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Na to Hoa Aroha from Your Dear Friend
The Correspondence Between Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck 1925â"50 Volume Two
By M. P. K. Sorrenson
Auckland University PressCopyright © 1987 M. P. K. Sorrenson
All rights reserved.
BERNICE P. BISHOP MUSEUM HONOLULU, HAWAII
May 4th. 1930.
I look back on my month in the home land as one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. Coming back after three years of absence spent amongst Hawaiians, Samoans, Tahitians, and Cook Islanders, I was naturally able to regard our own people in the detached way necessary to form a comparative analysis of them as a branch of the Polynesians. With the exception of those interested in philology and ethnology, our Pakeha friends, also naturally, direct their attention to a comparison of the present stage of Maori culture with an idealistic conception of their own. With such a comparing standard, the negative overshadows the positive; our shortcomings are more obvious to them than the marked advances we have made. They lack patience through commercial reasons and thus never really understood the scientific principles underlying Sir James Carroll's attitude of 'taihoa.' Whether Sir James' policy was due to a profound philosophy or a natural inertia or a combination of both, it was the result of a personal life long experience of both races. Seeing the difficulties on both sides, he compromised. We are both agreed that New Zealand's lack of appreciation of the Carroll philosophy has led to disastrous results in Samoa. Thinking people over here say that if there was any country calculated to administer the mandate successfully in Samoa it should have been New Zealand in view of the wonderful success they have made of the Maoris. They cannot understand how the failure has come about for in spite of the justification of Richardson's administration by the League of Nations, the world at large considers that we have failed dismally in Samoa. To those worth while, I have pointed out your explanation that New Zealand by creating a new department officered by a personnel as little acquainted with Polynesians as people of other countries, never made use of any Maori experience she may have had. There is another point that the outside world and white New Zealand, with a few exceptions, has never fully recognised when attributing success to past administrations in New Zealand. They have not given due credit to the part played by the Maori himself in bringing about the position he now occupies.
Claiming the successes and disowning the failures seems characteristic of the white man's attitude towards native races. Sometimes positive disparagement of native culture and mentality is propagated as an excuse for the criminal neglect shown by Governments in the past. Professor Wood-Jones from a dispassionate study of the literature bearing on the extinct Tasmanians is convinced that they had a higher mentality and culture than they have ever been credited with. He believes firmly that they have been wilfully discredited to the scale of mere animals as an excuse for the action of whites in treating them as such and purposely exterminating them. Professor Porteous who has just returned from an expedition into Central Australia says the same of the aboriginals. Station people have shot them down as dogs and wish them regarded as such. I mention these cases to show that there is some subconscious psychological reason why governing races are prone to depreciate the mentality, culture and efforts of those they govern in order that failure may be attributed to innate inability and not neglect on their part. It is really a form of defensive mechanism. The complement of this is that any successes have of necessity come from without and must be attributed to wise parental government.
I saw Keesing the other day. He has returned here for a few weeks and he had a lot to say about the North American Indian. The best that the United States seems able to do is to put him on reservations and so try to preserve him more as a zoological specimen than as a vital citizen facing and solving the problem of adaptation for inclusion in a living community. Here again the old story of a conservative culture incapable of adaptation stands in the way of practical solution.
When we consider the fate of other races who [are] retrograding through the neglect brought about by lack of proper study on the part of governments, the condition of our own people comes to the outsider as a remarkable achievement. It is for that reason that the growing body of educated men interested in native races, turns with relief to New Zealand. It is also for this reason that our administration in Samoa forms a bar sinister on New Zealand's escutcheon. However the responsibility lies with the Pakeha. He has repeated over again in a smaller way the mistake he made when he forced a section of the Maori people into war. Now as then, it will probably take a generation or so to extinguish the bitterness but the time lost can never be regained.
I have digressed enough and must return to my first paragraph. Whilst the Pakeha regards us from the higher altitude of his culture and stresses how far we are behind, we on our side must scan the heights to realise how far we have to struggle upwards. It may act as a stimulus, however, to glance backwards to see how far we have come and how we compare with the original stock from whence we sprung. Our progress resolves into two periods, the transition of Polynesian into Maori and the transition of Maori into New Zealander. The first period extends from the landing in Aotearoa to the advent of European culture.
The development of a local Maori culture is an ethnological study that has had much time devoted to it. Best and others have put on record the total results arrived at when the Pakeha came into the land. To determine what has been adapted and developed locally we need the background of the culture of the near Hawaiki at the period when the Fleet left for the land discovered by Kupe. This need the Bishop Museum has been trying to supply. We need published works on both the Society and Cook Islands areas not only on material culture but on social organisation and religion as well. We also need checks from the culture of other neighbouring groups which were peopled from the Society Group. I fancy that a certain amount of development went on in Raiatea and Tahiti after the dispersal especially in the matter of marae construction. A tentative study can be made from the experiences gained.
Food. The difference in the flora must have been one of the greatest trials. The yearnings for the plentiful food supplies of Hawaiki have been expressed in song. The cultivable root foods in the form of the kumara, taro and yam were brought by the fleet. This forms the full Hawaiki list of root foods with the exception of the ti. The ti requires investigation. The ti tawhiti of New Zealand seems to me to be a different plant from that of Hawaiki. The plant seen in Whanganui and Mokau under the name of ti tawhiti has a leaf like a kouka (Cordyline australis) whereas the Polynesian ti has a totally different leaf though a similar flower. The similar use of the root, reminding our ancestors of Tawhiti, may have led to the name ti tawhiti without their having actually transported it to New Zealand. Of the food bearing trees, a previous knowledge may be inferred from the naming of certain local plants. Thus the naming of the local palm as nikau infers a practical knowledge of the coconut palm whose leaf still bears the name of nikau though the plant itself is ni or niu. Remember it is the leaf that was of practical use in New Zealand. The breadfruit is remembered in the Arawa song that refers to "te kuru whakamarumaru o te whare o Uenuku". The plantain was an important food in the Society and Cook Groups. The fruit resembles the banana but is short and thick whilst the fruit stands upright instead of drooping like the banana. On the west coast, (N.Z.) the female flower of the kiekie when it ripens some time after the petals have dropped, develops into a golden fruit which stands up like the plantain. Here it is called wheki which may literally represent the Tahitian name for the plantain, fe'i. An identical name given to something resembling the plantain surely infers a previous knowledge. We fall short on the banana but we can offer the excuse that there was nothing in our flora to which the Polynesian name could be applied. Climate restricted the local distribution of the imported tubers and influenced agricultural methods. The one crop per annum of the colder climate also caused the necessity for store houses for root crops. The loss of the pig was not only a loss in food supply but enters into social matters for we miss the ceremonial presentation of the head of the pig to the high chiefs. In some such way but with attention to minute detail we will have to analyse our position in every way of culture in order to determine what we dropped, adapted and invented during that first period of occupation of Aotearoa.
There must have been good stuff in the men who braved the long sea voyages to New Zealand but there was just as good in those who made the voyage north to Hawaii. Was there some stiffer element in our ancestors or was it entirely due to the colder climate and the extra struggle for existence? Whatever it may be due to, the fact remains that we have stuck it out better than our Oceanic kinsmen. The religious side of the new culture never made us abandon blindly as it did with them. Hence it is that I believe we know more of the past than any of the other 'seed which came from Rangiatea.' I believe we have retained to a greater extent also the important customs associated with the social life of the past and we are using them in such a form that they do not clash with the present.
The ground plan of a study of the second period you have commenced with your draft on "Cultural Adaptations." I really will run over your notes and return them to you. The greatest adaptation from the Pakeha point of view is the adaptation to meet modern requirements in the full utilisation of land. The hereditary fisherman and those not dedicated to Rongo may stand down but your people have shown that farming is not beyond the compass of the race. This was surely an achievement but achievement followed achievement when the sheep farmers turned their wool sheds into milking sheds. Pakeha criticism and theory in the remoter past has never been backed up sufficiently by honest endeavour to produce a solution. Has anything ever emanated from recent governments directed towards solutions of land problems to benefit Maori owners that was not initiated by Maori members? Knowing the almost insuperable difficulties of the past, I have not yet recovered from my amazement at the wonders you have accomplished with regard to your land development scheme. The wonder is not only the actual scheme itself but the manner in which you have converted Pakeha public opinion and influenced a cabinet to finance the operations. You deserve the greatest tribute your race and your country can give you. I sincerely hope that the United Party can keep in power in order that [you] may continue as Native Minister to father the scheme that you have brought into life. You have a definite policy for the welfare of the Maori people. I think that ordinary party politics should not be expected to monopolise you. You are a national asset. Should the United Party fall, I feel that whatever party succeeds should support the only sound policy that has been formulated for the betterment of the Maori race but I am afraid that success would be endangered if you were not there to administer it. New Zealand does not abound in experts as her history in Samoa shows. She could ill afford to lose your services in the Government of the country through cabinet. As Timi would say "Ma te po e whakaatu mai."
On my return, most of the staff of the Bishop Museum were at the wharf to welcome us home. We had a round of dinners including the dinner given by the Bishop Museum Trustees at the Country Club. It was almost like home getting back. I realise so acutely that I have to get as much field work in while I can that I spend no time in repining though I would like to be back to lend a helping hand in whatever is going on. However I realise that every year I am away will increase my value to New Zealand later. I started off work by writing up my Penrhyn notes for a separate monograph on that island. This has now been postponed to allow me to work over the Samoan manuscript. I am thankful that it was held over until my return. The editor made heavy weather of it but did good work in enabling me to recast the parts that were evidently beyond her understanding. It should be in print sometime this year. I still think it will do credit to the race. Gregory thinks that we should clean up our present material this year and not go out into the field until next year. We will then turn our attention towards the west. Handy is here now and Emory will be returning from the Tuamotu area towards the end of the year. Gregory is expecting Skinner to come over here some time to make a comparative study of Polynesian adzes. Ko nga rakau me nga kohatu te mahi tika ma tera tu tangata.
Handy who has been some time in the east, gave a lecture on 'Polynesian origins' the other night but I will give you a precis of his theory next month. Meanwhile pick out any references you come across on the Manehune. Handy makes them the first culture in Tahiti. Do you remember Matorohanga saying anything about them?
By the way keep me up to date with the land scheme as I can now take a much more vital interest after touching on its fringe.
Kati ra kia ora korua ko Te Raumoa
e arohatia atu nei e maua ko Makere.
OFFICE OF THE MINISTER OF NATIVE AFFAIRS, PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS, WELLINGTON, N.Z.
22nd. May, 1930.
Yours of the 4th., came to hand on Tuesday the 20th. inst., a few hours before the Maori Delegation left for Rarotonga without me. The Delegation consisted of Judge Carr with Mrs. Carr, Tai Mitchell and Te Aomihi, Smith, Bal, with members of my family, to wit: Hana, Henare, and Hori, Wi Potae, Renata Tamepo, Hoani te Heuheu, and Joe Marumaru. Tonga Mahuta was taken ill in the last week and could not go. I had made all preparations as proposed when you were here, to run down to Rarotonga to take a much needed rest, but as you will have learnt from the cables, Sir Joseph Ward announced his resignation of the Premiership. I had to stay behind, therefore, for the necessary conference and caucus meetings which resulted last night in the election of our old friend George Forbes to the Leadership of the Party and the position of Prime Minister. The Party caucus held yesterday is the best we have had since taking office. The Jenkins fiasco which, though it resulted in the loss to us of the Parnell seat has been a good thing for the Party discipline, although there was an appreciation of a very stern and difficult job ahead of us. The Party was never more compact united and confident. If we can satisfy our friends with our efforts to palliate unemployment we should not have much difficulty in carrying on in other respects, although the official difficulties ahead are quite unprecedented. The people of New Zealand, however, recognise that these conditions are not of our making but are world-wide. I am disappointed at not being able to visit Rarotonga just now. The change in Government, however, may result in my having to administer Samoa in which case we may be able to put into practice some of our ideas regarding co-ordinated administration of Maori and Polynesian affairs. I have, as you know, never hankered for any job outside New Zealand and you realised during your recent visit to us what an opportunity there is offered here to realise on a respectable scale the dream of a lifetime.
Excerpted from Na to Hoa Aroha from Your Dear Friend by M. P. K. Sorrenson. Copyright © 1987 M. P. K. Sorrenson. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
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