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No. 25 (December 1958)
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No. 25 (Vol. 6 No. 4)


What did the old leaders mean when they told the Maori people to draw strength from the past? Is it possible? Whoever has seen a little of Maori life in the cities would probably answer something like this: Life is not easy even for the young and when things are difficult the need arises to draw strength from the ancestors. At such a moment young Maori people will have some experience, apparently by accident, which reveals to them their ‘Maoritanga’.

The practical consequence of such a revelation is that they will throw themselves into some Maori activity. If studiously inclined, they may start reading books about Maori history. It does not often mean any rejection of a modern way of life, for such rejection does not usually solve their problems.

What is the ‘Maoritanga’ (Maori spirit) revealed in this way? It is something far deeper than the Maori arts and crafts or the language or the feelings they have towards their relatives. It reaches deeply into the past; it contains an ideal image of the Polynesian man and woman, an ideal set up long before the Europeans came, modified by Christianity, but hardier and more persistent than any outward features of Maori life. The young people of today often see it embodied in an old aunt or grandfather or in an impressive speaker at a meeting.

In earlier times, when the traditional history of the Maori was constantly told by the elders, everyone was familiar with the deeds of the ancestors and those who strove after virtue and glory emulated those deeds. Today much inspiration can still be found in those tales; it is here that the Maori spirit lives for ever for those who seek it. In the Maori of Grey's ‘Nga Mahi a Nga Tupuna’ or in the English of his ‘Polynesian Mythology’ we find the historic warrior-heroes of New Zealand as well as their mythic forebears of Hawaiki. Hatupatu, Turi, Manaia and (of course) Hinemoa are among the many human ancestors revered by the pre-European Maori; modern morality may shudder at some of their deeds, yet they were truly heroic figures and in some important ways they are still the embodiment of the ideals of the modern Maori. This is true even more of the gods and demigods such as Tane, Maui and Tawhaki; to the thoughtful student these stories still contain many profound truths about nature and man.

In these days when so much is being said about the preservation of Maori things, it would be a pity if people's interests went out too much to recent and comparatively modern aspects of ‘Maoritanga’ while the greatest strength can still be drawn from what is more ancient: the undeviating force, inventiveness and rich imagination of the Polynesian spirit.