NEW ZEALAND RACE
… How Much is just ‘Good Luck’?
It is very easy for New Zealanders to get a little smug on the subject of their race relationships; especially the Pakeha! Every now and again some visitor from overseas gets reported in our newspapers making favourable comments. For instance, Billy Graham, on his recent tour, congratulated this country on its achievement in this field. Coming, as most of these people do, from places where racial violence has often reached fever pitch, our local scene probably looks almost too good to be true … but just how much credit, if any, do we really deserve? How much is just luck? How much is really a legacy from the past? And how much is primarily due to the Maori people themselves? Let us have a look at some of the main historical factors involved.
In the first place, the Maori race has had the ‘good luck’ … or whatever you like to call it … to be of the same basic Caucasian European stock as the Pakeha. A little ‘coloured’ blood got mixed in along the way; but by and large the Maori is not very different. In fact, many are not even dark enough to be recognised as such, once their behaviour patterns have become thoroughly westernised.
Probably the most important piece of ‘good luck’ has been the fact of small numbers. At their lowest economic and social ebb in the 1880s, the Maori people numbered only about 42,000. This had at least two very far reaching results. When men like Pomare and Buck began their great campaign for social improvement in the 1890s, their task was, geographically speaking, a manageable one. Similarly, in the 1930s, when social security was first intro-
duced, small numbers again made it effective for the Maori as well as the Pakeha. This was no small achievement, as any Nixonian administrator of America's ‘Medicare’ would quickly admit. This same factor has applied to every reforming movement before or since. Now there are 200,000 and the hardest work may well be over.
The second main factor in this racial situation is the great legacy we have received from the past. Whatever our personal opinions might be about Christian Missions, the first fifty years of the last century was dominated by their influence. By 1850 virtually all Maoris were Christians, and according to British Military Reports, often far better ones than their teachers. The same influence was behind the Treaty of Wai-tangi, which, despite all its limitations and abuses, at least provided a framework to restrain Pakeha greed and redress grievances. Coupled with the fact that Maori Christians were often acting from higher motives, the long-term effect of the Treaty and the Maori Wars, was to leave some Pakehas with a good healthy residue of genuine guilt. This has often been reflected in Parlimentary legislation; particularly in the Royal Commission of 1926. The inspiration, however, for these actions has come from the past … from the example of Christian missionaries and Christian Maoris.
Finally, there is the Maori himself. There is in this people an essential quality that is hard to define. It is basically spiritual. Some might argue it is natural intelligence; but there is no evidence to show he has any more of that than … say … the American negro. Others will emphasise the factors of ‘good luck’ and ethnic background; that small numbers and geography enable them to learn their lessons more quickly. Yet surely, the greatest effort must have come from their own inner resources … just as it does with everyone else who makes a little progress in good living. Here again, it may have been their early conversion to Christianity. Out of the disillusion that followed the tragedy of the Maori Wars, there rose up a number of religious movements … most notably the King Movement, Ringatu, and later, Ratana. Although many people would perhaps dispute the claim, these movements were basically Christian … but with a fundmental Maori twist. At the same time, through the influence of several Maori schools, notably Te Aute, there grew up what come to be known as the ‘Young Maori’ movement. These two streams, one flowing among the best educated, the other among the rank and file, restored to the Maori his lost soul. Slowly, painstakingly, he has regained an identity … something to be proud of and on which he could build. It is no accident that so-called ‘Maori Culture’ so beloved of concert groups, is nearly all a post nineteenth century phenomenon.
This is precisely where the American negro has failed to a large degree. Among them, religion became an escape method. Here it brought dynamic leadership and social action. There, the negro's inner resources are often wasted in searching for ‘Soul Brothers’ or in ‘African Studies’. Here, the Maori has been able to move into the cities on the tide of Urban Drift, and, to some extent at least, take on the Pakeha at his own game … earning a living and raising a family.
Some good luck on the part of Providence. Some goodwill from men of the past … and the Maori himself … and most of the factors involved in the relative harmony of our race relations have been accounted for. If this generation is going to deserve any of the credit, it will depend on how they handle the completely new situation now unfolding in our cities. There again more will probably depend on the Maori's own efforts than anything the Pakeha might do … and again the Maori will deserve the credit!