The Land Court In Matakaoa



The aim of this thesis is to explore the interface between Maori and Pakeha at the point where the two cultures have been most frequently and intimately involved: the possession and transference of rights to land. The cross-cultural translation of the concept of land is in focus. In a colonial situation, some of the conflict stems from different cultural perceptions of the same topic or events, while other conflict evolves from the dominant group's efforts to force change (Spicer, E. 1981:xiv). In New Zealand conflict between Maori and Pakeha has turned on different perceptions of land rights and land use, and on European efforts to take Maori land into their possession. Yet it is too simple to suggest that in such a colonial situation there are only two sets of views to consider. Neither colonial Pakeha nor colonial Maori society were perfectly homogeneous (cf. Balandier, G. on African society 1965). Among the settlers there were mercantile and missionary investments, on the Maori side there was great diversity of tribal, sub-tribal, and factional interests, and in Britain emigration enthusiasts waged an active campaign against the humanitarians' concern with 'native' rights. Given such complexity of interests and interpretations on the national level I have chosen to concentrate on one area. Careful investigation of one part of the country soon reveals that the divergence of interests and interpretations at the local level is also extremely complex. Missionary, settler, Government, and sub-tribal affiliations juxtapose one another at almost every locus of interaction.

To date there have been several historical accounts of New Zealand land [p2] legislation and its effect on the Maori people (Coleman, P. 1947; McKinney, J. 1939; Parsonson, A. 1978; Sorrenson, K. 1955; Ward, A. 1958; Webb, E. 1942). Apart from Kawharu's (1963) excellent account there has been very little written specifically on Maori land tenure, or about the arena - the Maori Land Court - in which this tenure was explicated (the notable exceptions being Parsonson's work on Waikato Land Court proceedings, and Sorrenson's account of the effects of land purchase, and therefore the Land Court, on the Maori people). For the most part these accounts center on national level policy, although particular cases are used in illustration. For this reason conclusions tend to present a pan-Maori response to land legislation. In 1843 Brodie, a witness before the British Parliamentary Select Committee on land tenure in New Zealand, commented that 'the customs [of the Maori] varied from district to district' (British Parliamentary Papers 1843). In 1860 McLean said, concerning land: 'The Natives have no fixed rule. The custom varies in different districts' (In Evidence at the Bar of the House of Representatives cited in AJHR 1890 G-l:2), and Archdeacon Hadfield made it quite explicit that his remarks on the 'Native tenure of land' applied only to his experience of the practices of Southern tribes (ibid:9). Land legislation to foster the transference of Maori land to Pakeha ownership ignored these variations, but it seems to me, nevertheless, that Maori people dealt with this legislation in their own areas, in distinctive ways which drew on their own tribal and sub-tribal experience.

This research concentrates on the way that the people of one area - the Matakaoa district of the East Coast - dealt with Government-presented options concerning land. The principal arena in which this interchange took place was the Land Court. However by the time the first Land Court was held on the East Coast - at Waipiro Bay in 1875 - fifty years of land dealings between Matakaoa people and Europeans had already transpired, and during this time both cultures had formed ideas about one another and their [p3] respective relationships to the land. For this reason my account of the Matakaoa district treats the Land Court as one more situation in an everchanging local experience of negotiations over land. Yet the Land Court is significant as the setting in which the cross-cultural translation of land rights became most explicit and the practical effects of land use, local economy, traditional knowledge, 'immutable' ownership, tribal, sub-tribal, and family politics were irrevocably circumscribed for future generations. The principal function of the Land Court was 'to investigate the titles of land held according to Maori custom' (Royal Commission 1980:15). For this purpose the legislation ironically adopted the year 1840 - the year when British sovereignty was extended over New Zealand - as the date by which ownership of Maori land was fixed:

'it cannot be admitted that the establishment of European Government in the Colony improved native titles or reinstated persons on land, which they voluntarily had abandoned prior to that time'

(Judge Mackay, A. Hauanu Judgment, Waiapu M.B. 7B:215)

and yet:

'a claim based solely on the ground of modern occupation [l840?], without reference to "take" of olden times cannot be admitted' (ibid).

For the purposes of this research I have concentrated on title investigations in Matakaoa, from 1875-1909 (a time slot in which most of the Matakaoa land was investigated), as a means to understanding how the Matakaoa people's notions of land and its ownership were actively adapted in the face of European acquisition and concepts of ownership, and within the framework established in the Land Court.

The Area

The Matakaoa district [1] lies in the easternmost part of the North Island of New Zealand, and stretches from Cape Runaway to East Cape (see map). It covers some 189,000 acres (Land Utilisation Survey - Gisborne 1964:67) and is bounded inland by the Raukumara Ranges, on the west and east by the Whangaparaoa and Waiapu rivers, and on the north by the sea. The land is predominantly steep and bush-covered (82%) giving way inland to fertile river valleys, and on the coast to flat frost-free cliff tops about three acres wide. In the eighteen-fifties wheat and maize were grown here - Cape Runaway to Matakaoa Point; Horoera to East Cape - and exported to Auckland. Inland valleys are often very cold in winter and on occasions Pukeamaru Mountain (see map) is topped with snow. The shore, a mixture of rocky inlets and sandy alcoves, provides a suitable habitat for several species of shell fish - kina, paaua, puupuu, etc, and the sea abounds with fish, including deep-water species. Today over 60% of the land is under Maori control and the primary industry is sheep-farming. There are seven small settlements from Cape Runaway to East Cape each with its own school, hall or marae, and cluster of houses. There are only four shops in the district: two general stores - one at Hicks Bay and one at Te Araroa - a fish and chip shop, and a dairy. At the township of Te Araroa is the local district high school, Ministry of Works depot, resident policeman, doctor, and district nurse, the old picture theatre - Hovell's Hall - formerly used for dances and Land Court sessions, the Salvation Army Hall, St. Stephens Anglican Church, pensioner flats, HINERUPE marae, hotel, garage, and air strip.

In 1974 our family and several other families shifted to the Matakaoa district, and I was offered a part time position at the local district high school. My interest in the district and in the history stems from that time. Oliver's book Challenge and Response had recently been published and his sympathies were with the King Movement supporters in his description of the 1865 warfare in the Waiapu-Matakaoa district (see Chapter 3). There were two descendants of the Government-side 'loyalist' Chiefs on the school staff, and many lively discussions to justify the loyalist Chiefs' stance, ensued. It [p5] was at this time I first heard that the Chief Mokena Kohere had received no land whatever from the Land Court. Meetings with Government officials to discuss land related topics were sometimes held at the high school while I was teaching there. Tuition stopped, and almost everyone (or so it seemed to me as I crowded into the room) from the surrounding district came. Since that time I have heard that several other prominent people in the district 'missed out in the Land Court' and it has been suggested that some of the key figures in the Land Court 'cheated so many people' and 'wormed their way into blocks' where they had no right. On the other hand it has been suggested that the Land Court ensured the preservation of the traditions of the people (Ngata, A. in Sutherland, I. 1940:134). Provided one worked on the right lines it was possible to find: 'the clues of much of the inner history, in poems, traditions, in the Native Land Court records, and in the minds of the old people' (Ngata, A. Address to the Tai-Rawhiti Association 1932:7). Following this advice I began to read East Coast Land Court Minute Books, concentrating on accounts of places I knew reasonably well on the physical landscape, and exploits of ancestors who were named in songs we performed at Rerekohu School, at Te Araroa. I listed all the blocks in the Matakaoa area from the cadastral maps of the district and proceeded chronologically through the Minute Books trying to find the relevant title investigations. Having read a number of cases in which the claimants frequently referred to survey maps in their evidence before the Court - such comments as at 10 there was a paa called ___________, at B we cultivated, at 20 we gathered tutu, at F a named ancestor erected a raahui, etc, I consulted the original survey maps in the District Lands and Survey office at Gisborne. On each map is a dated minute made by the Judge of the Land Court every time the map is produced in Court. Not only is this a quick way to find the title investigation of land (if using microfilm), but it is also possible by looking at these notes to find out whether there [p6] were appeals against the original judgment.

After reading several cases a pattern concerning the traditions began to emerge. Adjoining blocks overlapped one another in historical content. I therefore tried to read the title investigations in spatial clusters, disregarding the period when that particular block was investigated by the Land Court. At that time I concentrated on the traditional material. When claimants referred to events in their own lifetime or to meetings held by Chiefs they were incidental to my purpose as without sufficient background knowledge they were almost incomprehensible to me. Fellow students I spoke to about the operation of the Land Court seemed to view it rather differently from my interpretation of what was going on in the Court through the pages of the Waiapu Minute Books. At first I thought perhaps it was a regional difference - the Land Court had investigated claims much earlier in their districts - but I became sufficiently concerned about the disjunction between their interpretations and mine, to decide that it was necessary to become conversant with the legislative background to the Land Court. Since all New Zealand land legislation stems from the Treaty of Waitangi and the Judges appeared to award ownership (see page 3) in terms of the Treaty of Waitangi, although Matakaoa claimants never mentioned it directly in Court [2] I thought it important to know who had signed it from the East Coast, and under what circumstances.

At the same time I tried to build up a picture of what was happening in the Matakaoa district both prior to the Land Court and while the Court was in operation. The early exchanges with missionaries are well-documented but from 1840 onwards the documented evidence is widely dispersed [3] . I consulted government reports on the district which gave particularly useful commentaries on crop cultivation, local attitudes to Government land policy, events of local significance, local political affiliations, etc. To supplement this material I turned to newspapers in the Maori language; working through [p7] them chronologically searching for the names of Chiefs, Matakaoa place-names, or the names of claimants in the Land Court. During this search I found speeches made by Matakaoa Chiefs in 1860 explicating their relationship to the Queen of England - this was really a turning point. After feverishly combing every copy of Te Karere Maori and Te Waka Maori for comments from or accounts of Waiapu people I came across a report of the Chief Iharaira Te Houkamau's Hui at Wharekahika in 1874 (see Chapter 3), and suddenly the accounts of meetings by claimants in the Court were significant. Even more important was that the statements made at this meeting about the Queen of England and her relationship to the Maori people were basically the same as the statements made by other Matakaoa Chiefs in 1860.

It was at that time I went back to the Land Court Minute Books and found that my orientation to the material had shifted. I was no longer reading them for traditional material, but to try to see the temporal parameters in which the traditions were recounted. By temporal parameters I not only mean the 'style' in which the Land Court was conducted, that is the legislation under which the land was investigated and the roles adopted by claimants and Judges, but also the whole gamut of land-related interchange that took place between Maori and Pakeha on the East Coast prior to the Land Court and while the Land Court was in operation.

Outline of Contents

Land dealings in Matakaoa can only be understood as part of the general interaction between Maori and Pakeha in the colonisation of New Zealand; and yet the interaction between Maori people and Pakeha on the East Coast was to some extent unique. The Native Lands Court in Matakaoa must be considered within this context of a dialectic between general and local level politics. One of the major difficulties in presentation has been to provide sufficient general political background on policies concerning land, and Maori and Pakeha relations, to allow the reader to bridge this dialectic. Although thorough [p8] knowledge of general Government policy precedes an understanding of the constraints placed upon local politics, such discussions often eclipse the intention of this research, which is to consider Maori and Pakeha interaction over Matakaoa land. For this reason I have presented the general context of land-related policy in Chapter 2. Chapter 3 moves into the Matakaoa experience before the first Land Court sitting in 1875. An experience shared by the claimants in Court. Chapter 4 looks at the four Land Court sessions in which the title to Matakaoa land was ascertained. Finally, Chapter 5 is a discussion of the main themes and findings which emerge from this research.


Chapter 1

[1] Matakaoa is also referred to as the Northern Waiapu, or even more frequently as the Waiapu district in this text.

[2] Claimants were, I think, referring to the relationship between the Queen of England and the Maori people when they named meetings held by Chiefs, but at that time these implications were not apparent to me.

[3] For the purposes of this research I searched the collections of several individuals who were associated with the Native Department - Smith, T.H. Papers, McLean, D. Papers - as well as newspapers, and Government reports.

1983 Gail H. Dallimore

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