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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

The leasing and lending of land

The leasing and lending of land

The most lucrative indirect method of exploiting one's land rights was by transferring some portion of them to foreigners, usually by way of lease. By January 1899 the annual income to native owners from registered leases of land to foreigners was £502.10.0.1 Of this amount, some £445.16.0 was in respect of land on Rarotonga. In addition to the cash there must be added the value of rentals in goods,2 of commitments in addition to the fixed rent,3 and rentals payable in the form of a proportion of the proceeds from the land rented,4 or of improvements to the land.5

Alternatively, land rights could be exploited by allowing unrelated natives to settle on unused lands. To

1 In fact many of the rentals were fixed in Chilean dollars, the exchange rate for which fluctuated around $10 to the £1. This exchange rate has been used to convert all rentals to pounds sterling.

2 Deed no.83 covered the lease of a section of land from Tinomana Ariki to Ah Chin for one pig per year. - Deeds Register NLC.

3 Deed no.159 provided that the lessee of land at Aitutaki had to pay a cash rental of $30 per annum as well as to care for the native owners ‘and give them food and also for their grandchildren’. - Deeds Register NLC.

4 Deed no.29 in respect of Tutakimoa plantation for coffee and orange growing made such a provision. - Deeds Register NLC.

5 Deed no.134 provided that the lessor was to get possession after 25 years of a house to be built by the lessee. - Deeds Register NLC.

page 180 Rarotonga particularly came an influx of people without land rights there, and without kinship bonds to link them with the Rarotonga people. Apart from a handful who worked for European planters or traders, all native immigrants were dependent on land for their subsistence, though they had no land rights on the island. Not one native acquired a formal lease or other legal title to land,1 and apart from those who acquired rights by marriage, the visitors merely entered into informal arrangements with local chiefs to reside and plant under a system of permissive occupation. Such tenancy at will was not only insecure, but, as demands for atinga were dependent on ability to pay, there was a direct disincentive to surplus production. Moreover, such use-rights did not carry the right to plant long-term crops.

1 An examination of the Deeds Register shows that at this period no leases had been made in favour of islanders.