ABORIGINE AND MAORI
IN New Zealand there is much to interest a student in ethnology and physical anthropology, but their particular interest for me has been connected with my work in dental anatomy, both human and comparative. On the human side my work was mostly on Maori and European material and as my official duties have taken me to most of the native areas, I have seen the Maori as he is. At first hand I have learned something of the effect of European culture on the Maori, observed physical characters in general, and noted deterioration of dentition and changes in jaws and face in particular. With this experience as background, I was keen on the prospect of seeing another native race whose contact with Europeans was more recent and under different conditions, when early in 1946 I was invited to join a party visiting Central Australia. I was the New Zealand member of an anthropological party led by J. S. Heath of Melbourne and helped by university authorities, Commonwealth Army Medical Service and R.A.A.F. We set off from our head-quarters at Alice Springs for Hermannsburg Mission and then the Aboriginal Reserve, some 200 miles from Alice Springs. The main objectives were studies of the growth of the face by X-Ray photographs, and of the relation of the lower teeth to the upper, and a report has been published by Heath.1
While assisting in the main work I had opportunity also for other studies, and will report my survey of oral conditions in due course. For the present I propose to deal with my observations in a somewhat general way, and so can cover a field that is wider, and perhaps more interesting. I might mention that the survey of full-blood aborigine children was limited by our return urgently to Hermannsburg with a member of the party who became seriously ill, and by - 164 the discovery that damage had occurred to the X-Ray apparatus. A return to the Reservation was not practicable.
Travelling westward from Alice Springs I saw country unlike anything in New Zealand. While mostly flat or undulating, it was more hilly in the part known as the Macdonnell Ranges. Here were rocky outcrops, cliffs and riverbeds through gorges, but in the more open country were creeks, watercourses and riverbeds which were distinguished by gum trees growing in the sand. Mile upon mile of scattered trees (none large and many dead), was described by the general name “bush.” One kind of tree, perhaps ironwood, mallee, mulga or desert oak was often predominant, and between the trees were many kinds of native plants or weeds, large and small, grass, saltbush or spinifex, but always so obvious also, the red and brown of bare earth or stones.
The climate is not one of seasons alone, but of cycles of good years and bad, so that the seasons, such as they are, do not resemble the climate in any part of New Zealand. The rainfall of 10 to 25 inches per annum is received mostly in the three months December to March, at which time also the temperature is highest. In February 1947 Alice Springs was even warmer than usual, when for eighteen consecutive days the thermometer passed ‘the century’.
This, then, is a glimpse of the setting in which for untold centuries has lived and died, and yet survived as a race, the Australian Aborigine, so different from our Maori but no less interesting a race of which there is much to learn, and much also that it is already too late to learn. In most parts it seems that the aborigines are decreasing in numbers, but in the sphere of the Hermannsburg Mission this trend has been arrested and the native population is now increasing. Here let me emphasize that the observations I made personally and the information gathered herein presented regarding the aborigines, relates only to those of the race who live in Central Australia. The tribes represented were, at Hermannsburg mostly Arunda, and at Haast Bluff on the Reservation chiefly Pintupi and Ngalia, but also a few members of Pitjentjara Tribe.
With the physical characters of the Maori in mind, a New Zealander at once notices the long limbs and thin shanks of the Aborigine. The Maori by comparison has a - 165 long torso and relatively short stocky limbs, a feature often emphasized in Maori art. In passing, one recalls that the Maori who always excelled at close fighting with his own weapons does not take up professional boxing. Weight for weight he would appear to be at a disadvantage with those of other races as regards reach. As for facial features the Maori shows much variation particularly in nose and lips. Whereas many individuals have thick lips more or less everted, the profile invariably is orthognathous. The Australian Aborigine is prognathous. A study of skulls gives us the impression that brow ridges are often prominent in the Maori, but less so in the Aborigine. The Australian Native rather has a noticeably large forehead with deep-set eyes which give an impression of long peering into the distance through strong sunshine. The deep-set eyes are so shaded that it is difficult for the photographer to secure a good portrait of an aborigine in sunshine except when the sun is low.
The matter of clothing is of interest in regard to both races. The Maori who had little need for clothing in the Pacific Islands, found a much less equable climate in New Zealand where the weather was often relatively bleak and severe. Although he, or perhaps one should say ‘she’, developed to a high degree the art of weaving cloaks the Maoris could not be considered clothed prior to European influence. They developed housing to the stage of complete shelter from the weather, but when in the open, and particularly when actively engaged in work or other occupation, much of the body was uncovered. The Aborigine was at all times quite unclothed. Although he was often exposed to warm or hot sunshine, he also experienced much cold, for the range of temperature in Australia, particularly in the interior of the continent, is considerable. In June and July there are sharp frosts in Central Australia, but the Aborigine in his native state had no dwelling to give complete shelter. This, even more than in the case of the Maori illustrates the adaptability of the human body to external temperature changes as regards control of heat loss. We are reminded of Charles Darwin's observation in Tierra del Fuego. He records having seen there a young mother with babe at her breast, both apparently unconcerned at the snow flakes falling on their bare bodies.2- 166
The Aborigine was obliged by his environment to live a nomadic life. This may account for his failure to develop the art of housing, but it must also be remembered that with so little rainfall through most of the year he lacked a strong incentive to the construction of adequate shelter. Europeans similarly, in the outlying and warm parts of the continent, have found it feasible during most of the year to live virtually in the open. The nomadic life was forced on the Aborigine by the dispersed nature of his food sources and by the uncertainty of water supplies. This would explain a feature of contrast between the two races. The Aborigine never cultivated anything, but the Maori was an expert. With his fertile well-watered land, the Maori, (in spite of the fact that some of the food plants brought from Hawaiki were not successfully grown in New Zealand) was expert in growing first his kumera, and then the potato and other food plants brought by the Europeans. In the North, and especially around Te Awamutu, the Maori readily adapted himself to the plough and to the growing of wheat, and displayed considerable business ability in disposing of his crops, until discouraged by the effects of the Maori War. The Aborigine, perhaps more than the Maori, was obliged to excel in knowledge of Nature, for his very existence depended upon it. Every living thing in the plant or animal world was apparently studied as a possible source of food, and in this connection the habits of all creatures were known. No wonder he became expert in tracking them, great and small. This ability contributed largely to the Aborigine's success as a stockman.
To find the stock, the stockman must be able to follow them. He must be able also to read the signs of movement of other creatures, if he is to maintain not only the stock, but also himself and his horse in an absence of days or weeks from the homestead. The Aborigine, by his adaptation to the conditions in his vast country, has made the raising of stock not only possible but profitable. But this achievement has had a profound effect not only on the lives of the native individuals and groups directly concerned, but also on the history and destiny of the Aboriginal race itself. The culture of any group centres around food. In a few parts of the earth Nature provides bounteously, and man has only to help himself, so that with little exertion his food then is - 167 seldom a problem. For the Aborigine it was a problem which was often liable to become critical. In the interior, food and water were the focal point in the struggle for existence, a struggle in which the Aborigine was by no means always successful as an individual or small group, but as a race he lived on.
The Rev. Albrecht 3 of the Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission near Alice Springs, has discussed the natural food supply of the Aborgines, with particular reference to Central Australia. The following details were obtained partly from his paper, and partly by personal discussion with Mr. Albrecht, and also with Mr. Rex Battarbee, while at Haast Bluff in the Native Reserve in the western Macdonnell Ranges in May 1946. A native must distinguish between poison plants and edibles, so it should be noted that he cannot “live anywhere and eat anything”.
A valuable plant food is “lartja” or “wapiti”, a small yam, and there are other yams. “Wapiti roots” from the size of a finger to an inch or more in diameter, supply water as well as food and are very sweet. “Yelka” bulbs about the size of a medium shallott, are fairly widely distributed. Roasted in hot ashes, peeled and eaten, they are very satisfying and may be considered their daily bread. Another valuable food, the seed of “Mulga”, Acacia aneura, oily and appetising when roasted and rolled into small balls mixed with water, enables the natives to keep in fine physical condition. Other seeds, including grass seeds, are used. Various foods, not really mainstays are “langkwa”, the fruit of a creeper, berries of the wild fig Ficus platypodia, and (after rain) the succulent “manjero” growth and berries of “uralpa” and “rhatnayalla” plants, not forgetting “paraltja”, a sugary exudate on gum leaves from the almost quinquennial attacks of a tiny insect. The roots of many plants and shrubs provide emergency rations.
Insects, particularly “honey ants” and other small creatures such as the favoured wichetty grubs, contribute their quota and variety to the food. For animal foods there is a variety to choose from. Dependent on rain is the supply of frogs and fish. I myself had fresh fish at Hermannsburg. They had been obtained the previous day from a water hole in Glen Helen Gorge. Branches and bush pushed through the water brought the fish to the shore, where they were - 168 easily taken. There are a number of edible snakes, the large carpet snake being a special delicacy, and the native knows how to distinguish its track from that of a poisonous snake. Many varieties of birds have been classified, and some still found in the district are the emu, wild turkey, eagle, black cockatoo, ring neck, topknot pigeon, sparrow, crow and duck. Bird life is largely influenced by the season, and though few are about in times of drought many appear after a good fall of rain. Lizards are a chief source of meat supply, and thirty-three varieties are still found in the district.
“Lunkultja”—“Big Meat” or means of livelihood, is represented by a long and varied list of small and large animals. Although some of the supplies have diminished there is still a variety available, but the native in the inland may have to go a long way before he can get a kangaroo, for it is an important fact that the kangaroo is independent of water. A native cannot afford to go further than a day's walking distance from water, and at the age of about forty five or fifty years when a man's skill and vigour are no longer equal to the task, he may have to retire from hunting parties. If the young vigorous men have been employed as stock riders the tribe loses the suppliers of meat without getting anything in return. The young men brought up under semi-civilised conditions do not properly acquire the art of hunting, for as Mr. Albrecht says, “ways of living which lie thousands of years apart cannot be expected to be combined in a native.” If a native is to continue to live as of old he needs a spiritual background. In the past this enabled him to consider himself master of nature. Contact with Europeans has caused him to doubt his own efficiency and try to imitate the white man, and he is no longer lord of the realm. If the transition stage is delayed, the struggle for existence, often desperately difficult in the past, now becomes hopeless.
The Maori was in a somewhat similar position about the beginning of this century. Trying to become a European he had abandoned much that was valuable in his own culture, but had failed to adapt himself sufficiently to European ways. He was helpless and hopeless, and diminishing in numbers. The tide has since turned, and with guidance the Maori has glimpsed a future. Many, and by no means only those with an admixture of European blood, have made good in the - 169 European way of life. Retention of some of the best features of their old culture has often helped. To have passed in a few generations from a primitive background to intellectual equality with the European, is evidence of high intelligence and adaptability. As a race however, there is still a long way to go, and progress will depend largely on the example and sympathy of the European.
For the Aborigine the task is much more difficult, for the circumstances in which he is placed are different, and the gulf between the cultures is wider, so wide in fact that it seems undesirable to try to bring him across. To leave him in his primitive state is impossible, for so much has been lost that his extinction would be certain. To quote Albrecht again “The obvious conclusion can only be to find ways and means to guide them into a new way of life, which can only be done if due consideration is given to their past, particularly their means of livelihood.” What, then, can be done, or is being attempted? First, their food supply must be assured. Reservations have been set aside, but this in itself is insufficient. The reservations in some cases are arid, inhospitable tracts of country with insufficient game. Extensions of cattle stations can only further deplete the game. Water is essential, and supplies may be obtained in many places by sinking wells. This has been done successfully in the area influenced by the Hermannsburg Mission. At Hermannsburg itself, a water supply has made possible a large and flourishing vegetable garden. It has been necessary further to supplement the food supply, but as this has brought the usual European foods to the Aborigine, new problems have arisen. At Jay Creek for example, there is a Government ration station, and as the natives are maintained on European foods they have almost lost the incentive to hunt. Hunting is still possible on the Missionary Plains and on the Reservation. At Hermannsburg, rations are not issued to able-bodied men, who must therefore still hunt. Apart from the meat obtained, they are given credit for kangaroo skins and dingo ‘scalps’, and so may buy food at the Mission. A good meal is provided, however, for children and old people. Some form of payment is given also to everyone who works.
Beyond the tasks at the Mission and in connection with their own cattle and sheep station it has been found difficult - 170 to provide suitable employment for the men. The most successful effort is the tannery which is well equipped and serves a large district. Subsidiary activities such as the making of footwear, skin rugs, and souvenirs (such as native weapons) are well established and the articles command a ready sale with tourists.
It is noteworthy also that cultural activities of a high order are engaged in by a small number of men who show ability as water-colour artists. Among the full-blood Aborigines two at least, Albert Namatjira and Edwin Pare-roultja, have held successful exhibitions in the cities, and an advisory committee at the Mission watches their interests as regards earnings. Credit for developing this artistic ability is due largely to Rex Battarbee, himself an artist of note. Under his guidance also several young men have become fine athletes, one being Edwin the artist.
At Haast Bluff, on the Reservation, life is more primitive, and the natives depend largely on their own efforts for food. This is, however, now supplemented by rations, the principal items being flour, sugar and tea. I examined children at Haast Bluff and Hermannsburg, and also children from Jay Creek. The numbers of Aborigine children, full-blooded or more than half-caste, seen at these places were sixteen, seventy and seven respectively, a total of ninety three. At all places oral defects were found, malocclusion (irregular teeth), dental caries (tooth decay) and inflamed gums (gingivitis). This is the usual finding when a native race adopts European foods, particularly white flour and refined sugar. At Haast Bluff the maximum period of access to these foods was five years, and the fact that defects were evident in so short a period is important. Details of the oral conditions found are being reported separately. At the time I was at Haast Bluff, the water supply was limited to a small soak-hole in the riverbed, but a bore being sunk a few miles away had just found good water.
The oral conditions in general were similar to those found among the Maoris. In both races, prior to contact with European foods, recorded observations and evidence of skulls in museum collections, indicates that the oral defects referred to were rare. Dental disease in the form of alvealar abscesses in mature individuals did occur, but from physical or mechanical causes. An excessive wearing - 171 down of teeth resulting in exposure of the pulp, initiated the dental abscess. Abscesses now seen in the living individuals, children and adults, are usually the result of advanced dental decay. Now-a-days the wearing down of teeth, with the Maoris at least, is much less common.
As with the Maoris, so also with the Aborigines seen recently, there was considerable variation in the conditions found. The native teeth in both races are different (to the eye of a dentist) from those of Europeans, the jaws and dental arches are broader and the whole set-up results in a more efficient masticatory mechanism, but there is ample evidence that the best dentition is not necessarily immune from defects where European foods are eaten. In both races it would appear that the breakdown is more complete in proportion to the lack of vigorous mastication (or normal function) associated with an increased use of refined carbohydrate or starchy food. It is to be understood, of course, that artificial prophylaxis, or cleaning of the teeth is not practised, and in general the gingivitis is more marked as the individual becomes older. Septic mouths, quite apart from dental decay, are common in adults of both races under these conditions.
At Haast Bluff the natives as a rule wear no clothes. This is fortunate, as such clothes as were seen bore eloquent testimony to the absence of laundry activities. The water supply appeared barely adequate for drinking purposes alone. With the lack of personal cleanliness, the prevalence of flies, and the poor living conditions generally, it was no surprise to find that disease conditions, particularly of the eyes, were common. This points to one of the greatest needs of the Aborigine, and if the evidence of oral defects also is borne in mind, there is a two-fold requirement in filling the need. Not only is medical attention necessary, but a modification of the nutritional supplement now provided is essential in helping the Aborigine adapt himself to the new conditions of life.
In meeting these needs the question of education cannot be overlooked. In New Zealand, education is available to Maoris, and is compulsory for the children of both races. In the predominantly Maori areas, native schools provide a modified curriculum. While considerable progress has been - 172 made in recent years, it is doubtful whether the present system will prove to be completely satisfactory.
In Central Australia, the Government does not provide educational facilities for full-blooded Aborigines, but there is a school for such children at Hermannsburg Mission. In New Zealand the Maoris are so closely associated with the more strictly European New Zealanders, that the educational needs and the future of both races are nearly parallel. In Australia the needs and the future of the two races would appear to be more divergent. Efforts to “Europeanise” the Aborigine as a race must fail, and it is unwise to make the attempt. But it should not be beyond the ingenuity of those with the welfare of the Aborigines at heart, to provide such education as will enable them successfully to adapt themselves to the changed conditions. The conditions and resources in that great country should be ample to assure for the Aborigine a worth while future in his own country. Instead of permitting extinction as of the Tasmanian Native, could not the modern civilized Australian atone for the Tasmanian tragedy? He could at least free the Aborigine from such crises as starvation through civilization's heedless disruption of the ancestral culture. Let us recall that since the dawn of time the Aborigine wrestled alone with nature for his very existence, and yet the race survived with its bare hands to the present day. Surely the Aborigine has earned the help which civilization and science can give. There is a moral obligation to assure him not mere existence, but life in the full sense of the word, and the sands of opportunity to discharge that obligation are fast running out.
1 “Normal and Abnormal Occlusion of the Teeth of Australian Aborigine Children.” John Heath. Australian Journal of Dentistry. March, 1947.
2 Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the various Countries visited during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle round the World. Charles Darwin. J. M. Dent & Son Ltd., London. 1912.
3 The National Food Supply of the Australian Aborigines. F. W. Albrecht. Aborigines' Friends' Association, Adelaide. 1939.
4 Across Australia. Spencer and Gillen. Macmillan & Co., London. 1912.