Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.
Bristled With Difficulties—Courts Step Off On Wrong Foot—Native Trust Gets Into “Queer Street”—How Its Lands Were Redeemed.
When the Native Lands Act, 1865, was passed, practically the whole of the lands in Poverty Bay and on the East Coast were in the hands of the natives. A vast amount of tedious work, therefore, lay ahead of the courts which were set up to determine the ownership of the various blocks. It was provided that each block should be vested in not more than ten persons, and that the names of the other owners, or of the tribe, should also be specified. Most of the Judges added only the name of the tribe.
The Act was amended to emphasise that not only should each block be vested in not more than ten persons, but that the names of all the persons interested, and the particulars of their interests, should also be registered. It was held by some Judges that they could do nothing in a case in which a previous court had, apparently intentionally, made the grantees sole owners. They also declined to amend earlier lists of owners by admitting into them the names of natives whose claims had, in the first instance, been defeated, or those of natives who had made no attempt to get into the lists at the original hearing. This defect in the law was remedied some years later. In the case of practically every block a tangled skein as to ownership and boundaries required to be unravelled.
Conquest was set up as the right to ownership to some blocks. Other grounds advanced in support of claims were: That the right had been held to put up a rahui (a sign forbidding trespass); that ancestors had been buried on the land; that the right to erect eel-weirs or place rat-snares, etc., had been held; that food from the land had had to be taken to a particular chief; that villages or pas had been built on the land; that cultivations had been made upon it; or that the land had been the subject of a gift. The courts aimed at ascertaining which tribe or hapu had the right of occupation when British sovereignty was proclaimed, and whether that occupation was well founded according to native custom and usage.
An interesting legend was related by a witness before the Native Land Court at Waipiro Bay in 1890 (Waiapu minute book, No. 15). A fishing place known as Kapua-a-Rangi was mentioned. Nepia Harikara said that Ihurahirahi discovered “it whilst he was walking on the water like an angel.” Upon diving for his comb, which he had accidentally dropped, “he found it in a hapuka's mouth.” By paying attention to the landmarks he fixed the location of the fishing ground.page 311
Ownership to Tahora No. 2 block was claimed, in 1889, by Tauha Nikora on the ground that he was a descendant of one Tarawa, who, he said, had swum from Hawaiki to New Zealand. Witness denied that Tarawa was a seagod; in those days, he explained, people were not just ordinary people. He admitted that he did not know how far Hawaiki was from New Zealand, nor how long the journey had taken. Even with his knowledge of tides and currents, he was bound to believe what his elders had told him. It was his opinion that Tarawa had swum under some kind of spiritualistic influence. “There were some very funny things done in those days,” he added.
An apochryphal illustration of the extreme character of some of the claims that were made to ownership appears in Meredith's Adventuring in New Zealand in the 'Seventies, p. 121. During a Waiapu case, it is stated, Judge Rogan invited an elderly witness to indicate what right he had to be included among the owners to the block under consideration. Quite unabashed, the native replied: “I ate the former owner.” A smile rippled over the Judge's face, and he asked: “So you presume that the fee simple vests in you?” “Certainly,” said the witness. His Honour instructed the recording clerk to include the witness's name in the list of owners!