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Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World

The Maori Dimension

The Maori Dimension

A Maori dimension to the Kaponga settler story has had little mention as our story has unfolded because the sources provided too little material for an ongoing treatment. The Kaponga settlers did not displace a Maori population, for their bush lands had not been used as a Maori resource for some decades. The land came to the settlers from the Crown, and few gave thought to how the Crown had come by it. Most had had only a sparse education, so their grasp of British history was limited, their knowledge of New Zealand's past even more sketchy. They would have known little or nothing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the origins of the New Zealand wars, or the land confiscations. Their political and legal leaders treated the treaty as ‘a simple nullity’18 and had every reason to mask the dubious treatment meted out to Taranaki Maori. Maori protest, expressed in the forms of an alien culture, failed to penetrate the strong defences of settler prejudice.Y

Yet there were Maori inputs into Kaponga life. According to the ‘Kaupokonui’ ‘Our Own’ the district's first active fungus gatherers were Maori, leading to settler concern about trespass, later to rivalry for the crop, and finally to at least one court case.19 This was a friction mainly of the 1880s. As the settlement matured it began drawing on Maori labour for a number of tasks, especially the weeding of crops, particularly carrots, and the harvesting of cocksfoot.20 This labour tended to come as a camping community, and could involve considerable interaction with the local settlers. Thus ‘Our Own’ (20/2/05) reported:

A large number of Maoris are camped on the outskirts of the town, grass seeding etc. The Maori wahines are doing a large trade in ferns, kits, etc, taking anything in exchange in the shape of ‘old’ clothes. Tonight they held a poi dance at the encampment, a large number of townspeople going down to see it.

Kaponga settlers would also be aware that Maori were successful farmers in neighbouring districts. The Farmer's West Coast report of February 1889 told of the well-kept fields of potatoes, wheat and oats of page 342 the Maori pa on Hastings Road, and Manaia's ‘Our Own’ (21/3/90) reported that

… A very marked feature of the quantity of cropping in this district is the large area put in by the Maoris. Just behind Manaia they have, besides knocking out a number of stacks with their own horse-power machine, given employment for a week to one of the largest steam threshers in the district. The sight of a steam thresher owned by white men working for the Maoris is unusual, and shows they are not wanting in enterprise. They already have their own reapers and binders, and one of them told me to-day they should buy a ‘teamer’ next year.

A further way in which Kaponga folk encountered Maori was through sport. Thus in rugby over these years almost any game they played against Manaia, Okaiawa or Patea teams would have seen them pitted against some Maori players. They may also have met Maori at various other sporting and social occasions. Maori and Pakeha are reported to have mingled at a Maori dance at Okaiawa in April 1913,21 and on 23 April 1914 a Maori team was one of the six competing in the tug-of-war at the Kaponga athletic sports. They won two rounds, but were unfortunate to be caught unprepared by the ‘go’ in the final.
Three-year-old Rona Chapman and her father, the Rev William Bramwell Scott, c.1910

Three-year-old Rona Chapman and her father, the Rev William Bramwell Scott, c.1910