Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mike Butler: Rongowhakaata deal reveals fanatical cults, warfare, murder, land wrangles at Gisborne

A settlement signed last week involving Gisborne tribe Rongowhakaata harks back to a tangled history of two fanatical religious cults, warfare, murder, and perpetual land wrangles. The government and Rongowhakaata tribe members signed the deal on September 30, 2011, at Whakato Marae, Manutuke, Gisborne, which includes financial redress of $22.24-million plus interest since 2008, and the transfer of five Crown-owned properties in the Gisborne region. I became interested in the history of the area while researching my book The First Colonist: Samuel Deighton 1821-1900.

A statement from Treaty Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson said that “the settlement addresses all of Rongowhakaata’s historical claims, and the Crown will apologise for a number of grievous treaty breaches. These include the unjustified use of military force in Turanga (the Gisborne area), the detention without trial of Rongowhakaata prisoners on the Chatham Islands, the summary executions of prisoners at Ngatapa in 1869, and the effective confiscation of a large area of Rongowhakaata land as well as Te Hau ki TÅ«ranga” (a meeting house taken from Gisborne and on display at Te Papa).

The complaint with the longest history is to do with what Finlayson’s settlement statement describes as the “effective confiscation” of a large area of Rongowhakaata land. This involves disputed cession and land not returned to those involved in armed insurrection. A £38,000 settlement was agreed to and paid in 1950.

A group of 279 Gisborne-area Maori ceded 1.195-million acres of land on December 18, 1868. A commission was to be set up to hand back almost all the ceded lands to the traditional owners, provided they were loyal. The deed agreed that Europeans or Maoris might settle as guardians of the peace upon some blocks of the land ceded. The boundaries of the land were described in the deed of cession. The area was extensive – by comparison, the Gisborne District Council covers a total land area 8351 square kilometres or 2.063-million acres.

The cession took place three years after the East Coast Hauhau wars culminated in the capture of Waerenga a Hika pa and five weeks after guerrilla leader Te Kooti Rikirangi had attacked the region, killed 70 people and captured 300. The cession was regarded as a gesture of submission rather than transfer of title. Further prompting was required to get land for government use -- when government agent W.S. Atkinson threatened to withdraw government military protection if three blocks of land for military stations were not ceded. That was in January 1869, after fighting at Ngatapa Pa had ceased.

Negotiations over the areas to be ceded continued through 1869. One third of the land was to be allocated to Ngati Porou for their role in the war; one third was for Ngati Kahungunu, and one third to the government.

A survey of a block at Patutahi block in 1873 led to a dispute. The block was believed to total 57,000 acres was in 1873 and found to comprise 37,000 acres. The government expected to extend the boundary to include 57,000 acres but Rongowhakaata and Te Aitanga a Mahaki did not want to extend the boundary. A protest over the Patutahi–Papatu boundary went to the Native Land Court resulting in a disagreement between the judge and a court assessor, with the ruling in the government’s favour.

The matter came before the Clarke Commission in 1882, the Jones Commission in 1920, and in October 1950, the Crown offered and Rongowhakaata accepted the settlement of the Patutahi claim by the payment of the sum of £38,000 in compensation for the 19,000-acre extension. The 2004 Waitangi Tribunal report concluded that £38,000 was not enough to durably settle the disputed cession that is now being called a confiscation.

From May 1840, when 22 chiefs from Rongowhakaata and other Gisborne area tribes signed the Treaty of Waitangi, the region had been peaceful and local tribes had controlled their own affairs, taking advantage of new trading opportunities created by pakeha settlement. But in 1865, the Pai Marire religion, which promised deliverance from pakeha domination, had spread from Taranaki to the East Coast gaining recruits, including Rongowhakaata. Government troops called Pai Marire followers “Hauhaus” because of the battle chant they used while holding up their right hands in the mistaken belief that it would ward off pakeha bullets.

The murder of German Lutheran missionary Carl Sylvius Volkner at Opotiki, on March 2, 1865, by followers of Pai Marire founder Te Ua Haumene, and a plea for help from Ngati Porou north of Gisborne brought government troops in to the area, resulting in the consequences that Rongowhakaata claimants complained about. Volkner’s head was carried to the Gisborne area for use in recruitment, an act disgusting to many of the East Coast tribe Ngati Porou, since his attendance at Waiapu diocesan synods had made him well known to East Coast chiefs.

Fighting between Hauhaus and pro-government Ngati Porou led by chief Mokena Kohere around Waiapu, 100km north of Poverty Bay, continued from July until October of 1865. Defeated Hauhau fighters who escaped capture fled to Waerenga a Hika pa near Gisborne. Government agent Donald McLean warned the Hauhau chiefs in the pa that unless they submitted to the government, they would be attacked and their lands would be confiscated. With no sign of surrender, a combined force of 600 English and pro-government Maori besieged the pa for seven days and defeated them on November 22, 1865. About 100 Hauhau fighters were killed and 400 taken prisoner, 116 of whom were shipped to the Chatham Islands.

The Rongowhakaata deal takes the view that this military action was not justified. But had the government not provided troops and arms to Kohere, he would have been overrun. What would have happened if the government had not countered the Hauhau threat on the East Coast and failed to take decisive action against the armed fighters at Waerenga a Hika pa? The East Coast would have descended into the state of permanent warfare that characterised pre-treaty tribal life in New Zealand, as tribes dislocated by the Hauhau incursion jostled for land.

In 1865, the colonial government started to create a ferocious enemy by the way they treated a man named Te Kooti Rikirangi, who had served on the government side during the Waerenga a Hika fighting. Te Kooti was accused of being in contact with the Hauhaus, and firing blank rounds, so was arrested and subsequently shipped to Napier with Hauhau prisoners in March 1866. Despite an appeal to McLean in June for a hearing, McLean would not listen to him, and he was shipped to the Chatham Islands.

Te Kooti became a religious leader while imprisoned on the Chathams, blending his knowledge of Scripture, his own spiritual experiences, and Maori culture, into a religion later known as Ringatu (“uplifted hand”). He led an escape from the Chathams of 163 men, 64 women, and 71 children on July 4, 1868, when he seized a supply ship, the Rifleman. When challenged in Poverty Bay, he refused to surrender, saying they wanted to go peacefully inland to Waikato. Maori King Tawhiao told Te Kooti not to renew the war, but soon Te Kooti was fighting colonial troops. He attacked the settlements of Patutahi, Matawhero, and Oweta from November 8 to 14 in 1868, killing 70 people including the resident magistrate Reginald Biggs and his family, as well as seven Rongowhakaata chiefs. Te Kooti took 300 prisoners, along with guns, ammunition, and food.

A force of 200 Ngati Porou under Rapata Wahawaha and Hotene Porourangi, and 170 Wairoa Maoris under Lieutenant George Preece set out from Wairoa on November 25, 1868, to pursue Te Kooti, fighting them at Puketapu pa on December 3, and besieging them at Ngatapa pa. The siege lasted until January 4, 1869, when Te Kooti evacuated the pa, leaving only women and helpless wounded men.

Government fighters chased Te Kooti’s fleeing fighters, capturing many. Every male prisoner taken was shot. Te Kooti and his immediate followers escaped, but had lost half his fighting force -- 136 killed, with 120 executed after capture. Government forces had 11 killed and 11 wounded. Te Kooti evaded capture for four years before finding refuge in the King Country. He died of old age.

The government’s apology for the summary executions at Ngatapa makes sense when 21st century standards are imposed on 19th century actions. But if the event is viewed in the context of its time, the apology sits as a ritual, politically correct after-thought. Ngati Porou-born Rapata Wahawaha, who was awarded the New Zealand Cross for bravery for his role at Ngatapa, had grown up amongst Rongowhakaata as a slave, so as a free man waged a personal campaign of revenge against his old enemies. Ngatapa could be seen as a perfect opportunity for him to get revenge. Rapata's insistence that 120 of Te Kooti’s fighters were shot and thrown over a cliff at Ngatapa was quite appropriate according to Maori rules of war at the time, but not appropriate for colonial soldiers. Ironically, Rapata was related to Te Kooti.

Thus, a closer look at Gisborne history shows a more tangled web than the Rongowhakaata settlement summary describes. The Pai Marire Hauhaus were involved in an armed insurrection. The Poverty Bay region was relatively prosperous until some Rongowhakaata picked the wrong side. Government troops were called upon for help. Government refusal to grant a trial to one allegedly wrongly accused person, and the imprisonment without trial of 116 men, sowed the seeds for a second armed insurrection.

The colonial government muddied the issue by continuing with land negotiations while all this was going on. The area of land described as “effectively confiscated” was between 19,000 acres and 35,000 acres of the 1.195-million acres ceded and returned, plus land not returned to Hauhaus. Compensation for this of £38,000 was paid in 1950. Most land alienated from Maori ownership went through the Native Land Court and was sold by willing vendors to willing buyers. That caused the landlessness that the Rongowhakaata settlement laments.

Rongowhakaata Settlement Summary,
Turanga Tangata Turanga Whenua: The Report on the Turanganui a Kiwa Claims{DE526A10-DDDF-45E1-9E09-FEA0F939832D}
Cowan, James, The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period, Volume 2, R.E. Owen, Government Printer, New Zealand, 1955 reprint


dondiego said...

The broreaucracy will ALWAYS put their hands out, again and again etc until it (false-guilt extortion) is STOPPED.
Thanks for some history (none was given in public schooling... wonder why)

Anonymous said...

The Settlement a classic case of double dipping ??