Maori Soldiers in Malaya
For a Maori, Malaya is a novel experience. For the first time, we were the same colour as everyone around us and it was the pakeha chaps who were in the minority. We found that we could often pass ourselves off as Malays, with very much cheaper shopping as a result! Generally Maoris and Malays are the same colour but whilst the latter are beautifully built and muscled, they are slim in the hip and waist and lack the beef and short legged stockiness of the Maori.
The native Malay is a delightful person and thoroughly Maori in his virtues and not so different in his vices. He is warm and hospitable and will give you anything. Often he tends to live for the present and forgets about the future, and often he would rather sing than work.
For a start it was embarrassing for people to come up and start talking Malay to us, but after a while many of us picked it up and found it very similar to our own tongue. The grammar was similar, with no verb ‘to be’. Descriptive words come after the noun instead of before. Pronunciation is almost identical and we were thrilled to find that many of our words were similar to theirs. For example ‘pai’ is ‘bai’ (spelled baik) in Malay, ‘ika’ is ‘ikan’, ‘rima’ is ‘lima’, ‘tangi’ is ‘tangis’, ‘mata’ is ‘mato’ and so on.
The Malays themselves form about half the population and the rest are mostly Chinese with some Indians and a few Europeans and Eurasians. They are trying to live together as one Malayan race and are particularly interested in our race relationships over here. Everything is not ideal in New Zealand but we are making a good try at it and we Maoris used to tell them so. Our battalion was roughly half Maori and half Pakeha and the Asians used to express surprise and pleasure at the mixing of the two groups on leave and at work and in our concert party. They always commented favourably on the lack of any segregation in the unit such as Maori platoons or companies, and the sight of Maori Officers and N.C.O.'s commanding pakeha troops as well as vice versa seemed to them a practical demonstration that in New Zealand we try and practise what we preach.
Another Maori Battalion?
When we came home we read that the Maori Battalion old boys are agitating for an all-Maori unit in the army. This makes me sad. Of course the tradition of my race tells me I must listen with respect to our elders. Yet age does not always bring wisdom and the elders are not always right. They often think with their hearts and not their heads.
Before I went into the army I do not mind admitting that I had never learned to mix with Pakeha. I thought they were different in more ways than skin colour. Well, now I have lived with them we all know one another. For the first time in my life I have really close Pakeha friends. The other chaps and I have learned a lot off the pakeha and I like to think that they have learned a lot off us. They respect us. Many of the pakeha in the battalion sing our songs and some can do a pretty good haka. Where else in New Zealand do we find a group of Maori and Pakeha in roughly equal proportions living cheek by jowl and yet some people would put a stop to it. Anyway to be logical the army could decide to start all-white units as well as all-brown and who would start talking first about racial discrimination? These old boys should use their energies to encourage Maoris with more education than I to become officers instead of wanting racial segregation in the army.
Generally the Asians knew we were New Zealanders the moment we opened our mouths. They told us it was the New Zealand accent, which is a bit of a shock as most New Zealanders think there is no such thing. After a while we began to notice it ourselves and it struck all of us very forcibly when we got home. There is a New Zealand accent and it is not very musical and is fast reaching the Australian standard. Maoris with their more liquid vowel sounds are not so bad as many of the Pakehas and perhaps we can do something to raise the standard of English here.
It is a great experience to see how the other side of the world lives. We are pretty well off in New Zealand but most of our people at home tend to accept it uncritically. This is a pity.
Many aspects of Asian life and certainly their forging progress and enthusiasm for advancement can teach us a lot. Underneath they are people who are not so very different from us. They are interested in us and there is a fund of goodwill for New Zealand to exploit to her advantage as well as that of Malaya.
In the December issue of Te Ao Hou we published an article, ‘The Tribe That Made a Million’, on the Puketapu 3A Incorporation, a major company which has been managed with very great success by its Tuwharetoa owners, and which recently sold its timber assets for over £1 million. Our article caused great interest, and we have been asked by readers if we would publish photographs of the Company's Chairman, Mr Hepi Te Heuheu, and Deputy Chairman, Mr Paterika Hura. In the photograph on the left Mr Te Heuheu is signing the visitors' book at the opening of the Tongariro National Park Board's new headquarters on Mt. Ruapehu. Mr Te Heuheu is a descendant of Te Heuheu Tukino, who gave the park to New Zealand.
Mr Paterika Hura is one of the members of the New Zealand Council of Tribal Executives.