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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




The Maoris of pre-European days lived in villages, the size of which varied according to the productivity of the surrounding land. The houses were centred round the marae or village green, while the chief's dwelling and superior houses occupied the end farthest from the entrance gateway. In large villages fences divided the dwellings into groups. As remarked upon by Captain Cook, each was occupied by different sections of the inhabitants – usually a body of kinsmen. Each village also had its proper sanitary arrangements, in the form of a common latrine near the edge of a cliff or in some remote spot on the outskirts. Since these villages were sited on hilltops, one must assume from recorded descriptions that Maoris of those times led lives which were of a reasonable hygienic level.

When muskets came into New Zealand as barter in return for food, flax, and kauri spars, there was no longer any need for the Maoris to live in their fortified villages on the hills. They came down from the hills, musket in hand, to save themselves the labour of carrying provisions and fuel to their hill fortresses. On the lowlands and in the centre of their cultivations they built themselves a novel kind of fortification adapted to the capabilities of their new weapon. This was their destruction. There, in swamps, they built their oven-like houses, where water even in summer sprang to the pressure of the foot, and where in winter flooding was common. Under these conditions the Maoris were cut down by disease. No advice would they take; they could not see the enemy which killed them and therefore did not believe the Europeans who pointed out the cause of their destruction. For many years, muskets had disturbed the delicate balance of power held by the small communities of Maoris in New Zealand. It is estimated that during this period 80,000 Maoris died in the musket wars, and many more from European diseases.

In 1906 Dr Maui Pomare, then a Maori Health Officer, made his official report: “We have looked into the question of the decline of the Maori, and have found the causes were legion. Bad housing, feeding, clothing, unventilated rooms, unwholesome pas, were all opposed to the perpetuation of the race; but a deeper knowledge of the Maori reveals to us the fact that these are not the only potent factors in the causation of his decay. Like an imprisoned bird of the forest, he pines for the liberty and freedom of his alpine woods. This was a warrior race, used to fighting for liberty or to death. All this has gone. Fighting is no more. There is no alternative but to become a Pakeha. Was not this saying uttered by the mouth of a dying chief many generations ago: Kei muri i te awa kapara he tangata ke, mana te ao, he ma. (Shadowed behind the tattooed face, a stranger stands, he who owns the earth and he is white.)”


Rina Winifred Moore, M.B., CH.B., Medical Practitioner, Nelson.