Who's Who

The Maoris in New Zealand History

When the British and Maori signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, Governor Hobson declared: 'We are one people'. Today, as Professor Keith Sinclair shows, this hope has still to be realised.

Māori family from Rotorua in the 1880sIn his book, The Maori King , first published in 1864, John Eldon Gorst, the British politician, wrote:

The hopes of social advancement which the natives had formed when they first consented to share their country with the stranger, were disappointed. They did not fail to contrast the rapid alienation of their land with the slow improvement of their condition, and they feared that at this rate their lands would be gone before they had attained the desired equality with their white neighbours. Every function of Government seemed paralysed in comparison with the Land Purchasing Department. They were willing to sell their land for civilization and equality, but at no other price.

This was a remarkable and contentious passage at the time it was written, just over fifty years after the first settlement of New Zealand by whites: for would any nationalists surrender independence for good government or other favours conferred by foreigners? In a different way it raises large questions today. Will the Maoris ever want to become 'assimilated'? Or is it possible for two - or more - cultures to live side by side in amity and mutual enjoyment and sharing of life? The answers to these questions, questions that are being asked in many other countries today, are to be sought in the past as much as the present.

Polynesians first arrived in New Zealand about 1,000 years ago having migrated from island to island over several thousand years and miles from China. These early Polynesian settlers spoke a language of the Malayo-Polynesian language group, which was the most widely spread in the world before the expansion of the English-speaking people to America. Over the centuries the descendants of these settlers evolved the Maori culture of New Zealand. The Maoris called New Zealand Aotearoa , the land of the Long White Cloud. Of the history of Aotearoa we still know little in detail, although archaeology has revealed the material culture and patterns of settlement of the early inhabitants. The first European to visit Aotearoa was the Dutch Captain, Abel Tasman, who lost several of his men in a clash with the Maoris when he attempted to land on the coast of Westland in 1642. Captain James Cook, who stayed in the country for prolonged periods from 1769 onwards, left in his journals fascinating descriptions of Maori life in coastal regions of the rmain islands. Like other explorers, he was impressed by the extent to which the Maoris lived in a perpetual state of war.

In some countries to which the British migrated the indigenous people could be almost ignored or brushed aside, because they lacked the military and social organisation to resist settlement. That was not the case with the Maoris whose men sought honour on the battlefield and were organised in tribes or related tribal groups, some of them many thousand strong. They built formidable hilltop forts (the pa ), resembling Iron-Age structures like Maiden Castle. They had evolved agricultural practices suited to their new and temperate climate, and while they had no metals, their stone tools were capable of both delicate tattooing or sewing and of cutting down huge trees and constructing immense war canoes. When the Europeans first encountered them, despite those aspects of Maori religion, etiquette and observances involving tapu , sacred or forbidden conduct they did not understand, there was on the whole no wide cultural gap between them, such as that which separated them from Australian aborigines, a chasm of blank incomprehension. The Maoris led a sophisticated social and material life that impressed the Europeans: unlike the aborigines, they had gods, generals, warriors, priests, chiefs, artists, slaves, even puhi tapu , sacred virgins, the daughters of great chiefs who were protected until a useful political marriage could be arranged; they had forts, villages, beach cottages, plantations, clothes....

 It fitted in well with the early European settlers' image of themselves that the Maoris were 'superior savages'. The New Zealand Company settlers claimed to be 'selected stock', without transported convicts or paupers, who had followed the longest migration route in the world to their new home. Similarly, the Maoris had sailed heroically in their canoes across the world's greatest ocean. Thus the Maoris could be included in a new New Zealand mythology.

When Europeans traders, missionaries, a few convicts escaped from Australia, and deserting seamen began to settle in the country after 1800, the Maoris were not overly impressed with their culture, and were highly selective in adopting their goods or customs. They wanted nails, to make into chisels, fish-hooks, axes and, above all, guns. They also began to grow potatoes and to trade with the Europeans. But for many years after the first missionaries came in 1814 they remained impervious to the Christian religion. The great northern chief, Hongi, said that it was not a religion suitable for warriors. Instead he went to England with a missionary and assisted Professor Samuel Lee, a remarkable linguist in Cambridge, to write down the Maori language. During his travels Hongi acquired several hundred muskets and a coat of mail given to him by George IV and on his return he set out to terrorise the tribes to the south. In their turn they acquired guns and went further afield.

This period, from about 1800 to about 1830, has justly been called one of 'Maori domination'. The Europeans lived in New Zealand on Maori sufferance. But the Maoris' confidence in their own culture was weakening. One reason for that was undoubtedly the rapid decline of their population, partly because thousands were killed in their musket wars in the 1820s and 1830s, but mainly because the Europeans brought a battery of new germs and viruses. Measles, some forms of influenza, typhoid, cholera and other diseases reduced the Maori population from perhaps 200,000 in 1769, when Cook arrived, to 56,000 in 1858. Their own medicines were useless: the white men seemed supernaturally immune to diseases. In the late 1820s the Maoris began to turn to the missionaries for guidance. The white man's culture had its positive attractions too: the Maoris learned to read and write with great excitement as the missionaries began to print parts of the Bible in Maori. By the 1840s probably a majority of the Maoris were Christian converts.

In 1840 New Zealand was annexed by Great Britain. The British Government had become convinced that there was a real danger that the Maoris might, unprotected, become extinct. It also wanted to protect the 2,000 or so settlers. The British at least hoped that New Zealand could become a humanitarian colony, in which Maori rights and lives were protected, and the two races could live together in harmony. So, before annexation, the Treaty of Waitangi was negotiated and then signed by some 500 Maoris. By it the Maoris were guaranteed in the possession of their lands and other property and were given the rights of British subjects. In return they ceded their sovereignty (kamanatanga governorship) to the Queen.

Thereafter almost every social and economic development in the North Island was in a sense shaped by the Maoris as well as the Europeans, for the very fact that the owners of the country were Maoris and not some other indigenous people such as, say, Australian aborigines, who would have forced, or caused, different accommodations by the settlers. In the South Island, however, the influence of the Maoris was slight because they were very few. The first British Governor, Captain Hobson, chose the Waitemata Harbour for the site of his capital, Auckland, because it lay in the midst of the dense Maori populations of the North Island. He saw the Government's chief problem as being relations with the Maoris; in short, race relations.

Initially, with settlers pouring into Maori territory, especially in Wellington, Taranaki and Nelson, the situation was chaotic. At the Bay of Islands, in the north, some of the Ngapuhi tribe, led by Hone Heke, a nephew of Hongi, cut down the British flagstaff and sacked the township of Kororareka. Hone Heke had been the first signatory of the Waitangi treaty, but he now felt that British Government had brought only poverty. In the southern settlements there was fighting as Europeans moved on to lands which the owners said they had not sold.

At first the colonial government was unable to deal with the Maoris. Only with the appointment of Sir George Grey as Governor in 1845 did the British, aided by 'loyal' Ngapuhi, manage to overcome the rebels, though its forces were badly beaten in some actions. Hone Heke was defeated in 1846 and in the Wellington area Te Rauparaha, the most formidable opponent of the British, was captured. Though beaten, the Maoris had underlined the point that their views could not be ignored.

For some years Grey earned the reputation of having made a marvellous success of his governorship, partly because he made that claim at all opportunities. In 1852 he informed the Secretary of State that the 'amalgamation' of the races was rapidly taking place. In each settlement 'both races already form one harmonious community, connected together by commercial and agricultural pursuits, professing the same faith, resorting to the same Courts of Justice, joining in the same public sports, standing mutually and indifferently to each other in the relation of landlord and tenant, and thus insensibly forming one people'.

This was an exaggeration, but it was true that relations between the two peoples were improving in many ways and that, at least in European terms, the Maoris were flourishing. In early colonial days the Maoris provided a large part of the food for the towns. They built flour-mills, notably in the Waikato, and grew hundreds of acres of grain. In Auckland a daily sight was the large numbers of Maori canoes, laden with vegetables, pulled up on the beaches. The Maoris bought their own schooners and carried their own coastal trade: indeed, their purchases were the basis for the local shipbuilding industry. In Taranaki they exported food direct to Melbourne to feed the gold-diggers. Thus they became rich. The Government lent them money for their mills, subsidised mission schools and paid salaries to Maori chiefs who acted as assessors in the Resident Magistrates' Courts. In all sorts of ways friendly social and economic relations began to be established.

Nevertheless there were underlying tensions, not always obvious to the Europeans, that were to undermine Grey's Utopian dream. Of these there was one that could not be solved: the unceasing demand of the settlers for more Maori land. Under the Treaty of Waitangi, the Government bought land from the Maoris and then sold it to the settlers. Such sales were the foundation of Government revenues. From the 1840s and probably even earlier, some Maoris, like Te Rauparaha, had been opposed to any sale of land to the pakeha , the white man. In their eyes such sales amounted not to selling pieces of property but to selling their country. By the 1850s there was fighting between the land-holding and land-selling Maoris. The settlers in Taranaki believed that a seditious 'land league' was at work, preventing willing Maori owners from selling. In that province some chiefs wrote to the Government land agent that, within certain boundaries, their lands were tapu , sacred: 'the guardians of these lands are taramoa [bush lawyers] [a climbing plant], nettles, kotote [tree ferns]; the guardians of the sacred place are reptiles, weta [an insect], spiders, taniwha [sea monsters], great lizards'. There was in fact no such thing as a 'land league', although there was widespread hostility to land sales. But in 1858 a more formidable organisation was established.

From the start the Maoris had been excluded from the political life of the settlers. The 1852 constitution created provincial assemblies and a central Parliament, which first met in 1854, but almost no Maoris had a vote, for the franchise was based on freehold or leasehold titles, whereas the Maoris owned their lands in common. Moreover, in predominantly Maori districts no electorates were established. However, the Maoris had their own intense political life, which the pax Britannica had encouraged, by making it safe for Maoris of one tribe to visit those of another. Previously Maoris had not thought of themselves as a people but in terms of a particular tribe Ngapuhi, or Waikato or Arawa. (The word 'maori' simply meant 'normal', 'usual'.) But now a kind of Maori national movement began to develop, a movement not to join Grey's 'one people' but to establish Maori unity. As early as 1853 Tamihana (Thompson) Te Rauparaha, nephew of the famous warrior of earlier years, and Matene (Martin) Te Whiwhi travelled about the North Island carrying a message of 'love and union' to all the tribes. In 1858 some of the main tribes joined to elect a Maori King, Potatau, a famous old Waikato warrior. Soon he had set up his own council, troops, police and flew his own flag. Wiremu Tamihana (William Thompson), a chief who came to be called 'the King-maker', even drew up a code of laws for him. John Eldon Gorst wrote of him: 'I have met many statesmen in the course of my long life, but none superior in intellect and character to this Maori chief, whom most people would look upon as a savage.'

Settlers and Maoris were now moving along separate political paths. In 1860 war broke out in Taranaki when the Governor tried to force through a sale at Waitara of land that the principal local chief, Wiremu King (William King) Te Rangitake, and most of his tribe refused to sell. For the next twelve years the North Island was the scene of warfare: first in Taranaki, then Waikato, which the British army invaded, capturing the Maori King's village; then in Tauranga and the central districts. As before, the Maoris won some actions against the colonial government's forces, but while they stayed in their pa (forts) they could usually be outflanked or shelled into submission. When they adopted guerrilla tactics, however, they proved a formidable foe.

Many of the guerrillas were Hauhau , followers of a new religion, Pai Marire , the 'good and peaceful' religion which was started by a man called Te Ua. It was partly Christian Te Ua identified himself with the Old Testament Jews and partly Maori in inspiration. The most famous guerrilla, Te Kooti, was another prophet who began his own religion, Ringatu , the upraised hand. He fought for years and never surrendered. Here it should be emphasised that these wars were never purely racial: some of the main tribes, like the Arawa from Rotorua, fought alongside the British army and the colonial militia. Some 1,000 Europeans and 'friendly' Maoris were killed during the wars. The casualties of the so-called 'rebels' may have been twice as high.

From the point of view of the settlers the chief result of the wars was to release lands for settlement. Hitherto, the South Island had forged ahead of the North. It had become rich from its sheep, gold and land revenues, for there were very few Maoris there. In the North Island the Maoris had impeded or prevented progress. But after the war the Government and Governor Sir George Grey, back for a second term ignored the Treaty of Waitangi and confiscated three million acres of Maori land. Eventually half of this was returned, but confiscation embittered relations with Waikato, Taranaki and other tribes for a century or more. The Government also set up Maori Land Courts which issued Crown titles. Once they had a title the owners could sell direct to anyone they liked. By the end of the century the Maoris had sold millions of acres. The settlers then proceeded to burn 'the bush' dense forests, with trees enormous by European standards and plant grass to feed sheep and cattle.

As far as Maoris were concerned the purchase of Maori land was the chief and almost the only objective of the Government until late in the century. Otherwise they were neglected. Even the establishment of four Maori seats in Parliament in 1867 did little to help. Where Maori resistance to European progress appeared it was put down. For instance, at Parihaka, in southern Taranaki, another new religious leader, Te Whiti, began a campaign of passive resistance to encroaching settlement. The militia arrested him.

Increasingly, now, the Maoris lived apart from the Europeans. In earlier days large numbers were to be found living in or near the main towns, but by the early twentieth century few were there. They now stayed in their own settlements, often very remote from the large towns. And it is clear that they wanted to be separate. The principal Maori political movements in the 1880s and 1890s demanded that a Maori parliament should be set up to control Maori land and other property, but this was completely unacceptable to the Government. Nevertheless, by the end of the century, things were improving for the Maoris. Their population began to increase from a low point of 42,000 in 1896 to 45,000 by 1901. The main reason for this was that they were beginning to acquire resistance to the diseases introduced by the Europeans. They were also producing a new sort of leader, who had received a European education often in a Maori secondary school, Te Aute College, and then at university. Such men were equally at home in Maori or pakeha society. Two of these were medical doctors, Maui Pomare and Peter Buck (Te Rangihiroa); another was a lawyer, Apirana Ngata. All three became cabinet ministers and Buck later became famous as an anthropologist. In the early twentieth century they did good work for their people, for instance in encouraging better sanitary practices in the villages. Ngata in particular was responsible for important Maori land development schemes.

After about 1900 the white New Zealanders began to boast that race relations in their country were better than in Australia, South Africa or other British colonies. There was a large element of truth in this there was no 'colour bar' to hinder social or economic co-operation. The Maoris took part in activities of which the Europeans highly approved. For instance they volunteered for service during the First World War and many of them were killed; they also fought bravely in the Second World War. They took up rugby football with vigour and success and this was already the 'national' game by 1905. But the truth was that a major reason for the lack of friction was that the two peoples lived apart and rarely met. Probably this was to the good for a time, since it allowed the fear and some of the resentment arising from the period of the Anglo-Maori wars to die down. Nevertheless some problems were simply ignored, or stored up for the future.

Not all the Maori leaders went as far as Buck or Ngata in joining the Europeans. Other, more traditional, leaders continued to exert great influence. Some of these were religious leaders, for Maori attempts to adapt to the presence of the white men frequently took the form of the establishment of syncretic religious movements, often with millenarian features. One of these leaders, a faith-healer called Rua Kenana, prophesied that King Edward VII would come and give him money to buy back all the lost Maori lands and that the Europeans would be deported. He and his followers called themselves Israelites. He came into conflict with the police and in 1916 an armed force came to arrest him. A gun battle resulted in which two of his men were killed. Much more important was the Ratana church. In 1918 the Holy Ghost appeared to Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana and appointed him the mangai , the spokesman of God. He had remarkable powers as a faith-healer and people flocked to his church. By the 1930s Ratana candidates had won all four Maori seats in Parliament. In the Waikato district the Maoris were led by Princess Te Puea, a member of the Maori King's family. She led her people back to their home district, where they began to purchase and develop lands confiscated during the wars. Her aim, she said, was 'to make Waikato a people again'. She managed to secure the help of several politicians, notably of Peter Fraser, the Labour Prime Minister, 1940-49. Under Labour the Maoris achieved 'a kind of equality'. Maori land development, education and health were pushed vigorously ahead in this period.

Before the Second World War the majority of Maoris were not fully involved in the European economy, although they undertook seasonal work, travelling in gangs to shearing, harvesting, forestry work or gum-digging, that is, digging up the gum of the kauri tree, which was used in varnishes; they also worked in road gangs or as fencers. But they still lived in their own villages and had extensive gardens where they grew sweet potato and other crops. During the depression of the 1930s casual work was hard to find and very large numbers of Maoris were unemployed. However, during the Second World War a major change in Maori life occurred: the country began to industrialise at a more rapid rate, to produce goods previously imported. The Maoris began to migrate to the cities in great numbers and are now, like the pakeha, predominantly an urban people. In Auckland in 1936 there were only 1,700 Maoris: now there are 66,000 plus another 20,000 people of partly Maori descent.

Since the Second World War thousands of Polynesians from Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and other island groups have migrated to New Zealand. There were 61,000 of them in 1976, and of these about 38,000 lived in Auckland. About 15 per cent of the population in Auckland, the largest city, were Maoris, part-Maori or Pacific Islanders. This figure represents not merely an enormous change in Maori life but also in the character of some of the towns and cities. Auckland has a larger Polynesian population than any other town in the Pacific. It has become the Polynesian metropolis.

The rapid migratian of Maoris and other Polynesians to the cities has produced problems of race relations, assimilation and crime. The Maori population, now 270,000, as high as it has ever been and possibly higher, is a youthful population. Unfortunately many young Maoris break the laws - European laws - and receive prison sentences or other punishments. Maoris have formed gangs with names like the Headhunters, the Mongrel Mob or the Storm Troopers, which wage violent war, with clubs and chains and other weapons, on one another and the police. It is important to emphasise that tension in the cities is not just between brown and white: there are strong hostilities between the various Maori and other Polynesian communities.

In recent years there has arisen a strong Maori protest movement, a 'Brown Power' movement influenced by the example of 'Black Power'. In Auckland the engineering students have annually performed during graduation week mock Maori haka and other exuberant displays. In 1979 a Maori gang assaulted them while they were practising the haka, because they were making a mockery of a Maori custom. More significant have been protests against the loss of Maori land. In 1978 a party of Maoris occupied some former Maori land, once supposedly an unalienable reserve, but acquired by the Crown according to the protesters by devious means. They received much popular support and eventually were removed and some of them arrested by a mass police action of almost military proportions. To many citizens it seemed more like a scene from South Africa than New Zealand.

Another post-war change has been that Maori language and cultural studies are thriving in the universities. The most highly educated Maoris are often those most conscious of their Maoritanga , their Maori-ness. But among Maoris in general there has been some decline in the use of their language and practice of Maori customs and a high rate of intermarriage with Europeans that at once threatens Maori culture while promising that racial relations may improve.

European religion and culture have over two centuries had a massive influence on the Maoris. They are now mostly Christian certainly as much so as the pakeha . They have long worn European clothes, gone to European schools, lived in European-style family houses, spoken the English language, played English games. The Maori influence on European culture has been negligible. A good many Maori words have entered the English language tapu (taboo), Kiwi, the names of trees, like kauri . Rugby and other sports teams adopted the Maori war dance, the haka , as a national symbol. Some Maori foods, notably the sweet potato, kumara , and some shell-fish, were adopted by the pakeha . But little more. The cultural traffic was almost all one way.

It should not be thought, however, that Maoris adopted pakeha ways uncritically or completely. Their culture was and in the countryside still is recognisably Maori. They have their own customs, like the three-day burial gathering, the tangi , about which the Europeans know little and understand less. Maoris think pakeha burial services very perfunctory. They have their meeting houses and marae , the space in front of the meeting house where the orators declaim. There they speak their own language, sing their own songs, dance their own dances. They live communally to a degree scarcely comprehended by the Europeans. They value very highly Maori aroha , love, and think the Europeans very individualistic and selfish.

When the Treaty of Waitangi was being signed, Governor Hobson said: 'He iwi tahi tatou ' - We are one people. That statement was repeated often enough by political leaders. One political leader, J. E. FitzGerald, who realised that it was not yet true, appealed to the Maoris in 1863 not to establish their own separate nationality (as tribalism gave way to the Maori King movement) but to join a new nation made up of two races. At the present time many, perhaps most, Maoris are ambivalent about New Zealand. In England they will say that they are New Zealanders; in New Zealand they will 'identify' as Maoris. They are aware that the Maoris, British citizens since 1840, are not yet equal; that, in exchange for most of their country, they have not received Gorst's compensation; that they have not become equal sharers in a new and larger world. In every measurable 'social indicator' they are worse off In average income, housing standards, education, even in health, they are not yet equal. There are still not nearly enough Maoris, proportionately, in the universities, teachers' colleges, or in the professions. Undoubtedly some Maoris feel a vain nostalgia for a largely lost Polynesian world, and a deep resentment against what they got in exchange. Many people believe that the greatest threat to New Zealand's stability and progress lies, not in its acute economic problems, but in this crucial weakness in its racial relations.

Keith Sinclair is Professor of History at the University of Auckland.

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