Back To The Mat
My name is Jim MacLaren. I know that part is right, anyway. Everything seems misty, my brain will not work properly, but I am sure they call me MacLaren. My grandfather came from the Scottish Highlands they reckon, then he married a Maori girl from out Taupo way. My old man was the eldest boy; he married into a respectable Pakeha family; that makes me a quarter-caste, I suppose. Nobody would think it to look at me, though; I could pass for a European anywhere despite my brown eyes. When my father died I was only seven years old, and my mother took me back to her people who lived near Wanganui.
Shots from my childhood flicker across my brain like slides in a magic lantern. There, once more, is the creek where we used to fish, and again I am back at school in the same old classroom. Then another picture comes before me. It is of the milk bar on the corner. As I gaze past the poles supporting the verandah I catch sight of the girl I love. There she stands, tall and beautiful, tossing back her golden hair nonchalantly as she measures out toffees for some small children. Poignant memories overwhelm me— those dances at the Ritz, the movies, or just walking along the streets on Friday nights, waiting for her to finish work. Then the great day when I ask her if she would marry me, and how old Mr Jenkins kept on winking when we chose the ring at his jewellery shop. I see myself talking to my fiancee in a restaurant. Her face has a hard expression, and there is a fore-boding of evil in the air. She says there is an important matter for us to discuss. ‘Jim, you've double-crossed me,’ she bursts out. ‘You never told me you were a Maori, my girlfriend says all those Maori MacLarens are your relatives.’ I was so stunned I could not reply at once, but then managed to say, ‘What if my grandmother was a Maori, I don't look like one—anyway you're marrying me, not my grandmother.’ The argument was becoming more and more bitter, she was almost hysterical, then she shouted ‘I know a lot of Pakehas marry Maoris, but they all go back to the mat’. I asked her to keep her voice down as people were staring, but her only answer was ‘I don't want any black babies and that's that’. I looked at her for a brief moment as my world crashed around me. ‘You really mean that, don't you?’ I said. Her only reply was to take off her engagement ring and put it on the table. I threw it on the floor and walked out of the cafe and out of her life forever.
That night I packed up my few things. I was leaving in the morning. Yes, leaving my girl, my home-town because my grandmother was a Maori. I would go to Auckland, to the big city where a man could lose himself in the crowd.
The journey by service-car took nearly all day. The rain was coming down steadily as the bus arrived at the depot. There was a crowd of people waiting to greet their friends, but I knew there was nobody there to meet me. I stepped out, left my cases at the luggage place and walked until I came to Queen Street. My home-town was just a back-block settlement compared with this hustling city; the traffic roaring past, dwarfed by the tall buildings, and the newsboys' raucous shouting, like the cries of seagulls above the surging sea of humanity. What a varied moving procession hurried along the sidewalk under the bright fluorescent lights. Samoans and Rarotongans mingling with prosperous businessmen and smartly dressed typists, sailors, drunks, clerks and labourers, Maori and Pakeha, even an occasional Chinese, all members of that great community called Auckland, New Zealand. Yet everybody I passed was a stranger to me as I was pushed and hustled up Queen Street. At last the crowds thinned, and I discovered I was standing outside the People's Palace. I booked in for a week and found a job at the freezing works. Later on I shifted into a room in a dingy street in that decaying borderland between Victoria Park and Ponsonby. Desperately lonely I felt too, my neighbours were friendly enough, but that could not take away the feeling that I was in the wrong place, wasting my time. Sometimes the Islanders would ask me over for a feed at their place, then I would be happy for a while as we gorged ourselves on taro, chop suey, and boiled bananas. After the meal, out would come the guitars and then the plaintive songs of the Islands would while away the hours, for they were home-sick for their islands, their care-free islands far away from the harsh city life of the ‘palangi’, but I was homesick for I knew not what. Perhaps they thought it queer that I did not go out with the sheilas as they did, but I think they understood. On Saturday afternoons I would get drunk with the boys. This particular day there had been plenty of ‘shouts’ in the pub. I remembered crossing the street, a car swerved to miss a motorcyclist and came whizzing towards me. I tried to run, but tripped and there was a crunch and a sudden agonising pain and then and then …
A man's voice penetrates my foggy mind and gradually I discern the features of a middle-aged man with glasses. He tells me that I have been very sick but that I am going to recover. The doctor explains that I have suffered grave injuries, but there is nothing seriously wrong now. All I have to do is to use my willpower to make myself better. How can I explain that I could not care less if I live or die. Perhaps something in my eyes tells him my feelings, for he gazes at me intently, then goes outside. The routine of the hospital is pleasant enough, but I seem to have a sort of paralysis. They call in other doctors to see me, but still there is no improvement.
The fellow in the next bed to mine is a Hori from the bush. He is dying of leukaemia and yet he appears happy enough. As we grow to know each other better, he unfolds his life story to me. He comes from the bush-clad fastnesses of the Urewera Country, where the mists seldom leave the mountains, where the wild pig and deer roam, and where the Tuhoe tribe, the ‘Children of the Mist’, still cling tneaciously to their ancient way of life, hardly seeing a Pakeha from month to month. He speaks English hesitantly, because at home they only speak Maori. I am ashamed to tell him of my Maori blood and not being able to talk a word of Maori, but he says many of the young Maoris in Rotorua cannot speak Maori and are only interested in pictures and the Pakeha way of life. Soon we start Maori lessons. I pick it up quite quickly but Rua tells me one morning there can be no more lessons. He describes his dream to me in his sing-song voice, ‘I was back in my home pa at the edge of the bush. I was with my grandfather catching kouras in the creek behind the meeting house. As we wandered along the bank I noticed an old log caught up in the clumps of toitoi, rising and falling with the water. “Don't touch it,” yelled my grandfather, “it is the rakau tipua, the haunted log bringing death to this place!” Sure enough that very night old Aunt Wiki died and we had a big tangi’. Thus he ended, ‘I saw that log again in my dreams last night, I have not long to go. I am not worried for I know that my spirit is O.K., it is just my body that is sick. I have found the inner meaning of life and that has given me peace.’ He became worse very rapidly, they do not have time to send for his family. He is whispering away to himself in Maori, I think it is a prayer but then I catch the words ‘I shall never again see Tama-Nui-Te-Ra, but Jim will hear the call of the Urewera.’ He turns to me, ‘E Hoa, I am dying, promise me you will go to my home village near Ruatahuna, when you arrive there ask for my kuia, Mrs Ihaka, tell her I gave you this greenstone tiki. Kaua e wareware. Do not forget.’ This is my last sight of him; a couple of nurses wheel his bed out of the ward.
As the wind gently shook the brittle leaves of the palm trees beneath the hospital windows, how could I describe my feelings? I had come to look upon this Maori boy as my only friend. He had known the truth about life, more than many educated city-dwellers. While I lay deep in thought, I became conscious of something hard by my head. It was a Maori grammar. I was just about to toss it out, when I realised Rua must have put it there. The Maori blood from my grandmother stirred within me, I would make Rua's people my people, I would study their history and dedicate myself to their welfare. Now that I had a mission
in life my paralysis seemed to disappear, soon I could turn over and move in bed. Within ten weeks I was fit enough to the discharged. The doctor was amazed at my rapid recovery, and as he said goodbye, he pressed a five pound note into my hand. I took a taxi to my room in Ponsonby. The owner had let it to somebody else, but all my belongings were with the Samoan family upstairs. They did not know what had happened to me, for I had used a different name from that which the hospital people had found in my driving licence. They were overjoyed to see me and had even washed and pressed my clothes for my return. Their joy turned to sorrow when they heard of my intended departure to Rotorua, for I was determined to keep my promise to my dying friend. My plan was to work in Rotorua for a while before making the journey to the Urewera Country.
No sooner said than done for that very night I arrived in Rotorua. I stayed at a hotel near the Road Services, where the tucker was good, and a girl even brought me a cup of tea in the morning. I felt like a big chief, but that did not last long for I was soon stacking timber at the big sawmill on the road to Taupo, just out of town. I became accustomed to the sulphur smell very quickly, and came to like the unusual qualities of Rotorua. The atmosphere of progress, the big new blocks of shops and offices being built everywhere, the visitors to the thermal region bringing a touch of lands across the sea, the large Maori and part- Maori population mixing on equal terms with the Kiwis and the Dutch and Pommie immigrants; all these things appealed to me. Nevertheless I must not establish myself too much there, for I must go 70 miles further, down into the bush. I asked several of my work-mates if they belonged to the Tuhoe people, but they replied ‘That'll be the day, we're all Arawas here’. Several times I thought I could hear the sing-song voices of the Ureweras on the street, but I was too shy to ask them.
In the end I told the boss I was leaving, and started to hitch-hike to the mill which I had heard was in the middle of the Kaingaroa Forest. After a few minutes a car picks me up and we are rushing past the verge of the forest, with new development lands on the right. Soon we pass Rainbow Mountain, and the driver drops me at the turn-off at Waiotapu, for my route now is along the dusty road through the heart of the forest, which leads to Waikaremoana and eventually to Wairoa and the sea, over a hundred miles away. My luck must be in, for a huge logging truck roars to a standstill and takes me all the way to Kaingaroa. (The rows of pine trees seem to go on for ever and ever, and I can certainly believe now, that this is the largest man-
made forest in the world.) The employment officer tells me that he has vacancies at Wairapukao, but he also feels obliged to inform me that it is eight miles off the main highway, at the end of the road, and that nearly all the workers are Maoris. I say I'll give it a go. A land-rover takes us to the camp, I feel the trees are closing up behind me, and yet I have the sensation of going back to some other existence, almost as though I was becoming closer to the Earth Mother, to Papatu-anuku e takoto nei.
Drip, drip, drip, then in a hollow the lights of the camp twinkling through the rain. Nobody runs out to see who is in the car, perhaps the storm is too bad. The truck leaves me standing in the door of the cook-house, and after a while a Pakeha appears, and arranges to cook up something for me. One or two wild-looking characters enter the room and nudge each other. ‘Ko wai tenei Pakeha?’ I tell them I am a quarter-caste, but I do not think they believe me. They think of all things that I am a Pommie; they say that the only Pakehas who go to that camp are immigrants who are sent there. A few minutes later they show me to my hut, and their words are confirmed for on the wall is scrawled the text ‘Watford to Wairapukao—the sublime to the Gorblimey’, underneath another person has written ‘Pine Tree pine over me’. ‘They never stay long here, some were hard-case jokers, like that fellah that made a noise like a gramophone running down when he ate his kai. One or two stayed on long after the others. That's the funny thing about this place, you either hate it, or every time you go away you like it so much you want to come back.’ It did not take me long to become accepted, and I really felt that I belonged to that group of huts in the forest. The days went by swiftly enough, and the evenings were spent in listening to the radiogram or playing the guitar. There were always pigs to hunt, and the pictures at Kaingaroa, if you could get there, and of course the occasional trip to Sulphur City, to the bright lights of Rotorua.
As Maori was the language of the camp I soon became an expert especially with the aid of Rua's grammar book, which I had kept with me. Soon, the cold winter nights followed by the cloudless warm days gave way to the heat of summer, when the one thought dominating everything in the forest was ‘Fire’. I was not on fire-duty and one of the boys asked if I would like to go back to his place near Ruatahuna for Christmas. I accepted gratefully and leaving the forest behind, we came out to Murupara and the plains, covered with farms, with the gaunt bush-covered hills quite close coming down to meet them.
After the last house on the left there is a narrow pass through the hills, like a gateway to a forbidden land, and I know that I am in the Urewera Country at last. Here and there are scattered settlements along the banks of the fast-flowing rivers, in clearings in the eternal bush. Their names are like music to my ears—Te Whaiti, Heipipi, Ngaputahi, Tarapounamu and so on to Ruatahuna. I am introduced to the family and really feel at home. The mountain air makes me very sleepy, and the next day I awake refreshed. Rather to their surprise, I ask if Mrs Ihaka lives near here, and one of the boys arranges to take me over the hills to the next pa to visit her. I explain that I knew her grandson in Auckland and before he died he made me promise to visit her. Now my mate's amazement knew no bounds, he explains that the old lady is blind, but is highly regarded by all the people because she was a chieftainess and also had a bit of the second sight. As we near the settlement, I see an old woman standing at her doorway peering down the valley. I know at once that she is Rua's kuia. She calls out ‘Haeremai, haeremai’, and explains that she has been expecting me. Not only did her grandson write all about me in his letters, but she had known before that a man of mixed Maori and Pakeha blood would be her grandson's best friend, and after Rua's death would take his place as her adopted child. I thought this was going a bit far and could hardly believe this was reality.
Over a brew of strong tea she sadly describes how the sons and daughters of her people are forced to leave their homes and the forest they love for the cities. They have to go, for there is little work for them here. The boys go to the sawmills and the girls go to the boarding houses in Rotorua as domestics. The Government has taken much of their land for a National Park, and is talking about giving some other lands to them instead; even if they do this, we do not want to leave our own native bush. Some Maoris are selling their trees to the Pakeha mills, although even the Pakeha is worried about cutting down much of the forest, because then there will be no trees to hold the waters when the rains come. In the old days all this land was alive with the voices of happy people, now even the sites of the old villages are lost…. Then I thought that if this forest land supported such a large population before, why not again? I was becoming excited and my Maori was becoming a bit disjointed. I said, ‘Why not establish small farming communities right here in the Urewera country, only in the valleys, and leave all the bush on the steep hills, and of course the National Park would be untouched.’ She was growing enthusiastic too, and quite a crowd of people had gathered by now listening intently to my words. Then a refrain is taken up from mouth to mouth. ‘Haere ki te whare-hui’—so we all go to the Meeting House to discuss my ideas.
I tell them my whole story from the beginning and show the greenstone tiki that their relative had given me, now indeed they realise something momentous is afoot. An old tohunga stands up and says that such a thing was forecast by his father years ago, that a part-Maori, part Pakeha,
with a greenstone tiki would lead his people back to happiness. The elders are impressed, but the young fellows seem a bit doubtful, but they do not show it too much. I talk about the land of Israel where the hook-nosed people have returned after two thousand years, where they have made the desert blossom and have established a homeland for hundreds of thousands of their people. I suggest that the people of the Ureweras should do the same, that communal settlements should be started here and there, where home industries should thrive, the women could weave cloth from the wool and also make flax mats, kits and wooden souvenirs, where the menfolk would tend cattle and sheep and pigs and grow vegetables. The crowd murmurs ‘Ae’ and ‘Ka tika tau’, ‘You are right’, and before we know what is happening the elders have decided to go through with the plan …
That was the beginning of a new era for the ‘Children of the Mist’ which they established in the heartland of the Maori people with the assistance of the Government. They spoke Maori as their ancestors had done, they retained their traditions and yet learned English and the Pakeha way of life for they were loyal New Zealanders. The other tribes, seeing the example of the Tuhoe people, said to themselves ‘What they can do, so can we’. It is from that time that dates the spiritual rebirth of the Maori people. Pakeha students went to the Urewera Country to learn the language of their adopted country, and then the great day arrived when Maori was taught in the schools throughout all New Zealand, instead of being put after French and other languages.
Newspapers wrote of the re-settlement of the Urewera Country. Even the people in Israel heard of these doings and invited Heemi Thaka, no longer Jim MacLaren but the adopted son of the Tuhoe people, over to their country to study the ideas on the communal farms in their country. Heemi returned with some people to advise him, and married a daughter of Ruatahuna. I suppose this is what the Pakeha used to call ‘Back to the Mat’ he mused, but I prefer to think of it as grasping out for the knowledge and the good things of the Pakeha, but at the same time holding fast to the traditions and culture of the Maori people, so that in time every New Zealander whether Maori or Pakeha or a bit of both will have the best of both worlds.
One big Maori celebration for the Queen could be fitted in during the Royal Visit next February, the Minister of Maori Affairs, Mr Hanan, told the newly-formed New Zealand Council of Tribal Executives at its inaugural meeting in Wellington. He suggested the council give thought to the national occasion the Maori people would arrange for the Queen.
Kaikohe Girl's Work with Eskimos
A globe-trotting nurse, whose career has ranged from welfare work among the Eskimos of the Arctic Circle to pen-pushing for Lloyds of London, has finally settled down—as a Maori welfare worker.
She is Kaikohe's Miss Iri Rangi Rankin, who has recently taken up an appointment as welfare officer with the Maori Affairs Department at Thames.
Trained as a nurse at Waikato and Rotorua hospitals, Miss Rankin was supervising sister at Wellington Public Hospital when she left New Zealand in 1955 to further her experience in Canada.
She worked as a nurse with a government-run hospital outpost at Moose Factory, an island in James Bay, 1000 miles north of Toronto.
‘I'd always heard that Indians and Maoris were a similar people, but I could not find any racial similarities at all,’ she said. ‘We seem to be two quite different races.’
At the age of 17, the Harrison Triplets (from left, Margaret, Janet and Nancy) stand at the beginning of a rosy career in pop singing.
After being runners-up last year in the Auckland Maori Community Centre's Talent Quest, they won the talent quest organised last Easter by Televisions's Channel 2 in Auckland. Now they have completed their first disc (Sugartime Twist and Uptown) and are among the most promising Maori popular artists to have emerged in recent years.
The Triplets are really more identical in person than this photograph suggests, and they are adept at mischievously confusing people—even those who know them very well—by changing places, and occasionally answering for each other. They are full of fun, but at the same time serious about their ambition to be top-line singers.
Doubtless because of the fact that they are triplets, the girls achieve a very fine harmonic integration in their singing.
They live in Auckland now, but they come from the East Coast. Their father, Rangi Harrison, was a Maori All Black, and their mother, Ngawiki Harrison, is a member of the Reedy family.
A Note by Leo Fowler on his story ‘The Banishment’
(see next page)
Until I heard this story from the old lady I hadn't known that the Maori followed this custom of banishment. I know it flourishes here and there in Polynesia, and it's quite common, even today, in Samoa, where I've known of whole families being banished from their villages. Old Maori friends have surprised me by telling me the custom was first introduced in early pakeha times.
Thomas Samuel Grace, in his A Pioneering Missionary Among the Maoris, reporting on the Turanga Mission for the year 1851, wrote:
‘Native Teachers. I am unable to report very favourably of native teachers. In December, 1850, one was convicted of adultery and sent to the bush by his own people, where he was taken ill and died in June last. Two of my teachers who visited him report that he died penitent and happy. In October last another man was convicted of the same offence and also sent by his people to the bush.’
As usual, once one gets onto the track of these things corroborative information is not hard to get. Several of my older Maori friends have told me that this custom of banishment began in early missionary times. It was a punishment meted out for several offences, of which adultery and violation of the Sabbath appear to have been the major ones. Many have further told me that, in their own boyhood, the preparation of cooking of food on the Sabbath was strictly forbidden. It was invariably a day of cold viands. The old-time Maoris couldn't understand why the pakeha should fight his wars on the Sabbath. I have since come across stories of whalers who were driven out of native villages, or at least fined heavily, for Sunday irregularities.
Photographs on pages 42-45 of this issue are by the N.Z. Herald, on page 8 by the Wanganui Chronicle, page 15 by the Daily Post, Rotorua, page 22 by the Wanganui Herald, and page 46 by Zealandia. The photographs on pages 34, 35, and 38-40 were kindly supplied by the Alexander Turnbull Library. We are grateful to the National Museum, Copenhagen, for permission to reproduce the photo on pages 32 and 33, to the Auckland Museum for permission to photograph the carving inside the front cover, and to the Education Department for permission to reprint the story on page 6, which first appeared in the School Journal.