Monday, April 21, 2014

Bruce Moon: Ngai Tahu as they were

Sacha McMeeking, who was general manager of strategy and influence with Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, said of the wealthy South Island tribe’s treaty settlement: "The decision was to settle cheaply ─ accepting $170-million when even the Treasury estimated the value of dispossessed lands lay between $12-and $15-billion". (1) What was that land actually like, how long had Ngai Tahu lived in the South Island, and how did they live?

It was probably in the seventeenth century that the Ngai Tahu crossed Cook Strait and commenced to slaughter Ngatimamoe and Waitaha, steal their land and drive them almost to extinction, the Ngatimamoe massacre at Goat Island being one example. In 1989 in Timaru I met a woman who said she was Ngatimamoe.

By the 1770s, with the aid of the Ngatiapa they had exterminated Tumatakokori who had confronted Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642.(2) They had annihilated the peaceful West Coast tribe who were the guardians of the greenstone that they then claimed as their own and they had killed and eaten the few Ngatimamoe survivors whom Captain Cook had met in Dusky Sound.(3)

Not content with this slaughter, they turned upon themselves - the siege of Te Wera at Huriawa Pa, Karitane by his uncle Taoka was only called off as Taoka's men began to die of starvation. This behaviour continued in the 1820s in the "Kai Huaka" or "Eat Relation" feud in which, amongst other exploits, the Taumutu people fell upon their near-relatives at Little River, killing and eating about 40 of them. Slaveholding was common and slaves at Onuku were herded and treated worse than one might treat cattle.

It was about this time that whalers and sealers arrived in the Foveaux Strait area where many of them came ashore and took Maori wives whom their fathers had been only too glad to give away or sell as protection from raiders from the north. Thus began a rapid process of interbreeding with Europeans and full-blooded numbers began to decrease rapidly.

At Karitane around 1940, my brother and cousin and I used to sit and talk with Johnny Matthews, the last full-blood. I recall Ronga Te Tau telling me about 75 years ago that as they were half Maori and half white, their father, R.J.S. Te Tau, had given each of them one Maori name and one English one. Her second name was Victoria. On a recent visit to the lavish new marae at Puketeraki, built with "treaty" money, I saw a plaque in her married name, Edwards, giving her second name as "Wikitoria". This distorts the truth as she told it to me.

Ron Curtis, son of Tira Harper, also commemorated there, likewise named his daughter Victoria. In my day they did not attempt to obliterate such recognition of their European ancestry. There were good times at the old Puketeraki hall as when Mutu Ellison was welcomed home after the war. As he wrote in our visitors’ book at my Mother's 80th birthday: "Arohanui". I arranged with his brother, Rangi, to place a memorial to her in the old Karitane Maori cemetery.

At Bluff school, the only half-caste in my standard five class was Mick Anglem who sat next to me. All the others like Jimmy Waitiri, killed later in a car accident near Winton, were quarter-caste or less.

About 1827, Ngai Tahu began to get their comeuppance. Having rashly insulted that cunning North Island cannibal Te Rauparaha they were set upon at Kaikoura, Kaiapohia and Onawe by his powerful Ngatitoa tribe and slaughtered in thousands with many castrated and taken into slavery. (4)

By 1840, Ngai Tahu were a sorry lot, barely two thousand of them surviving in a handful of coastal villages. One of their few remaining men of ability, Tuhawaiki or "Bloody Jack" was drowned at sea in 1844. As Ruapuke missionary J.F.H. Wohlers who loved them and devoted his life to them said: "They were altogether a dejected people. ... for every child born, from three to four persons died. No wonder they had lost heart and felt as if there were no spirit of life left in them. ... The Maoris in most of the dispersed villages were very poor ; their houses were not good. They were improvident with their food .. when the sea was too rough to go out fishing, for a whole week we had nothing to eat but potatoes, and nothing to drink but cold water. Add to this that the hovels were overcrowded. ... [They] had few children and these had a dirty and dull look about them." (5)

By contrast, Wohlers found: "Cleanliness and better living were not the only pleasures I found in houses of the Pakeha Maori families. I found plenty of clean, lively, and healthy-looking half-caste children."

So began a rapid process of assimilation of the southern Maoris into the European community, with full-blooded numbers diminishing rapidly and it is not too much to say that their extinction would not have been delayed long without this development.

Of course as a consequence of this chain of events, vast areas of the South Island were deserted and valueless to the Maoris who would have starved to death in most of it, as a remnant of Waitaha who were banished to the upper reaches of the Waitaki basin rapidly found out. The government might well have applied the doctrine of terra nullius, that is "land belonging to no one", to most of this but either as a benevolent gesture to the tribe or because nobody thought to do so, this did not happen.

It is possible that New Zealand’s first governor, William Hobson, had this in mind when he declared sovereignty over the South Island by right of discovery in May 1840 but it is more realistic to recognize that he did this to forestall the French. It was only three weeks later that southern chiefs began signing the Treaty anyway. In the event, forestalling the French at Akaroa was a "damned ... near run thing" but Commander Stanley in HMS Britomart got there just soon enough to forestall any disputes.

When the white men came and offered them goods and money for this land worthless to them, they were eager sellers and by 1840, two-thirds of the four-fifths of the South Island which was nominally Ngai Tahu property had been sold by willing sellers to willing buyers for a considerable sum. When Hobson decreed that all pre-treaty land sales were to be examined by his agents, almost all of this land was returned to Ngai Tahu - though I know of no instance where they refunded the original purchase price.

With no commercial value, the land remained there almost for the asking and the chiefs Taiaroa and Karetai (Gullida) were only too ready to sell again to Government agents, Taiaroa being guilty in one case of keeping the proceeds and not sharing them with members of the tribe. He and Tikao became angry on another occasion when the land commissioner insisted on doing this and cutting off the rum supplies on which the proceeds of some earlier sales had been squandered.

In such manner a handful of Ngai Tahi chiefs sold 37.366 million acres in 10 sales over 20 years. (6)

The last of these was the purchase of Stewart Island, described elsewhere as "most humane", with a reserve of 935 acres for just 25 residents and exclusive access to the muttonbird harvest on 21 nearby islands. I well remember my feelings of envy when the Bluff school Maori kids thereby escaped from the classroom for several weeks.

These included the eighth-caste Arnett boys. Peter Arnett later became a brilliant war correspondent who was too honest for most news media. I remember myself as a boy carrying a suitcase up the hill from the Bluff West train halt to the family home for their elderly Maori grandmother.

In due course the message would go around "The birders are back" which could be verified by observing several of them lying drunk in the gutter outside the local pubs. It is now reported that muttonbird numbers have been lowered to the point of "virtual commercial extinction" - not an example of good conservation.

In addition, separate provision was made by the government for half-castes who were not considered to be members of the tribe. If this were so today, Ngai Tahu would be extinct! Over time the position of half-castes was regularized.

Of course there were areas which the Maoris desired to keep for adequate reasons and to provide for their own needs and a promise of adequate reserves was made to the tribe. With slender resources of manpower, travelling in difficult and almost trackless country, unsurprisingly the Government agents made mistakes in a few instances and indeed proper steps were needed to remedy them. Problems had arisen first when Commissioner Henry Kemp found that with the onset of winter 1848, flooding made travel impossible and he was unable to set out reserves properly as planned.

Nevertheless Kemp and his successor, Walter Mantell, worked honourably to settle claims and by mid-1864, reports were stating that the Akaroa sellers were "well satisfied"; that land south of Kaiapoi had been "fairly bought" and that Kaiapoi residents had thanked Governor Grey for the "fair payment" they had received. There were good grounds for thinking that all Ngai Tahu South Island sales had been fairly concluded.

However, it was not long before Ngai Tahu began thinking up complaints.

The sheer effrontery of Sacha McMeeking’s statement, that Ngai Tahu settled cheaply by accepting $170-million for “dispossessed lands” valued between $12 and $15 billion, is astonishing. Note the use of the emotional term "dispossessed lands" for most of which they had only the slenderest of rights to claim as their own in the first place and for which they were paid in most cases twice over.

Even more barefaced is the implication that the present value of that land is somehow relevant when this is not even remotely the case ─ that $12-billion to $15-billion is due almost in its entirety to the capital, blood, sweat and tears invested in it over the years by the early settlers and their descendants.

This article is the first of a three-part series. Part 2, titled "Ngai Tahu’s river of cash" will be published here next week.

1. The Press, 2nd July 2011, p. C5
2. W.J. Elvy, Kei Puta Te Wairau, Cadsonbury
3. A.C. Begg and N.C. Begg, Dusky Bay, Whitcombe and Tombs,1966
4. Jean Jackson, personal communication, 12th April 2014
5. J.F.H. Wohlers, Civilization of Southern Maoris, Proc NZ Institute, XIV, 1881, pp 173-184, reprinted by his great-grand-daughter, Sheila Natusch, ISBN 978-0-473-14746-4
6. Mike Butler et al, Twisting the Treaty, Tross Publishing, 2013, ISBN 1-872-970-33-8, pp 139 ff


Brian said...

Maori should be pleased that New Zealand was not discovered by the Germans.
If South West Africa (Damaraland) a German colony had been New Zealand then the history of the Maori would be that of the Hereoes, the almost complete and utter destruction of that native race by General Lothar von Trotha..
Reparations built on the shaky foundations of occupancy are never a viable strategy, if only with the movement and early elimination and mixing of people/tribes.
Imagine if the Welsh suddenly came out of their hills and demanded "as of right" that their ancestors (The ancient Britons) had been wrongfully dispossessed of their country!!! The effect upon the International Rugby Board would be catastrophic, and financially be a disaster for the Welsh economy.
It is impossible to correct the wrongs, or so-called wrongs of history by the institution of a Danegeld.
A case of
"Argumentum ad ignorantiam"
Appeasement has lost more battles than Caesar ever fought.

paul scott said...

yes Brian, true

ONZF said...

Thanks Paul for puting the record straight. Most of the South Island was sold prior to the Treaty being signed by the chiefs travelling to New South Wales where many legal Deeds are still held in the NSW Supreme Court.

Ngai Tahu stole the land, lost in war and sold it and still they want more! ONZF

Jigsaw said...

I am sure that Bruce will get to the part where Ngai Tahu got at least 4 settlements prior to the 1997 'final' settlement. Far from being victims they have done extremely well. I would love to know what happened to the 10,000 pounds a year that they got through the years from 1944 until 1997. We get to the point where so much has been done that it will be almost impossible to undo.
Many thanks Bruce and I look forward to the next two.