TE RANGI HIROA
The Life of Sir Peter Buck
In the short roll of New Zealand notables, the name of Te Rangi Hiroa must occupy a prominent place for he was a man of heroic stature. On his last visit to New Zealand in 1949, at the time of his death and when his ashes were laid in their final resting-place at Okoki, in north Taranaki, our leading politicians, scientists and Maori chiefs paid tribute to him. These tributes were a measure of his ability and quality both as man and research scientist. Prior to the publication of Professor Condliffe's fine full-length biography of Te Rangi Hiroa, the tribute to him which I liked best was paid by Peter Fraser, Prime Minister and Minister of Maori Affairs, when he contributed a foreword to The Coming of the Maori: “Sir Peter Buck is recognized throughout the world of science as an ethnologist of the highest standing. He is one of New Zealand's greatest sons. He stands as high in his own field as did Lord Rutherford in physics, Dr Cockayne in botany, or Sir Truby King in the promotion of the health of mothers and children.”
The Maori people have had many great leaders but they have produced no greater scholar than Te Rangi Hiroa, who was, incidentally, a leader in action as well as in thought. The success story of this Irish Maori, as Professor Condliffe calls him in the first line of his book, reads more like a romance than a sober recital of historical facts. Born in very humble circumstances, he might easily have passed his days cutting scrub or fencing on the sheep station where he was employed in his early teens, with his Irish father, had he not very determinedly sought admission to Te Aute and then to the medical school of the University of Otago, where he qualified for service in wider spheres. In his adult post-graduate career, he became in turn a physician, a Maori member of Parliament and, for a short time, a Minister of the Crown, a medical officer and second-in-command of the Maori Battalion in the First World War, an ethnologist on the staff of the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Professor of Anthropology at Yale University and Director of the Bishop Museum. It was little wonder that Yale University “with veneration and affection” conferred upon him a doctorate of Science and in the formal citation addressed him: “First among those who know the peoples and cultures of the Polynesian world; medical doctor, warrior, and statesman, ethnologist, author and poet; Te Rangi Hiroa, through your wisdom and greatness of heart you have brought many races of men to understanding and peace.”
Obviously, this outstanding man's life warranted a full-length biographical study. In 1954 the Department of Maori Affairs published a short ‘Memoir’, written to commemorate the unveiling of the memorial at Urenui. The author, Eric Ramsden, had been engaged for nearly four years on the collecting of information for a definitive biography. The work now under review contains one chapter and three appendices by Ramsden. These chapters owe much to Te Rangi Hiroa's own writing, taken either from his letters or from notes he had assembled for an autobiography. One appendix, “The Irish Bucks”, gives full details concerning Sir Peter's father's people, several of whom were scholars. Fellows of Trinity College, Dublin, clergymen, artists or engineers. Another traces Te Rangi Hipoa's Maori ancestry in detail. It was no less distinguished than his Irish. The chapter, “She who was Cloudless”, expands on the Maori family background and concentrates on Kapuakore, the woman whom Te Rangi Hiroa knew as his grandmother and his ‘kuia’. the woman who told him so much about the legends and history of the Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga people from whom he was descended. She also enthused him with a yearning to learn more and more about the past achievements of his Maori
people. The 38 pages of the third Ramsden appendix, “Mangarevan Journey”, give a fascinating account of the ethnologist at work in the field. Te Rangi Hiroa used this particular ‘journey’ to good effect when writing a scientific treatise as well as the chapter “On the Trail of the Rising Sun” in his popular Vikings of the Sunrise.
But Eric Ramsden died in 1962 and Professor Ernest Beaglehole, who was to have continued the work, died in 1965. Subsequently, Professor J. B. Condliffe, who had known Te Rangi Hiroa for over thirty years and had been a colleague at Yale, took up the task as ‘a labour of love’. The resulting book is, in the author's own words, “rather a personal tribute to an old friend than an essay in biography, and certainly not an ethnological treatise”. It is none the worse on that account and, while some fuller and more up-to-date assessment of Te Rangi Hiroa's ethnological findings may well be required, this book will answer most questions concerning the man himself. It certainly meets most of the requirements for the life of its subject, without attempting to go into detail concerning the times in which he lived.
As Te Rangi Hiroa himself asserted, he was binominial, bilingual and the inheritor of a mixture of two bloods which he would not have changed “for a total of either”. Nevertheless, Professor Condliffe shows that his hero took particular pride in his Maori background, in his service to the Maori people as the Director of Maori Hygiene in the New Zealand Health Department and as the Member of Parliament for Northern Maori. During those years he strove to learn all he could about the history, the customs and the ceremonial of the Maori and later to put on record all that could be learned about the material culture both of the Maori of New Zealand and of his Polynesian relations in the many islands of the South Pacific. As a medical student he wrote a Public Health thesis in which he called for an understanding of the psychological factors at work among the Maori, and for patience and forbearance in the treatment
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of a people undergoing the more or less traumatic experience of adapting to the demands of an alien civilization. On occasion, he could explode with anger or criticize the Pakeha attempt to impose unaccustomed or impossible burdens on his Polynesian brethren: “The lazy Polynesian is a myth created by members of a different culture because the Polynesians will not do everything the other requires”. Condliffe claims that Te Rangi Hiroa's study of the Polynesian past and the material culture of a pre-European era was the product of his concern for the Polynesians in the present. “Over and over, Buck and Ngata stressed pride of race, which implied pride in the past achievements of the race. They built their plans for racial survival and progress not on rejection of an inferior past, but on a proud demonstration that the Maori had much to contribute to the life of New Zealand—the Polynesian past was a great history of achievement”. Similarly, Condliffe shares the views of various anthropologists that the value of Buck's material culture studies was not to
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provide information of interest to antiquarians but rather to set up “bench-marks from which change can be measured and its significance assessed”. Today, the Polynesian remains a Polynesian but, with the help of Sir Peter Buck's work, the degree and the direction of the acculturation which has taken place may be better appreciated.
Practically throughout this book, the author emphasises the importance of the close relationship between Te Rangi Hiroa and Sir Apirana Ngata. Thus, in the chapter “Leadership and Direction”, we find:
“By this time, Te Rangi Hiroa was more than a medical expert. Ngata leant on him more and more. Their intimacy was such that no initiative was launched on which they were not of one mind. Ngata worked to Parliament and in meetings; but Te Rangi Hiroa was the doctor who worked in the villages and won the confidence of his patients. They spoke with one voice and the people learned to trust them.”
Te Rangi Hiroa has referred to Ngata as “the greatest Maori leader of all time”. But, in dealing with the Young Maori Party, Condliffe claims: “Te Rangi Hiroa played a large role in this renascence. He was Ngata's mainstay, with intellect and learning to match his, equally able to gauge the subtleties of the Maori mind in reaction to new challenges, and equally devoted to developing Maori citizenship.”
Te Rangi Hiroa and Ngata corresponded at length during most of the years that the former held his important posts abroad. This book draws attention to the very great importance of this correspondence. While it is good to know that it is housed and available to research students in the Turnbull Library, Wellington, the hope Mr J. M. McEwen expressed in his foreword that it should be published in full may well be echoed and applauded. The extracts from that correspondence quoted in this biography certainly whet the appetite for more.
In one of his letters of March 1936 Ngata urged Te Rangi Hiroa not to hold the gift of imagination too tightly in leash, saying, “In the next few years it will have its way and not till then will the world realise what
a treasure it is to have wit, humour, an inherited talent for narration playing brilliantly about data organised in a scientific and masterly manner.” Perhaps—this is not made clear—The Vikings of the Sunrise, which appeared two years later, was the result. At any rate, as Condliffe stresses, Te Rangi Hiroa “was a good raconteur and had an unending fund of stories to tell”.
Perhaps at this point the reviewer could slip in a reminiscence of his own. I recall with pleasure hearing Te Rangi Hiroa lecture in 1935 in the Otago Museum. With characteristic tact and charm, he began by paying tribute to those who had assisted in his education at the University of Otago. He did this by reciting the ancient Maori greeting of the dawn by the sentry who had kept guard over the sleeping pa and then the English translation, the one given at the conclusion to the chapter on “The Economic Status of the Maoris” in J. B. Condliffe's economic history, New Zealand in the Making:
“The night is dark and long,
The young sleep and dream their dreams,
In the minds of the old is doubt, trouble, and fear,
Long and dark is the night, but its hour draws to a close,
Behold it is dawn, it is dawn, it is day.”
For himself, he claimed with pleasing flattery, it had been night before he came to Dunedin, but then he had witnessed the dawn of a new day and all was light. Interestingly enough, in June 1951, Te Rangi Hiroa wrote to Eric Ramsden telling him how he had recited the same “piki mai” chant when called on to respond on behalf of the 25 recipients of honorary degrees at Yale. This had enabled him to make play with Yale's motto, “Lux et Veritas” (Light and Truth), before giving the translation of his chant, which “referred to the long night of darkness and ignorance which was ended by the coming of dawn and the light of knowledge”. In the “Memoir” already mentioned, Ramsden also mentions that Te Rangi Hiroa chanted his favourite “piki mai” chant for the last time at a medical conference held in Honolulu in November 1951, a month before his death.
The other memory which lingers with me concerns the manner in which Te Rangi Hiroa lauded the way his European wife, Margaret, looked after all the travel arrangements and all the administrative details which ensured that he was in the right place at the right time and in good shape. With a reference back to his Army career, he said, “She is my Adjutant, my Quartermaster and my Transport Officer all in one”. From Professor Condliffe's account, it is clear that Mrs Buck had psychological and other problems in later years and became ‘a problem drinker’. In the years up to the Second World War at least, she was an indispensable member of the partnership and this should perhaps be set against the distressing details of the years of decline.
In view of the general excellence and the warm human appeal of his book, it may appear churlish to mention a few unimportant mistakes but, in case a second edition is contemplated, I list some which could be easily corrected. On the last line of page 29, the word ‘student’ would make much better sense than ‘study’. In footnote 5 on page 76, ‘Heintson’ should read ‘Hewitson’. On page 221, the reference to Lord Freyberg as ‘New Zealand-born’ is incorrect as he was born in Richmond, Surrey, England on March 21, 1889. On page 259, Ramsden's account of the massacre at Tuturau which ended Te Puoho's raid appears to exaggerate the number killed.
“Dedicated to the Memory of Te Rangi Hiroa and Apirana Turupa Ngata and to the Young Maoris who will Voyage into Te Ao Hou”, this biography will serve to keep the memory of two great Maoris alive for generations to come. It will be treasured
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by those who knew Te Rangi Hiroa personally or even by repute. It should be read widely by Maori and Pakeha alike. Let us in conclusion join Mr McEwen in hoping that “many young Polynesians will gain inspiration from the story it tells”, and that we shall soon witness the dawn of the brighter and better day for which Te Rangi Hiroa and Apirana Ngata worked.
TUHOE: The Children of the Mist
What a pleasure it is to see again the familiar dust wrapper design (though in an undistinguished colour) of the greatest of our Maori tribal histories in this reissue for the Polynesian Society. It is the most important because it was collected and compiled by our greatest field ethnologist, from the personal communications of distinguished elders of Tuhoe and related tribes who had acquired their knowledge in the traditional way in the Whare Wananga, and who were actively concerned to see that knowledge was safely recorded.
I am not competent to review critically the substance of this volume, and I do not think there is anyone alive who could do so. My friends of Tuhoe recognise the work as authoritative and use it themselves for the teaching of the younger generation. The Tuhoe Maori Trust Board has bought numerous copies for presentation and other purposes. Of course there are matters on which some families have received from their forbears a differing version from that recorded by Best. As the proverb says: “Ehara i te tangata kotahi ano i oho ai i nehera” (there was more than one man awake in the times of old). This book contains all that could be learned about Tuhoe and associated Mataatua tribes by a skilled and enthuiastic worker dealing at close quarters over many years with the recognised experts of the district. It comprises just about every possible aspect of tribal knowledge as is set out in the long subtitle, ‘A Sketch of the origin, history, myths and beliefs of the Tuhoe tribe of the Maoris of New Zealand, with some account of the early tribes of the Bay of Plenty.’
As to the form of the book, there are times when in trying to track down some particular matter or event, one feels a danger of becoming lost in the complicated details of the different hapu histories. But this cannot be avoided. Certainly the book with its incorporated whakapapa is cast in a traditionally Maori form. If one has the dedication and can get access to Volume II (which I understand it is not intended to reprint) one can cross check persons and times in the great genealogical lattices contained in that volume.
There is today a tendency abroad to sneer at Best's ethnological work. It is true that some of his writing is inclined to a degree of grandiloquence unfamiliar to modern ears. It is also rather unfashionable perhaps in that it is forthright and clear and entirely free of the ‘barbarous neologisms’ with which modern ethnographers and anthropologists so often seem to discourage the general reader from participating in their thoughts. It must also be admitted (though it has no relation to the present work) that Best accepted some of the Te Matorohanga material which is now generally considered to have been much embroidered by some of those through whose hands it passed. But these points are relatively small ones. Best has stacked up in his works a pile of the riches of Maori knowledge which will serve for centuries as a quarry for lesser men. One may be sure that Sir Apirana did not give lightly the testimonial to Best's knowledge of Maori matters which is recorded on the jacket flap of this book.
Tuhoe is an essential book for any library which pretends to a reasonable New Zealand section. It is good reading for anyone at all interested in New Zealand history and the New Zealand Maori. Any member of Tuhoe or of other Mataatua tribes must read this and, if he possibly can, own it.