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No. 44 (September 1963)
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The Book The Queen Gave Us

When the Queen and Prince Philip left New Zealand at the end of their recent visit, they made a personal gift to the people of New Zealand to commemorate the occasion. It consisted of a very beautiful and famous book of 60 coloured prints, ‘The New Zealanders Illustrated’ by George French Angas, published in 1847.

There are some other copies of this book in New Zealand, but it is now very rare. The Queen's copy, which is from her own library, is a particularly fine one. This precious book is being kept at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, where anyone who wishes to do so may see it.

The New Zealanders mentioned in the title of Angas' book are of course the Maori people; in those days, and for long afterwards, when people spoke of New Zealanders they were referring to the original owners of the country.

When Angas visited New Zealand in 1844, travelling through many parts of the North Island, the Maori people still retained most of their old traditions, even though, as he saw these were changing so fast. Angas recorded their way of life with great sensitivity and

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‘The children’, Angas wrote, ‘are frequently pretty, gay, interesting little creatures, very inquisitive and full of observation’.

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‘When a man of rank dies’, he wrote, ‘a great lamentation is held over the body … the mourners uttering the most melancholy cries, shedding tears … the women cutting their bodies with sharp flints and broken shells … the widows placing leaves upon their heads’.

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When Angas drew them, these Maori implements of war were used mostly for ceremonial purposes.

fidelity. The accuracy of his drawing is amazing, and could have come only from an artist possessed of an intuitive and warmly sympathetic understanding of his subject. This is very apparent in his drawings of people, but it extends equally to the things which surrounded them: their domestic possessions, their houses and fortifications, and the great forests and mountains among which they lived.

Remarkable Understanding

It is especially remarkable that he should have shown so sophisticated a comprehension of Maori sculpture, for in 1844 there were practically no Europeans who had any understanding of art of this kind. At the time of his visit there were still some carved and painted houses and monuments of the same quality as those which were the principal glory of pre-European Maori culture. Angas' lucid and lovingly detailed drawings recorded the splendour of these buildings just before they finally vanished.

Writing of the Maori, Angas said that their character was ‘a strange mixture of pride, vanity … covetousness and generosity, passion and gentleness …’ It is their pride which is most apparent in his drawings: pride, and the kind of innocence which is possible only for a people who may have defeated each other, but who have never been defeated by outsiders.

Peace and Plenty

They were a people: they walked and spoke with the dignity and whole-heartedness befitting the possessors of a rich land and a rich culture. The white men were a disturbing presence, but there were still only a few of them. They had at least brought peace to the country, and many new things which the Maori liked: pigs and blankets, axes and wheat. In these early days the peach, cherry, plum and quince trees flourished greatly; there was a space of time before the pests and blight followed the trees to their new home.

In 1844 there was a kind of stillness in the land. It was the stillness before the storm: but seen from this distance, and especially as seen in the drawings of George French Angas, it seems to have been a happy time; almost, in a way, a kind of Golden Age.

—M.O.

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Haka were often performed on peaceful occasions, but Angas also wrote a vivid description of the haka which was performed as a war-dance before and after a battle, when ‘the warriors dance naked, being daubed with red ochre, uttering the most fearful yells and imprecations over their enemies … until they gradually work themselves up to the highest pitch of excitement.’

The Cook Islanders are to have a museum and library. A suitable site in Rarotonga has been donated by Makea Nui Ariki, C.B.E., and already a quarter of the target of £12,000 has been collected.

In the past many people, including Princess Te Puea, have been interested in the idea of a library and museum in Rarotonga. Further information about the project can be obtained from Mr Gordon F. Russell, 40 Remewan Street, Linden, Wellington.

Mr J. K. Hunn has recently vacated the post of Secretary for Maori Affairs to take up the position of Secretary of Defence. Commenting on this, the Minister of Maori Affairs, Mr Hanan, said that the Maori people would be indebted to Mr Hunn forever.

Mr Hunn had revolutionised Maori Affairs thinking, to the very great advantage of the Maori people and New Zealand, said Mr Hanan. He made particular reference to the inspiration for the Maori Education Foundation, which had first come from Mr Hunn, and said that in Mr Hunn's time the government had achieved a ‘break-through’ in Maori affairs in four crucial areas. These were education, housing, trade training and land title reform. The New Zealand Maori Council, which among other things was a valuable two-way channel of communication between the Minister of Maori Affairs and the Maori people, had also been set up in this period.

the Maori Community Centre which is being built by voluntary workers at Kawerau is now nearing completion.

Under the supervision of Mr Paul Delamere, the President of the Ringatu Church and a retired builder, work has been going on at the site since January.