The Colour of Our Country
Shall the lily scorn the rose where it blows, richly red? Shall the rose in profusion trammel the lily, or itself he eaten back with a canker deep within its heart?
Have we a colour problem in New Zealand? Indeed we have a problem. How unnatural the garden that has no problem, no need for an adaptation of soil and climate, of tending and pruning, or nurturing and weeding. But does our problem include the specific one of colour or do we use the colour-problem as an easy alibi for neglecting our true responsibilities, so that we tend to adopt a laissezfaire attitude towards our gardens.
The Great Gardener has set them side by side, the fair-skinned and the dark; one temperamentally austere, rigid within a pattern of tradition that stems from 19th century England, from Puritan and Christian, from rules and regulations, from factories and financiers; the other flowing free, graced by the rich symbolism of primeval forces.
Cultivated and cherished they will grow side by side, complementary in colour, wise with the wisdom of the west, permeated by the poetry of Polynesia.
But who shall tend them, who shall guide them? Who search the problem and seek its solution?
In the past the dignity and courage of the Maori warriors forced the white settlers to acknowledge that here was no uncouth primitive but a race of people of moral stature that commanded respect; and beyond the selfishness and greed and the enmity of the Pakeha there shone the light of justice, truthfulness and duty which inspired the confidence of the Maori and so tolerance was born from mutual appreciation.
Isolated from comparative communities, the establishment of harmony proceded unhindered in its new-born pattern within these Pacific islands. From time to time adjustments were urged, argued and amicably arranged. Life slipped easily, slowly by, the daily adaptations of living being unconsciously absorbed by both Pakeha and Maori.
Then suddenly, in a threat to their mutual homeland, dark skinned and fair, they stood steadfastly side by side. Twice they were called to test their loyalties, twice they responded.
But a breach had been made in the protecting walls of the garden. The occasional pest of the past was superseded by an avalanche of mud that has besmirched the lily and clogged the rose.
Even the Pakeha, conditioned by inherent training to adjusting quickly to changing patterns of life has had difficulty in maintaining his standards; has, in too many instances, been overwhelmed by the speed and mechanisation of the daily rhythm, by the wealth and abundancy of a synthetic society and by the overthrow of old behaviour patterns.
The Maori, still moving gently, with dignity, towards the older standards, has been caught ruthlessly and violently between two opposing worlds.
Centuries have been telescoped into two generations; there has been no time to clear back the weeds, to prune the rose or rescue the lily. The barbaric and the primitive are rising to oust the orderliness, the stateliness and perhaps the too extensive rigidity of a former age.
The young Maori, dazed and disrupted, as has been his Pakeha counterpart, has followed the glow-worm lights that lead through dark channels to the cavern of the towns. He stumbles and falls—he cries out in anger. His white mate, bludgeoning forward, lends no hand; he, too, staggers on amidst the rocks and boulders that beset his path. The elders of the tribes have deserted their young. They are themselves too busy pressing on and upward towards the myriad tantalising lights that glow so richly for their picking and dissolve so swiftly at their touch.
Pakeha! You, with all your centries of living in the cities of the old world—you are finding problems in living in the cities of today. Your sons and daughters are facing problems you never knew in your youth, and not always finding the right answers. Can you shrug your shoulders and forget the plight of youth? Do you sit in your garden, in the luxury of the sun or beneath the glamour of
your man-made stars, while the weeds throttle your most precious plants? Do you really believe that youth is being ‘cherished and cultivated’ as is their right? Or are they being left very much to fend for themselves, to sink or swim—and too often it is to sink—amidst the loneliness and dross of some trashy white-woman's ‘bed-sitter without meals’. And when it is the Maori, easy-going and ill-equipped who falls victim to undesirable elements, do you read with a hint of haughty scorn that ‘the crime rate among Maoris grows at an alarming pace’. Could it be that the frost-nip of fear startles you into an awareness of the profusion of the rose so that—within the shelted of your garden—you arrogantly proclaim, ‘the colour's running wild—there'll always be trouble with these young Maoris' while, leaning on your garden gate, you tell the passerby that ‘everything's fine here—I have no problems—everything's equal in my garden’.
Get up out of your chair, take your arm off the garden gate—and get to work! Build some good homes for your Maori youth—and for your own children who must come to the cities. Good hostels with community centres and educational facilities and room to accommodate some of the elders of the tribes. You can run up, very quickly, a new state office complete with all modern devices for yourself; be as urgent in the provision of housing for the young. And provide the young people with good hard satisfying work, not make-shift easy-money dead-end jobs. And withal, exchange one large quota of haughty indifference with but one small quota of humanity.
And Maori friend! Remember, white is not always right. Some of New Zealand's Pakeha youth are a travesty on our heritage; they have bespoiled our culture, they sicken the soil of our homeland. Do not imitate them. You who of yourselves have a nobility and dignity, a rare and precious culture of your own, hold fast to your ideals; teach your own youth to maintain those standards that we can respect—teach them that they may also be teachers of the Pakehas, that we may know the full richness of your language and your tribal life.
Understanding and mutual interest, tolerance and forbearance are the tools that will bring our garden to full fruitfulness. With or without a certain pigmentation of skin we would not expect two persons or two families of widely diverse interests necessarily to become completely absorbed in one another. Racial background, home environment, hereditary capacities, schooling, social interests—these are the points of contact, these the points on which problems are poised.
Colour is but the flame which, used with discretion, can burn the weeds, but used in passion and anger will destroy the garden and the home.