I love learning about race relations, as truly they have had a marked impact on the way our New Zealand society is today (for my disclaimer on my writing go here).
In order to fully understand the context of this topic, it is necessary to look at events that occurred prior to the 19th century, and ask questions namely:
- What did Maori society look like – how was it structured, what were its beliefs systems etc?
- What were the beliefs/factors causing people (primarily the British) to begin exploring the Pacific and what occurred/was a result of early encounters between Maori and Pakeha?
So, firstly, let us examine Maori society. Maori had come to NZ from somewhere in East Polynesia which historians place as somewhere between 750 and 1200 AD. Here is a map I found on the NZ government website Te Ara (a brilliant website and resource by the way!) which illustrates the migration routes of those in the Pacific during this period.
By the time Europeans made it to NZ’s shores, Maori had been living in the country for between 442 to 892 years – a long time when you really think about it! However the Maori population only experienced a large growth (mainly in the North Island) after 1,400 AD. Maori hierarchy was like this:
To summarise the chart, Maori society was focussed on the whole tribe, quite different from a European understanding of life, which at this time was increasingly becoming individualistic. with a focus on the wider society. Maori concepts/beliefs included the following:
- Tapu ~ sacred
- Mana ~ power and authority
- Noa ~ free from tapu
- Utu ~ reciprocation
So why do I spend so long establishing the context for Maori/Pakeha race relations? It is because I firmly believe that many of the issues we face today and that Maori and Pakeha did early on in their history here in NZ can be rooted in misunderstandings of these concepts.
So, to come to the second question – what happened early on in contact between Maori and Pakeha? It has been called by Marcia Stenson and Erik Olssen in the book A Century of Change that this was “a bloody beginning to racial interaction”, which in my opinion sums it up pretty well. I wrote about this earlier this year, so for more information go to a post here, but to summarise, here are some early European visitors to NZ and the problems they faced:
- Abel Tasman (1642) – a Dutch man, but he and his men were unable to communicate with Maori when at Golden Bay, resulting in a loss of life. This scared Europeans away from the area for a further 127 years.
- James Cook (1769) – a British man, brought with him a Tahitian (Tupaia) to act as an interpreter thus avoiding major conflict, but still had some shootings with Maori over goods. Some of his men had relationships with Maori women, spreading venereal disease.
- Jean Francois Marie du Surville (1769) – French, visit ended badly.
- Marion du Fresne (1771) – French, visit also ended badly.
Clearly there were issues in race relations to begin with that were going to have an impact on future events! Both races were beginning to see two things: 1) Their cultural differences could have devastating consequences, BUT 2) There was the potential for harmony between the two, particularly with intermediaries. They needed to come to a better understanding of each other’s beliefs and culture.
Significant Factors/Issues of this Period
Now that we understand the context for this early contact period, let us come to the heart of the matter! (Okay, so I’m running out of time to finish this analysis, so I’ll end by showing a list of other things that I believe to be significant factors/issues between Maori/Pakeha during this period).
- Trade - NZ was rich in resources, which was soon realised and exploited by European visitors to NZ. Maori also quickly realised that Europeans in NZ needed their protection creating a situation of inter-dependence. The burning of the Boyd in 1809, which ended in a massacre after when a chief on the ship had been treated badly, was an example of Europeans not working with Maori properly. Sealers settled in the South Island and were most active between 1803-1810, whalers came after them and had relationships with Maori women and some married Maori women (e.g. Jacky Love, Dicky Barrett). Some Maori got jobs on whaling ships, Maori becoming aware of more technologies e.g metals. Food a major trade item, as was muskets – Hongi Hika was given presents from King George IV and used them to buy muskets. This resulted in the Musket Wars which began in 1815 and went through into the 1830s.
- Pakeha-Maori - Pakeha who lived like Maori, some examples being James Caddell (who was tattooed, married a chief’s daughter, lived with the Ngai Tahu tribe and showed there was no shame in being under the authority of a Maori) and Barnet Burns. Barnet Burns actually went to England to explain what he found Maori to be like, saying, “[Because I had a moko] I could travel to any part of the country … I was made and considered chief of a tribe of upwards of six hundred persons . . . I could purchase flax when others could not. In fact, I was as well liked among the chiefs as though I had been their brother.”
- Intermediaries – people who “bridged the gap” between Maori and Pakeha. One example is Tupaia (as mentioned earlier), and Ruatara who acted as a mediator between his people and the missionaries. He also went on a whaling ship, and though he was treated appallingly, still brought European ideas and things (e.g. wheat) back to his people.
- European disease – There was an influenza epidemic in the Tamaki region between 1760 and 1810. Some of the diseases that came to NZ were the whooping cough, scarlet fever, influenza, typhoid, tuberculosis (the one that impacted Maori the most) etc. It meant that in 1891 the average life expectancy for Maori was 23/25 which lead J.F.H Wohlers to say that Te Mare (the cough) was “the disease through which the Maori people are dying out.”
- Missionaries – There were 3 main missionary groups: Anglicans (through the Church Missionary Society), Wesleyans and Catholics. Samuel Marsden preached the first sermon in NZ in 1814 and after that a mission was established there. The major breakthrough for the missionaries was the conversion of many in the Nga Puhi tribe due to education and literacy with some slaves learning to read/write which gave them greater mana so they could be freed. By 1840, 30,000 Maori had been baptised. The missionaries Thomas Kendall and John Hobbs attempted to turn Maori into a written language.
So, what have historians made of all this? What do they have to say? Remember though, that we don’t have to agree with them, rather we should always be evaluating their comments based on evidence. Just as you need to evaluate my comments based on the evidence! I feel that I’ve been giving you heaps of my thoughts on this topic, and as I am running out of time (my exam is tomorrow – eek!!!) I’m going to say that if you are as obsessed as I am about this subject you’ll have to do further research to figure out what historians have to say about it, and what the consequences of this early contact period were/ which of the above factors had the most profound changes in race relations between Maori and Pakeha.
Conclusions and Evaluation
In my year of learning about this, I have come to several conclusions. You can disagree with me, for I am no expert in the field and am only drawing on what I have learned in the course of a year!
- I would argue (and this formed the basis of my first essay on the subject) that in the initial stages of contact between Maori and Pakeha, Maori began to learn that while they could be accepting of Pakeha living in their country, and that Pakeha had many beneficial things to bring to the country (significantly, in my mind, the gospel which had the ability to offer peace and forgiveness to people who suffered from the effects of continual tribal warfare), they were also going to feel some negative aspects of race relations. Even today, we in New Zealand face problems that can be argued to stem from these very issues.
- However, the main focus of my essay was the idea that it was a misunderstanding on both sides of important/fundamental/key concepts to their own race/society that would have the greatest impact on Maori and Pakeha; indeed, much of what was to follow in NZ’s history was a product of this. For example, at this stage, most Maori did not understand the innate desire for land which drove the Europeans, and most Europeans did not understand Maori concepts such as those regarding warfare/revenge.
- My personal view is that of all the impacts upon Maori, the greatest was the missionaries as I agree with Claudia Orange who says that, “The sealers, whalers and traders had no other mission in New Zealand than to exploit the resources of land and sea. They did not actively seek to change Maori society. The missionaries did.” However, while this quote obviously has negative undertones, I would argue that while yes the missionaries certainly did have some negative impacts upon Maori (after all, they were sinners as much as the rest of us!) overall they had the most positive impact on Maori as they challenged elements of Maori culture that were clearly negative.