member of the race to labour with devotion for the full recovery of the artistic temperament hereditary to the race.

The third feature of Maoritanga which requires emphasis is the fact that the Maori is a social being, that his life is community life, that he is gregarious, that grouping is to him the very blood of life. Because the Maori is a community being, isolation is to him most forlorn and totally frustrating. For the same reason he is a team worker. All the work and undertakings of a Maori community were done by the team effort called “ohu”. Realising that Maori life is community life it should be easy to understand the spontaneous and abundant nature of Maori hospitality. True-to-type Maoris do not live entirely for themselves, nor yet even in a primary way to promote the advantage of their individual family, but to seek for the welfare of the whole tribe; and because a communal person loves to have others about him, and because as true community people Maoris delight in giving service to the community, hospitality is to the Maori an exaltation and a delight. He has no regrets if he spends on his guests the abundance which we would think should be retained for the more assured sustenance of his immediate dependants.

All those who become intimately acquainted with Maori life are impressed with the delicate etiquette of true Maori deportment. That, of course, is a characteristic of people whose values and outlook are those of community. The untutored Pakeha is apt to transgress much Maori etiquette simply because he is an individualist and is not trained as the Maori to think in terms of community rather than of self. But the Maori sense of community is more than the embracing of the living and immediate community. It is community with the long and storied past as well as with the present environment. At every great gathering of the Maori people the songs of the long past are sung and genealogies that relate to far away generations and inter-relate living people with ancestors of the dim and distant past are recited. It is not merely that the Maori has a better historic sense than the average Pakeha. His community life stretches back over the centuries and unites him with the whole cavalcade of his race. Try to make him a Pakeha and a mere individualist and you have stripped him, like some plant, of every leaf and flower-bud and left him with a gaunt and naked stem. Because Maori life is community life the village courtyard, the marae, is its true centre. Because European life is based on the family unit, the hearth is the centre of life. Because Maori life and all its outlook and values is a community entity, the marae is its centre. There the people meet and find their deepest satisfaction in being together. As they say, “Ko te kite atu, Ko te kite mai”: just to see one another, just to be together, just to have the joy of propinquity.

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Of course, in pre-European times, before the pressures of our civilization dispersed the Maori people from the communal basis of life to the extent that they have been dispersed, the whole life of the people was centred on the marae, and the marae and its tribal house were the parliament of the people as well as the vessels of community life. For the most part the Maori today can only resort on occasion to the gathering on the marae and find there the satisfaction of his essentially communal being. On the marae still the Maori people take counsel together to grapple with the problems which beset them and to legislate for themselves. There are still many Maoris more ready to contribute liberally to the construction of the tribal house than to spend money on improving their individual living conditions.

The oratory of the Maori stems from the fact that he is a man of community, and the man whose setting is communal and who wishes to count in any way in the life of a community must be vocal and develop the powers of impressive speech. The Maori marae, the Maori language and Maori oratory are an inseparable trinity and lie very close to the heart of Maoridom. As long as the true community spirit and life of the Maori is retained, the Maori marae will have its place; and the only language possible to the marae is the Maori speech, because the marae is the central setting of true Maori life and the Maori language is the utterance of that life. The Maori hui on the Maori marae is the saviour of the Maori language because it is unthinkable to run a true Maori meeting otherwise than in the Maori setting and in the Maori tongue. Seeing that the European is so largely an individualist and the Maori so essentially a person of community, it should be axiomatic that the Maori has a different sense of values from the Pakeha. What the Pakeha impatiently calls the Maori's waste of time and money is to the Maori satisfaction and true value because through it he has satisfied himself with the pleasures of community, delighting himself in the abundance of company and the multitude of guests, having gotten therefrom what to him is the best return for the expenditure of his time and money.

Perhaps the totally different rhythm of Maori life from that of the Pakeha arises in its essence from the same essential difference of emphasis in the two races. It is not only that the Maori has a different time sense from the Pakeha but the whole rhythm of characteristerically Maori life is different from that of the characteristically Pakeha life. You can arrange a function to be just right from the Pakeha standpoint; but if the arrangements are to be operated in a Maori community they are likely to be quite out of tune and unsuitable. The way of going about things, the order in which they are done, the etiquette that is attendant thereupon, the manner that is fitting all these are part of Maoridom, as much part of the Maori as the hue of his skin, the raven locks of his hair, and the brown of his eyes. To force the Maori into a pattern which utterly disregards these factors of his being is to bind frustration upon him like bands of iron.

The fourth and very central feature of Maoritanga is the religious nature of the Maori. The whole of ancient Maori life turned upon the poles of religion. Nothing was undertaken without resort to appropriate karakie and religious observances. The crops were sown and planted with due regard to the dieties; they were gathered again with the same religious expression. Nothing was undertaken without resort to the “tuahu”, the shrine of the tribe. The sense of the divine remains instinctive to the Maori mind. Subjected as they are to the competition of sects and creeds, it is not to be wondered that the Maori people have an infinite number of religious affiliations; but there are certainly few Maoris with no religios affiliations. Just as surely as the Maori needs bright hues for the satisfaction of his sense of colour, so does he need not only the aid of God but the constant realization of the underlying presence of God as a primary fact of life. He is destroyed with loneliness if he has to live in isolation from men, and he is likewise lonely if he is cut off from the fellowship of the Supreme Being.

The community life of the Maori is built round the concept of the divine. It can truly be said of the ancient Maori that he lived and moved and had his being in his gods. All his activity was god orientated, and that remains his hereditary psychology. The strongest force in Maori life was the law of tapu. The sanctions and regulations of society were built upon it and tapu, of course, was the effluence of the gods. It is an impoverishing thing for a Pakeha to be without God; it is a devastating thing for a Maori. The retention of vital religion is as necessary to the survival of Maoritanga as is the Maori language, the Maori arts and crafts, and the Maori sense of community.

(to be continued next issue)