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No. 17 (December 1956)
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THE PLACE OF
THE MAORI IN
A MODERN COMMUNITY

Many articles have been written on ‘the place of the Maori in a modern community’, but this is the first time that the head of the Department of Maori Affairs has written a long and detailed statement frankly expressing his own thoughts. Mr Ropiha does so not only as an administrator, but also as a man whose thoughts have been devoted to this subject for many years. Unfortunately we cannot publish the whole of his essay in one issue but we are presenting here the first section tracing the historical background of the problems now facing the Maori. The second instalment, to be published in our next issue, discusses what the government has done to help the Maori and the third and last instalment analyses the position of the younger generation and points a way to further progress. This series of articles should be of special value to those interested in official attitudes to Maori questions, but it is in no sense an ‘official hand-out’; it is a statement in which Mr Ropiha states his personal philosophy. The essay was written as an address delivered in Christchurch earlier this year.

A Remarkable feature of the times in New Zealand is the rapid increase in the Maori population. Today New Zealand has a population of 2,140,000 of which 136,000 are classified as Maori. For this classification all persons of full or half Maori blood are Maoris, persons of less than half Maori blood are Europeans. While for population statistics a half Maori is classed as a Maori, he can choose for himself whether he will vote as Maori or European.

Behind the present population figures lies a dramatic story. It is estimated that when the British colonists arrived early in the 1800's there were in New Zealand a quarter of a million Maoris. In 1840 there resulted the Treaty of Waitangi between Queen Victoria and the leading Maori chiefs which guaranteed to the Maori possession of their lands, forests and fisheries in return for the acceptance of the Sovereignty of the British Queen.

The Treaty of Waitangi is still regarded by Maoris as their Magna Carta. It did not save the Maori from disposing large areas of land which he was willing to sell to land hungry British Colonists in order to buy firearms with which to prosecute more effectively his traditional tribal wars. But the spirit of the Treaty was held.

Notwithstanding the Treaty of Waitangi and the generally good Maori-European relations, the population fell to 41,000 by the end of the 19th century. The Maori by then had acquired a taste for imported liquor, and had fallen prey to European diseases. The weapons of the European that the Maori brought with the money obtained for his land rendered inter-tribal wars increasingly deadly. Towards the end of last century the Maori was fast moving towards extinction. The humanitarian effort of well-wishers of the Maori was directed towards smoothing the pillow of a dying race.

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Looking into the Future

The Maori birthrate is more than double that of the European, and while its death rate is also much higher, the natural increase of the Maori population is nevertheless above that of the European: and the Maori has become the youngest race in the world; 61 per cent of Maoris being under the age of 21 years.

It is the present rate of increase which gives rise to the possibility that by the end of the present century the Maori population will reach a total somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000.

The rising ratio of Maori to European in the population of New Zealand is likely to cause the Maori people some difficulties in over-coming the economic problems that will probably confront them in the future. These problems will be more difficult owing to the limited area of land owned by them. There is only sufficient Maori land left today to provide economic farms for one-quarter of the present population.

It is evident that the economic future of the majority of the race can only be satisfactorily met by migrating to the larger centres where the acquisition of professional, commercial and technical skills will have to be encouraged in every possible way.

This economic development must go hand in hand with social development as they are closely interlocked. This is illustrated in the Maori housing schemes in the main centres. The provision of a new standard house instead of primitive accommodation in slum areas leads to immediate beneficial changes in family life. Health, hygiene and diet improve; employment stability increases. The family's social position in the new community is stabilised, the children are more easily able to do well at school, and develop a new attitude of themselves that will help greatly in later years.

At this stage the question might well be asked: “Should not the Maori by now be able to overcome all the adjustment problems at present facing him?” Realising as we do, that another interesting feature of life in New Zealand is that of seeing Maori and European meeting each other, playing games with each other and working together with mutual respect and understanding, this talk of difficulties seems in the circumstances to be paradoxical.

Economic Traditions

The answer is that the situation in this country still reveals differences of historical background, ways of living, and economic conditions between the two races. There is also the difference of cultural background. Although the two races do come nearer to each other now because of the large numbers of Maoris coming into the main centres, basic things such as racial background are still in existence.

While human relations between the two races can be regarded as an example which other countries might well follow, certain reservations still exist in the minds of a number of people who feel that there are many obstacles standing in the way of complete equality being attained.

It is generally considered that there is a need still for a grater degree of understanding and more social intermingling than at present exists. Today almost everywhere, we are faced with the fact that if civilisation is to survive we must cultivate the art of human relationship—the ability of all races to live together in peace and friendship.

To understand fully the problems with which the Maori has to contend, some broad knowledge of his ancient life—more especially his economic and social problems—is desirable.

It is largely the form of society in which the Maori lives which shapes his personality and ability. Some understanding of these problems as well as goodwill, tolerance and a certain generosity of spirit on the part of the European section of our community are needed in order to help the Maori out of his present difficulties.

No society is ever static. Even in a primitive society untouched by civilisation—slight changes are continually taking place. In the main, these changes are gradual, and consequently such a society adapts itself gradually to this intrusion into their social set-up. But when the sharp impact of European civilisation is brought to bear on a group such as the Maori, then a violent shock is inflicted, and adjustment becomes difficult. The problem of adjustment is rendered more difficult by reason of the fact that while the Maori is endeavouring to adapt himself, the nature of the European culture is continually changing at a pace often too rapid for the Maori to keep up. The effect of all this is that, at the time of Captain Cook's arrival in New Zealand, the Maori was still in the Stone Age, so when settlers arrived later he was asked to bridge the gap between 500 B.C. and 1800 A.D. In addition he was called upon to keep pace with the unprecedented material progress achieved by the European during the 19th century. These demands introduced difficulties which seriously undermined the confidence of the Maori in his way of life; and in himself.

It is also desirable to introduce some sort of picture of the primitive economics of the Maori prior to the arrival of the early European settlers. Briefly stated, the natural surroundings forced the Maori to work hard for his living. His tools for all purposes were extremely primitive so his needs were only to be obtained at the cost of much effort. Work then had to occupy an essential position in Maori life.

The idea of work had a distinct social value. Labour was regarded as honourable, and no man demeaned himself by engaging in it. Chiefs lost no prestige in carrying out manual work. Self

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The majority of Maori men take on heavy jobs needing strength over long periods; many are very able at handling machinery. (NPS Photograph.)

interest alone was not the driving force; but he was actuated by the desire to promote the general well-being of the group.

With a commoner or a person of no particular rank, steadiness and skill in work helped to secure him a certain status in the community, and carried with them certain distinct social advantages.

The driving force which stimulated the activity of the Maori worker was largely due to the necessity to satisfy his vital needs and to the social approval which he received from the other members of his group. He gained tribal prestige: he was often praised for his work: his work was often admired.

Usually these tasks were of relatively short duration and if likely to occupy a long period were interspersed with other varied activities or periods of relaxation all designed to break the monotony of continuous effort. All these breaks or lack of continuous effort would upset the average European as being inexcusable. That these people should have no sense of urgency, no proper planning, and the fact that they appeared to have been able to manage perfectly well without time-tables merely made things worse.

The European being the product of a civilisation which sets considerable store by having every hour of the day worked out would view the Maori attitude to work with disfavour. On the other hand the primary motive which impelled the Maori to work was the necessity to satisfy the drive of vital needs. There was no means by which he could postpone or prolong the enjoyment of the fruits of his labour when they were ready for use. To him there seemed to be no point in producing goods or food for which he had no immediate use.

We have considered the factors that sustained a Maori community in pre-European days although there is an abundance of evidence left to us by early observers like Samuel Marsden, Judge Maning and others to support the view that the Maori of pre-European days was neither lazy nor thriftless but was capable of steady and strenuous work; nevertheless it can be said with some truth of him that he does not as yet take too kindly to occupations which demand unremitting attention and discipline. The communal nature of work, and the diversity of the occupations are two cultural elements which must be adjusted to assure that the Maori of today can fit in better with the pattern of modern condiions. Habits of punctuality and routine will have to be acquired because an individual accustomed to traditional conditions tends to look upon working for another person as he would regard doing a good turn for a friend or neighbour. He is willing to help, but not at the cost of his own convenience.

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European Contact

The arrival of Europeans in increasing numbers in the early part of the nineteenth century led to the introduction of new ideas, attitudes, laws, religion, a new economic system, and also new and strange values. This new culture effected partial disintegration of Maori society. Later came the wars of the 1840's and 1860's. Then came a period of settlement and colonisation involving the breaking in of large areas of virgin country when the Maori often laboured side by side with the European settler performing the arduous tasks of bush-felling, stumping, draining, fencing and ploughing. While both peoples were engaged in these operations the Maori seemed to fit in with European life; but the growth of commerce, of the professions and of certain technical trades created a gulf that the Maori found difficult to bridge. in fact it has not yet been bridged to any marked extent.

Further changes resulted as time went on. and so it is realised that the Maori of today is a different person, living in a different society with an altered culture from his forebears who witnessed the arrival of Europeans.

In addition Maori people of today present not only the universal human individual differences in intelligence and temperament, but also differences brought about by the degree of miscegenation, degree of Europanisation, education and opportunity. These are a few of the factors at work today to produce variety and lack of uniformity such as do not operate among the Europeans. The result is that there is on the one hand a group of professional men, and on the other, another group very little removed from the living conditions which existed in pre-European days. The range between these two extremes is much wider than that of the extremes of European society.

It will therefore be seen that there is a wide variation in the attainment of the two extreme groups. One pattern along traditional lines is still followed by a large number of Maoris: the other pattern along westernised lines is followed by smaller number. But an increasing number of Maoris in the intermediate group also stand metaphorically speaking, with one foot in the older type of society, and one foot in the newer type. Those in this group are subject to two sets of social sanctions, neither of them very strong; b drawing apart from each other.

The Maori survived and very largely saved himself by setting to work to adjust himself to the new demands imposed upon him. They realised that the stronger culture will predominate There is now a fairly general agreement that the right course to pursue is to bring out all that best in the native culture and grafting the culture harmoniously with that common to New Zealand as a whole. Such a blending could in the end become something comparable with the Scots acceptance of English standards while still retaining the kilt and bagpipe.

During the second half of the nineteenth century many of the early European settlers had been accustomed to regard the Maoris as doomed to eventual extinction. Yet in spite of these predictions there arose amongst the Maori a new hope. Out of the gloominess of their future there arose a strong national effort to ward off the fate that seemed to threaten their very existence. It was an organised movement to overcome the conditions which threatened their existence.

At the beginning of this century many of young Maori leaders devoted themselves exclusively to the work of practical reform, sacrificing professional careers of high promise.

This band of young educated Maoris imbued

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Maoris are gradually entering the business world. One of the long-established successful Maori businesses is this co-operatively run butcher shop in Ruatoria. (John Ashton Photograph.)

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This puriri stick over 6 feet high is all that is left of a huge puriri which was once the storehouse of the famous East Coast Chieftainess Hinemattoro. Here it is in the Gisborne Museum as it was handed over for safe keeping by the owners, the Ngati Konohe of Whangara. (Kandid Kamera Craft Photograph.)

with this mission came to be known as the Young Maori Party. Its leaders followed different paths. Medical men were naturally interested in the promotion of health, hygiene and diet. They pressed for better living conditions, better sanitation, better water supplies that were available to the people. Solicitors became interested in the type of difficulties facing the Maoris in the use of their lands, but all these activities converged on the one goal a conscious adjustment of Maori society to the changed conditions and standards of life. On every side they encountered obstacles of which the most difficult were rooted in the customs and traditions of their people. The end of the last century found conditions reasonably favourable for the reception of the policies advocated by the Young Maori Party.

With youthful enthusiasm and Christian zeal these young Maoris set about the task of reviving their people, curing them of their diseases, teaching the ways of health, stirring their pride in the achievements of their ancestors, bidding them to go forward with hope. They went from one settlement to another instructing and encouraging. They realised that if the Maoris were to survive in the new industrial civilisation, they must work. “The gospel of work” wrote Sir Apirana Ngata, “is final, absolute; there is no alternative for us but to accept it. For if the Maori people do not accept it, and that soon, the race will die off the face of the earth”.