Te Rangi Hiroa/Sir Peter Buck
Even today, in our apparently progressive society, free from the
puritanical conservatism of Victorian England, this scenario might still cause a scandal.
In adulthood the offspring may seek counsel as they dealt
with identity issues and the trauma of stigma. To the contrary, Buck never questioned his genesis; all his
attention flowed into seizing opportunities and receiving the love and
acceptance of his parents. Te Rangi Hiroas maternal grandmother,
Kapuakore, provided further nurture and he cherished regular moments with
her. Much of our modern neuroses stem from self rejection and fear of man.
Buck suffered from neither; he stared at his own reflection in order to
catalyse progress, never concerning himself with unanswerable questions.
A Sentiental Education
Kapuakore, Ngarongos mother and therefore Great Aunt by blood, became Bucks grandmother. Neither her son or daughter produced mokopuna so she readily received her daughters foster child as her own grandchild.
Kapuakore provided his initial schooling in Maori values and mores. She was proud of her tribe, Ngati Mutunga, of her ancestry and importantly was able to impart an entire oral history into her grandson. Upon her death he received Kapuakores paddle. In 1927 he took it with him to Honolulu: "it hangs on the wall of my study as my most precious family heirloom. I have studied under learned professors in stately halls of learning, but as I look at that paddle I know that the teacher who laid the foundation of my understanding of my own people, and the Polynesian stock to which we belong, was a dear old lady with tattooed face in a humbled hut walled in with tree-fern slabs."
The focus of their relationship was on
family. As a child he would run to her after "a telling off" to
seek comfort from momentarily angry parents. "Grandparents"
he would later say, "are the early teachers of children, and mine was
my instructor in Maori lore." Writers straining to whitewash his half-caste ancestry have claimed that he was raised exclusively by his Maori
grandmother and mother, forgetting or rather censoring his Pakeha side.
Buck rejected such romanticism. An empirical fact-asserting scientist, he
detested inaccurate assumption and scorned loaded agendas.
"I cherish the deepest
regard for Te Aute"
While writing this tribute to RG Webb, Te Autes then headmaster, Buck outlined his policy ideas for a healthy Maori leadership and he stressed the role of the college. "We no longer have the fear of a dying race", he wrote, "but the great increase in the Maori race raises new problems that have to be met by sane leadership In Te Aute there prevails the spirit of stimulation and progress that augurs well for the future of the Maori people .Te Aute must lead and the college motto should inspire them as it did us .I do not think that there was anything extraordinary about Api Ngata, Maui Pomare and others of our generation, but we studied hard at Te Aute and we made the most of the opportunities that came our way." Such candour is indicative of his inner confidence.
First Maori Doctor
Buck had decided to pursue a BA at college. It was a teacher who suggested he apply for medicine because of a government-backed scholarship in the subject. In 10 months Buck acquired proficiency in Greek, a language with which he had no previous experience, He also satisfied several other prerequisites to win a scholarship and pass the entrance exam to study at Otago University College. His medical training came to mean innumerable Maori lives were saved by the changes his teaching implemented.
In 1904 Buck spent a year as a junior house surgeon in the Dunedin Hospital. In 1905 he found part-time employment with Sunnyside Mental Hospital and as a locum tenens in Greymouth. It was at Greymouth that Buck met and married 24 year old Irish born Margaret Wilson. At the time Buck was engaged to a well connected Maori woman with status and mana, yet he had experienced the ignominy of being rejected by this woman for another suitor, before being re-selected. Ignoring the betrothal, Buck married Margaret, a woman who, unlike himself, was not educated or trained in any tertiary capacity. The couple never produced any children. Their marriage survived several obstacles the severest of which was the shocking abnormality of a Pakeha woman with a Maori man (the opposite scenario was more acceptable). The educational difference, which was more common in Bucks day than it would be now, was balanced by Margarets committed interest in her husbands career and professional activities. The distinct and foreign cultural practices of the Maori/Polynesian lifestyle of which Buck was required to embrace personally and professionally became Margarets interest up to a point there existed a major personality flash point of rivalry and striving competitiveness between two people with exhibit strong ambition for social and professional success.
The idiosyncrasies and competing desires
of Peter and Margaret become more acute
without the responsibility and respite children bring into a relationship.
Buck being the passive party was rewarded through what was after all his
career whilst the vicarious nature of Margarets role left her
dissatisfied. Ambitious for her husband, it was Margaret who suffered near
traumatic disappointment when Peter failed to make the honours list under
a Liberal government, in spite of Ngata and Eric Ramsdens
Sir Apirana Ngata
The book displays an absolute trust in
one anothers advice, certainly Peter as an only child interacted with
Apirana as the brother he never had whilst Apiranas respect for Peters
intellect and judgement meant the political issues at home were constantly
enhanced by Peters counsel. It was Ngata who recommended that Buck
replace the Northern Maori MP Hone Heke when he died in 1909. During the
tangi a metaphor of marriage was used to enhance the search for
candidates. Finding another husband for the widowed seat attracted, to
Bucks complete surprise, Sir James Carrolls interested gaze. The
Minister of Native Affairs having consulted Ngata, announced that he had
found, "a fitting husband for the widow, a young man that has the
learning of both races - Te Rangi Hiroa!"
Politics and Maori health reform
Carroll, Ngata and Bucks basic policy as members of the Liberal
government was to delay the sale of Maori land to Pakeha until Maori had
caught up in education and economic development. Though the three men
differed in their personalities, Carroll being epicurean, Ngata an ascetic
and Buck gregarious which meant they were each judged differently by
their Pakeha peers they worked well together. As leaders they were
able to bring about a mass mobilisation among Maori that virtually saw the
people save themselves. They facilitated the building of plumbing systems,
irrigated and cleared their land without governmental assistance, and
implemented the hands-on medical instruction of Buck. In 1913 during an
epidemic of smallpox among his constituents, Buck actually left
accompanied by his wife Margaret, to spend six weeks among the infected
administering to the people as their doctor and nurse.
ANZAC: the Maori Contingent
"Gallipoli was a dirty campaign. We had none of the comforts that were afterwards provided for us in Europe. Our lines of communication were short. In France we would never have run out of stretchers. The fact that the evacuation pier was within range of machine-guns and shell fire disorganised the routine for dealing with the wounded in the big attack. The ration of water prevented not only washing our faces and bodies but also the washing of clothes. As a result, everyone was infested with vermin. In France the men had a weekly bath and a change of underwear and socks. Owing to the lack of cooking facilities, there were no regular hot meals for the men. There were no canteens or picture shows to distract the men from ever-present death. There were no back areas behind shellfire where the men could rest in safety and be pepped up with football and other athletic exercises.
The Australians and New Zealanders, at a fearful cost, had established a name for themselves as fighters. The initials - ANZAC - are a term of honour applied to the survivors of that heroic band. The Maori contingent landed on Gallipoli 500 strong, and we assembled in Egypt after the evacuation 120 weak. But though the death wail went up from every Maori village in New Zealand, the parents and relatives took comfort in the fact that the younger generation had bred true to the fighting instincts of their ancestors. Just as the British troops had learned both to respect and admire their Maori opponents in the Maori war of 1862, so the British troops learnt both to respect and admire their Maori comrades in the Gallipoli Campaign of 1915. The Maoris had proved that for strength and endurance, dash and courage, they were the equals of the best troops in the British Empire."
Buck's war effort was recognised with a Distinguished Service Order in 1918.
Upon his return to New Zealand he left politics to be appointed as
the Director of Maori Hygiene at a time when Maori had suffered tremendous
losses due to an influenza epidemic. He described what he saw as being
"the severest setback the race has received since the fighting days
of Honi Hika. Influenza in three months caused more casualties to the
Maoris than the campaigns in Gallipoli, France and Belgium." It took
him 7 years, directing teams of nurses, inspectors, medical officers
and Councils to arrest epidemics and decrease the Maori death rate. A
comprehensive educational programme produced converts at the highest levels
in Maori society, these were people who could execute sanitation and
hygiene procedures during tangi and hui-events which had previously
caused the greatest spread of infectious disease and food poisoning. Buck
having satisfied his personal goal to revolutionise Maori health turned
his attention to academic interests.
From Medicine to Anthropology
In 1923 Buck attended the Pacific Science Congress in Melbourne where
he presented a paper on Maori migrations. Professor Herbert Gregory, the
Director of the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, was instantly impressed and
invited Buck to join the staff. The internal and deeply private struggle
of patriotic loyalty began. E.H McCormick in his book The Expatriate: A
Study of Francis Hodgkins and New Zealand pointed out that during the
"early decades of the present century New Zealand fostered
exceptional talent in scholarship and the arts. But here was the
source of the expatriate dilemma it could not provide conditions in
which that talent could mature." Buck exemplified this colonial
condition. New Zealands heart beat was still very English, we did not
even provide a forum to study our own New Zealand history and our academic
institutions were so politically and customarily narrow minded that even
financial assistance offered by the United States was rejected on the
basis of an irrational mistrust of American education. J B Condliffe
explains the prejudice as being the result of the Reform Government's of starving the universities which left only pockets of virtually self-funded
enthusiasts to keep intellectual activities alive. News and literature
were wholly British and there was little knowledge of the United States, only
disparagement. Such an environment would have stifled and frustrated the
brilliance of Bucks talent. Nevertheless upon accepting the Bishop
Museum's appointment he asked his Government department for leave without
pay so that "at the end of 5 years the New Zealand Government would have first
claim on [his] services in whatever field they might think fit." The
Department of Health rejected his offer.
The Bishop Museum and Yale
His New Zealand perspective on Polynesia was that though New Zealand provided the largest part of the puzzle, by virtue of "the detailed ethnological work that had already been carried out there, it was nevertheless still only one factor, though a very important one, in the great Polynesian problem." So without prejudice Te Rangi Hiroa zealously and meticulously collected his data. Maui Pomare, a fellow medical doctor and MP described Buck as a " painstaking researcher who was never content with superficial observation and hasty comparisons. He wanted to know how something worked, no quick fire generalisations for him without evidence."
It was this tenacity and integrity that
developed an empirical awareness few could match in his field of research.
Never intimidated by prestige or tradition he often spotted others'
mistakes then incisively corrected them. During his appointment at Yale as
the Bishop Museum visiting professor (Bishop and Yale are closely linked)
Te Rangi Hiroa toured many established museums in North America, Canada
and Europe and it was there that his perspicacity shone. He corrected the
labelling of Tongan garments as Maori, Samoan weapons as Cook Island and a
theory of assumed Polynesian promiscuity as misguided nonsense. Thus the
Bishop Museum provided the catalyst necessary to launch Bucks
This process was immensely time consuming yet fundamental to his style and approach practical, empirical, pragmatic rather than abstract and theoretical. As Condliffe points out Buck "was never satisfied until he could make and use a tool in the ancient fashion." This was observed by visiting anthropologist Dr E.P Ellison at a reef in Rarotonga. "Peter" he said, "was not satisfied until he had completely mastered the technique himself under Tinirauss, a local experts, instruction". Buck adamantly concluded that, "one thing [was] certain a worker cannot analyse what is due to diffusion, and what to local adaptation and invention, without getting those details." Because Buck scorned generalised theory that ignored exact observation of working detail his own work has withstood time as well as competing academics.
Bucks communication with Ngata indicated a continual concern and deep passion for home. He took every opportunity to favourably compare New Zealands geography against the tourist sites he witnessed as the following extract reveals: "We left for the East on the Canadian Pacific Railway, leaving in the morning so as to see the celebrated Rocky Mountains. The scenery is really magnificent, yet it all reminded me of something I had seen before the Rocky Mountains with snow capped peaks gave me no thrill, the peaks were merely elevations on the general range and did not stand up so prominently, to my mind, as the Tongariro trio and Mt Egmont New Zealand is indeed a land of infinite variety in its scenery and physical characteristics, any one of its assets would be featured by the countries nearer the tourist routes. Any country may have one or more of these features on a larger scale but seemingly no other country possesses so many."
Ironically, it was North America rather than New Zealand who returned Buck's worth financially though they refused his application for American citizenship on the grounds that he, like all Polynesians, was "too Asian". Academically however, his presence was acclaimed with Buck attaining international distinction. He received honorary degrees from Yale, an MA in 1936 and a Doctorate of Science in 1951, combined with the Terry Prize in 1939. The University of Hawaii awarded him a doctorate in letters in 1948. New Zealand granted Buck two honorary doctorates in science in 1939, and he won the Hector Medal of the New Zealand Institute. Posthumously he was awarded the S.Percy Smith Medal of Otago in 1951. The University of Rochester in 1939 also awarded him an honorary doctorate. Buck received British (through the New Zealand Government) and Swedish Knighthoods, the KCMG and the Royal Order of the North Star in 1946. He received the Rivers Memorial Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute and in 1952 he was posthumously awarded the Huxley Memorial Medal, the highest honour the Institute can bestow. Other recipients include such luminaries in the field as Clifford Geertz, Claude Levi-Strauss, Marcel Mauss and Pierre Bourdieu. Buck's work was seminal in fostering understanding of Polynesian and Maori cultures and ways of thinking.
indication of Bucks unpretentious character he kept his title
"Doctor" even when it was surpassed by more distinguished
accolades. Upon returning to work at Yale, he wrote to the secretary,
"[t]he title, Sir, supersedes Doctor in British countries, but I am
not bothering about it locally. I prefer to be addressed as Doctor rather
than Sir in a democratic country."
"What new net goes afishing?"
Buck's life, defined by an assurance of identity, fidelity to his roots and knowledge of the past, was intermixed with a pragmatic modernity and ready optimism. A template of citizenship for Aoteraroa-New Zealand.
The old world created by our Polynesian ancestors has passed away, and a new world is in the process of being fashioned. The stone temples have been destroyed and the temple drums and shell trumpets have long been silent. Tane, Tu, Rongo, Tangoroa and other members of the divine family of the Sky-father and the Earth-mother have left us. The great voyaging canoes have crumbled to dust, and the sea captains and the expert craftsmen have passed away to the Spirit-land. The regalia and symbols of the spiritual and temporal power have been scattered among the museums of other peoples. The glory of the Stone Age has departed out of Polynesia.
"The old net is full of holes, its meshes have rotted, and it has been laid aside.
What new net goes afishing?
Kevin Boon, Peter Buck (as part of Famous New Zealanders series, ed. Allan R Kirk), Kotuku Publishing, Wellington, 1996.
J B Condliffe, Te Rangi Hiroa: The Life of Sir Peter Buck, Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, Christchurch, 1971.
Eugene Grayland, Famous New Zealanders, Whitcombe and Tombs Limited, Christchurch, 1967, pp. 11-20.
Gordon McLauchlan (editor-in-chief), Illustrated History of New Zealand, Bateman, Auckland, 1999, pp. 164-165.
M.P.K. Sorenson (ed.), Na to Hoa Aroha, From Your Dear Friend, the correspondence of Sir Apirana Ngata And Sir Peter Buck, Auckland University Printing Services, Auckland, 1986.
Ranganui Walker, He Tipua, the Life and Times of Apiranga Ngata, Viking Penguin books, Auckland, 2001.
Te Rangi Hiroa/Sir Peter Buck wrote numerous books and articles including, The Coming of the Maori and Vikings of the Sunrise. These are out of print, but may be found in most New Zealand public libraries, or at limited availability by searching at amazon.com.
'Te Rangi Hiroa', taken from, from 40 Great New Zealanders, Reed, 1994 , referenced in The Workers Encyclopedia.
The Te Rangi Hiroa Medal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
History and recipients of the Rivers Memorial Medal and the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London.
Short biographical entry at www.biography.com
"Courage is not merely
rushing and hacking at the enemy, the need for courage comes in life
STORY BY MAY-ANA TIRIKATENE-SULLIVAN
who by various turns has been a scholar, international fashion model,
preacher and champion high-jumper. May-Ana has graduated LLB and BA (Hons)
First Class in English literature from Victoria University, Wellington,
receiving the Turnbull Scholarship for post-graduate studies in New
Zealand Literature and the New Zealand Literature Prize, she has part-way
completed studies towards a PHD in New Zealand Literature. May-Ana is of
Waitaha, Ngai Tahu, Ngati
Kahungunu, and Australian descent.
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