A MAORI ADMINISTRATOR
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an essential preliminary to far-reaching changes.
Back at the office, he had of course to make sure of the details. A young and highly intelligent field supervisor was sent to the area; money was made available for regrassing and restocking; uneconomic holdings were amalgamated and three years later butterfat production from the area had more than doubled.
He influenced his department officers in two ways. First, he insisted on full facts before reaching a decision and he had a rare intuition of the kind of facts that would prove to be relevant. Then, where predominantly pakeha officers have to deal with Maori clients, it is sometimes peculiarly difficult to find out just what the clients' real situation is. Genuine cases of hardship can be very shy and uncommunicative or say the wrong sort of things, while less genuine cases can seem dreadfully convincing. During the last ten years, the welfare division has done a great deal of this difficult job of getting at the facts, but a good deal of the impetus came from him, from the top.
The fact that the Permanent Head was a Maori naturally did much to bring about a change in the department to the Maori people generally.
It was this fact, too, that has had a deep influence throughout the Maori world and even among other Polynesian peoples. He became a symbol of the emergence and progress of the Maori, of the equal status of the two races in New Zealand.
On the question of the future of the Maori, Mr Ropiha steered a wise course which to the casual onlooker might sometimes seem a vaccilating one. He could be very scathing about the sort of attitude which places the pakeha on a pedestal and then tells the Maori to become like him. On the other hand, he also had little patience with people who thought the Maori should somehow try to keep separate from the general life of the country. As he believed that the Maori should grasp every chance at social and economic improvement, so he thought he should be open to the spiritual, cultural, and scientific values of the pakeha. Mr Ropiha himself had the deepest curiosity towards all things of the spirit, went regularly to the National Orchestra, was interested in painting, liked to discuss the emergence of Asia. In practice, he was a champion of all kinds of Maori causes, whether their flavour was ancient or modern, judging each initiative not by any theory of the future of the Maori, but by the zest and vitality behind it.
He could never forget that he personally had not reached his position in the traditional Maori way. In his youth, his ambiton had been to be a surveyor; he then had with all his force rejected the pa in favour of mathematics and evening study. Only at a later age had he returned to his people, had learned something of Maori oratory in his fifties and at the age of sixty he once said
to me he felt he might almost be becoming a kaumatua.
The conflict between the roles he had to play would have broken many men. To be a champion of the Maori people and at the same time fit harmoniously into the government machine with its army of accountants, auditors and inspectors is far more difficult than it sounds. Only a generation ago, in Sir Apirana Ngata's day, it proved to be quite impossible. The Secretary (in 1957 he assumed this title) found himself bound to both sides with the same absolute loyalty. There were his Maori moods and his official moods. During the Maori moods he tried to forget the official difficulties as much as possible, seemed entirely free of care. These moods were essential to him. I remember how on my first tour with Mr Ropiha to the Te Aute Centennial he suddenly disappeared from the marae, was nowhere to be found. It was a time of great pressure and many people were looking for him. He was in the cookhouse, helping to peel potatoes.
When the official pressure was on, the atmosphere and the claims of the marae sometimes seemed far away. However, when he finally decided something important, both sides of his experience had somehow achieved a balance.
His greatest support as he was being pulled between the two worlds lay in religion. Right through his career as Secretary, he gave much or his time to the Anglican Church, as a people's warden and lay representative in Synod. The Church provided him with a view of himself and his work which was without conflict: in the end all that mattered was selfless dedication to the wellbeing of others, the virtue of charity.