Volume 91 1982 > Volume 91, No. 1 > Polynesian corpuscles and Pacific anthropology: the home-made anthropology of Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck, by M. P. K. Sorrenson, p 7-28
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“The Polynesian corpuscles carry us behind the barrier that takes a Pakeha some time to scale . . .” (Buck to Ngata, September 20, 1926). 1

The central theme of this essay 2 is the belief of Ngata and Buck that their Maori ancestry and upbringing gave them a unique advantage over Pakeha in understanding Maori culture. When Buck was about to leave for the Bishop Museum he told Ngata (March 8, 1927): “In Polynesian research it is right and fitting that the highest branch of the Polynesian race should be in the forefront and not leave the bulk of the investigations to workers who have not got the inside angle that we have.” A little later (June 2, 1928) Ngata assured Buck: “You have the scientific detachment, the analytical ability, and the racial penetration to the ‘hinengaro’ & ‘ngakau’ Maori” — the inner emotions, heart and mind of the Maori. And later again (January 10, 1932) Buck explained: “Neither you nor I had any special training in ethnology in our university days; yet we both have a field experience that few, if any, ethnologists have been favoured with . . . . Neither the ethnologists of the old school like Peehi [Best] nor the younger generation like Skinner could tackle the things that you or I know to be of importance.”

As this last quotation indicates, Ngata and Buck were sandwiched between two generations of New Zealand anthropologists; between the amateur ethnologists who founded the Polynesian Society in the 1890s — S. Percy Smith, Edward Tregear and Elsdon Best — and the new generation of New Zealand- born but overseas-trained anthropologists who came to the fore in the 1920s and 1930s — H. D. Skinner, Felix Keesing, Raymond Firth, I. L. G. Sutherland, and Ernest Beaglehole. This paper is concerned with Ngata's and Buck's relations with these Pakeha colleagues and, since none of them worked in a vacuum, with the influ- - 8 ence of overseas and particularly British and American anthropologists. In their formative years Ngata and Buck were influenced mainly by British anthropologists, but after Buck went to the Bishop Museum and Yale, Americans became more important. However, it is not the formative period that I am primarily concerned with, but the later years, more especially the 10 years or so that followed Buck's departure for the Bishop Museum, when, at fifty, he became a professional anthropologist. A year later Ngata became Minister of Native Affairs with a long awaited opportunity to put anthropology into action.


As already indicated, Ngata and Buck placed much importance on ancestry and upbringing. Both had Pakeha ancestry but Ngata's was distant and unimportant to him; he considered himself a Maori. Buck was half and half and felt his Maori and Pakeha ancestry to be equally important. Ngata was brought up in totally Maori surroundings in the Waiapu district of the East Coast and went to Waiomatatini Native School. Buck was born in Taranaki but went to the state Urenui primary school and later worked with his father on a Wairarapa sheep station. Both went to Te Aute and then proceeded to university: Ngata to Canterbury University College, where he completed a B.A., an M.A. in political science, and an LL.B.; Buck to Otago Medical School where he completed an M.B., Ch.B. Te Aute had an important influence on Buck and Ngata, inspiring them with a burning ambition to ameliorate the condition of the Maori people (Condliffe 1971:63–73, Butterworth 1969: 16–21), but the university influence on them should not be ignored. From their academic records we know that Ngata and Buck were always at or near the top of their classes 3. In Ngata's lecture notes from Canterbury he recorded, among other things, that in the history of the Roman and British empires “race intermixture and utter neglect of race distinction led to the disappearance of . . . race morality and the staying power that makes a nation was lost . . .. The savage civilizations die out before the Western” — a dose of Social Darwinism that had for Ngata a much closer to home significance. Buck, like many pioneers of anthropology who had trained in medical schools, gained from Otago an early interest in physical anthropology — no doubt inspired by J. H. Scott, the professor of anatomy, who had published a paper on Maori and Moriori skulls in 1893 (Scott 1893:1–64). Thirty years later Buck expanded on Scott's paper with his essay on “Maori Somatology” in the Journal of the Polynesian Society (Buck 1922:37–44, 145–53, 1159–69; 1923a:21–28, 189–99). Earlier, in 1910, Buck had completed a more substantial exercise in medical history and ethnology, his M.D. thesis, “Medicine Amongst - 9 the Maoris in Ancient and Modern Times.” He introduced it in characteristic fashion: “with the priviledge [sic] of the half-breed inheriting the blood and ideas of both races I have been able to detach myself from European thought and look at . . . disease from my Maori countryman's viewpoint” (Buck 1910:1).

After university Ngata and Buck turned their professional expertise to the service of the Maori people: Ngata as secretary for the Te Aute College Students' Association and later as organising secretary for Carroll's Maori Councils; Buck as assistant medical officer in Pomare's Maori hygiene division of the Department of Health. But it was not long before they entered politics. Ngata won the Eastern Maori seat in 1905, Buck Northern Maori in 1909. In the years in Parliament before the First World War they came into close contact with Pakehas interested in Maori culture, like Augustus Hamilton and Best at the Dominion Museum, and Percy Smith of the Polynesian Society. During this period they set their scholarly goals. In 1909 Buck drew up a questionnaire on Maori social organisation and talked of collecting anthropometrical measurements. 4 He started to publish on material culture (Buck 1911: 69–98), and made his first excursions into the Pacific: to Rarotonga in 1910, and Niue in 1912–13. In 1909 Ngata issued a manifesto for the Young Maori Party which stressed the need to preserve Maori language, poetry, traditions, customs, arts and crafts; and to carry out research into anthropology and ethnology (Ngata 1909).

The First World War scarcely interrupted their scholarly activity. Buck went overseas as Medical Officer to the Maori Pioneer Battalion. He won a D.S.O. at Gallipoli, served in France, and on the way home took the measurements of his men that were used for the essay on Maori somatology. Ngata remained at home, helping the recruitment of the Maori Battalion and, among other things, publishing patriotic haka (Ngata 1914). After the war Buck was appointed Director of Maori Hygiene but this was increasingly of secondary importance to research and publication, notably of his monographs, The Evolution of Maori Clothing (1926), and The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (1927). Both were published by the Board of Maori Ethnological Research which Ngata had been instrumental in establishing in 1923. Buck was also doing the rounds of the academic conferences with his classic lecture “The Coming of the Maori”, given as early as 1908, expanded as the Cawthron Lecture in 1922, repeated at the Melbourne Pan-Pacific conference in 1923, and thereafter in many different places and guises (Condliffe 1971:106). The Cawthron version was published in 1925 and reprinted by the board in 1929.

In these years Buck and Ngata were meeting some of the big men in British and American anthropology. Most important of all for Buck - 10 were the meetings in 1923 in Melbourne and Auckland with Herbert E. Gregory, Director of the Bishop Museum, who nominated Buck to join the museum's expedition to the Cook Islands in 1924; and in turn invited him to join the Bishop Museum staff as ethnologist in 1927. Buck sought Ngata's advice (March 8, 1927) before accepting: “The past has gradually been training me for it. I think the time is now ripe when I should devote myself entirely to it and keep up our reputation in this branch of scientific work. I know I can more than hold my own with other writers in the Polynesian field.” Ngata approved and Buck was launched on his career as a professional anthropologist; apart from brief visits in 1930, 1935 and 1949, he remained an expatriate for the rest of his life. But Ngata remained firmly rooted in New Zealand, pursuing his political career and his scholarly activities, and only once — a brief trip to the Cooks in 1932 — leaving his native shore. In the correspondence which followed they were so often in agreement that, as Condliffe says, “their individual contributions cannot be separated” (Condliffe 1971:98). They were a constant source of encouragement to each other. But their temperaments were very different, for Buck was genial, witty, a superb raconteur and a popular lecturer, urbane and becoming increasingly Americanised; whereas Ngata was ascetic, introspective, formal (even with colleagues of long standing), had a wry sense of humour and a cutting repartee, did not suffer fools, especially Pakeha fools, gladly, and placed his trust in a small circle of confidants like H. R. H. Balneavis (the ever faithful Bal) and Tai Mitchell. Yet despite their different personalities, there was an intimate bond between Ngata and Buck which survived the different turnings of their careers.


As has been suggested, Buck and Ngata were heirs to an older, largely British, school of anthropology which had been introduced into New Zealand by Smith and Best. It was very much concerned with ethnography (descriptive accounts of non-literate peoples) and ethnology (comparative studies and classifications of such peoples on the basis of material culture, language, institutions, and so on). Though some pioneer anthropologists like E. B. Tylor thought in terms of the independent evolution of cultures, the weight of opinion in British anthropology favoured diffusion from a common centre. New Zealand diffusionists, like Tregear, Smith and Best were, as I have pointed out elsewhere (Sorrenson 1979:18–33), determined to trace Maoris (and other Polynesians) from a Middle East or Indian homeland. In the first two decades of the 20th century diffusionism received a considerable boost from the work of Elliot Smith and W. J. Perry at University College, - 11 London. American anthropology, on the other hand, was dominated by the culture history school which derived from Germany, and was led by Franz Boas at Columbia.

Both schools came under attack in the 1920s and 1930s from the functionalists, led by Bronislaw Malinowski (who was appointed to the chair of anthropology at the London School of Economics in 1927, and, though he often denied paternity, A. Radcliffe-Brown at Sydney (Kuper 1973:13–88). Buck and Ngata were caught in the cross-fire. They came to know many of the combatants, or to read their works; but they were not really converted. In 1933, when he was visiting professor at Yale, Buck attended the conference of the Anthropological Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, accompanied by his student, Ernest Beaglehole. He met Boas — then 75 — and several of his disciples, all carefully jockeying for the succession. Radcliffe-Brown was also there, leading a seminar on field work methods. Buck contributed. He added that Radcliffe-Brown was busily “disavowing the fatherhood of the functional school which Malinowski claims as his own creation” (March 11, 1933). There was, Buck continued, “somewhat of a controversy about the functional school in America. Malinowski and his followers hold that the American school have been recording the dry complexes of culture in a historical sequence whereas the functional school has as its object the drawing up of a picture as to how various parts of a culture function . . . at the time of writing. The trouble in America is that the Indian culture is about defunct and they have to use the historical method to get anything to write about.” Buck commented again (May 12, 1933) after Malinowski had lectured at Yale later in the year: “Both methods have their uses and the attempt to create . . . distinctions between various schools are purely academic dodges with no practical uses.” Buck never did have much time for theory.

It is time to turn to some of the more specific points at issue, more particularly as these relate to Buck's and Ngata's work. Since it is impossible to cover the whole range, I shall concentrate on four: the controversy over diffusion; questions relating to social organisation; the role of psychology; and, finally, acculturation, particularly as it related to the use of anthropology in the government of native races. Buck and Ngata were concerned with all topics, though to differing degrees.

First the controversy over diffusion. Throughout his life Buck clung to the romantic notion that the Polynesians had a Caucasian origin and had come into the Pacific from South-East Asia. So did Ngata. On April 24, 1932, he told Buck he was much attracted by a restatement of the Caucasian theory by Griffith Taylor, Professor of Geography at Sydney. The Mediterranean, Aryan, Mongolian, Arabian, Indian and Malaysian - 12 influences, Ngata said, “gave our forefathers a rich and varied culture whose elements were shed or debased in their enforced speculative wanderings into Oceania.” Ngata and Buck were merely reiterating the older views of Smith and Tregear, but it is worth noting that later in the thirties they began to express criticism of Smith's scholarship. On May 31, 1936, Buck said he had “started to read Smith's ‘Hawaiki’ again for I do not believe that it was humanly possible for any people . . . to remember accurately a line of ancestry that went back to India in 450 B.C. I believe that genealogies are important in showing common ancestors and . . . descent but beyond a certain distance back they cannot be relied on to give accurate dating.” A year later their old friend Herbert Williams — the one Pakeha scholar Buck and Ngata never criticised — published his essay, “The Maruiwi Myth”, in the J.P.S. (Williams 1937:105–22), with its trenchant criticism of Smith's use of oral records gathered by Whatahoro Jury, Te Matorohanga and others; criticisms which were reflected in the 1949 revised edition of Buck's Coming of the Maori (Buck 1949:51). By this time Ngata (November 27, 1949) was also critical: “Whatahoro . . . rammed many improbable things down old Matorohanga's throat to extract them for the benefit of Percy Smith and Elsdon Best.”

In his studies of material culture in the Pacific Buck became aware of the critics of diffusionism, notably Roland Dixon, Professor of Anthropology at Yale, whose work he was reading and reviewing in the early 1920s (Buck 1923:248–9). On June 5, 1928 he urged Ngata to read Dixon's new book, The Building of Culture, for its criticism of the Elliot Smith/Perry theory of diffusion. Later in the year (September 24, 1928) he complained of students who, lacking information about a particular culture, filled the gap with information from another culture which they thought was similar. Though he expected to “get into trouble with some of the older ethnologists”, Buck was determined to avoid the “assertive method of the Perry school”. Characteristically he added, “Fortunately, I have not yet evolved a theory.” Three years later he was still without a theory. Complaining (August 19, 1931) of the incorrect labelling of artefacts in the British Museum, he said that only by careful measurements and analysis would it be possible to work out the stratification of culture. “It is consideration of such details that prevents me from rushing in with generalisations. Much of the writings of Rivers and others will go by the board when their theories and groupings are analysed in detail.” But by December 3, 1933 Buck, having praised some articles by Gilbert Archey, of the Auckland Museum, on Maori carving, had declared himself “rather in favour of his theory of local evolution, especially after seeing the manner in which different developments take - 13 place in individual islands of the same group. Diffusion is the refuge of the indoor student and the proximity of similar objects in cases in the same room made diffusion look easy” — as, for instance, in the Pitt-Rivers Museum at Oxford. Buck went on to criticise a diffusionist paper by W. H. R. Rivers and to support a restatement of local evolution by Dixon. He was to maintain this position in his own work.

Buck and Ngata were somewhat at sea on social organisation, but this is not surprising since neither of them pretended to be a social anthropologist. In their earlier work they tended to rely on British anthropologists of the old school like Rivers, rather than new men like Malinowski or Radcliffe-Brown. Later (July 29, 1928, November 9, 1929, November 4, December 6, 1930), Buck referred to Americans like Wissler (1929), Lowie (1920) or Tozzer (1925). His monographs on the ethnology of the different Polynesian groups usually contained brief chapters on social organisation but these were descriptive rather than analytical.

Ngata also did some work on Maori social organisation; he even considered “writing a tome” on it for a D.Litt., but, on Herbert Williams' advice, he decided (June 23, 1928) it would be sufficient to submit Nga Moteatea. However, he did complete, though not publish, one substantial exercise in the use of “The genealogical method as applied to early New Zealand history” (Ngata 1928). Ngata was not content to use genealogies to create a chronology, in the style of Percy Smith; he also used them to throw light on traditional social organisation. His model was Rivers' paper on “The Social Organisation of the Torres Straits Islanders”, published in Man in 1901. Ngata emphasised that the Maori genealogies were much longer and richer than those of the Torres Straits Islanders. From his genealogies Ngata was able to “cross swords” with Best, who had claimed that Maoris did not favour marriages with close relatives. On the contrary, he told Buck (June 23, 1928), “the whakapapa proved that such connections were the rule rather than the exception. The rangatira lines reek with marriages that are almost incestuous.” In addition, genealogies could be used to work out “the actual growth and development of hapu and tribal organisations and even to determine the actual period and circumstances under which tribal appellations were applied.” Though Buck responded encouragingly (July 2, 1928), Ngata did not continue this promising line of research. It was left to Buck himself to take up social organisation. He added a section on it to the 1949 edition of the Coming of the Maori but this was based on existing published sources.

Buck and Ngata had little sympathy for the application of psychological theory to anthropology; after all, they considered that they - 14 had acquired from their Maori side a unique understanding of Maori psychology. The British functionalists were not much concerned with psychology, but the Americans and French were interested in personality studies and the application of psycho-analysis to social anthropology (Kuper 1973:64). Buck (July 2, 1928) merely got impatient with them: “Freud's Oedipus complex that the psycho-analysts attribute everything to somewhat annoys me as to the importance attached to it.” Ngata was initially uncharacteristically abject. In 1928 he confessed that “as a Polynesian” he accepted “without reservation the dictum of students of Maori mentality, that the race had not attained to such a command of ideas and language to express them as . . . abstractions and generalizations . . .. The student of the whakatauki . . . will note the poverty in those abstractions which distinguish the wise sayings of the Hebrew, the European, or the Hindu” (Ngata 1928:1–14). The assumption that Maoris could not think in the abstract had been promoted by Best and, more recently, by the French anthropologist Lucien Lévy-Bruhl in How Natives Think. Ngata read it during a tour of Maori settlements of the South Island in 1929. He described it to Buck (June 7, 1929) as “a fine example of how the pakeha scientist can go wrong by a wrong conception of the premises on which to theorise. He creates his own type of what a native may be and then deduces what the limits of his range of ideas should be." By this time, however, I. L. G. Sutherland had put Ngata on to the work of the leading critic of Lévy-Bruhl, the American Paul Radin. After obtaining a Ph.D. at Glasgow, Sutherland had returned to a lectureship in Tommy Hunter's department of philosophy and psychology at Victoria University College in 1924. His paper, “The Study of the Native Mind”, published in the J.P.S. in 1929, drew heavily on Radin's Primitive Man as Philosopher, which he described as “an important new book . . . of great significance to students of [the] Maori mind and culture . . . [and] a striking challenge to accepting assumptions concerning the powers of thought of primitive peoples” (Sutherland 1929:127–47). Radin dismissed Lévy-Bruhl's notion that native mentality was “pre-logical and mystical”, and lacked “individuality in thought and expression”. He spoke of a class of “savage intellectuals” and found some rich examples of their thought in the lore and poetry of the Maori whare wananga. Sutherland used Radin to combat the notion that the Maori lacked the faculty of abstraction, and insisted that there was “an equality of intelligence between Maori and European.” Any differences of mind and character were of social and cultural, not racial, origin. Here Sutherland was going beyond Radin to Sapir (for the view that individual behaviour was culturally patterned) and to Malinowski (in stressing the “functional value” of forms of feeling and behaviour). - 15 This was probably Sutherland's most important contribution to the study of the Maori, introducing as it did some of the latest in British and American anthropological theory. It also marked the beginning of a close partnership with Ngata – though Sutherland was always to remain a junior partner.

Nevertheless, in 1929 Ngata was treating Sutherland with some caution, admitting to Buck (August 1, 1929) that he had some difficulty dealing with “psychological jargon” in papers on the mind. Radin's book, he said, would have to be studied from “Sutherland's angle and then ours”. And now, reversing his view of a year earlier, he said “Our whakatauki contain all the wisdom and philosophy of Solomon . . . the songs and chants may be placed . . . besides the philosophic utterances of any race.” But there was, Ngata concluded, much in Sutherland's paper which gave the impression that he had “not got the key to the Polynesian mind”. That key remained with Ngata and Buck.

Finally, of the topics selected for discussion, there is the question of acculturation. During the interwar years there was much interest in acculturation in Britain, the Dominions and the colonial empire, and in America. Once again the early inspiration for Buck and Ngata came from Britain. Perhaps the most notable influence was G. H. L. F. Pitt-Rivers. He had come to New Zealand for the Wellington ANZAAS conference in 1923. Best took him on a tour of the Maori communities up the Wanganui River. This was reported in the J.P.S. in 1924 and reprinted in his influential book, The Clash of Culture and the Contact of Races in 1927. Though this was originally an Oxford D.Phil., it was dedicated to Malinowski of the L.S.E. “to whose work and method I have turned for inspiration.” Pitt-Rivers also thanked Buck for information and comment. Buck recommended the book to Ngata, who read it with “deep interest”. Indeed, Pitt-Rivers inspired Ngata to a rare personal statement (August 1, 1928) of his own acculturation:

Such a work as that of Pitt-Rivers opens up a very wide field to chaps like myself; who are perforce immersed in problems of today .. . One must literally live again the generation and a half that has expired since entering the Waiomatatini school and . . . recover ... through ... one's memory ... the native background of those days. Where one has so greatly emphasised the period devoted to the acquisition of pakeha knowledge (1881–1899) and its application to the problems of adaptation (1899–1928) what a job it will be now to subordinate all that in the assessment of elements of social organisation that have persisted, though modified in details, to the vaunted days of “Te Ao Hou” [the new World]. I rather think that you and I, Bal and many others must acknowledge that our hearts - 16 are not with this policy of imposing pakeha culture forms on our people. Our recent activities would indicate a contrary determination to preserve the old culture forms as the foundations on which to reconstruct Maori life and hopes.

And Ngata went on to quote Pitt-Rivers on the need “to distrust all measures aimed at the imposition of innovations and culture forms incompatible with native culture.” Ngata's statement was warmly endorsed by Buck (September 24, 1928), who added that New Zealand was “unique in the very powerful assistance she had received from within . . . in what the Maori himself has done to render the assimilation of introduced culture forms possible.”

It was a message, moreover, that Ngata was sedulously promoting through young Pakeha protégés, like the economist J. B. Condliffe, and Felix Keesing, whose revised M.A. thesis was published in 1928 aS The Changing Maori — with a warm foreword from Ngata. This explained that those who were now witnessing the fulfilment of the Young Maori Party's aims would be amazed at Keesing's knowledge and penetration, of “the unfolding of this latter-day experiment in cultural adaptation” (Keesing 1928:vii). Ngata sent Keesing to the East Coast and published in the Ethnological Board's magazine, Te Wananga, his lengthy essay “Maori Progress on the East Coast of New Zealand” (Keesing 1929: 10–56; 1930:92–127). However, in the privacy of his correspondence with Buck, Ngata was somewhat ambiguous over Keesing, describing (December 15, 1930) his work as “a kind of journalese” – “a cross between Cowan and Andersen” but, at another time (June 2, 1928), calling him a “scientific sociologist who will place us in correct perspective”. Nevertheless, Ngata was thankful that he had got Keesing interested “in the communal and psychological basis of our work here. I was able to direct him here because I have consciously hitched our organisation on to the best elements of the communal system, while constantly seeking to approach intrusive pakeha elements, economical and otherwise through tribal mentality.” And Ngata sent Keesing off to Buck in Hawaii (with money from the Ethnological Board) to launch him on a career in anthropology. But he hoped that Buck, with his analytical ability and racial penetration, would come back to take up the story of acculturation; “chaps like Keesing . . . cannot get very far in.”

Buck did not come back and it was left to other Pakeha students to take up the task. The most notable was Raymond Firth, an Auckland graduate in economics who was one of Malinowski's first doctoral students at the L.S.E. Firth published his London thesis as The Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori in 1929. It drew a rather prickly response from Buck who complained to Ngata (November 9, 1929) that - 17 Firth had “made a display of the little knowledge that he possesses of the Maori tongue and the little fieldwork that he did in his Urewera walking tours.” But Buck was ready for the “threat” of this new Pakeha expert: “When you and I get down to tin tacks, we will have to draw upon our own inner feelings and psychology ... so that our pakeha friends will have to be careful ... We have got to meet the pakeha on his own grounds by making the most of any natural assets we may have through our blood.” Later, however, (October 22, 1930) Buck was hoping that a lectureship or a chair could be found for Firth in New Zealand. Ngata thought (September 20, 1930) quite highly of Firth's book and saw his training under Malinowski as “invaluable”. In his Land Development Report for 1931, Ngata quoted at length from the penultimate chapter of the book, “The Economic Aspect of Culture Change”, in which Firth, with acknowledgement to Pitt-Rivers, had set out four stages of acculturation. But Ngata was not uncritical of Firth, especially of his optimistic final stage of acculturation: Firth had failed to penetrate “the psychological strata of Maori life and thought” (Ngata 1931:18).


Acculturation was an important factor to be considered in the government of native races. Though Pakeha scholars tended to regard acculturation as a measure of the Europeanisation of Maori society, Ngata and Buck saw it as essentially a process of incorporating useful elements of European culture into an enduring Maori culture. Government's role was to facilitate that process, under Maori leadership. In the interwar years anthropological training was provided for colonial administrators at Oxford, Cambridge and London, and at Cape Town and Sydney. In 1931 Firth, then a lecturer at Sydney, visited New Zealand and urged Ngata to establish a department of anthropological field research which would also train officials in native affairs and islands administration. Ngata supported (February 6, 1931) the proposal — he wanted Buck to come back as director — but it lapsed for want of funds.

Nevertheless, Ngata and Buck were keenly interested in the uses of anthropology in the government of native races. Ngata's 1928 paper, “Anthropology and the Government of Native Races in the Pacific”, was particularly concerned with “the method whereby the native mind may be influenced to surrender its concepts and accept new ideas” (Ngata 1928:1–22). Much of the paper was concerned with reviewing the progress of acculturation in New Zealand where the ethnologist could see “before his own eyes the actual process of the merging of the cultures .... Under no other rule has it been possible to stage such a drama as had - 18 been unfolded in New Zealand — the deliberate lifting of a people of lower culture to full equality in politics, social, and moral communion with one of the most advanced races in the world.” And to illustrate the point Ngata went on to discuss the achievements in health and land reform of Carroll and the Young Maori Party. The adaptation of Maori culture had been “vastly facilitated by the education of the Maori people and the development in them of the facility of seeing from two different angles.”

From New Zealand, Ngata turned to her island territories, to test the view that “success in New Zealand in administering Native affairs justified the expectation that her administration had thoroughly mastered the art of governing Polynesians.” Ngata complacently assumed that New Zealand had been successful in the Cook Islands, which had been under the control of the Native Department and administrators with an expert knowledge of native affairs in New Zealand, and who had been content to follow a policy of taihoa ‘procrastination’. But he admitted that New Zealand had failed in Western Samoa, where she had created a special External Affairs department and used officials unfamiliar with native affairs. Moreover, she had failed to consult anthropologists — though Buck was in Samoa for six months in 1927. “It was not wise,” Ngata said, “to assume that because we knew the minds of two representative branches [of the Polynesians] we could forthwith effect easy entry into the mind of the Samoan.” New Zealand administrators did not sufficiently appreciate Samoan land tenure, social structure, or the status of hereditary chiefs; and, as a consequence, had provoked the Samoan resistance movement known as the Mau.

Ngata's comments on Samoa were amply supported by Buck during his 1927 visit and in later comments. On March 12, 1928 he wrote: “New Zealand which holds a world's reputation for the results of the Maori question has come a cropper over this damned Samoa.” And he contrasted New Zealand in Samoa with the Australians in Papua, where Hubert Murray had achieved good results because he had employed anthropologists. Later (January 13, 1931) Buck described meeting the chief Australian anthropoligist in Papua, E. W. P. Chinnery, who told Buck of the work he was doing “to extricate the Australian government from having to answer some awkward questions.” Buck also referred Ngata to a paper by Lord Lugard, doyen of British colonial administrators in Africa, who had urged on delegates at the recent Imperial Conference the need to employ anthropologists. To Buck this sounded “very much like what we as impirical anthropologists have been trying to do for many years in our own country . . .. The training that you and I and others got to better understand our own people and so tide - 19 over the difficulties did not come to us from any pakeha school of anthropology. The approach and the double angle of vision came to us through our blood.” It was that double angle of vision that was required in Samoa.

However, there was some change in Ngata's attitudes to the Samoan question once he became a member of the Government. He took over the Cook Islands portfolio but not Western Samoa, which remained under External Affairs and the Prime Minister. Though Ngata had been critical of the use of military men and administrators in Samoa, he accepted the appointment of yet another, the former Brigadier-General H. E. Hart, in 1931. Ngata thought (March 8, 1931) it would be enough if he had “personality, tact, the knack of balancing Native and pakeha factors, a sense of justice and decency. He may not understand what you mean by “culture”, “social organisation”, mythological sanctions and so forth but can appreciate that the Native has evolved his own style of living ... The danger now is that everyone is having a go at the anthropological approach.” In Ngata's view administrators were born, not made. According to Ngata (January 11, 1931), New Zealanders were “tired of Nelson and the Mau. The Polynesian policy of ‘Hei aha atu’ [never mind] is succeeding well. If less notice had been taken in the past of Samoan incidents and agitations the people would have settled down earlier.” And Buck agreed (August 25, 1931): “the political attitude that has been going on is merely a continuation of their normal attitude, which springs from their peculiar social organisation and racial psychology . . ..” So far as Samoa was concerned, anthropology justified a policy of salutary neglect.

But there was no possibility of taihoa in New Zealand once Ngata became Native Minister at the end of 1928. Frustrated for so long in Opposition, Ngata now embarked on a frantic programme of land development and cultural regeneration, using his senior position in the cabinet and brooking no interference from tidy-minded bureaucrats. Ngata's activities in office cannot be examined in detail; indeed, it will be necessary to confine comment to Ngata's applied anthropology. Here the main document is Ngata's Native Land Development Report of 1931 — perhaps the most important essay in anthropology that he wrote. As ever, Buck provided valuable commentary from abroad; several extracts from his letters were included in Ngata's report. The report, as already indicated, also quoted from Firth's four phases of acculturation, but with an important qualification of the last. In this Firth had assumed, in the typical manner of the functionalists, that “the former Maori material culture has been largely replaced by that of the white man, and the old economic structure has given away in corresponding fashion.” Ngata - 20 admitted that traditional material culture

may completely change its appearance ... social conditions [may be] profoundly influenced by ... those of Western culture; while ... morality must be adjusted to ... Christian ethics. But beneath the surface Native characteristics may persist and racial influences continue their sway of the mind and spirit of the people to a greater extent than European investigators can appreciate .... Close observation reveals the hold of tribal organization and of Native social custom over the lives of the people ... little disturbed by the incursion of Western ideas .... The rangatira families continue to receive the deferences due to their rank ... The wise administrator recognizes ... this element in Maori society and adjusts his policy accordingly (Ngata 1931:ix).

As Ngata went on to stress, traditional elements in Maori society could be used for land development and industrial progress: “the Maori workman ... is cheerful and contented, a philosopher at work. His racial endowment in the possession of a keen eye, a deft touch, and a ready co-ordination of mind and muscle is one that the statesman should build on .... The Maori of this generation views with philosophic calm the ever varying devices of western civilization for achieving the age-old purposes of the human race.” Ngata wanted to work through traditional chiefly organisation and turn old tribal jealousies into friendly rivalries in land development, education, arts and crafts, and sport. “The diffusion of ideas, if it is to succeed, must proceed tribally ....” Tribal elders from one district could carry the reforms into other tribal areas. Though Maoris were indebted to Europeans, they also owed much to their ability to control assimilation. Here Ngata quoted Buck (September 24, 1928): “The Maori can now select what is suitable in Pakeha culture and retain that which shows a tendency to persist in his own culture.” And he drew on Buck to compare the Maori favourably with other Polynesians:

Our cousins the Hawaiians are being rapidly absorbed . . . into the nirvana of American citizenship. Our remote kinsmen, the Samoans, are in a rut of self-satisfaction so deep that able-bodied men sit around braiding coconut sennit and parcelling out governing positions among themselves. Between the two, there should be a balance that moulds the assimilable good of each culture. It seems to me . . . that the Maori race are the only branch that are struggling to maintain their individuality as a race and moulding European culture to suit their requirements.

Buck, too, stressed (March 6, 1929) the need to work through the tribes: “I have always felt, since my Polynesian wanderings, that New Zealand - 21 was composed of a number of islands of spirit connected by land.” Buck's qualifications, Ngata concluded, were too well known to be repeated: “by going away from his homeland he has placed himself on some far-off peak where he may get a perspective on the whole picture of Maori life and effort” (Ngata 1931:xiv).

Ngata's paper attracted so much attention that he had to run off an extra 1000 copies. He sent several to Buck for distribution. Buck responded (December 15, 1931) enthusiastically: “It is a masterly exposition of the greatest thing that has been done for the Maori people.” Buck gave a copy to Robert E. Park, Professor of Sociology at Chicago, then lecturing in Hawaii, who described the report “as the finest thing he has read .... He wants to know the struggles and problems that native people have in adjusting ... to western culture, and your exposition gives him a clearer picture than any elaborate work on ethnology,” Since Park was one of America's leading authorities on racial interaction, this was handsome recognition. Buck saw a good deal of him in Hawaii and found “the exchange of ideas very valuable.” He chaired a lecture by Park on “Marginal Man” — men who belonged to two cultures and mediated between them. “I recognised you and I,” Buck told Ngata (October 19, 1931).

But the optimism generated by Ngata's land reforms was soon to turn sour. He pushed ahead with his schemes with reckless speed, ignoring in turn the advice of his departmental head, the Public Service Commissioner, the Auditor-General, and Treasury, who uncovered mounting evidence of administrative chaos, accounting deficiencies, and, on the part of some of Ngata's trusted subordinates, fraud. Early in 1934, in the face of widespread public criticism, the Prime Minister, G. W. Forbes, set up a Native Affairs Commission of Inquiry, headed by Mr Justice Smith, to examine Ngata's administration of the Native Department and the land development schemes.

The commission reported in August, upholding many of the complaints of the Auditor-General and roundly condemning Ngata's administration. Among the complaints were his high-handed treatment of Pakeha farm supervisors and his favouritism of Maori tribal leaders, more particularly his own kin. Though Ngata was not accused of fraud, one of his subordinates on the East Coast, Charlie Goldsmith, was successfully prosecuted. The commission recognised Ngata's burning desire to place people on the land but decided there was “no option” but to place on Ngata himself “the major responsibility for the breakdown of the financial organisation of the department ” (Smith 1934:56). And, as if to emphasise the gap in mental outlook between the Pakeha commissioners and the Maori minister, the report went on to quote Buck - 22 on tribal spirit, adding that it was necessary

to appreciate that the Native Minister, himself a Maori. The psychological factors in the situation ... were the result of tribal habits of thought and feelings to which he was himself subject. These habits involved the care for his own tribe and the support of any other tribes who assisted him .... The Minister, although ... a member of a tribe, was, as a Minister of the Crown, bound to refrain from using state funds, without lawful authority, in the interests of his tribe .... We regret to state that the Native Minister failed not infrequently in these matters (Smith 1934:39).

Thus was Ngata hoisted with his own petard of tribalism.

Ngata kept Buck informed on the affair. On November 27, 1933 he complained that “an administrative system with strong pakeha leanings will not be happy unless the instruments of its will are of its own colour and outlook.” But, he added “one has learnt how to eat mud, to endure vilification and to slave under the mana of other men so long as the objectives of one's life are furthered.” Buck replied bitterly (February 11, 1934):

New Zealand trots out the Maori people as show case specimens for the outside world to see what they have accomplished ... but were it not for the Maori people themselves and their leaders, New Zealand would have about as much to show ... as she has in Samoa. I have come to the conclusion that the Pakeha attitude towards native races is ... saturated with the deepest hypocrisy. Even in ethnology, I doubt whether a native people is really regarded as other than a project to give the white writer a job and a chance for fame.

And there were similar statements as the commission proceeded with its hearings. When the report was written, Ngata wrote briefly (October 29, 1934) but without rancour to inform Buck of its contents, and of his decision to resign. The commission, he said, had “adopted a hostile attitude right through, supporting the complaints of the Audit Department.” But the report lacked “the breadth of vision” he had expected. Ngata's only concern now was to smooth over difficulties with the Maori people and to ensure that the land development schemes continued. Buck's comments (November 29, 1934) were much more pungent, referring to the “frenzy” of Government officials that Ngata had dared “to set them aside and break through their taboo restrictions. New Zealand does not come out very well in its dealings with its Polynesian quota. Samoa was bad enough but their persecution of the one leader of the Maori people is a serious blow to the country's reputation. So long as the Pakeha can patronise, he will say nice things about a noble race but when it comes to direct competition, jealousy of - 23 race is very evident ... as manifested against you.”

Thus ended the most substantial experiment in applied anthropology, as perceived by its two home-made Maori anthropologists, that New Zealand has seen. Though the commissioner's findings cannot be discussed in detail, it does seem that they revealed an unbending monocultural approach which was hostile to Maori leadership and methods of organisation. If some corruption was revealed (and punished), the rest was probably no worse than the petty pilfering of state property that has been endemic in New Zealand. The charge of tribal favouritism was not convincingly proved. Against the claim of extravagance with state funds, one needed also to remember that Ngata used communal labour, paid lower wages, and made do with cheaper materials. Buck's charge of racial jealousy had some substance.

Ngata's resignation was followed, a year later, by the Labour victory at the polls. Although Labour politicians in Opposition had been Ngata's most vocal opponents, in office they carried on his land development schemes. But Maori staff on the supervision of the schemes and in the Native Department were replaced by Pakehas, and Maori affairs drifted without leadership — at least until Peter Fraser took over the portfolio in 1946. And for Ngata himself these were years of disillusion and despair, marked by the death of close friends like Bal in 1940, defeat at the hands of the Ratana candidate in 1943, and even the virtual ending of his correspondence with Buck. The correspondence had stopped in 1936 after Buck wrote strongly to urge Ngata to support Ernest Beaglehole for a research job in Wellington: “In view of our deep friendship,” Buck wrote (November 11, 1936), “I hope that you may discard any personal prejudice that you may have and look at Beaglehole entirely from the point of view of his academic record and scholastic ability.” Ngata did not reply so Buck wrote again (June 26, 1937), apologising for anything he had said to offend Ngata and explaining that he was merely acting like an American professor, trying to land a job for a pupil; in any case, Beaglehole had now got a position at Victoria. Ngata did not reply until July 5, 1940, when he accepted responsibility for stopping the correspondence. It was not Beaglehole, not anything Buck had done or said. “Not even Bal, my daily companion, quite understood the change that had come over one's mind.” And Ngata went on to explain that he had been overcome by a feeling of disillusion brought on by the Labour Government's social security policies which were sapping the will of the Maori people. But although Buck replied at once 5, there were few more letters after this, though Ngata found time for a considerable correspondence with Sutherland and Eric Ramsden, and for scholarly pursuits like the further volume of Nga Moteatea and the revision of the Maori - 24 Bible. He received some satisfaction when in 1948 he was awarded a D.Litt. It was suggested that it be conferred at Canterbury but Ngata chose to receive it at Victoria, where his youngest son, Henare, was being capped B.A. — and for the additional satisfaction of having the degree conferred by none other than his old enemy, now Sir David Smith, Chancellor of the University of New Zealand, the erstwhile chairman of the 1934 Commission of Inquiry.

In contrast to Ngata's declining fortunes, Buck's later years were triumphant. In 1933 Buck was selected as Gregory's successor as Director of the Bishop Museum. He took up the position in 1936 when Gregory retired, and with it held the status of a full professor at Yale. Academic honours and prizes followed in quick succession. Buck was awarded D.Scs by the University of New Zealand in 1937, by Rochester in 1939, by Yale in 1951, and a D.Litt. by the University of Hawaii in 1948; he was awarded the Hector and Rivers medals in 1936 and the S. Percy Smith medal in 1951. But he had to wait a long time for the honour he most coveted, the K.C.M.G. which Fraser awarded him in 1946. Stricken with cancer, he came home in 1949 — the Labour Government paid the expenses of his entourage — to receive the knighthood from his old comrade, Sir Bernard Freyberg, and to make an almost royal pilgrimage round the country, visiting maraes, giving lectures to scientific gatherings; above all renewing his old friendship with a frail and failing Ngata. When they parted company at Whenuapai airport both of them knew it would be for the last time. It was Ngata who died first, in 1950. He was buried at Waiomatatini, alongside his first wife, Arihia, on the knoll overlooking Porourangi meeting house, in the distant shadow of Hikurangi. Buck died over a year later but it was nearly two more years before E. B. Corbett, the Maori Affairs Minister in the National Government, arrived back in triumph with Buck's ashes. They were duly interred, after a series of impressive ceremonies, at Okoke, within three miles of Buck's birthplace.


What, then, can one say of Ngata and Buck in conclusion? Firstly, their changing fortunes over the later years can, I think, largely be explained by the different ways in which they were perceived —and received — by Pakeha New Zealand. For Buck was a distinguished anthropologist who had made it overseas; and, as we know, New Zealanders worship their successful expatriates. Ngata, by contrast, failed at home; he had come into conflict with the Pakeha establishment and he had been brought down. In distinction to Buck, Ngata was a marginal man who tilted too far in the Maori direction; or, as some - 25 would say, too far towards tribalism: that “little black Ngatiporou B---d”, as one Maori critic called him 6. But Buck, whose blood was drawn equally from both sides, remained the perfect specimen of the blending of the two races, that long-unattained Pakeha goal, which he had himself predicted in his 1924 paper “The Passing of the Maori” (Buck 1924:363–75). He ended the 1949 edition of The Coming of the Maori wishing the two races “a happy blending” (Buck 1949:538).

Secondly, it must be admitted that even Buck's anthropology has not pleased all of the professionals. When he died Katherine Luomala noted that the “principal regret of [the] functionalists” was that Buck's “conclusions ... were not always brought out as explicitly as they would have liked” (Luomala 1951:39). Maybe, but Buck never really pretended to be a social anthropologist anyway. Material culture was his forte and his work on that still earns respect. As for Ngata's anthropology, that was a series of fragments cast off by a man of affairs always more concerned to apply his anthropology to the task at hand, the regeneration of the Maori people. Where the theoretical and practical came together — in the 1931 Land Development Report — they were, as Park said, better than anything written at the time. Ngata and Buck may not have understood all of the anthropology of their time; but I do not think that mattered very much.

  • BUCK, P. H., 1910. Medicine Amongst the Maoris in Ancient and Modern Times. Unpublished M.D. thesis, Otago University College.
  • —— 1911. “On the Maori Art of Weaving Cloaks, Capes, and Kilts”; “Some Notes on the Small Outrigger Canoes of Niue-fekai”; “Some Tattoo Patterns from Mangaia”; and “Aitutaki Moko: Some Tattoo Patterns from
- 26
  • Aitutaki”. Dominion Museum Bulletin, 3:69–98.
  • —— 1922. “Maori Somatology”, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 31:37–44, 145–53, 1159–69.
  • —— 1923a. “Maori Somatology”, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 32:21–28, 189–99.
  • —— 1923b. “Review of The Racial History of Man by R. D. Dixon”, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 32:248–9.
  • —— 1924. “The Passing of the Maori”. Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, 55:363–75.
  • —— 1949. The Coming of the Maori. Wellington, Maori Purposes Fund Board.
  • BUTTERWORTH, G. V., 1969. The Politics of Adaptation: the Career of Sir Apirana Ngata, 1874–1928. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Victoria University of Wellington.
  • CONDLIFFE, J. B., 1971. Te Rangi Hiroa: the life of Sir Peter Buck. Christchurch, Whitcombe and Tombs.
  • KEESING, F. M., 1928. The Changing Maori. Wellington, Board of Maori Ethnological Research.
  • —— 1929. “Maori Progress on the East Coast of New Zealand”. Te Wananga, I, 1:10–56.
  • —— 1930. “Maori Progress on the East Coast of New Zealand”. Te Wananga, I, 2:92–127.
  • LOWIE, R. H., 1920. Primitive Society. London, Routledge.
  • LUOMALA, Katherine, 1951. “Necrology: Peter Henry Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa)”. Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, 208.
  • NGATA, A. T., 1909. “Draft Statement of the Aims and Objectives of the Young Maori Party.” Maori Purposes Fund Board Papers, MS Papers, 189/11, Wellington, Alexander Turnbull Library.
  • —— 1914. Songs, Haka and Ruri. Wellington, Government Printer.
  • —— 1928a. “The Genealogical Method as Applied to Early New Zealand History”. Wellington, Alexander Turnbull Library.
  • —— 1928b. “Anthropology and the Government of Native Races in the Pacific”. The Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, VI, 1:1–14.
  • —— 1931. “Land Development Report”. Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, G-10.
  • SCOTT, J. H., 1893. “Contribution to the Osteology of the Aborigines of New Zealand and the Chatham Islands”. Transactions and Proceedings of New Zealand Institute, 26:1–64.
  • SMITH, D., 1934. “Report of the Native Affairs Commission of Inquiry”. Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, G-11.
  • SORRENSON, M. P. K., 1979. Maori Origins and Migrations. Auckland, Auckland University Press/Oxford University Press.
  • SUTHERLAND, I. L. G., 1929. “The Study of the Native Mind”. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 38:127–47.
  • TOZZER, A. M., 1925. Social Origins and Social Continuities. London, Macmillan.
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  • WILLIAMS, H. W., 1937. “The Maruiwi Myth”. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 46:105–22.
  • WISSLER, Clark, 1929. Introduction to Social Anthropology. New York, Holt.

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1   Ramsden Papers, MS Papers 196/310, Alexander Turnbull Library. All of the quotations below from the Ngata/Buck correspondence are taken from this collection (folders 310–314). Subsequent references will merely refer to the date of the letter concerned, usually in parentheses.
2   A revised version of the J. C. Beaglehole lecture to the conference of the New Zealand Historical Association, August 1981.
3   Some of Ngata's term results and lecture notes are in the Maori Purposes Fund Board Papers, MS Papers 189/94, A.T.L.; some of Buck's results are in the Ramsden Papers, MS Papers 196/337.
4   Buck to Ngata, May 18, 1909, MA 31/42, National Archives of New Zealand.
5   Buck to Ramsden, November 6, 1940 (Ramsden Papers, MS Papers 196/318) says that he wrote “a warm and friendly letter” to Ngata, who did not reply.
6   Quoted in Ramsden to Buck, July 19, 1940, Ramsden Papers, MS Papers 196/318. The author of the statement was not named but was said to have been from the Ngatikahungunu tribe.