Artist unknown :New Zealand. Mission school. Fair are New Zealand’s wooded mountains … [London?] ; Church Missionary Society [1849 or later?]
CMS tract; illustrative border surrounding 2 quatrains, titled ‘New Zealand’ extolling the charms of the landscape and concluding that ‘sweeter … rises the song from holy lips / By blood did Jesus come to save us …’ etc. The verses are surrounded by a decorative border with images of Maori life (and one, mistakenly of a Pacific hut) derived from well-known published images from the 1830s and 1840s, after Augustus Earle and George French Angas. The image at the top is of a mission school in an open-fronted wharenui, with carved barge-boards, showing seated and standing Maori with books in their hands. All are in native dress. The poem is the 5th verse of H. W. Fox’s 50th Jubilee Hymn (for the C. M. S.) of 1849. Online here.

As proponents of middle-class virtues the missionaries have inevitably been associated with philistinism and prudery in art. Certainly their evangelical convictions bred an intolerance of all that savored of excess or idleness and the aesthetic appreciation was governed entirely by the moral point of view. The Evangelicals, in the main, were the spiritual descendants of the Puritans. ….

… as the leaders of the Evangelical movement tended to come from a lower rank of society, the small mercantile, tenant-farming and shop-keeping class, they held rigidly to the idea of life as stewardship and were consequently natural utilitarians, concerned with the “economy of time.” Many of the Evangelicals also believed that dramatic representation was bad, not only for the traditional reasons, but because of the Platonic notion that imitation is bad in itself. …

Two of the directors of the LMS, the Reverend George Burder of Coventry and John Angell James of Birmingham, were voluble on the subject. Both these men were extremely influential with the missionaries in the Pacific, and their sermons were read widely. Burder’s most direct pronouncement on the subject was a sermon entitled “Lawful Amusements,” preached in 1805. His text, “Be not conformed to this world,” suggests that he was a disciple of Law in the matter of recreation. Burder listed four types of amusements which were unlawful: all such as are evidently sinful, all such as the word of God condemns; those [181] amusements which, if not in themselves absolutely sinful, have a dangerous tendency to sin; those amusements which are not of good report; and those inconsistent wit the spiritual nature of Christian life. Mixed dancing was suspect because of its dangerous tendency. The playhouse was “the very Exchange for Harlots” and “the Flesh-market of the metropolis.” “No doubt, ” he said, “the present prevailing system of Nudism had its origin in the Playhouse, and in the person of a prostitute or a player; but who could have supposed that such a mode of dress (or rather undress) would ever have been adopted by virtuous women?” These notions transported to the South Seas could not fail to lead the missionaries to see only evil in the dramatic representations of the Arioi Society, the mixed dancing and the nudity.

James held similar views. He denounced the theater as “the corrupter of public morals” and the “broad and flowery avenue to the bottomless pit.” Only the “morals of the brothel” could be learned at the theater. In his work The Christian Father’s Present to His Children, he denounced killing flies, horse-racing, field sports of every kind, shooting, coursing, hunting and angling. The rejection of team games such as football and cricket was typical. Can it be wondered that the missionaries forbade the practices of boxing and wrestling and other native athletic games? All that James seems to have recommended for “strengthening the body and improving the mind” was a “country ramble amidst the beauties of nature.” All the directors and missionaries may not have agreed with James in this respect but there was a strong tendency to regard field sports as a waste of time and as pastimes unbecoming of a Christian. Again the utilitarian viewpoint of the individual completely dwarfed any idea of social or community value.

Evangelical views on music were similar to those of the Puritans. It was the dancing and dramatic art associated with music which was condemned. James pronounced against “balls, routs, and concerts.” “I look upon dancing among these [the humble] to be a practice fraught with immorality,” he said. As during the Puritan Commonwealth, the poor were simply not trusted to behave themselves. Italian opera … was particularly offensives. As late as 1869 the Christian Witness, a Congregational periodical, supported George Stewards’ asser- [182] tion that “operas and theaters” were “of the very essence of carnality” and argued that although the love of music was “lawful” it was associated with “what is absolutely unlawful.” … [183]

… Although mixed danc- [189] ing was frowned upon by many of the Evangelicals at home, with very little reason, the missionaries in the island had the opportunity to see mixed dancing which was of a lascivious kind. Ellis said that the least objectionable of the dances was the Tahitian hura which he described as being generally a pantomimic exhibition although the most decent consisted principally of dancing. However, all these dances were associated with gods “whose sanction patronized the debasing immoralities connected with them.” When Queen Pomare encouraged the old dances and “scenes” in 1830, one of them consisted of a number of women being enveloped in cloths, and then being unraveled by their male partners who spun them round like tops until they were naked. The missionaries who had frowned on acting and mixed dancing at home were hardly likely to tolerate this type of conduct! Williams, in his journal for 1832, shows that man of the dances of the Samoans were of a licentious character, but the principal ones were conducted “with decency.” The missionary attitude was that, decent though some of them might be, dancing was a waste of time and tended to be conducive to sexual license.

Burder had found very few lawful amusements for English Evangelicals to indulge in. In Tahiti the missionaries found very few lawful heiva for the people to indulge in. Heiva vivo (or flute playing) and heiva ute (singing) were proscribed because of their association with immoral dancing and tales of the gods. But other amusements were likewise proscribed: heiva maona (wrestling), heiva moto (boxing), kite-flying and archery. Ellis speaks of boxing and wrestling as “barbarous sports.” … Most of the games, however, were closely associated with religious ritual. The conclusion of Ellis was that “when we consider the debasing tendency of many, and the inutility of others, we shall rejoice that much of the time … is passed in more rational and beneficial pursuits.” Williams found similar games at Samoa but he was not aware that any of them “were attended with religious ceremonies as formerly at Tahiti,” and he possibly would not have proscribed them all. … [190]