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No. 54 (March 1966)
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BOOKS

A Book on Taranaki History

The late John Houston, the author of this valuable book on the Maori history of the Taranaki district, was for 30 years a student and recorder of Maori history and lore. ‘Maori Life in Old Taranaki’ brings together the articles which he wrote over many years; it was edited posthumously by Mr C. R. H. Taylor, formerly Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

We owe John Houston, and also Mr Taylor, a debt of gratitude for this work; it is a book which those interested in the preservation of Maori history will certainly wish to own.

The book gives the reader glimpses of pre-European days, and touches upon various aspects of the period of early settlement, the conflicts, and subsequent events that today are of historical importance.

I was especially interested in three of the subjects discussed: Parihaka, where I grew up, the great siege of Te Namu pa in 1833, and Titokowaru, a great chief and fighter of whom my elders spoke with great awe.

The author tells us that the following saying, which he attributes to Te Whiti, is the explanation of Te Whiti's doctrine:

‘I have no money. I never had any. I only want my land.’

However Te Whiti's doctrine had many aspects, and it cannot be summarized so easily. It is true that he was mainly concerned with land, but this was only because of the ‘land question’ brought about by the European administrators' determination to acquire these lands for the new settlers, whether by fair means or foul—and in the case of the occupation of Parihaka, their methods were mainly foul.

If one looks for a single underlying philosophy in Te Whiti's teachings, it is surely to be found in his proclamation of peace, his determination that there should be negotiation without bloodshed, and his teaching of passive resistance, symbolized by the white feather worn by his followers.

Mr Houston says that many ‘disaffected’ Maoris assembled at Parihaka, and that it had become ‘a centre of unrest’. This may convey an element of the truth, but the situation needs to be viewed in a wider context. Te Whiti's doctrine was similar to that which Ghandi of India taught his followers, and to the methods now employed by Martin Luther King in America.

It was clear that force was going to be used to make the people give up their land. Hence they came to Parihaka as dissenters. But they also came, it seems to me, in order to obtain the emotional and psychological strength which would help them to face the inevitable. They were a people beset by pressures from the dominant culture which reduced their dignity as individuals. Te Whiti gave them new hope and dignity, for to them, he had more than natural powers.

The book's account of the army's assault and occupation of Parihaka is very tame. The facts are available—including the facts as to the treatment of the Maori women — and history's function is to report facts, not to water them down with evasive expressions such as ‘seems’ and ‘appears’.

Like the Parihaka Incident, the siege of Te Namu in 1833 can be seen as the story of the valiant few opposed by great odds. This time it was a war party from the Waikato which tried to dispossess Wiremu Kingi Matakatea and his people of their land. The Waikato warriors had muskets, but the Taranaki people had only one musket and their Maori weapons.

For a month the Waikato laid siege to Te Namu pa. Several times they came close to the palisades, but each time they were hurled back by boulders thrown from high stages. Finally the Waikato retreated, pursued by the warriors of Te Namu. The credit for this rout went to the priest Te Iho o te Rangi who with his brother priests had throughout the siege intoned potent karakia to the old gods of New Zealand.

Though separated in time and place, the people both of Te Namu and Parihaka in the time of the greatest threat to their survival relied both on human endurance and on supernatural force.

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Personally I should have liked to see far more included on Titokowaru; as it is his deeds are scattered throughout the book. He fought under Makatea in the victory over the Waikato at Waimate, and his mana was later increased by his success against the Pakehas, which forced the intruders to abandon the entire district north of the Patea river. He also supported Te Whiti at Parihaka, though this fact is not mentioned here. Titokowaru's whole life and philosophy, and his indomitable spirit, is expressed in his saying quoted in this book:

‘E kore ahau e mate; kaore ahau e mate. Ka mate ano te mate, ka ora ano ahau.’

‘I shall not die; I shall not die. When death itself shall be dead, I shall be alive.’

Rata

This book, published with the aid of the New Zealand Literary Fund, is about a half-caste child, Rata, who is an orphan.

Since her mother died Rata has lived in a succession of ‘foster’ homes, and we find her undergoing life with the well-meaning but rather dull Miss Carter. Rata finally finds this frugal existence impossible, and she decides that she will go back to the pa where her mother grew up. Surely someone there will love her and give her some fun. For Rata is a child, and just like any other child, she wants and needs love. So off she runs and finds a sort of happiness amongst her Maori people. However after a time she realises that she does not belong to the pa, and that she must go back to the realistic world of Miss Carter.

I understand that she goes back. Why, I don't know, because there is certainly nothing in the book which shows that she should. (If I were Rata, I'd have been tempted to stay at the pa.)

Mrs Holden has written a book about a child who is neither one thing nor the other …. like myself she is neither Maori nor Pakeha.

Many Pakehas today speak with a sort of envy about how fortunate Maoris are to belong to something; have something to go back to, to hold on to—and yet in the same breath they decry the fact that Maoris are not taking their rightful place in the community. The rather rootless existence of many Maoris today becomes an increasing social problem. If Rata had not gone back to the ‘right’ world of Miss Carter, perhaps she would have had such an existence.

I did not particularly like ‘Rata’, and it is difficult to say why. I do not know whether it is an adult children's book, or a childish adult's book.

I believe almost every person has at least one book in them — perhaps this was Mrs Holden's. I hope not, for I feel that amongst all the well-meaning words written about Rata the child, there is promise of a better book, perhaps written about something or someone other than Maoris.

Doctor Smith

This is a biography of the famous Dr G. M. Smith, Hokianga's ‘King of the North’, who gave up a promising career as a surgeon to practice for 34 years in isolated Rawene. He was a significant figure in the development of social security in medicine, and under him Rawene medical services became for many people an ideal of the way social security care should develop.

A humane and gifted man, he could also be fiercely individualistic and intolerant of opposition. Dr Kemble Welch's account of his life has both sympathy and detachment, and is written with such lively intelligence that even those with no knowledge of his subject will enjoy this portrait of an extraordinary individual and the times in which he lived.

M.O.