Female infanticide


Excerpts below taken from the book 'WHEN TWO CULTURES MEET' by Dr John Robinson, the references are to other historians ie: P Moon, C Orange, Orbell, Wright etc

The practice of infanticide, and in particular of female infanticide, is of particular importance to the story of the Maori, as this had a significant impact on population dynamics, continuing until the second half of the nineteenth century. Since the practice and impact of infanticide is frequently, and strenuously, denied, it is important to establish quite clearly that it was prevalent and often observed. In fact, infanticide has been remarkably common in many societies throughout history and, in particular, across Asia – the starting point of the Polynesian journey into the Pacific – where a desire for male children and readiness to abort females (now aided by scans in pregnancy) remain to the present day. (21) That theme is taken up further in a later chapter “Was infanticide significant?”. Despite the claims to the contrary by many ‘scholars’, including the influential demographer Ian Pool, there are very many reports of infanticide, which was widespread.

“Infanticide is very common, particularly among the women of the Bay of Islands district, where they are frequently chapu (enceinte) by Europeans, but as the birth and necessary attendance for many

21 > See, for example, the comprehensive Wikipedia account at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infanticide

months on a young child would materially injure their pecuniary interests, in not being able to proceed as usual on board of the whalers, and thereby assist their fathers or brothers with the presents they obtain by a liberal distribution of their favours, the poor young one but seldom sees the light, abortion being generally produced within the first month or two of pregnancy. … A woman who has been taken a prisoner, and was chapu at the time, will generally (if the party who captures here takes her as unto himself as a wife, and the affection on her side is returned) kill the child the moment it is born, and this is considered as a great proof of affection towards her new husband, and may very likely ensure her kinder treatment.”1

The denial among modern scholars of infanticide, when the practice was widely recognised and universally acknowledged, is one important example of the distortion of history and the acceptance of faulty argument in modern New Zealand ‘scholarship’. Interestingly enough, some observers at the time commented on the largely unacknowledged benefit of sex between seaman and native women, which is for the most part condemned, describing how contact with the British “has lessened the crime of infanticide in a great degree”. (25)

25 > Sydney Herald 29 July 1839

“The illicit intercourse, it is said, between the British seamen and the unmarried females, has put an end to the most extensive system of infanticide ever known. A universal and unnatural custom amongthem, which was that of destroying most of their female children in infancy – the few females who were suffered to live were invariably looked down upon by all with the utmost contempt. The difference now is most remarkable. The natives, seeing with what admiration strangers beheld their fine young women, and what handsome presents were made to them, by which their families were benefited, feeling also that their influence was so powerful, have been latterly as anxious to cherish and protect their infant girls as they were formerly cruelly bent on destroying them.” (26)

26 > Sydney Herald 29 July 1833. "A report from one who spent 6 months in New Zealand 30 October 1827 to 21 April 1828"

There is also reference to infanticide here, for “This chief’s wife has, I have been told, been pregnant twice, and she has killed the children before they came forth. She is angry with her husband for taking so many wives.” (34)

34> John King's Journal 1819-33, from Elder 1934 page 257

Margaret Orbell has noted a similar selective choice of source material in Pool’s earlier work. Having presented a description of the prevalence of infanticide (and in particular female infanticide), she referred to the contrary opinion of Pool who “condemns as biased and ‘prejudiced’ those early writers who spoke of infanticide as being common in traditional Maori society.” (125)

Nayti had in fact recognised that infanticide did happen (126) When appearing before the House of Lords Committee in 1837-38, Nayti testified that Maori do sometimes kill their children.

Nayti was not alone. The practice of infanticide, and in particular female infanticide, was reported from both European and Maori sources, with a recognition of changed behaviour following the adoption of the new religion.

125> Orbell M 1978 page 117, footnote 28
126> Pool 1977, page 138 and Wright 1959, page 73

“Others attributed their conversion to the religion itself. At Tauranga, Matiu Tahu, at one time the tohunga of Otamataha pa at Te Papa, defended the nature of Maori conversion: ‘You are not satisfied with us’, he told A. N. Brown, ‘and you often express a fear that our religion is only lip service, that it has no root in our hearts. You forget what we were and what we have thrown away — our cannibalism, our murders, our infanticide, our Tapus, which were Gods to us. What prevents our return to these things but Religion?’ (127)

“Joel Polack said, ‘I think the principal cause is Infanticide. I have seen many women who have destroyed their Children, either by Abortion, or, after their birth putting them into a Basket and throwing them into the Sea, after pressing the Frontal Bones of their Heads.’ (128)

127 > Claudia Orange 1990 page 33
128 > Wright 1959, page 57, quoting Polack 1837-38

Observations telling of female infanticide amongst Maori abound. There are those listed by Paul Moon, others noted in my previous book (131)

131 > Robinson 2011