The introduction in the late 18th century of European plants such as potatoes, animals such as pigs, and technology including iron tools and muskets, altered Māori people’s patterns of daily life dramatically and permanently.
Changing work patterns
To supply ships’ crews, and later missions and settlers, Māori turned to extractive industries such as flax preparation and timber milling, and to growing potatoes for trade. These activities were often carried out by work gangs drawn from several settlements, and disrupted the older seasonal and local patterns of subsistence production.
New forms of warfare
One of the greatest incentives to produce goods for sale to Europeans was to acquire muskets. These brought further disruption to long-established patterns of life. Warfare had been a central feature of Māori society for centuries, especially as population pressure on natural resources increased. However, war parties had been limited in the food resources they could carry, by the need to provide for their families, and by their hand weapons. Casualties were relatively light and warfare was a seasonal activity, traditionally carried out in winter when there was less need to work at food production.
The potato, especially when tended with steel tools, provided substantial crops of portable food, so war parties could mount expeditions lasting many months at a time. The death toll from these grew as the number of muskets increased. New and stronger pā (fortified villages) were built as protection against raiders, and this activity also disrupted traditional daily routines.
Although Māori were slow to convert to Christianity, as they did so they abandoned the practice of morning and evening worship in place of a Sabbath service. Missionaries also taught literacy, and reading became a highly popular activity in villages at the end of the day’s work. Many children were encouraged to attend mission schools where they were introduced to a routine of rote learning, physical discipline and indoor activity.
Anthropologist Pat Hōhepa grew up in the rural Hokianga community of Waimā, and conducted fieldwork there in the early 1960s. He found that some aspects of life had changed little from decades earlier. ‘The fresh-water river is the special haunt of the younger children – for swimming, eeling, throwing stones etc. Added pleasure is to be found in the hills and forests, adventuring, hunting goats, foraging, as well as catching freshwater crayfish and brook trout.’1
Returning to traditional patterns
In the aftermath of the wars between government forces and some Māori tribes in the mid-to-late 1800s, Māori communities in close contact with European settlements increasingly adopted a daily routine based on wage working. However, tribes that had suffered defeat and land confiscations during the wars returned to some of the customs of earlier times. The Pai Mārire religion reintroduced the practice of morning and evening prayers to the sun. Children in these communities seldom attended mission schools and were once again taught mainly by practical example. Although traditional clothing was only worn on ceremonial occasions, and European implements such as axes, spades and camp ovens replaced handcrafted possessions, the daily way of life in remote communities was distinctively Māori.
Rural community life
In 1900, 98% of Māori continued to live in small and scattered rural communities. The people of the coastal village of Paritū on the Coromandel Peninsula, for example, raised introduced fruit, vegetables and animals but also fished communally for their own subsistence. Collective work in gardens had been replaced by casual labour in gumfields, timber mills and mines, on private farms and in public-works gangs. Although children attended school and there was some access to European medical services, tohunga were also active. Many people practised both Christian and Māori religious activities. The focus of community life was the marae – the setting for oratory, hospitality, land debates, haka and song. Tangihanga were the most culturally distinctive of all marae activities.
During the early 20th century Māori increasingly adopted European patterns of life such as a midday meal. In the small dairy-farming settlement of Waimā in south Hokianga, work followed the same seasonal pattern as on neighbouring European farms. Very few young people entered secondary education. In their free evenings they went to the local picture theatres, youth clubs and dances. Games of tennis, hockey, basketball and rugby were popular on Saturdays.
Wage-working meant that less time was spent on communal activities such as marae maintenance than in the past. However, Māori generally lived close to their extended family, marae and urupā (family burial place).