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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

Annexation and the creation of a Land Court

Annexation and the creation of a Land Court

Securing the passage of legislation was relatively easy, for the chiefs had learned the consequences of declining it, but having unpalatable legislation implemented in practice was much more difficult. Gudgeon could not at this stage force action which might antagonize the chiefs, for the Colonial Office would not consider annexation to New Zealand unless it was supported by the chiefs and, as Gudgeon said of himself:

I came here with the fixed intention of getting this group annexed; but on my arrival I found that the friends of Mr. Moss had made a bugbear of annexation…hence it was that for a long time I was very quiet, for it was absolutely necessary that I should gain the confidence of the arikis, and secondly that the Moss party should have no inkling of my real views, lest they should turn round and warn the Maoris that they were about to lose their mana.4

He did not inform the ariki of his further proposals for land reform, ‘For if I did,’ he reported to the Prime

4 Gudgeon to Seddon 29.8.1900 NZNA.

page 197 Minister, ‘they would never consent to annexation’.1 Annexation now became the immediate goal. Given the power to enforce his programme of agrarian reform, he claimed, he would make Rarotonga one of the most prosperous places in the world.2 The programme was often alluded to but never explained in detail, though it was to be achieved by giving security of tenure to the occupiers of the land, having the tribute paid by Maori commoners to the chiefs commuted to a fixed rental, and by nationalizing the land ‘with the rights of the land-holders being recognised’.3 Just what was intended by this last phrase was not made clear.
In 1900 the ariki of Rarotonga were persuaded to submit a petition requesting annexation to New Zealand.4 The Colonial Office was now agreeable in principle, but required that native lands be protected to prevent reckless alienation.5 To meet this requirement, New Zealand proposed that a Land Court similar to that operating in New Zealand would be set up to determine ownership of land, and that alienation would be permitted only through the Crown to prevent the Maori people becoming landless. The Court was to be given wide powers to assert the rights of the common people, for the New Zealand Government did not accept the ‘feudal

1 Gudgeon to Seddon 10.8.1900 NZNA.

2 Gudgeon to Governor 2.4.1900 CO 209 PRO.

3 Ibid.

4 Petition of Makea, Karika, Pa, Kainuku, Tinomana and Ngamaru to Governor 6.9.1900 NZPP A3 1901. Ngamaru was one of the ariki of Atiu, but had resided on Rarotonga for many years and was Judge of the Avarua court. Some indication of the methods of persuasion used to get the petition is given in Gudgeon to Seddon 29.8.1900, 8.9.1900 and 4.9.1900 NZNA.

5 Colonial Office to Governor 15.8.1900 CO 209 PRO. The petitioners had requested ‘that the land rights of the people shall not be vitiated by annexation’ but had not elaborated the point further.

page 198 ownership’ under which the ariki had allegedly asserted ‘rights to the whole of the islands’.1 As an alternative, New Zealand proposed that a fixed sum might be paid to the ariki to concede all their rights, and the Crown would then assume responsibility for all land, setting aside sufficient for the use of the Maoris.2 These were possibilities, not commitments, and the actualities were left to be worked out at a later date.

A Colonial Office minute on the above proposals affirmed the necessity for fixity of tenure, and queried whether the title to land should be individual or vested in the tribe or other group.3 They did not raise these points with the New Zealand Government, however, but merely expressed their hope that ‘liberal provision’ would be made for native interests.4 Annexation was effected harmoniously and without question. The chiefs of Mangaia asked for clarification on the matter of land ownership but, when they were assured that native ownership of the land was acknowledged, they unanimously assented to annexation.5

1 Seddon to Governor 18.8.1900 CO 209 PRO.

2 This proposal was not acted upon.

3 Colonial Office minute on Seddon to Governor 18.8.1900 CO 209 PRO.

4 Colonial Office to Governor 7.11.1900 CO 209 PRO.

5 Governor to Colonial Office 31.10.1900 CO 209 PRO.