Wednesday, 27 June 2018

A Promise Not Realized

The Rise and Fall of Maori in New Zealand

In the late 1840's, within a decade of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Maori tribes up and down the country were actively involved in rural based industries and farming.  It was an economic "miracle".

We return to Harold Miller's account:
In 1847 the Lieutenant-Governor reported that the Maoris near Wellington were doing wonders in agriculture; they had "good barns, huts with fire-places, nicely-fenced large gardens, extensive wheatfields beautifully tilled, numerous small paddocks of grass and a variety of comforts".  He received in a chief's house a very good meal, "nicely cooked and arranged, cloth, knives and forks, plates, tea-cups and saucers, milk, bread, etc., etc., as comfortably enjoyed as could have been at many inns".  It was estimated that along a hundred miles of coast there were ten thousand acres of native crops; and steady supplies of wheat and flour and potatoes and pigs were arriving in the European settlement.

In the ten years following 1846, especially when prices rose as a result of the Australian gold-rushes, everybody was busy in the fields.  A few of the more enterprising chiefs erected flour mills; and even the ferocious Rangihaeata who had been responsible for the worst of the bad work done at Wairau in 1843, was reported to be organizing the making of a road through the Manawatu Gorge, in order to open up trade with the East Coast!

During these ten years something like this was happening all over the North Island--in Waikato and Taranaki and the Bay of Plenty and all down the East Coast.  In the early 'fifties a remote valley near the present town of Gisborne was reported to be producing fifty thousand bushels of what and shipping them to Auckland in its own fleet of schooners.  The Maoris were turning into very good seamen and were reported in 1855 to be practically monpolizing the carrying trade along the northern coasts.  [Harold Miller, New Zealand (London: Hutchinson's University Library, 1950),  p.45.]  
The significance and knowledge of Maori enterprise and labour during this period has been largely lost.  It has been lost because of the subsequent descent of Maori into poverty, economic dislocation, and alienation.  There was both an intrinsic and an extrinsic cause resulting in this drastic change for the worse.

The first cause was the tribal system which placed chiefs in a position of economic command and control.  Such a system of  social and economic organisation could not sustain on-going economic growth.  There was not enough "in it" adequately to benefit Maori workers and employees, who were little more than serfs.
But it was in the Waikato and in the districts near Auckland that the most astonishing progress was made.  Already in 1849 one large village was producing crops worth eleven thousand pounds.  Not far away in another village Lady Martin saw a great wheat field extending, it seemed, for miles.  The whole place had a thriving look: carts were rumbling over the rough roads, women were busy under the trees sewing bags to carry the flour to market and swarming around on the grass were crowds of healthy children Within a few miles were over twenty mills for grinding flour.  From the villages a Government surveyor reported that everybody was absorbed in economic affair, learning arithmetic, inquiring about prices, demanding improvements in the procedure for recovering debts; and every chief was provided with a stout box, with a lock and key.  . .  [Ibid. Emphasis, ours].
Nevertheless, for a time it resulted in an amazing economic progression from subsistence living to profitable agricultural enterprises.
The Maori farmers, said an Auckland newspaper in 1853, were "daily becoming more energetic, skilful and successful; as landowners, farmers, graziers, shipowners, labourers and artisans they had shown themselves to be "the main props of New Zealand". 
The second damaging event, causing massive harm, was post-1840 governments allowing European settlement in such numbers that Maori land ended up being  expropriated illegally and immorally, leading to the Maori Wars and the subsequent desuetude of Maori wealth and property in New Zealand.  The effects of this are only now being addressed, with modern Treaty Settlements for past government injustices and promise breaking.

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