CRIME AND DELINQUENCY
One of the satisfying experiences of the visitor to New Zealand is that of seeing Maori and Pakeha meeting each other and working together with mutual respect, while still maintaining legitimate pride in their own cultures. It is unfortunate when the misbehaviour of a few, in either group, is extended by the uninformed and uncritical into a characterization of the qualities of Maoris or Pakehas in general.
It is apparent to anyone visiting the prisons and Borstals of New Zealand that Maoris are a larger proportion of the prison population than they are of the population of the country as a whole. Maoris received into prison under sentence comprise about 18 per cent of the total prison population, whereas only 6.5 per cent of the total population of New Zealand is of Maori ancestry, and Maoris aged 15 and over are only about 4.56 per cent of the total population. This would suggest to the casual reader of figures that Maoris are contributing three times as many prisoners as their population numbers warrant.
Perhaps they are; but such figures are not an accurate or adequate measure of either the Maori or the Pakeha contribution to the prison population.
There is obviously a dearth of data necessary for adequate and significant analyses of the crime situation. Much that we would like to know cannot be ascertained with desirable certainty or precision. Such limitations are understandble, and are not confined to New Zealand. The one point that unfortunately does remain reasonably clear is that Maoris are sentenced to prison in considerably greater proportion to their part in the population than are Pakehas, even when corrections are made for age distribution.
Why is this so, and what can be done about it?
Until the recent predominance of Europeans and their culture the Maoris had lived for centuries a rural and communal life in small villages. The family and the tribe were more important than the individual, whose interests were merged and bound up with those of his kin group. Maori land use involved concepts of inheritance, kinship rights, animism, and emotional ties different from those involved in European land ownership. Maori land cultivation was largely co-operative. In general, rights in private property were not emphasized and the custom of the muru sanctioned the group plundering of one who violated the tribal mores.
In general pre-European Maori culture was a collectivist culture welded together and symbolized by the institution of the chieftainship, born out of the need for co-ordination and leadership, and perpetuated in a hereditary aristocracy possessed of mana and justified by its serviceability. Such a society tends also to be traditionalist, conservative, and with great pride of ancestry.
The shock effect of European aggression and colonization upon Maori culture must have been tremendous. The evidences of superior physical power and technical achievement were all about them for everyone to see. The power of the chieftains declined. Much Maori land was confiscated and their religious, economic, and social life was disorganized. A proud people was overwhelmed and their confidence not only in themselves, but in the spiritual forces they trusted, was shaken. They dwindled in numbers and found themselves dependents in a land where once they had been masters.
Within a space of a few decades the Maoris, with some help from the now predominant Europeans, have re-established themselves as joint partners in a new commonwealth, and their population has increased. In the light of what this has involved in the way of readjustment, especially by the Maoris, the achievement is a remarkable one in which both Maoris and Pakehas may take pride. It should hardly be a matter for surprise that the adjustment has at points been difficult and not perfectly accomplished.
That a higher percentage of Maoris than Pakehas should be found guilty of conversion
and wilful damage and of burglary and theft might be expected of those who have not been brought up in a tradition which stresses the inviolability of private property. Even when youthful Maoris know the rules of British culture they can hardly regard them quite as seriously as do those whose families have been schooled in the British tradition. It might be expected that British restrictions upon the sex behaviour of youth could hardly be adopted and followed so completely by Maoris whose culture had approved a greater measure of freedom.
Maori culture has not been characterized by the teaching of detailed rules of conduct, by the development of a sense of personal responsibility for individual, self-reliant conduct, or by the restraints that are so important a part of the upbringing of children in a British culture. No doubt there still persist among the Maori a degree of casualness and lack of
PROFESSOR ALBERT MORRIS, who teaches criminology and anthropology at Boston University (U.S.A.), visited New Zealand in 1952 for a short period on his way to Melbourne. He is a world authority on crime and delinquency and we are pleased to present his views on a disturbing problem in New Zealand. After so short a stay, Professor Morris' understanding and sympathy for Maori life, culture and tribal institutions is remarkable. As the reader will see, this sympathetic understanding does not lead him to see the situation through rosy glasses.