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A Maori Maid

Chapter III

page 14

Chapter III.

Ruta was a Maori and a daughter of Horima. Horima was a big chief. He was an only child. Moreover, his two uncles having both died childless, he was left the last of a long line of ancestors. His mother, too, was of high degree, and entitled to large possessions. Therefore Horima was the owner of much land. Ngahite was his wife and the mother of Ruta. Like her husband, Ngahite was of noble Maori birth, and was an heiress. Thus, when Horima and Ngahite both died, Ruta, being without brothers or sisters, inherited all her parents' vast possessions, and was exceedingly well endowed. She was in point of fact a great landowner and thus might be accounted wealthy.

She was fortunate in not having lost any of her possessions, for the Maori is to the day of death beset with a great temptation. The golden guinea is for ever dangled before him by an omnivorous Government with the avowed object of inducing him to part with his birthright. He is ceaselessly tempted to sell, and on such equitable terms and under such Christianlike circumstances!

Neither England nor the Colonists, to plunge for a moment into history, ever conquered the Maories. We made a treaty with them at Waitangi, and were so glad to do so that we offered thanks in church for the blessing. Governor Hobson represented the Queen in the negotiations, and also at the ceremony; and he told the Maories, loyal deluded gentleman, that she page 15would for ever be a good mother to them. Their prompt and not unnatural question was, "What will become of our lands?"

"The Queen and the pakeha will for ever and ever be just and honourable to the Maories," was the Governor's reply—and he meant it. "The treaty shall state positively that the Maories are confirmed in the possession of their lands, except only that the right of pre-emption must be in the Queen."

And the treaty did so state.

The Maories were satisfied, and instead of killing and eating the pakeha they, or rather their chiefs, scrawled and scratched their names to the treaty, and missionaries prayed blessings on the white and black men's holy bond and called God to witness it. Flags were hoisted and guns of rejoicing were fired; and the Maories were content to trust.

That was fifty-five whole years ago. And the pakehas kept the treaty thirty years—thirty whole years! Then they grew tired of it and grew greedy of the lands; not the white man individually, but the white man's Government.

The Government interfered to prevent private speculators from obtaining land below its value from the Maori. So far so good. But the temptation was too much. The Government went a stage farther, and having stopped the individual from plundering the natives, made the practice a State monopoly—a most excellent State monopoly founded on admirable economic principles. Economically pocket-picking is good. No work and big returns. The thievery of native land by the New Zealand Government is and has been of late years cold-bloodedly appalling. But of course it is absolutely necessary if the white man is to live in New Zealand. At least—well, there it is. It makes a splendid political cry.

The treaty of Waitangi was the initial difficulty of page 16the Government in its scheme of plunder. The Queen had only a right of pre-emption! That simply means a right over any other person to buy at the price the other person is genuinely willing to give. Obviously the treaty had to be torn up somehow or another. So the Queen disputed its validity, and actually asked that the treaty should be declared to be of no binding effect so far as she, or rather her Government, was concerned. The law courts effected the happy despatch with proper precedents and palaver. The judges decided, with much legal circumlocution and a certain air of apologetic shame, that the Maories were only tribes and had no sovereign head, and that the treaty was therefore bad. As if Governor Hobson did not know that the Maories were only tribes and that there was no sovereign head!

The Queen is the Queen, and we boast—and very rightly—that she is a good mother to her people. The Maories surely are her people! Why, then, does she attempt to evade, indeed, does actually, deliberately evade, what she herself undertook? With respect to the descendants of Maories who had never signed the treaty, or to tribes which had never attended the great meeting, and had always refused to recognise the treaty, the words of the Court might be proper. Some Maories have rebelled and have forfeited their rights, and their lands have been confiscated. That, without admitting its justice, is their punishment. But is it right for the Queen to deny her bond, and a peculiarly solemn one too, and the promise of her officers and servants, and the spirit, the very words of her treaty? If the Maories are loyal to the treaty, why is not she?

This is neither a riddle nor a catechism but simply what the Maories persistently question amongst themselves. And truth to tell, well they may.

For laws have been passed gradually and gradually stealing the lands of the natives. First it is in one page 17district then in another, then on this excuse then on that, until throughout the North Island, where the Maories chiefly live, millions of acres have been locked up or "bought," the whole job, of course, being dished up with smug pretensions of saving the Maories from themselves. Almost all sale of land by Maories to white men has been made illegal except only sale to the Crown. Although a Maori be offered say two pounds an acre by a private individual an all-greedy Government will prevent the sale and thereupon offer the native not a third, sometimes not a fourth of the amount which it forbids him to accept privately. And the mischief of it all is that the Government succeeds in acquiring the land at its own unfair price. Her Majesty's Government agents know that the jingle-jangle of the coin will always tempt a hungry Maori just as it does a well-fed pakeha. Especially strong too are Her Majesty's officials when they see that the natives are being pressed by creditors and are without means or are fighting an expensive law suit. Bit by bit and share by share they gobble up the native land, knowing—such is Maori improvidence— that the natives will always sell their birthright for a mess of pottage.

In this manner has England, or rather the Colony, translated the right of pre-emption. In this manner have the white men kept their word to the Maori.

Oh, it is a dirty game!

And it will go on, this thieving and filching, for a long time yet unless the English Parliament interferes or the validity of the treaty of Waitangi is reinstated by the Privy Council—an alternative not likely to be taken advantage of. It is too expensive for any individual tribe of Maories, especially against a Government

Despite all the clatter and clamour, the Rhodesian natives in fifty years' time will probably have more page 18land of their own than the unfortunate natives of New Zealand.

All Maories, however, do not sell. A few are strong enough to resist. Both Horima and Ngahite were; and thus their child, Ruta, was exceedingly rich in lands. She was, in fact, a great heiress.

John Anderson had no idea of Ruta's real wealth. He learnt it afterwards. It was the charm of her manners and appearance that attracted him from the first moment he saw her at Horima's "tangi."

A tangi is an Irish wake done in New Zealand by Maories, and it lasts from a week to three months. Horima's lasted one week over three months and cost two thousand seven hundred pounds. It may have cost a little more.

It commenced at Patea where he died.

When a Maori dies, he is laid out in a small tent and wrapped in native rugs and mats. His wife wears green leaves wound round her head and sobs for days over him and keeps the flies away. Every one else in the kainga, or village, weeps at the happening of the death for a couple of hours or, subject to adjacent meals, even more. Save for sundry subsequent snatches of weeping, this is their chief offering of tearful respect. Eating time always puts a sudden and complete end to the grief of all the mourners save the wife and any very close relatives. In the delight of pork and potatoes the dead man's virtues and vices alike fade.

Meanwhile, the news of the death spreads, and the relations hurry to the tangi. The question of the degree of relationship is a trifle, so long as the visitor and the deceased have some common ancestor. When the new comers arrive at the place of mourning they tie up their horses a short distance off and straightway go on foot to the tent They stand in a semicircle some ten or fifteen yards away, the women in front, page 19the men a few feet behind. A number of the residents, who have already finished their chief weep, gather in a group by the tent and they all "tangi."

The heart of the sympathetic onlooker wells with pity and sorrow as the great, strong men are choked with sobs and the tears fall glistening from the dusky cheeks. The grief seems so bitter; the distress so genuine. Suddenly one man has had sufficient and wants a smoke and quietly draws off. Being a visitor he shakes hands and presses noses with those of the residents who are not engaged in weeping. Then he joins in a game of cards or gets out his pipe and he smokes and yarns and laughs. He no longer weeps. He seems incapable of such weakness.

The welling of the heart then seems to have been somewhat premature. Presently, when the sorrowing brother is observed to be jesting and talking and swearing as the occasion requires, a doubt arises in your mind as to how far Maori grief is real. When you have caught a fair glimpse of the Maories and discover them to be hospitable and generous to a degree, and yet devoid of gratitude, you merely marvel at them for a strange, careless, happy-go-lucky people.

A Maori will behave with, apparently, the utmost gratitude, whereas in reality his pride has prompted him to act as, in his opinion, becomes a chief. Almost invariably, he does what he does merely in return for something you have done for him, or for something you may in future do for him. There is no real gratitude as we understand it. Should you omit to return his act or his gift by a full equivalent, he despises you for a pakeha and you have reached the end of his giving and his gratitude. He will always continue courteous and hospitable, simply because it is the custom of the Maori to be so. It is correct "tikanga" or etiquette.

page 20

A Maori is never grateful since he regards all that you do as done, even as he himself would do it, with a view to some return. Hence the absence of the word "gratitude" from their language. Maories had no need to create a term for an unknown sentiment

It was not even possible.