Historian Michael King
Salvation for Maori
In 1837 Chief Wiremu Hau wrote to the English King asking: Sir …. Will you give us law? Three years later the Treaty of Waitangi brought in the rule of law for all the people of New Zealand. It mean that there was freedom for slaves – mainly women – and the end of cannibalism, inter-tribal war, female infanticide, trading in smoked heads and the killing of prisoners. Disputes between tribes would now have to be settled in the courts and all New Zealanders would be subject to British laws.
The end of the Inter-Tribal Wars saved the Maori people from possible extinction. Over 40,000 men, women and children had been killed in more than 500 battles between 1800 and 1840, and the loss of so many women and girls meant that there were not enough potential mothers for the Maori population to recover quickly.
Women were in fact the great beneficiaries of the Treaty, as slaves were released and the fear after battles of at worst death, and at best rape, abduction and servitude, was now gone.
Women who has been the traditional food growers now showed their entrepreneurial skills in providing produce for the European settlers.
The 1840s were a time of prosperity for a lot of Maori villages. Historian Judith Binney
Even before 1840, Maori, in Northland in particular, were cutting and selling timber and flax, working on ships - which in some cases they owned themselves - and had built flour and flax mills.
Maori, especially in villages close to the growing colonial settlements, proved to be very adaptable and enterprising. Once new vegetables, fruit, vegetables and farm animals from Britain and New South Wales were introduced to New Zealand, the tribes close to towns, led by women, were soon producing surpluses which they sold to settlers.
Canoes would regularly tie up at Te Aro in Wellington full of food to sell. Settlers were a ready market and happy to pay fair prices for the produce.
Historian A S Thompson writing in 1859 commented on the Auckland scene:
The big canoes came into the Manukau and Waitemata with cargoes of vegetables, fruit, wheat, firewood, grass, flax, pigs, fowl, fish pipis and oysters. Some 2000 arrived each year in the early 1850s.
The 1840s and 1850s were prosperous times for the Hauraki Plains, Waikato and Bay of Plenty tribes in particular. There were of course many chiefs and tribes who did not welcome the growing numbers of settlers, but most recognized that the process was irreversible and that abandoning the worst features of the pre-1840s tikanga and living in peace with the newcomers benefited both races. This acknowledgement was emphasized by scores of chiefs at the large 1860 Kohimarama Conference.
The growth of Christianity
The Governor says the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome and also the Maori custom shall alike be protected by him. Missionary William Colenso
Catholic Bishop Pompallier asked Hobson in 1840 to guarantee religious freedom and the governor readily agreed.
With the end of inter-tribal conflict and the growing feeling of security, there was a rapid increase in Maori church going. For example attendance at Anglican services rose from less than 3000 in 1839 to more than 35,000 in 1842.
Moving the capital south from Russell (Kororareka) to the rapidly expanding settlement of Auckland meant an economic downturn for the Northland area. Minor Northern chief Hone Heke was angry and famously cut down the flagpole above Russell several times and then waged war against his Maori neighbours.
The climax was the battle of Ruapekapeka in early 1846. As with all other conflicts over the next 20 years where colonial forces were involved, support came from Maori leaders like Tamati Waka Nene and his brother Patuone who recognized the benefits of western civilisation and remaining loyal to the government.
When peace was ultimately achieved in the North Governor Grey pardoned the rebels and no land was confiscated.
Further south in 1843 near Wairau in Marlborough 26 Maori and Europeans were killed, 11 being settler–soldiers from Nelson who had been taken prisoner. The conflict started because the New Zealand Company illegally started a land survey and consequently Governor Fitzroy decided not to arrest the chiefs – Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata – who were guilty of killing the prisoners.
In the late 1840s through to 1860 there was some feuding between Taranaki tribes over the issue of selling land and many were killed, but the government wisely did not get involved until 1859-60.
The 1860 Kohimarama Conference endorses Crown sovereignty
It was probably the largest gathering of Maori chiefs in New Zealand’s history. Well over 120 rangatira from across the country gathered in Auckland at Mission Bay. With Governor Gore Browne presiding and Land Commissioner Donald McLean also involved, the chiefs pledged loyalty to Queen Victori and emphasized their commitment to Christianity and support for the three article of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.
The comments of Hemi Matini Te Nera from Ngati Hourua were typical: I shall not join that evil (the Maori King Movement). All I desire is to live on terms of friendship with the Governor and Queen. Under the old law we perished; under the present law we live. Many chiefs endorsed these sentiments and there was general desire expressed for living in peace with the white settlers. There was also plenty of criticism of Wiremu Kingi’s rebellion in Taranaki and the increasing extremism of the Kingites following the death of the respected first “king” Te Whero Whero. His great wish was for Maori to work with the colonial government for the benefit of both races.
There were plans made for the colonial government to provide tribes with wide powers of local government, equivalent to states in the USA - runanga - and to have annual conferences of chiefs. Runanga was offered to Taranaki and Waikato tribes in 1859.
Unfortunately in 1860 conflict erupted in Taranaki and later in the Waikato in what became known as the New Zealand Wars, but in reality these outbreaks of violence were rebellions against the colonial government.
The first two decades of colonisation good for Maori?
Definitely, the Treaty of Waitangi brought in the rule of law and the worst features of the tikanga of previous decades were outlawed. This applied across the country. However the economic advantages for Maori of increased white settlement were uneven, and it was tribes closest to the growing European settlements who benefitted most from the trading opportunities.
Nevertheless peace in most areas meant that there was more security and safety for Maori, especially women, and church-going increased considerably. There was also the chance for Maori to take advantage of a range of economic opportunities.
Most tribal leaders endorsed their allegiance to the Crown in 1860 at Kohimarama, in line with Article 1 in the Treaty.
Unfortunately from 1860 a minority of tribes in the central North Island notable in North Taranaki and Waikato rebelled against the Crown and brought two decades of generally positives outcomes from colonisation to an end in those areas.
Reaping the benefits of colonisation and civilisation
In recent decades many Maori politicians, iwi leaders, academics and their fellow travellers have decried any suggestions that colonisation has been good for Maori and the ridiculous term “decolonisation” has been bandied around.
In a 2019 Q&A session on TVNZ Reporter Jack Tane asked Minister of Crown-Maori Relations, Kelvin Davis, to name one good outcome of colonisation. He was taken aback by the question, and in spite of being asked multiple times, refused to identify a single benefit, instead arguing that we should be honouring the contribution made by Maori.
At the time Muriel Newman made this comment: Kelvin Davis might have recognised that some of the benefits of colonisation include the Rule of Law, democracy, secure property rights, the enforcement of contract, infrastructure, health care, and education. These helped to provide the foundation for the economic growth and improvement in living standards that have transformed New Zealand into the modern society it is today.
Kelvin Davis, Willie Jackson and other Maori activists live very comfortable lives because of colonisation. Without the actions of the colonists and their descendants, there would be no hospitals, schools, universities, libraries, theatres, galleries, roads, railways, cell phones, computers, radio, television, shops, processed food, sports teams, recreation facilities, government benefits, piped water etc, etc …
Would those who decry colonisation today really want to return to the violence and insecurity of the years before the Treaty of Waitangi when the unrestrained slaughter of the inter-tribal wars threatened to wipe out the native people?
Many years ago the great Maori leader, Apirana Ngata, commented on the realities of native society prior to 1840.
The Treaty found us in the throes of cannibalism… This was at a time when the Maori tribes were fighting fiercely among themselves. The Maori did not have any government when the European first came to these islands. There was no unified chiefly authority over man or land… the people were divided.
Colonisation and western civilisation changed that for the benefit of all people living in New Zealand then and in the times ahead.
Roger Childs is a retired teacher who taught History, Social Studies and Geography for 40 years.