Pulled back from the brink of extinction
Approaching the year 2000, New Zealand's Maori population is growing strongly. However, just a century ago, in 1900, Maori were widely described as a 'dying race', doomed to extinction. Living conditions were poor, levels of health were low and the Government appeared not to care.
More than a century after European voyagers and traders started visiting New Zealand, new diseases such as measles, smallpox, influenza and typhoid had ravaged the Maori population. Many other changes to Maori society, post-European contact, meant that the standards of living dropped for Maori, one consequence being that tuberculosis also took hold. At the dawn of the twentieth century the number of Maori inhabitants had dropped sharply to about 40,000.
The death of the Maori race was thought to be inevitable, the inescapable working out of the law of the 'survival of the fittest'. However, this dreadful decline was halted, in the years 1900-1920, in large part through the imaginative and wide-ranging actions of Maori themselves.
An important new book, 'May the People Live', gives a comprehensive and detailed account of the way Maori leaders dealt with the crisis in the early years of this century. Educated young Maori health workers, including the first Maori doctors, Maui Pomare and Te Rangi Hiroa, and the first registered Maori nurses, worked with chiefs and older iwi leaders in the Maori Councils - under government sponsorship but with inadequate financial backing - to initiate and implement an innovative community health programme in villages and rural districts all around New Zealand.
By the 1920s population recovery was well under way and it was beyond doubt that the Maori people would survive and flourish.
Relying on extensive research, this is the first substantive study of this fascinating topic. 'May the People Live' also includes a brief survey of traditional Maori medicine, the Maori holistic view of bodily and spiritual wellbeing, and the course of Maori health after European contact.
A valuable contribution to the history of New Zealand, and especially Maori history, 'May the People Live' also offers much to those actively involved in improving the health of Maori today. The author concludes the solution of community involvement, as applied between 1900 and 1920, is as effective an approach today as it was for the Young Maori party Reformers and their colleagues.
Strong healthy looking people
The spear from Heaven
Tales of a dying race
These days of our disappearance
At last there is life
That we may know the ways of health
Turning the drifting canoe
Fight with us to save our people
From decline to resurgence.
About the author Raeburn Lange, the author of May the People Live, teaches history part time at the University of Canterbury while continuing to research and write on Pacific and New Zealand history.
374p, paperback, illustrated, ISBN 1 86940 214 6, $39.95