Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 47 (June 1964)
– 54 –


The Making of a Maori
A Case Study of A Changing Community

Many years ago, psychologists were interested mainly in people who were mentally sick; today, many of them have turned to the study of stresses and conflicts in communities. Their great contribution has been to show us how people really feel in these communities. If administrators, teachers and social workers had a better understanding of this, they would be better at coping with the stresses and conflicts they meet with.

Dr Ritchie is a psychologist who has, over quite a number of years, studied the Maori from a viewpoint such as this. Before he started doing research, he taught in a Maori school; for a long period, he was a very regular member of the Ngati Poneke Club, proficient enough at Maori action songs to be acceptable as a member of the club's team, if I remember rightly. In 1953 he began to be interested in a community called Rakau, which he visited over four university summer vacations, making up about a full year altogether. He formed part of a team of psychologists who together compiled very full data, based on psychological tests as well as observation, on childhood at Rakau. The question they tried to answer was this: if you are brought up in Rakau, what kind of personality are you likely to develop? Four books were written on this; together, they give us more reliable data on the Maori personality than were ever available before.

Studies Whole Community

In this new book, Dr Ritchie no longer confines himself chiefly to children and to psychological tests, but studies the community as a whole, making full use of a great many interviews he has had with the adults of the community. Many of them told him the story of their own lives; he noted down precisely all the events he observed in the community at the moment they occurred. Out of all this, a very full picture emerges. It is a different picture from what the layman would have written; also a different picture from the one Elsdon Best would have given, were he still alive. It is a social psychologist's picture. For that reason we find plenty of stresses, frustrations, disappointments, inner tensions, conflicts, plenty of references to people's burden of shame, resentment and so forth. But this should not be regarded as a criticism of Rakau. If Dr Ritchie had got going on the suburb of Wellington where he lives at the moment, I am sure it would have borne a close resemblance to a madhouse, and would have been far more depressing than Rakau. So there is no reason to be offended.

Since the book came out, I have often consulted it when there was a Maori question I did not quite understand; on all these occasions I found it a great help, even if I did not, in the end, always completely agree with Dr Ritchie. He is best on those subjects that have always been the special preserve of the psychologist—attitudes to work in chapter 6, education in chapter 9, child-rearing in chapter 10, the roles of men and women in chapter 12. An excellent discussion is the one in chapter 15 telling of the conflict Maoris feel between the Maori and European side of their nature; whatever they do, either the elders or the Pakehas criticise or shame them.

Analysis of Familiar Situations

In these chapters we find many of the situations familiar to us all, most carefully analysed as to the motives of all the people involved. There is, for instance, the young Maori of Rakau who did his forestry exams and became a leading hand, but the older Rakau Maoris would not work for him. Why wouldn't they? Why did the young man end up by being a drifter? All this is most carefully explained. Again, we are told how the Rakau people admire the men who have no boss, who are independent contractors and don't have regular jobs. They admire these men even though their annual earnings are less than if they worked for an employer. Why is this? Dr Ritchie tells us most convincingly.

One of the reasons why the local school is not fully efficient is that insufficient contact exists between teachers and community. One would think therefore that local-born teachers would be welcome in that community. But they are not: a local girl who taught at the school was teased so much because she behaved differently from the other girls in the community that she had to leave again. Dr Ritchie lays bare the basic reasons behind this incident

– 55 –

when he shows that Rakau children can meet most of the challenges of their environment successfully, but that they feel inadequate at school. Therefore, at heart, the community resents school.

It would take too long to go through all the chapters in this way. Dr Ritchie, after describing all the community's troubles, asks himself how in spite of them, people are able to remain so sane, placid and in relatively good mental health. He gives two explanations: the care with which the Maori avoids any but the most familiar paths in life, and several ‘mechanisms of tension release’, such as ‘the drinking parties, the gossip groups, the scapegoating of individuals, groups and institutions’.

Some passages in the book are difficult and theoretical and I would not take issue with Dr Ritchie on these issues if he had not provoked me by damning his critics in advance! He says: ‘The critic who thinks that I may have failed to see the structure behind the organisation of activity in Rakau, or who thinks that the confusion is more a matter of my method than of life there, may be bound by his own model of what he thinks the essential structure of a community ought to be.’ But I won't let even Dr Ritchie shut my mouth in this manner. I do think that Dr Ritchie has a somewhat keener eye for psychological phenomena than for social custom. I am not complaining about this; indeed I think no investigator could do justice to both aspects at the same time.

I have only space to mention one example of Dr Ritchie's indifference to structure, but there are many more. In the chapter entitled Leaders and Followers, he lists four types of leaders (elders, family heads, young leaders, young people's leaders) and four types of meeting at which he observed these leaders. One of these types, which he calls neo-traditional, includes leadership in land dealing. In a table (p. 100) he sets out the role each type of leader plays in land dealings:

Elders: Role passive. Usually speak in welcome and exercise a final veto on any discussions.

Family heads: As above (where applicable).

Young Leaders: Exercise chief leadership. Prepare discussions, take over leadership after formalities complete. Organise event and make major decisions subject to veto of elders.

This table is hard to understand. If the elders have power of veto, how can one say that the young leaders ‘exercise chief leadership’. Surely, any leadership exercised subject to a veto is severely limited. But then, are there not a number of regular customary moves the young leaders and the elders make before the meeting takes place? Are the elders consulted? Is there private agreement between elders and young leaders before the meeting takes place? Also, are there certain well-defined situations where the family heads should have the final say in land matters? Are there situations where the elder will accept the decision of a family head? A full analysis of the roles played by all these people would most probably yield far more regularity, far more structure than Dr Ritchie has shown. I don't think he should have been uncomplimentary to those of us who find these questions interesting.

Helpful and Practical

Administrators, teachers and social workers will learn a great deal from this book. The excellent index will guide them to the problems in which they are immediately interested; when they have found selected passages, looked up in this way, helpful and practical, they will make the effort to study the book as a whole. The passage on page 86 showing how Maoris make decisions, should be compulsory reading for all Europeans dealing with Maori groups.

The Book of the Huia

The huia, whose tapu feathers were once one of the greatest of treasures, probably died out early this century. A beautiful and interesting bird (apparently, the only bird in the world in which male and female have differently shaped beaks), it was a victim of the changes brought about by European settlement. Trigger-happy colonists found it sufficiently interesting to stuff, but showed little concern for its survival. The clearing of most of the forest and the introduction of stoats and weasels further contributed to its fate. Also, though huia feathers had previously been worn only by men and women of the highest rank, by the end of the century the feathers were in great demand by all those who felt that they had any claim at all to chiefly rank. The price soon rose to £1 or more for a single feather—and this was not good for the bird's survival.

– 56 –

Mr Phillipps' book is a thorough consideration of all the information concerning the huia which has survived. He has talked to many old timers who knew the huia in their youth, and though it is usually accepted that the last certain sighting of the bird was in 1907, he lists many more recent occasions on which people have been sure that they have seen it. One such instance of a ‘probable sighting’ is as recent as Christmas 1961. The author is convinced that huias will be rediscovered in one or more of the rugged, densely-forested parts of the North Island in which they used to live, and he gives much evidence which suggests that this is possible.

There is also some interesting information concerning the place of the huia in ancient Maori society. Did you know, for instance, that if a Maori man dreamt that he saw the skull of an ancestor decorated with feathers, this meant that his wife was going to have a child? If they were huia feathers, the child would be a girl; if they were those of the kotuku (white heron), it would be a boy.


This really magnificent collection of drawings portrays a tangi in a small country community. There is an excellent introduction by Roger Oppenheim, but other than this no words are used, and none are needed. The pictures are strong and sensitive; they speak with realism and true feeling. M.O.

A Treasury of Maori Folklore

The purpose of this book is, in the author's words, ‘to put into simple, connected narrative form, and in a logical sequence of categories, the major legends and beliefs, with their more important variants, and thus to provide a volume of straightforward reading and easy reference’. This is a task which badly needed doing, and it is one which ‘A Treasury of Maori Folklore’ performs most successfully. It does not attempt to provide a complete collection; this would, of course, have been quite impossible to do. But it gives a remarkably comprehensive selection, told with clarity, a wealth of detail, and a minimum of theorising. As the author so rightly notes, ‘more can be learned about a super-normal creature such as the taniwha by reading stories of taniwhabaiting than by theorising on the origin of this strange belief’.

The book is intended for the general reader. It is the result of much research, and is a considerably more ambitious volume than Mr Reed's earlier best-seller, ‘Myths and Legends of Maoriland’. This previous book was perhaps of especial value to children, but ‘A Treasury of Maori Folklore’ will probably be of most interest to adults (though bright children will also read it avidly). In recent years many of the books dealing with Maori mythology and legends have been intended for children, while others have been so superficial, and so badly written, that no-one with any real interest in the subject could be satisfied with them. It is an excellent thing to have at last a comprehensive collection designed for the serious reader who is not a specialist.

It may be of interest to list the main chapter headings of this massive collection, as they give one an idea of the way in which the material has been organised. The headings are: Creation, The Maori Pantheon, Overworlds and Underworlds, the Maui Cycle, The Tawhaki Cycle, Tribal Atua, Patupaiarehe and Ponaturi, Supernatural Beings, Giants and Giant Birds, Taniwha, Legends of Earth, Legends of Ocean, Legends of the Sky, The Tohunga and Makutu, Legends of Love and Endurance.

Some of the folk tales in the collection are composite in character, the narrative having been built up from different versions. This method has its dangers, of which the author is well aware, but in a collection intended for the general reader it is probably the best way of coping with the problem. When strongly contradictory versions of legends exist, this is explained in footnotes.

A good bibliography is provided, but except in the case of contradictory variants, the sources of individual tales are not usually given. It is a pity that it was not possible to provide this information, as one is left with no way of finding the original sources of the story.

An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Maori Life

This attractive book, written by the same author as the one reviewed above, is a simple, comprehensive reference work dealing with Pre-Pakeha Maori culture. Its 675 major

– 57 –

entries are arranged alphabetically, with many cross-references to related subjects and alternative headings. The ease of reference provided in this way, together with the book's very extensive illustrations and simple style, will make it invaluable for children and teachers. The strong binding and easily readable type are further advantages.

The author, A. W. Reed, is generously donating all royalties earned by the book to the Maori Education Foundation.

Just Cooking, Thanks

Anyone who appreciates sea-food—pretty well everyone, that is—will be interested in this comprehensive guide to cooking sea-foods of all kinds. Noel Holmes' recipes include the old and the new; he quotes the traditional Maori methods with a proper respect, but also gives some recipes calling for such non-traditional ingredients as garlic, wine and spices. His enthusiasm is catching; a few moments with this book, and I defy you not to feel hungry.