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No. 67 (July 1969)
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Teaching of Maori Language
In New Zealand Schools

The pre-European Maori of New Zealand would have thought of himself as a person in a group and this group identity as being associated with an area of land, a fixed and permanent locality relationship. Thus ‘identity’ to the Maori was not a matter of name, appearance, personality or wealth, but a matter of land.

This fundamental ‘first relationship’ of Maori culture was tightly woven into every aspect of social and economic organisation. At public gatherings there were two groups of people, the ‘manuhiri’ — visitors, and the ‘tangata whenua’, literally, the ‘people of the land’, or local folk. At a Maori gathering of any significance today, these are still the common terms of reference, though subtly changed in meaning.

Alienation from Land

The coming of the European alienated the Maori from his land at increasing speed, culminating in the wars of the 1860s. By the end of this confused conflict in which Europeans fought on one side while Maoris fought on both, the Maori people had been effectively separated from all but a few scattered and relatively inhospitable tracts of land.

The most obvious loss has been the economic one, which should not be dismissed as unimportant, as it prevented the Maori from continuing the development of suitable areas (in terms of 19th Century farm technology) for European type farming, an activity which he had begun to carry out on a large scale before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.

Serious as this economic impoverishment was when it occurred, a more subtle but in the long term more serious loss for the Maori people has been that of individual and group identity which was taken away with the land. It is quite reasonable (at any rate to the European) to contend that the contact with European culture has brought many compensations to the Maori for the loss of his land. Many opportunities apparently exist which his own culture could not provide; greater awareness of the outside world, a marked increase in the volume of material goods, personal independence, relatively greater security; these four would no doubt be high on any list compiled by a European.

Need for an Identity

Readily available and frequently quoted statistics indicate very strongly, however, that the majority of Maori people are unable to take advantage of these opportunities. It is axiomatic that as human beings we cannot grasp that with which we cannot identify, and during the 20th Century the Maori has made clearly recognisable and (for the majority) unavailing struggles for an identity in New Zealand.

There seem to be three discernable elements in this struggle. The first is the individual one, in which unusually gifted, or influential Maoris have sought achievement in the European world — as doctors, priests, political careerists, entertainers. For obvious reasons this solution is open to only a very small minority, and it is of no great significance to the Maori people as a whole. Another expression of the struggle has been the military one. In this country's 20th Century wars, there has been not so much a bond of common purpose between Maori and European, as an attempt to find a group identity in the Maori Battalion. This, one can only hope, offers no answer for the future, and in any case is of only transient value. For the great majority (until the last decade over 80%) of Maoris the solution has been to cling to the few remaining ‘refuge’ areas of Maori land, a ‘harking back’ or reversion to traditional identity. This effectively isolates them from the advantage of European society, while at the same time they are prevented, for a great variety of

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reasons, from living a complete life in terms of their pre-European society. In any case, it is unlikely that many of them want to return to their old ways.

The recent increase in the urban proportion of the Maori population is a further expression of the first, or individual struggle. This partly explains the tendency for Maoris to gravitate towards the lower echelons of the employment scale where it is easier to remain in identity groups.

The foregoing remarks suggest that the need at this time is for the Maori to develop a sense of individual identity as a New Zealander; not a ‘partner’ or a ‘neighbour’, or any other high-sounding term which may be used to ensure his remaining outside the main stream of New Zealand society, but simply a New Zealander with nothing special about him. At the risk of stating the obvious, one may add that he can only achieve a proper state of anonymity if he ‘feels’ that he is a New Zealander in this desirable sense.

This implies that if it does not want the Maori to assume the identity of a socially inferior minority living either as a depressed rural, or as an urban ghetto dweller, with all the attendant evils of affronted human dignity, crime, poor health and expensive policing, the European majority group must create and accept conditions with which the Maori can identify himself. ‘Tolerance’ will not do for either side. Integration if it means anything at all, must mean that all the guests bring something to the party. Discussion must be centred around what each should bring, partly that it may be valuable to all, and partly that the contributor may feel that his contribution is more than a mere token.

Language is Central

Language, as the basic means through which humans communicate, is central to culture. Its transmission embodies a major contribution and a major acceptance. It makes possible a level of understanding and appreciation for which there is no real substitute. The introduction of the Maori language for all pupils in New Zealand schools would of necessity be a fairly slow process, and like other subjects it would cost money, but for a variety of reasons, it would be a great boon.

The establishment of the Maori language as an integral part of New Zealand's national culture would ensure the full integration of the Maori people too, such is the vital position of language in human affairs. It would at the same time transmit the richness of Maori culture to our national character, thus strengthening it and broadening its base. We are frequently urged through our popular press that ‘New Zealand has a future in the Pacific’, and at any one time there are up to ten thousand Pacific Islanders in this country. These people have the closest ties of language and culture with the Maori people and it is not difficult to understand them if one speaks Maori. All Polynesian populations are increasing, are developing their countries, and have gained or are in the process of gaining their independence. It is obviously of importance for New Zealand to establish the best possible rapport with them. Appreciation based on real understanding is the essential in achieving this.

A National Asset

It may be argued that the Maori people, as the largest existing Polynesian group, are entitled to some recognition of their language and culture as a matter of good manners. It may even be suggested by sentimentalists that what the Maori has, is worth ‘preserving’ for its beauty and interest, but the European New Zealander has demonstrated pretty conclusively that he is unlikely to be impressed by any such pious pleas.

The case for the Maori langauge must be that it is a national asset. It will adorn and enrich our nation, and link us more closely with our Pacific neighbours. Lastly there is the cold and disquieting fact that the Maori does not feel at ease among Europeans. In a negative sense he is compelled to remain aloof in order to preserve some vestige of cultural identity, and as education, employment, residential and crime statistics show, he is manifesting all the signs of a withdrawn and therefore deprived minority, of increasing size. Such minority groups are proving expensive in many countries. It would be cheaper, and even perhaps more interesting, to learn his language and thereby make his acquaintance while there is still a little time.