Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Describing Maori to allay the fears of potential immigrants

I am off on a tangent again. Supposed to be researching another subject, I am distracted by matters Maori. This is from the 1990 New Zealand Yearbook:

The ‘native race’

The New Zealand Wars were hardly over when the Vogel period of immigration and public works began.

Many potential immigrants must still have remembered reading of the wars when they weighed up the possibilities of emigrating to New Zealand, and the 1875 Handbook was published largely to attract these immigrants to the new country. However, in allaying fears of warlike Maori, it took liberties which today may well be seen as patronising and based on ignorance. It informed readers that:

As a rule, Maoris are middle-sized and well-formed, the average height of the man being 5 ft. 6 in.; the bodies and arms being longer than those of the average Englishmen, but the leg bones being shorter, and the calves largely developed.* The skin is of an olive-brown colour, and the hair generally black; the teeth are good, except among the tribes who live in the sulphurous regions about the Hot Lakes, near the centre of the North Island; but the eyes are bleared, possibly from the amount of smoke to which they are exposed in “whares,” or cabins, destitute of chimneys. The voice is pleasant, and, when warlike excitement has not roused him to frenzy, every gesture of the Maori is graceful. Nothing can be more dignified than the bearing of chiefs assembled at a “runanga,” or council, and this peculiar composure they preserve when they adopt European habits and custom, always appearing at ease, even in the midst of what would seem a most incongruous assembly. In bodily powers, the Englishman has the advantage. As a carrier of heavy burdens, the native is the superior; but in exercises of strength and endurance, the average Englishman surpasses the average Maori. As to the character of the natives, it must be remembered—if most opposite and contradictory qualities are ascribed to them—that they are in a transition state. Some of the chiefs are with the exception of colour and language, almost Europeans; others conform, when in towns, to the dress and the customs of white men, but resume native ways, and the blanket as the sole garment, as soon as they return to the “kainga,” or native village. The great majority have ideas partly European, partly Maori; while a small section, professing to adhere to old Maori ways, depart from them so far as to buy or to procure articles of European manufacture, whenever they can do so. They are excitable and superstitious, easily worked upon at times by any one who holds the key to their inclinations and who can influence them by appeals to their traditionary legends; while at other times they are obstinate and self willed, whether for good or for evil. As is usual with races that have not a written language, they possess wonderful memories; and when discussing any subject, they cite or refer to precedent after precedent. They are fond of such discussions; for many a Maori is a natural orator, with an easy flow of words, and a delight in allegories which are often highly poetical They are brave, yet are liable to groundless panics. They are by turns open-handed and most liberal, and shamelessly mean and stingy. They have no word or phrase equivalent to gratitude, yet they possess the quality. Grief is with them reduced to a ceremony, and tears are produced at will. In their persons they are slovenly or clean according to humour; and they are fond of finery, chiefly of the gaudiest kind. They are indolent or energetic by turns. During planting time, men women, and children labour energetically; but during the rest of the year they will work or idle as the mood takes them. When they do commence a piece of work, they go through with it well; and in roadmaking they exhibit a fair amount of engineering skill.


JC said...

But perhaps the migrants and visitors weren't so easily fooled.. hears Mark Twain in the 1890s (HT Eric Crampton):

December 8. A couple of curious war-monuments here at Wanganui. One is in honor of white men "who fell in defence of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism." Fanaticism. We Americans are English in blood, English in speech, English in religion, English in the essentials of our governmental system, English in the essentials of our civilization; and so, let us hope, for the honor of the blend, for the honor of the blood, for the honor of the race, that that word got there through lack of heedfulness, and will not be suffered to remain. If you carve it at Thermopylae, or where Winkelried died, or upon Bunker Hill monument, and read it again "who fell in defence of law and order against fanaticism" you will perceive what the word means, and how mischosen it is. Patriotism is Patriotism. Calling it Fanaticism cannot degrade it; nothing can degrade it. Even though it be a political mistake, and a thousand times a political mistake, that does not affect it; it is honorable always honorable, always noble - and privileged to hold its head up and look the nations in the face. It is right to praise these brave white men who fell in the Maori war - they deserve it; but the presence of that word detracts from the dignity of their cause and their deeds, and makes them appear to have spilt their blood in a conflict with ignoble men, men not worthy of that costly sacrifice. But the men were worthy. It was no shame to fight them. They fought for their homes, they fought for their country; they bravely fought and bravely fell; and it would take nothing from the honor of the brave Englishmen who lie under the monument, but add to it, to say that they died in defense of English laws and English homes against men worthy of the sacrifice - the Maori patriots.

The other monument cannot be rectified. Except with dynamite. It is a mistake all through, and a strangely thoughtless one. It is a monument erected by white men to Maoris who fell fighting with the whites and against their own people, in the Maori war. "Sacred to the memory of the brave men who fell on the 14th of May, 1864," etc. On one side are the names of about twenty Maoris. It is not a fancy of mine; the monument exists. I saw it. It is an object-lesson to the rising generation. It invites to treachery, disloyalty, unpatriotism. Its lesson, in frank terms is, "Desert your flag, slay your people, burn their homes, shame your nationality - we honor such."

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Sorry JC. I am lost between Twain's observation and yours. Twain opens referring to a "couple" of war-monuments but talks only about one. You refer to "the other".

Don McKenzie said...

JC If I read you right you would blow up the 2nd monument which has inscribed the names of 20 Maori who were loyal subjects of Queen Victoria and who fought alongside Volunteer settlers defending themselves from rebel Maori? Blowing up a memorial sounds like fanatacism to me.

Psycho Milt said...

Both paragraphs are Twain's. The second one, about the monument to kupapa, is an excellent summing up of what that monument expresses.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Oh I misunderstood.

Anyway I heartily disagree with Twain. Maori had every right to choose who to fight alongside. The brutal inter-tribal warring that went on pre-European times hardly paints a picture of potentially united patriots.

JC said...

Yes, the two paras are by Twain. He does a fine job, I think, of providing us with a slightly more nuanced view of the Maori Wars.


FF said...

Exactly. In the same way Maori are free to memorialise those Pakeha who have stood up for Maori interests.

We are constantly told that ideals, principles or even base self interest should trump tribalism and race,this is an early possibly enlightened example of that.

Anonymous said...

Dear Lindsay I read your column every couple of days. What I would like to know is why are you so obsessed with Maori? Its not just about Maori being in the lowest health statistics, or the highest crime statistics or the highest benefit statistics, you seem to want to get inside them?? You paint pictures of them (do Maori actually pose for you or are the paintings some collective image you bring together) and you are obsessed with blogging about them in the absolute negative - completely one side not balanced at all. If you only spoke to 'debunking the welfare myth' ok but you spread you opinion further. Now you are speaking about history - written history from Pakeha only - as I said not balanced really is it. I ask again - why are you so obsessed with Maori???

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Dunno. My Mum said I was attracted to Maori as a child. My closest friend was Polynesian, but Pacific. We remain good friends in our 50s. My first boyfriend was a Cook Islander. Maybe I'm just drawn to brown people with attractive facial features?

If I blog about Maori statistics negatively it's factual. And I want those stats to disappear. So I track them. The positive things I could write would be personal and off-limits.

Some of the Maori I paint are friends who sit for me and I reciprocate by doing paintings for them, perhaps of their children. Others are my versions of black and white historical photos I dig up from places like the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Generalizing Maori, they fascinate me. The way they have adapted to colonisation over a relatively short space of time. Their cultural collectivism and inner turmoil with individuality. Their musicality, their humour. Their wit. (Oh dear, more stereotypes.) Anyway, the good and the bad.

Obsessed? That might be an exaggeration. Is it wrong to take an especial interest or find a particular race of people attractive? Racist maybe? But wait, I can find examples of Maori people I don't particularly like (on what I see). How about Cindy Kiro and Metiria Turei and Shane Jones?

As for my latest post, as you said it's "opinion". That's all.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Bugger. And I meant to add, thank you for reading.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Lindsay - that spoke volumes in the positive about you! I do read what you say and am very interested. I work for iwi and believe the negative statistics can be changed. Maori have plenty to offer NZ. A lot of the negatives I believe are from low self image, no aspirations, not believing that they can add value in our NZ society, no role models, weakened families and of course the assimilation into the British culture over such a short time. Kia kaha.