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Our New Zealand Cousins
Chapter VI


Traits of native character—The wharepuni or common dormitory—The processes of civilization—Foul feeding —Causes of disease—Attempts at reform in social cus­toms—The primitive carving-knife—The Hau-Haus— The Urewera country, the Tyrol of New Zealand— Captain Mair's description of the hillmen—The Urewera women—Some queer facts—Extraordinary pigs— A .whimsical scene—Then and now, a sharp contrast —A stirring episode of the old war—Snapping of the old links—A Maori chief's letter.

ONE of the most pleasing and prominent traits of the Maori character seems to be their hospitality. All authorities agree on this. My own observa­tions would have led me to the same conclusion. At every village or native resort we have visited, we have had ample evidence that they are a hospitable people. The chief edifice in each village is the wharepuni, literally the common sleeping- place. It is generally adorned with much carved work of the usual grotesque character. The in­mates, which may include half the village, guests, dogs, and even pigs and fowls, lie on either side of a mud passage, each human individual, at any rate, on his or her separate raupo mat, and each enveloped in his or her blanket. Old men and maidens, young men and matrons, alike woo the embraces of Morpheus, indiscriminately mixed and huddled together. This, of course, is not con­ducive to a high standard of either morality or cleanliness. It is well that, according to all the accounts recently of the most credible observers, that things are improving in this respect. Of recent years there has been a marked departure from most of the more objectionable old native customs. Both immorality and drunkenness are much less common than they were. We saw quite enough, however, to convince us that there was yet much room for improvement in both these respects. In most villages there always seems to be a tangi, or feast, in course of proceeding. These may be held at any time. They may be occasions of joy or sorrow. They are invariably a part of all funeral rites, and are held as may be dictated by the financial circumstances of the giver of the feast. Food is supplied in profusion to all comers, and gifts given in such unstinted measure that frequently the giver and his family have to endure actual privation for subsequent months, to make up for the extravagance of the outlay.

Recent years have seen a much more cordial friendliness to Europeans engendered than formerly existed. In the north many road and other con­tracts for public works are now taken up and faithfully carried through by natives. Round the vicinity of Napier and Wanganui, Taranaki, and other centres, partnerships have been formed between Maoris and white settlers; and farms, sheep-runs, saw-mills, and other industries are carried on jointly. The old native dress is giving place to the perhaps less graceful habiliments of modern civilization. The men affect English fashions not only in boots, ties, coats, and dress generally, but in the cut of their whiskers, and their fondness for billiards, horse-racing, whisky, and other so-called luxuries. We saw dozens of Maoris at Napier in their buggies, springcarts, and vehicles of all sorts. A tall belltopper, surmounting a grizzly tattooed visage is quite a common sight in Auckland or Napier.

The Napier natives were much more pleasant- looking, and bore a more well-to-do air than those of Auckland and farther north. At Napier we saw a substantial farmer-looking Maori purchase for I5J-., several hideous masses of stale stingaree or ray fish. It was fly-blown and far advanced in decomposition in parts, and smelt abominably, yet he filled a great sack with the disgusting carrion, and we were told by the vendor that he sold tons of such rank stuff every week to the inland Maoris, and that they liked their fish as some Europeans like their game—rather "high."

This foul feeding is one prolific cause of disease amongst them. Another one is their foolish dis­regard of common precautions against changes of temperature. During the day they dress in European costume ; but in the evening at the whare, they revert to the scanty drapery of savage life, and sit bare-headed and bare-footed round the fires, and often get a chill.

At Wairoa we saw a whare, in which about forty of all sexes and ages sleep every night. Every cranny is shut up. Two fires burn on the earthen floor. The sleeping-room is shared with the domestic animals and vermin-infested pets of the settlement. Every mouth in this huddling human hive holds a pipe. You can imagine the atmosphere. You can imagine the effect on even the hardiest constitution, of a change from this reeking pest-house to the cold crisp air of a New Zealand winter night. No wonder pulmonary diseases and malignant fevers annually claim so many victims. It seems to be pretty certain that the race is decreasing, though not so rapidly as is generally asserted.

A circular has recently been issued by the Defence Minister, the Hon. J. Ballance, urging on the chiefs and headmen to use their influence to alter this mode of life, and to bring about salutary reforms in the sanitary conditions of the pahs, and with especial reference to greater cleanliness in the selection and preparation of food. This circular has already had a beneficial effect. At Waitotara, even as I write, preparations are being made by the local tribes to hold a great tangi to welcome a distinguished visitor in the person of Tito Kovvaru. He was the great fight­ing chief of the war of 1867, but he is now per­ambulating the coast country with a large follow­ing, preaching peace and goodwill to the pakeha, i.e. white man. As a result of Mr. Ballance's circular, strange innovations are being made in the projected feast. A cup, saucer, spoon, knife, fork, and plate have been provided for each antici­pated visitor, and the cookery will all be after the European fashion. The crockery for the different tribes or hapus will all be of different patterns; and when one tries to recall such a feast in the not very olden time, with its accompaniment of war-dance and possibly sodden or roasted human flesh as the piece de resistance, one begins to realize somewhat the mighty change which is now apparent in the character as well as in the physical surroundings of the Maoris after twenty years. At a banquet given to the Duke of Edinburgh during hi» visit, some of the big chiefs were seen by my informant to go into the dining-hall, and each seizing a goose, or turkey, or other fowl, proceeded to carve it in fine old savage fashion by dismember­ing the carcase with teeth and fingers, much as a wolf would have done. These very men now are conversant with silk hats, paper collars, Albert chains, and all the conventionalities of the correct diner-out.

The change is infinitely to the advantage of the noble savage, if, with the conventionalities he could only happily discard the vices and follies of our modern civilization.

I had the good fortune to meet a band of real primitive Maoris at Wairoa. They were Hau-Haus from the Urewera country, and their dress, weapons, and manners were as yet unmodified by European contact. Some years ago Government, for some service or other, had granted the Ure- weras a sum of 5000/., and traders were attracted to the wild and almost inaccessible mountain country. McRae gave us an amusing account of his first trading trip, the recital of which con­vinced us of two things, viz. that the Hau-Haus must have been a very simple, primitive people, with a very hazy idea of values of such goods as shawls, ribbons, beads, and gewgaws generally. And also that McRae's ideas of profits, and the utilization of opportunities of making them, were quite up to the very highest proverbial Aberdonian standard.

We were also fortunate enough to meet at Ohinemutu Captain Mair, who commanded the Arawa contingent of natives during the big war. He has been in constant contact, official and friendly both, with the natives here for about twenty years, and there are perhaps not half-a- dozen men in New Zealand who know as much of native life and manners and customs as he does. He has one of the finest and most complete collections of Maori curios extant, and he was good enough to show us some of his latest acqui­sitions, and to give us much valuable and inte­resting information on this subject.

Urewera, says Captain .Mair, is the Tyrol of New Zealand. It is not very accessible. There are two ways of penetrating the country. One from the coast near Tauranga, the other from the Lake country. The latter route was traversed by Captain Mair during a recent visit. The road is simply the bed of a mountain river called the Horomanga. It may give some idea of the nature of the country, when it is known that the traveller has to cross the bed of this river no less than one hundred and eighty-six times before he reaches the uplands.

The Ureweras are lean, lank, active moun­taineers. They know the country as a bushman knows the run on which he was born and bred, and they often make almost incredible journeys even on the darkest nights, threading the most dangerous defiles with all the agility and sure footedness of a goat. They are industrious, too, and indeed most of the pretty flax mats and bags that one sees exposed for sale in shops and among the Maoris of the plains are made by these moun­taineers.

They are very excitable and emotional. Indeed, the Maori race generally are easily moved by any impulse, and tears and laughter are never hard to excite, according as their feelings are touched. It was among the Ureweras that the Hau-Hau fana­ticism (a strange jumble of Judaistic and Pagan religious fervour) was developed.

Perhaps the most effective proof of their simple unconventionality was contained in Captain Mair's statement that the women make really good mothers-in-law. They invariably back up the son- in-law in domestic broils.

The women are springy, good-looking, and hardy to a degree.

"Do you think the adoption of European dress has an injurious effect on the health of the Maoris?" we asked.

"Undoubtedly. Especially when they adopt some of the more insane devices of fashion to cramp and distort the human frame, high-heeled boots, for instance."

"I can cite one instance of their hardihood," said the captain. "One woman, during a pro­longed and severe march, fell out of the line about nine miles from the destination of her party, for the night. Having given birth to a baby, she walked into the camp the same evening, bearing, in addition to the burden of her newly-born child, a load of firewood, and then she went about her usual work as blithely as if nothing unusual had occurred."

"Similar instances are on record," I said, "among the American Indians, and I have known of like cases among Hindoo coolie women."

"One very strange instance of maternal sympathy," proceeded the captain, "I can vouch for, as it is within my own personal knowledge. One old woman in the Urewera country found herself in milk when her only daughter bore children, and, as the mother could not, this old grand­mother suckled her grandchildren herself, and this occurred six times in succession."

"Is it true," asked one of our party, "as I have read in some books, that the Maori women suckle young pigs ?"

"A gross libel, sir," says the captain. "An offensive traveller's yarn. I have lived among the Maoris more than most white men, and I never yet heard of a case of the sort, either as regards pigs or any other animal. One doctor who came here, and who firmly believed the truth of the common rumour, was indeed in danger of coming to serious bodily harm, because he sent to the settlement to try and get a Maori foster-nurse for a little puppy of a favourite breed whose mother had died."

"Talking of pigs," said our punning friend, "we saw a one-eared pig in Wairoa, and we were won­dering if it was the result of accident or what?"

"Oh, such a sight is common enough in every Maori village. Indeed you often see pigs quite earless. The dogs tear or gnaw them off. On the coast the most extraordinary pigs may be seen. They would puzzle any naturalist not acquainted with the cause. The hind-quarters are quite contracted and atrophied. They are shrunken away to infantile proportions. You see a great massive head and front, with brawny chest and ample shoulders. A pig, indeed, with a front like 'The Albanian boar,' but with the hind-quarters of a sucking pig. The quaint-looking brute rears up like a giraffe. His spine is at an angle of 45° At Whakatane I counted sixteen, all in this condition."

"What is the cause?"

"It is caused by their eating karaka berries. The karaka is the New Zealand laurel (Corynocar- pus laevigata). These berries.contain prussic acid, and seem to act on the lumbar muscles, causing them to become shrivelled up, as I have de­scribed." . ..

The toot plant, another very common shrub all over the islands, has a peculiar effect on cattle or sheep partaking of it. It induces sudden and violent vertigo, partial paralysis, and if taken in any quantity will kill the animal who eats it. A shrub, with a whitish leaf, called the paper plant, is also plentiful hereabouts, and horses who eat of it ofttimes die from the effects.

"There are few deformities among the natives, are there not?" we ask.

"Very few, indeed. Scrofula sometimes has its victims, and is induced by eating rotten maize."

During the whole of our trip we only saw one hunchbacked native.

As we were leaving Ohinemutu we were spec­tators of a most whimsical scene. It would have made the gloomiest anchorite laugh. Ranged in a row in the middle of the street before the hotel we saw five native Roman Catholic priests. They were bareheaded, and deep emotion of some sort or another was depicted on their countenances. It might have been indigestion, but it looked like woe. The verandah of the hotel was crowded by a miscellaneous horde of semi-civilized savages, and these now began a slow procession, and one by one proceeded solemnly but methodically to rub noses with the five reverend fathers. Many tears fell, but not a word was spoken. Doubtless there was pathos in the tearful silent farewell, but the nose rubbing was too much for our gravity ; it was really too ludicrous. It was such a scene as could only be witnessed in Maoriland: the poor flock affectionately rubbing noses with their respected shepherds. I have seen many a good­bye, but never one like this.

The women folk were not permitted to partici­pate in the nasal osculation. 'The more modern, if less effusive, hand-shaking was alone vouchsafed to them. They gave vent to their feelings, how­ever, by joining in a wild and noisy saltatory measure in the verandah, accompanied by hoarse shouts, snapping of fingers, barking of dogs, and the crack of whips and rattle of wheels as we rolled away from Kelly's hospitable abode and bade a reluctant adieu to the Hot Lakes and their many marvels.

The drive back through the bush, where we loaded the coach with the most beautiful mosses and ferns ; the cheerful chat with Harry; the first glimpse of snow on the far distant battlements of Ruapehu and Tongariro, all, all might be dilated on if the reader could but share the raptures of the writer; but alas! at secondhand, earth's brightest joys are apt to pall somewhat, and the most vivid and graphic narrative cannot bring up the sensations which make recollections hallowed, and cause the flush of pleasure to mount the cheek and brow, as memory recalls the gladness and joy which have gone, never again, perhaps, to be renewed.

I cannot more fittingly close this chapter of rather fragmentary gossip on the natives than by presenting the reader with an account from one of the local newspapers while referring to the recent turning of the sod of further -railway extension through the Maori country. It is the most re­markable instance, perhaps, I could give, of the changes that have taken place in twenty years' time:—

"The ceremony at Te Awamutu was a pleasing contrast to the scene enacted within three miles of that spot during this very month one-and-twenty years ago. Early in April, when Cameron and Carey were out, word was brought that some three or four hundred Maoris were fortifying a position at Orakau. General Carey at once attacked them with 1200 men. They repelled several assaults, baffled the artillery fire with bundles of fern, com­pelled our people to proceed by sap, and annoyed them terribly during the process. Before the attack they had declared proudly that they would fight' for ever, and ever, and ever.' Want of water, failing ammunition, a reinforcement of 400 British, and the slaughter wrought by shells and hand- grenades at last making the position untenable, they marched out through a gap in the investing line left open for the artillery fire.

"They were in a solid column,' wrote an eye­witness, ' the women, the children, and the great chiefs in the centre, and they marched out as cool and steady as if they were going to church. A flanking fire galled them as they marched, a swamp lay between them and the Punui River, where was safety. They lost heavily, but many reserved the last of their ammunition for the swamp. They fought their way through with undaunted resolution, and brought away an unconquerable remnant. Half their number had fallen.

"General Carey said, in his despatch, 'It is im­possible not to admire the heroic courage and de­votion of the natives in defending themselves so long against overwhelming numbers. Surrounded closely on all sides, cut off from their supply of water, and deprived of all hope of succour, they resolutely held their ground for more than two days, and did not abandon their position until the sap had reached the ditch of their last en­trenchment.'

"It was one of the finest deeds in New Zealand story. The man who commanded against us in this heroic fight was Rewi, who turned the first sod of the Northern Grand Trunk Railway the other day, within the view of the ground of the great exploit. The gathering was not so great in 1885 as in 1864. But its result will be greater and better. The whirligig of time has given us a most romantic contrast."

It is sad to reflect that one by one the gallant old fighting chiefs are fading away. The links that bound the present age of bustle and progress to the old era of early settlement are snapping fast, and soon it will be quite a rarity to see a tattooed Maori at all. Not long since another of the old celebrities died at the Kaik, Otago Heads. This was an old chief named Waitota, or, as he was more familiarly called, New Zealand Jack. He had reached the ripe age of ninety-two.

This ancient Maori chief had lived at the Kaik ever since the arrival of the ship John Wickliffc, as long ago as the year 1848. Jack had been quite a traveller in his day, had seen a great deal of the world, and altogether led a most eventful life. He was born in the Nelson district, and always held high rank amongst the natives. On one occasion he was taken prisoner during a war between the South and North Island natives, and was then conveyed to the Bay of Islands. After his escape from captivity, he shipped on board an American whaler, and sailed in her to the United States. Then returning again to New Zealand, Waitota joined an English ship and made a voyage to London. He then traded between that port and China for a time, and ultimately joined the ship John Wickliffe which brought the first settlers to Otago under the late Captain Cargill. Waitota was really a wonderful old fellow, gifted with a splendid memory, and a fluent tongue ; he could tell one the most interesting stories about the early history of various parts of the colony, and his graphic description of life among the Maoris in olden times was invariably realistic and vivid in the extreme. And so, one after another of the old tribal chiefs are passing away, and with them many a legend and ancient tradition that it would be well to have preserved.

After I had written this chapter I came across a curious document which is of peculiar interest as showing what some of the more powerful and observant chiefs themselves think of the surrival of their race. It is a reply, from Tuteao Manihera, dated from Kawhia in response to the circular letter of^the native minister, Mr. Ballance, before g 2 alluded to:—"Friend, salutations to you. I have received your circular letter pointing out how disease could be averted and the means of preserv­ing health among the native people of New Zea­land. Your advice is good. Friend, listen to this. According to the observation made by the Maori people as to the decay of their own people, it is found that formerly, in the days of our ancestors, the natives mostly died of old age. Their whares, their clothing, their food, were very bad. When they slept at night, they used fire to keep them warm, and in the day they basked in the sun, its heat serving them as clothing, and the people never died off. But the arrival of the Europeans to these islands brought disease amongst them, and two complaints made their appearance, namely, chest complaint and cough. From that time the numbers of natives began to decline. Subsequently, another disease called measles, and now fever has come, and rheumatism. Among other causes which have been discovered by the Maoris is that they have been neglected by the ministers, for the Maoris have a reverence for sacred things. In former days, when the chief of any tribe died, before that evil happened, his approaching death would have been known to all by the flash of lightning and the roar of thunder rolling along the mountain-tops of his own district. No matter where the chief was dying, they always knew, and would always say that such-and-such a chief was dying, because that the thunder and lightning were in such-and-such a place. Friend, the food and clothing are now both very good, but the Maoris are dying off rapidly. This is what I have to say to you:—If you think well of it, let all vessels that come here be inspected, and if any kind of sickness be found on board, let them be ordered to go away, so that we may not catch the sickness. That is all. I leave it to you to judge whether it is right or wrong. Enough.

"Your loving friend.

"Tuteao Manihera, Pihopa."


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