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7. Lessons from history

This section doesn’t relate directly to the flag issue, but might help in understanding some of the Maori points of view. New Zealanders generally get on pretty well with each other, but there are still a few issues that can cause disagreement between us.

Our history shows there has always been a wide range of opinions on race matters, and most people would have believed at the time that their own way of thinking was the right one. Gradually, some people's attitudes change over time, so that each generation has an easier acceptance of those who are in any way "different".

When racial tensions become apparent, it's mainly because of perceived injustices, or when individuals or governments try to force change by extreme measures. This tension can be a little unsettling, but if we make an effort to understand different points of view, rather than just thinking people are trying to cause trouble, then harmony is much more possible.

Whether we like it or not, New Zealand's cultural makeup is very diverse, and is changing all the time. Sometimes it's hard not to judge people by our preconceived notions. Apart from direct interaction, our acceptance of other races is strongly influenced by television and other media, and it's good to see a number of programmes and ads now that show us in all our diversity. Eventually we come to realise that although the people of other races might have similarities to each other, the most helpful thing to see is that they are not all alike, but are enormously diverse individuals – just like the people within our own race.

I dare say in years to come we'll be quite used to living in a multi-cultural world, but if we do want New Zealand to retain its basic Kiwi character, then we should treasure the Maori influence (and Pakeha) that makes us who we are. The following excerpts are from our early days, and contain valuable lessons for us all.

All passages taken from the anthology "A Book of New Zealand" edited by J.C. Reid – Associate Professor of English, University of Auckland, 1963. (Published by Collins, 1964)

....... Maori society grew in numbers but slowly, and made minimal demands upon the habitat; European society grew with great speed and could tolerate neither the Polynesian settlers nor the habitat in its primitive condition.  ....... Europeans met two adversaries, the Maori and the land. They fought both, and quickly enough they overcame both. New Zealand became a European country; it was found to be a country that responded quite well to European demands. It would grow crops and support animals, it could feed men. But Europeans had greater and more complex demands to make than the Maoris. They were not content to fish and hunt, to eat the food they grew.  ....... In these spheres [NZ] has been and remains engaged upon a struggle less simple than the business of shooting Maoris and burning bush, a struggle which she can, by the nature of things, never quite win."
W.H. OLIVER (b. 1925) "The Story of New Zealand"

To view men whose skin differs in colour from our own as "damned niggers" is a weakness of our Anglo-Saxon character, which proves our civilisation and Christianity far from perfect. It destroys all chance of our gaining the affections of our native subjects in any part of the world; for uncivilised men will forgive any amount or kind of wrong sooner than a single personal insult.  ....... Nothing can exceed the kindness and respect with which men like Sir George Grey and the Bishop of New Zealand behave to natives; they treat them as "gentlemen". The same remark applies to the superior officers of the Government, the clergy, the more highly-educated colonists, and the older settlers. But the ignorant mass of townspeople judge of the natives from their not very prepossessing exteriors, and never having had experience of the good qualities which, as all who have lived amongst them acknowledge, lie concealed beneath, give free vent to their arrogance and contempt, and speak of the Maories, both publicly and privately, with disgust and dislike. Men habitually told that they emit a disagreeable smell, are not likely to feel a very strong affection towards the race that smells them. I know that the petty rudeness of Europeans is so disagreeable to many chiefs in Waikato, that they dislike going into Auckland, or any of the English villages, and are very shy of visiting at English houses. Their own behaviour to strangers affords a striking contrast, not very creditable to ourselves; a chief of the highest rank will unsaddle the horse of his guest with his own hands, and either pitch his tent or give him the best house in the village to sleep in, covering the floor with freshly gathered fern and new flax mats. The women set to work to cook, or, if their own meal is nearly ready, a portion is set aside for the stranger before the others partake."
J.E. GORST (1835-1916) "The Maori King"

We regaled the other New Zealanders on the quarterdeck with biscuits, meat, gruel and rum. They all ate very heartily, but one glass of rum was sufficient for all of them. Such sobriety serves to prove that they can only have been visited rarely by the enlightened Europeans who, wherever they settle, always teach the natives to drink alcoholic liquors, and to smoke and chew tobacco; then, when these ignorant people begin to show the bad effects of strong drink, they start to explain to them how disgraceful it is to give way to drunkenness and other evil habits."
THADDEUS BELLINGSHAUSEN (1779-1852) "Voyage to the Antarctic Seas 1819-21"
Translated by Frank Debenham

....... The Europeans are harmful rather than helpful to them; they teach them to scorn what is most sacred, to give way to drink, and furnish them with brandy, rum and tobacco. Happy are the Islands that are not confronted with these things. However, these good savages know well that these people are disposed to evil."
Fr. ANTOINE GARIN, in a letter of 1841 "Fishers of Men", ed. P.B. McKeefry

One of our Rotorua acquaintances was a very remarkable man named To-hi. He had some years before (since coming into the country) been concerned in an act of cannibalism. It was hard at first not to shrink from welcoming him. He was a thickset short man, with a keen, strong-willed expression, the eyes bloodshot and fierce, but the whole expression was rather thoughtful and intelligent than savage.
The cause of his cruel raid on a neighbouring tribe was that a fine boy of his had started on a journey to them and was never heard of again. He was probably drowned crossing some river, or lost in the forest. In the wild, passionate grief of a father, he took up the notion that they had killed and eaten him. They had been hostile in old days. Soon this notion, confirmed by wild rumours, grew into belief, and he and his men surprised and killed a number of his old enemies, and had a cannibal feast afterwards.
When the Judge spoke reprovingly to To-hi of this deed, he grew wildly excited – his eyes glowed like embers. He took up a ruler that lay near, and striking rapid blows on the table, he burst out: "Why should I not? They took my child and slew him, and roasted his liver in the fire. Why do you condemn the practice? Beasts of prey eat beasts, birds eat birds, fishes eat fishes – why should not men eat men?" Then, suddenly softening, he said quietly: "But I know it is contrary to English ways of thinking and it shall be done no more."
After a while he looked round at the various ornaments in the room, and said: "Friend, I am a son of Mate-te-Kapua (the mythic ancestor of his tribe, and a mighty lifter of property) "My fathers, when they desired a thing, stretched forth their hands and took it. I do not do this, but the hands of my heart go forth towards them. Take my child" (a boy of ten, his only remaining one) "and teach him your ways, that neither the hands of his body nor of his heart may covet."
This wild man had good stuff in him. He put himself under Christian teaching, though he was never baptised. He became a very efficient magistrate under the Government, took the names of the Police Magistrate and the Acting Governor, and always signed his name, Beckham Wynyard Tohi. He died, fighting on our side, in the war of 1863. His wife was beside him when he fell, and directly shot the man who had killed him."
LADY MARY ANN MARTIN (?-1884) "Our Maoris"
Lady Martin was the wife of William Martin, New Zealand’s first Chief Justice.

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