It is stated that, contrary to what is usual amongst savage peoples, the Maoris on their first contact with Europeans did not take readily to ardent spirits. On the contrary, they showed such an aversion that they gave them the name of wai-piro (stinking water), and refused to touch them after a first trial. The taste probably first came with the association with the sailors just described, as well as with the shore whalers, who had their stations all along the coast from the extreme north down to Stewart Island. But after a time the craving for intoxicating drink became the ruling passion, and the money no longer required for the purchase of arms was spent in securing a supply. It almost seemed as if the system, weakened by the fatigues of war, privation, and vice, required some kind of a stimulant, and for many years every Land Court, tribal meeting, marriage, and funeral was the scene of unlimited indulgence. The evil would not have been as great as it was had the liquor been of even average quality; but a special brand was supplied for the “Native trade,” which was maddening in its immediate effect and poisonous in its ultimate results. Casks of adulterated beer and kegs of doctored rum were carted out to the pas, while belated stragglers from the publichouses might be seen trying to struggle home, or lying by the wayside in a comatose condition—women unable to suckle their babies, and the men unable to help them along.
This craze went on for more than a generation, more or less, all over the country; but about twenty or twenty-five years ago the habit began to be given up. Wholesale drinking is now
practically a thing of the past, and in most districts a drunken Maori is the exception rather than the rule. Still, the evil was done, not to be undone; and its effect—especially on the children begotten and reared under the conditions described—is incalculable.