A Maori Maid
John Anderson was away up-country, attending a Native Land Court.
The Native Land Court of New Zealand is an institution. It costs more money than any other court in the Colony. It is the oracle of the code of laws which is Maori custom delightfully modified and entangled by European legislation.
The Maories never existed in New Zealand as a nation. From the day when they first arrived they were divided up into tribes or "hapus," each having its own chief. They completely routed, and partially ate, the few inhabitants they found. Then they settled down in a restless sort of fashion.
New Zealand is by no means a very tiny place, and the conquerors were not numerous. Therefore the "kaingas," or villages, were scattered and small. Usually they were built on the banks of rivers, in natural clearings or down by a swamp; any place in fact was chosen that was within easy reach of water. The "pas," or fighting strongholds, were situated on hills difficult of access and were surrounded with grotesque palisades. Bush-rats and birds and fern-roots were the chief articles of food, and when the Maori was not fighting he was hunting. Sometimes he combined both pastimes.
Each tribe had its tract of land over which the villages were spread. Each tribe also had its hunting grounds, which consisted of bush, and thousands and page 8thousands of acres of it. The chief of the tribe had the "mana," or authority, over such lands, and trespassers were prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. That meant that they were killed and perhaps eaten.
Maories were not cannibals in the sense that they ate each other merely because they liked each other. On the contrary, to kill a man was to insult him and his people. To eat him was a method of expressing the most absolute and unqualified contempt for him. To stuff him first with "kumaras" and other savouries was the very quintessence of insult, scorn, and hate.
Might was right with the Maori. Therefore they were always fighting. Native "tikanga," or custom, like some of our modern fashions, was built with the evident intention of providing endless warfare. The Maori, individually and collectively, was always under the stern necessity—it was etiquette—of being avenged for every insult or injury, real or imaginary.
When one tribe was worsted it existed thereafter purely for the purpose of avenging the defeat. Having accomplished this—the murder of one prominent opposition gentleman or lady sufficed—the burden of revenge was cast upon the other tribe. Sometimes they almost exterminated each other. Sometimes the love romance of a chief with the daughter of his foe would bring about a marriage and peace—for a while. Their grandchildren probably fought again and ate each other.
Maories, that is to say the true old Maories whom one can still meet, know two things—amongst others. They know their ancestry, sometimes for twenty generations, often for more. They also know every inch of the lands of their tribe—not to mention those of other tribes. Also the extent. Every block has its ancient, ancestral boundary. Every river, creek, forest, mountain, peak and clearing, and every village has page 9and always has had, its own particular name. Often, too, each of them has its own history or legend relating frequently to its ownership.
By the statute law of New Zealand every Maori is decreed to be the owner of such land as he had a right to, according to native custom, in the year 1840.
The object, then, of the Native Land Court is to discover who, in respect of any particular block of land, were the rightful owners, according to native custom, in 1840. They, when they are discovered, or their descendants, are decreed to be the owners at the present day. Had the whole of the titles of the native lands been ascertained within ten years of the year 1840 the trouble would have been minute, because the influence of the chiefs was great. The English had not had time to invent Maori customs nor the Maori to invent convenient history. But practically nothing was done, and what was, badly enough.
Things are mixed now. All Maories are chiefs, and every Maori who can in any way trace a descent from any ancestor who had or might have had mana over a block of land puts in a claim.
"Try flukee," says the native with a grin; which means that he will try his luck backed by any quantity of skilled perjury. Suggest a line of lying, and he and his friends will work out marvellous details.
Obviously the Court has to listen to all available evidence that may possibly cast any light upon the question as to what tribe originally possessed the land under consideration; also as to what families of the tribe remained upon it, and what families abandoned their rights by going off to other parts of the country and settling there. Therefore the evidence is long, and a "case" may last eight months.
The Maori is a born litigant. He loves a "case." It is a sort of substitute for proper fighting He hates page 10lawyers, but employs an army of them because his opponent will. He is thoroughly pleased when he has four or five lawyers all appearing in the same case for him. He will spend a thousand pounds in vindicating his right to a piece of land he considers himself entitled to which is not worth even one hundred. Whether or no the land is worth fighting for is absolutely immaterial. It is simply against his creed that any one else should have what is his. A native is by nature an expert witness in the sense of being clever and cunning. He in no way regards the giving of evidence in the way that the "pakeha," or white man, does. It is a profession. It requires skill and experience. The pakeha goes into the witness box to tell the truth. The Maori goes there in order to win his case. He considers his part as important as that of the lawyer, and he works hard and lies well. Sometimes he tells the truth. It generally astonishes his lawyer, from whom the point, probably some important one, has been kept carefully in the background. Sometimes the witness makes a mistake. Then he asks for an adjournment, because he is ill; and if it is refused him he stone-walls until after luncheon or until the next day. In the interval he consults his friends, and on re-entering the Court he corrects his error—which was probably some unpleasant truth he had inadvertently confessed—and gives "good" evidence.
The Court, consisting of some upright and honourable Englishman—much underpaid—assisted by a high-class Maori, occasionally distinguishes true evidence from the false. Too often it does not Hence the Maori loves litigation and believes in "try flukee." It is his chief method of gambling.
Native Land Courts of course require maps and plans and surveying. The survey of a block of from one hundred to two hundred thousand acres takes time. It also takes money, and is profitable for the surveyor— page 11when he gets his money. Sometimes it takes years to collect. But still it is profitable.
John Anderson had become a Native Land Court surveyor. He spoke Maori well and understood the Maories and liked them. They liked him—especially the women.
John Anderson at the Taupo Court was not the John Anderson who married the belle of Wellington. He was changed, aud chiefly through marriage—which is true of many men and some women. He was, unfortunately, just one of those men who love to love, and love to be loved. He was happy in his love for his beautiful wife. He was miserable when he discovered that the love was all on his side and consequently wasted. It was his great trial, and he was not a sufficiently strong man to withstand. His love for his wife slowly faded, although his attention to her and his care for her remained undiminished, or, if anything, increased in a sort of inverse ratio. He was and he always continued to be, a kind husband and a good father. Even his wife admitted that What he sought and desired in return was the love and the sympathy of the woman he had married.
He received neither. It was too much to ask, too much to expect—from her.
He was too philosophical, too generous and kind-hearted, to kick against the pricks. A man cannot force a woman to love him. He can only teach her. If she refuses to learn, it is almost hopeless to imagine she ever will. If she cannot learn because of her nature, it is quite hopeless. John Andersonte wife, in the early days, would not love him, for she had no inclination towards love. Subsequently she could not, as well as would not.
A pakeha man, that is to say a white man, can fall in love with a Maori woman. This requires belief both for those who do not know Maories and for those page 12who only half know them. The former are prejudiced by the brown skins. The latter remember that and also recall their queer customs and crude manners. John Anderson was of neither class. He knew Maori women to be as womanly as pakeha women and infinitely more genuine.
The man who loves and is beloved by his wife can never be really solitary even in solitude. The man who yearns for affection and has freely given his love and receives in return studied indifference, is lonely in the merriest of company; in solitude he is desolate and disconsolate.
When a man meets a woman who fully reciprocates his affection for her, he is happy.
When both her marriage and his stand remorselessly in the way, a common fear makes both fools wise.
When it is only his marriage, and she is ignorant of it, or knowing it, cares little and calls to him, he is face to face with temptation.
These form the three "whens" of many men.
The ruin of his home, the desertion of his wife who has yielded everything, the forsaking of his children, the scorn and contempt of the world are arguments that sometimes outbalance the longing of the heart, the yearning of passion. Fear of the consequences, not morality, will sometimes restrain the husband and the father from his sin. Like many another, he is good— through fear. But when the consummation of a man's desire, when the completion of his happiness is possible without harm to his little ones, without actual hurt or indignity to the woman who is his wife, when he will still be free to be a good husband and a kind father, when no one will know, or, knowing, will mutter "only a Maori woman," what stands then between him and his temptation?
John Anderson questioned with himself and he made answer unto himself by his actions. It was an unfair page 13answer, for he was neither impartial nor free to speak his belief. The glamour of passion was upon him, and the soreness of unappreciated affection prejudiced him.
But nevertheless, John Anderson, thinking that he understood his own mind, chose; and choosing, stooped to a draught that sipped sweet, yet carried overwhelming bitterness in its dregs.
The first taste was passion; the last was punishment and penitence.