Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. –Shakespeare, “Macbeth”, Act 5, Scene 5.

A decimated Maori economic base?

By Bruce Moon

An article in Stuff, 10 February 2022 by Jade Kake, an architectural designer in Whangarei of Dutch and Maori descent, purports to address “the tribal economic base that has been decimated through the widespread and large-scale theft of land.”  She ignores, one notes, the fact that the “tribal economic base” — of $9 billion as at 7.2.2019 — has never been higher than it is today.  Ngai Tahu, the richest tribe on the back of “Waitangi Tribunal” settlements described by several authors as “a swindle” and “a fraud” (for which references are available), possessed $1.5 billion at 4.10.2021.

Inaccurate sweeping statements on land ownership

She commences by saying: “When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, Māori owned more than 66 million acres of land. By 1975, almost 97 per cent had been sold or taken.” and then “As most people know, Te Tiriti o Waitangi is one of the foundational documents (alongside He Whakaputanga, Declaration of Independence) of Aotearoa New Zealand and an agreement which has largely not been honoured by the British Crown.” 

These are sweeping statements indeed!  It is surely rather presumptuous to include Busby’s 1835 paper tiger the “Declaration of Independence” and omitting the rather important point that at that time, and for several decades to come, New Zealand was never referred to as “Aotearoa”!

This introduction is followed by a sequence of illustrations flicking by, showing in solid black those portions of the two main islands “owned” by Maoris, a continually reducing portion commencing with 100% pre-1840 till 3% today.  Impressive? Accurate?  Somewhat less so.

In the few years before 1840

Kake’s diagram, entirely in black, suggests effective Maori ownership and/or possession of both islands. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the South Island in particular, vast areas were wholly uninhabited, about two thousand Ngai Tahu ekeing out a precarious existence in scattered villages, mostly on the East Coast, with occasional treks over the Alps to collect the precious greenstone from West Coast riverbeds.  

But even more than that, she fails to show that throughout the whole country continual tribal warfare meant continual dispossession of land for defeated tribes in accordance with “tikanga”.  Effective possession was decided brutally (using clubs and spears associated with starvation and similar tactics) with wholesale slaughter, cannibalism, slavery and the women of a defeated tribe becoming prizes of the conquerors.

Slaughtering the Chatham Island inhabitants

A gruesome example is the 1835 invasion by Taranaki tribes, Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga of the Chatham Islands, described by Michael King in Moriori, ISBN 0-670-82655-3, 1989.  King reports in chilling detail the preparation of the victims’ bodies for cannibal feasts. He quotes one Rakatau “who noted with some satisfaction in the Native Land Court in 1870 ‘in accordance with our customs we caught all the people … these were killed’” with more lurid details. As King remarks “[i]t was nothing more nor less that Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama would have expected … had they themselves been defeated in combat.”

The gruesome record of Ngapuhi and Ngati Toa

And let us not forget the similarly gruesome record of Ngapuhi, one of Kake’s tribes – as just one example, the slaughter in 1821 at the Tamaki pa of Mauinaina. The death toll was higher that all the deaths in the tribal rebellions of the early colonial period. The subsequent cannibal feast continued until the Ngapuhi were driven off by the stench of the decaying bodies of their victims.

And then we have Te Rauparaha of Ngati Toa, no mean warrior, abandoning the tribe’s ancestral lands in the Kawhia region, having decided that they were too hot to hold. The tribe commenced its long migration south (by waka [canoe] or on foot) with savage attacks on the tribes in its way, until it reached the Wellington area where it proceeded to annihilate Ngati Ira.

Crossing Cook Strait a few short years before 1840, Te Rauparaha almost destroyed Rangitane, the quite recent conquerors of the Wairau Valley, which in accordance with Maori practice for transfer of ownership, became his tribe’s territory.  This, we recall, was the genesis of the misunderstanding with the Nelson colonists a few short years later which led to the Wairau Massacre when about twelve helpless colonist prisoners were personally executed by Te Rangihaeata of Ngati Toa.  We may note that this 1843 event, now called merely “the Wairau Incident” at the site, was the sole occasion of armed conflict in the South Island between Maoris and settlers in the entire colonial period. Just a few years earlier, Te Rauparaha had not stopped there, proceeding on the pretext of a trivial insult to inflict heavy losses on Ngai Tahu at Kaikoura, Kaiapohia and Onawe.

And Ngai Tahu?

Ngai Tahu elites

It appears that they were a coalition of two tribes from the east of the North Island, driven from their ancestral land by threats from other Maori tribes, to the comparative safety of the South.  (See  There, in accordance with “tikanga”, they proceeded to destroy Ngati Mamoe who inhabited sparsely the southern four fifths of the Island.

One incident is what R.K. McFarlane has called the “tragic massacre” at Mapoutahi, better known as Goat Island today, near Purakanui, a little to the north of Otago Harbour. Ngati Mamoe having let their guard slip were surprised and annihilated by Ngai Tahu, just two escaping and perhaps 250 being killed, a huge number in South Island terms.  It was not the first time that Ngai Tahu had slaughtered Ngati Mamoe, almost to the last individual.

Described in meticulous detail by the Begg brothers in their book Dusky Bay, 1966, is the pathetic tale of the Ngati Mamoe remnant encountered there by Cook on his second voyage in 1773, tracked and eaten soon afterwards by Ngai Tahu.  Just one small girl escaped, surviving miraculously alone until finally caught and killed by Ngai Tahu about 1820.

And Ngati Mamoe?

Waitaha descendants.

Well, the more remote tale of Ngati Mamoe is much the same. They had played their bloodthirsty part in the near-annihilation of earlier residents of the south, the Waitaha. The stories of a few Waitaha survivors were recorded with much diligence by Barry Brailsford who had gained their confidence and published by him as Song of Waitaha, ISBN 0-9583378-1-0, 2nd Ed., 2003.

NOTE: There will be not a few New Zealanders today who claim descent from such as these tribes. 

While this is not to be doubted, in many such cases it will be descent from a remote ancestor whose genes have been very much diluted by admixture with those of many others, not least a substantial proportion of white colonists to whom they owe virtually their entire material wealth.  

(I personally knew the last of the Karitane full-bloods, old Johnny Matthews who died about 1945 and had no surviving family.  He actually sought to adopt a cousin of mine to whom he could leave an inheritance, an offer declined by her father.)

The impact of the white settlers

When the white men came, the cultural and value systems of the tribes changed with remarkable rapidity – their behaviour manifesting knowing and willing intent.  

With the more nutritious and more readily available foodstuffs the white men proffered, the tribes no longer needed to have access to large tracts of land in which to hunt native birds, dig fern roots and find other edible items. 

 A veritable frenzy of land selling began, records of the selling of no less than 179 transactions in the South Island alone prior to February 1840 being held in Sydney to this day.

Ms Kake is woefully ignorant and Stuff does the public a disservice

We prefer to think that it is a consequence of her profound ignorance of the truth and not a more sinister motive when Kake says: “The history of land loss in this country is a sobering one. In 1840, at the time of the signing of Te Tiriti, Māori owned (to apply a foreign cultural concept) or were in control of 100 per cent of the land”.  Whatever it may be, it disqualifies her irremediably from any role in this discussion.

When she stoops to saying “The theft of land has robbed Māori of our intergenerational birthright, and those that profited from the initial theft of land by and large continue to profit through the sustained intergenerational transfer of wealth” one can only interpret it as a blatant piece of politicking, devoid of any valid substance.  

May one suggest to Ms Kake that she stick to architectural design, a subject which, presumably, she knows something about … and that “Stuff” be a little more discriminating in what it presents to the New Zealand public?

(Part Two will follow on Hobson and Fair Dealing in New Zealand Land.)