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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

Chapter 17: The Waitara Purchase

page 155

Chapter 17: The Waitara Purchase

THE COMPLICATED HISTORY of the Waitara purchase may be reduced to a simple summary. Teira, a minor chief of the Atiawa, living with his fellow-tribesmen on the ancestral lands on the Waitara, was persuaded to offer 600 acres of the land to the Government, at a price of £1 per acre. This block was on the left side of the Waitara, near the mouth, and included the ground on which the present Town of Waitara stands. A number of Teira's people supported him, but the majority of the Atiawa, headed by Wiremu Kingi te Rangitaake, opposed the transaction, and made vehement and repeated protest. It was acknowledged that Teira was the occupier of a portion of the land, and the Government contention—on the advice of Mr. Parris, its local native agent—was that a native had a right to dispose of his individual interests in land. But this was long before the establishment of the Native Land Court. Titles in native land had not been individualized; it was practically impossible to determine the precise extent of Teira's interests. The case for the opponents of the sale was that while individual cultivation rights existed no one had a right to part with the tribal estate without general consent. The land was the common property of the people, and it was against accepted tribal policy to permit a wedge to be driven into the estate by deed of sale without the acquiescence of all concerned. While the whole tribe might be called upon to fight to maintain any or every member of the tribe in possession, so no member was justified in parting with the joint property of the clan. This land had always been thickly populated, and was the property of a great many families, and Wiremu Kingi, as the paramount chief, undoubtedly exercised his right in vetoing the sale. Moreover, it is known that Wiremu Kingi was the victim of a private feud. He and Teira had quarrelled, and Teira, in order to obtain revenge, deliberately proposed the sale in order to bring trouble upon his antagonist and the tribe. This was a common mode of action among the Maoris. The determined opposition of Wiremu Kingi—who was no fire- page 156
Plan of the Pekapeka Block, Waitara (Inset, Te Kohia pa, called the “L” pa from its shape.)

Plan of the Pekapeka Block, Waitara
(Inset, Te Kohia pa, called the “L” pa from its shape.)

It was the dispute over the defective purchase of this land by the Government that caused the Taranaki War. Waitara Town now occupies part of the block.

brand, but a well-wisher of the whites and a man of high intelligence and cool reasoning—should have been sufficient warning to the authorities, at any rate, to treat the matter delicately and to submit the dispute to a competent tribunal. Possibly a proposal to rent the land would have been more favourably received by the Atiawa. But in the existing tension of feeling among the natives, the Waitara, with its fairly numerous page 157 population and its highly complicated system of ownership, was the worst possible spot that Governor Gore Browne's advisers could have selected for a demonstration of their announced intention to bargain with individual owners.

As was often the case in native disputes, a quarrel over a woman was one of the roots of dissension. The following is a statement by a Kingite survivor of the wars:—

“Our troubles which led to war began when our people lived in their pa called Karaponia (California), on the left (west) side of the Waitara River, at the mouth. A woman, Hariata, was the cause. She was the wife of Ihaia te Kiri-kumara, and because of her unfaithfulness Ihaia had her seducer, Rimene, killed. The man's body was buried in the pa. Because of the wrong done to him Ihaia sought for further revenge and sought compensation in land. The tribe would not agree to this, inasmuch as the offence had already been paid for sufficiently by the death of the man Rimene. Ihaia, however, would not listen to this agreement, and he joined with Teira and sold some of the land of Te Rangitaake to the Government in order to obtain compensation for the adultery of his wife. Hence this haka song of the Atiawa:—

“The land was seized upon because of the woman,
At Karaponia it all began.
E Mau na wa!

The case for the European settlers of Taranaki lay in the necessity for obtaining more land for the extension of the settlements. With thousands upon thousands of acres of beautiful and fertile but unused territory around them, it was very natural that they should urge the Administration to purchase new blocks for farms. Immigration was increasing, and the large families of the original settlers made obvious the need for more land. The vigorous men of Cornwall and Devon, who formed the larger proportion of the settlement-founders, were not disposed to permit a few hundreds of natives to bar the way to the good acres lying waste under fern and tutu. Hemmed in as they were between the mountains and the sea and between the domains of the Maori tribes, they were impatient for expansion of their landed possessions. The Maori, on the other hand, had become very uneasy at the steady incoming of immigrant ships, and feared that the pakeha, with whom at one time he would have been content to live in friendship, would presently outnumber and overrun the native people. Wise statesmanship might have averted a clash, but, unfortunately, the one man who could have devised a method of conciliating the antagonistic factions was absent from the colony.

page 158

Thoughtful men such as Sir William Martin vigorously condemned the Waitara blunder. Many years later Dr. Edward Shortland made the following comment on the land dispute and its causes in his book “Maori Religion and Mythology”: “It is a recognized mode of action among the Maoris, if a chief has been treated with indignity by others of the tribe and no reasonable means of redress can be obtained, for the former to do some act which will bring trouble on the whole tribe. This mode of obtaining redress is termed whakahe, and means putting the other in the wrong. There appears little reason to doubt,” Shortland concluded (p. 104), “that Teira's proposal to sell Waitara was prompted by a vindictive feeling towards Wi Kingi, for he knew well that by such mode of proceeding he would embroil those who would not consent with their European neighbours. At the same time it is a rather mortifying reflection that the astute policy of a Maori chief should have prevailed to drag the colony and Her Majesty's Government into a long and expensive war to avenge his own private quarrel.”*

* See Appendices for Sir George Grey's memoranda on the Waitara question.