Selling a racist paradise

Reading room

A Dark History Handbook of the Origin of Colonialism

In November 1902, the travel agency Thomas Cook published a guide to what New Zealand had to offer, mainly to British tourists in the country. This remarkable volume, with the cumbersome title NNew Zealand as a tourist and health resort. A Handbook of the Hot Lake District, West Coast Route, Southern Lakes, Mount Cook, Sounds, etc.provides extremely rare insight into the nature of New Zealand in the early Edwardian era and how this fledgling state wished to display its trappings to foreign visitors.

The handbook pointed out that the towns and villages of New Zealand were clean, new and charming, but it was in the hinterland where the “real” New Zealand – wild, exotic and “Maori” – existed, waiting to be discovered by the intrepid. traveler. The country was represented in the Manual as a prosperous, ambitious and happy South Pacific state, made unique by its landscapes and romanticized indigenous population. And, in one of Manual‘s many bursts of excitement, New Zealand has been labeled as the eighth wonder of the world. One aspect of New Zealand that was strongly emphasized in the Manualis the considerable attention paid to the country’s “all-healing” and “medicinal” waters in lakes, rivers and hot springs – described as “Nature’s Sanatorium”.

Yet, despite all his praise for the present and the future of the country, the Manual inadvertently captured in vivid detail the tail of a rapidly disappearing New Zealand. The upheavals of the previous four decades, including wars, confiscation of Maori land and the resulting widespread poverty and dispossession of the indigenous population, have all been carefully painted with colorful hues highlighting the beauty and opportunities for recreation. offered by the country.

There were often violent confrontations with Māori during this time – confrontations that resulted in 2,000 deaths and millions of acres of Māori land appropriated by the Crown. At the time the handbook was published, the population of New Zealand was 863,364, of whom 43,143 – around 5% – were Maori. All but 2232 of the Māori population lived in the North Island, and in some places the number of Māori was negligible (Southland, for example, had only two Māori who would live in the area).

The annual number of immigrants to the country exceeded 30,000 at that time, almost 80% of them from Australia and Great Britain. Of the country’s 820,221 non-Maori inhabitants, about a third were born overseas, with the trend of growth in the native-born population continuing. Life expectancy was 54 years for men and 57 years for women.

A vision of Maori at this time was produced by the pedagogue Henry Hill. It summed up so many of the popular (and condescending) attitudes that were prevalent in the country at that time. “There is something fascinating about the Maori race,” he wrote in 1902. “As a people they win the sympathy of all lovers of mankind. are their characteristics when left to their own devices, but under the higher influences of civilization they are progressive, intelligent, grateful and ambitious… I have nothing but praise for this declining race of people but noble… The modern natives have taken to dressing in the fashion of the settlers, eating similar foods and living in similar houses.Many believe these in themselves are evidence of the advancement of civilization.

But Hill also wrote grimly that there was “hardly a more pitiful sight than the Maori woman, without ambition, homeless but not homeless, indifferent to opinion, to responsibility, to the home.” To gossip, to smoke, and to pass the time in frivolous conversation, are common wherever the native footsteps are. When not on the culture, which she tends out of sheer necessity, she is usually found smoking her pipe on the “green village”, indifferent to the house, and apparently without the ambition to improve its environment. She does not have a house such as the colonist deems necessary.

There was every appearance at the time that Maori were on the verge of extinction, due to a combination of disease, dispossession, war and state indifference to their welfare. From a population of perhaps 100,000 when Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand in 1769, early Edwardian Maori numbers had dropped to around 40% of that figure, with no significant signs that this descent could or would be stopped.

The belief that Maori were heading towards extinction was widespread and firmly held – so much so that a monument was even erected in Auckland to commemorate their impending demise. Thus, in Edwardian times, the Maori were still considered by some to be a remnant of an earlier era in the country’s history, and one that was reaching its end point.

A slightly abbreviated excerpt from the Introduction to Tour of Edwardian New Zealand by Paul Moon (Bateman Books, $39.99), available at bookstores nationwide.

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