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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

New patterns of work organization

page 283

New patterns of work organization

In addition to the changes in work organization which are consequent upon the above legal or informal modifications to the basic tenure pattern, there have also been changes on those lands which are worked under the ‘freehold’ system of tenure. Some of these changes have also been due to problems created by the existing tenure situation.

The first change concerns what may be loosely termed entrepreneurial share farming, which is organized by a small group of Maori farmers who are sufficiently enterprising to overcome the obstacles inherent in the tenure situation. Each of these men operates tractors and other mechanical equipment, owns a trade store and transport facilities, and is able, through the supply of credit, machinery and management skills which are otherwise lacking, to make productive land which in all probability would not otherwise be utilized. Using labour which is otherwise underemployed they plant tomatoes and other short-term cash crops on lands which are idle owing to the absence of owners, disputes among co-parceners, or the inability of owners to use them. When the crop is marketed the entrepreneur gives a (usually unspecified) share of the proceeds to the most influential members of the owning group.

Most of the entrepreneurs concerned are not themselves large landowners, and all of them use principally land in which they do not have rights. If they could get more land, they claim, they would willingly exploit it. In the present situation their role is an important one and their contribution to output is considerable, for, from data examined in Rarotonga, it is estimated that the twelve largest of them are responsible for organizing the bulk of the island's tomato exports. While there are similar men on the smaller islands, they are nowhere so active as on Rarotonga.

page 284

The reduction in the size of the productive unit, which today is normally the nuclear family, resulted in part at least from changes in tenure. The role of chiefs in the organization of production is now negligible on islands other than Mangaia. It should be noted, however, that in earlier years the largest productive unit was normally the minor lineage, the head of that unit organizing the cropping and receiving payment for the product. While major lineage and tribal chiefs required their followers to plant specific crops at particular times and sometimes monopolized the marketing of the product, planting, harvesting and payment was normally a matter for the component minor lineages. The organizational role today has been taken over by the Administration in the case of citrus, the local entrepreneurs in the case of the larger quantities of tomatoes, the Island Councils to a small extent on islands like Atiu,1 and in recent years on some islands by producers' co-operative societies.2 Reduction of the productive unit from the minor lineage to the nuclear family was facilitated by the issue of land titles, by the establishment of savings bank facilities in 1912 (enabling savings to be kept individually), and by the setting up of government sponsored marketing organizations which have been widely patronized and have dealt with members on an individual basis.3

page 285

Paradoxically, however, the operation of the Court has forced a situation of increasing disparity between the land-working and the landholding units. For whereas in the pre-Court situation the residential core of the owning group was in fact the land-working group (and held superior rights to those of non-residents), Court action has resulted in a rapid expansion in numbers of ‘owners’ while the land-working unit has steadily diminished in size. It is therefore not surprising that output from individually worked ‘freehold’ land is lower, per acre and per capita, than from any of the forms of large-scale landholding and/or land-working which have been outlined in this chapter.

1 Most Island Councils have the power to enforce planting, but Atiu is one of the few islands where this power is exercised. See ‘The Planting and Cultivation of Lands Ordinance’ 1914 (for Mauke) and equivalent ordinances of the same year for Mangaia, of 1917 for Rarotonga and Aitutaki and of 1948 for Atiu.

2 These have been very successfully promoted, with government assistance since 1955. Co-operative organization of copra production, processing and marketing on Atiu, Mauke and Mitiaro during the last three years has resulted in significant increases in output in comparison with those obtained by individual work organization, but the levels of output reached are not as high as those on the ‘capitalistic’ plantation at Manuae, the Nassau ‘collective’ or the Takutea co-operative.

3 The first of these was the Rarotonga Fruit Company which was formed in 1919.