Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

Foreign settlement

Foreign settlement

The stated objects of the Land Court were to increase productivity from native farms and to open unused lands for European settlers. The question of productivity from native lands will be dealt with later, and attention will now be given to the effectiveness of the policy of European settlement. This policy assumed three premises - firstly that there were large areas of fertile land lying waste, secondly that page 201 the Maori population was dying out, and thirdly that the unused land would be made available for settlers by one means or another.

As to the first premise, Gudgeon considered shortly after his arrival that 10,000 acres on Rarotonga alone should be available for leasing.1 In fact, Rarotonga has a total of only 3,700 acres of land suitable for agriculture and a further 1,530 acres which can be used for tree crops;2 and as at that time the island had a Maori population of over 2,000, this allowed less than three acres per head. In Atiu, he declared, there was four times as much waste land as at Rarotonga, and ‘every inch’ of the island was considered worthy of cultivation.3 Land surveys were to be conducted there to determine ‘the area and character of the waste land available for settlement by Europeans’.4 The total area of land suitable for agriculture on Atiu is 1,158 acres, with a further 3,386 acres usable for tree crops.5 The indigenous population of the island was then just under 1,000. ‘Mauke’, the Resident claimed, ‘may fairly be regarded as equal to forty square miles of the best land in New Zealand’;6 yet the actual area of Mauke is only seven square miles, less than two of which are suitable for agriculture.7 This gave only two and a half acres of agricultural land per head of the then population. Even

1 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1899:23.

2 Fox and Grange, Soils… 41.

3 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1902:49, and Gudgeon to Mills 28.5.1903 NZPP A3 1904.

4 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1902:50.

5 Fox and Grange, Soils… 41.

6 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1902:50.

7 Fox and Grange, Soils… 41.

page 202 allowing for the fact that the islands were as yet unsurveyed, Gudgeon's estimates were quite unrealistic.

The second premise, that of a dying Maori population, was supported by the demographic data then available. At the turn of the century, however, the decline ceased. The policy-makers cannot be blamed for not knowing that, almost from the moment of annexation of the Cook Islands, an upward trend of population growth was occurring throughout the length and breadth of the Pacific.1 Though the population had reached its lowest ebb in the 1870s and had subsequently risen, this data was probably not available to the Administration. The censuses of 1895, 1901 and 1902 did show a slow downward trend, and combined with knowledge of rapid population decline in the first three decades after contact (which Gudgeon was aware of and quoted) he was no doubt justified in assuming that the decline would continue. The rate of decline shown by the three censuses mentioned, however, was quite slow, and hardly justified the assertion that ‘at no very distant date the present native population will either die out or become so much reduced in numbers that it will be necessary to replace them with a foreign population’.2 In fact, the population increased steadily from 1902 onwards.

The Administration's third assumption was that unused land would be made available for settlers. It was supposed that once the islanders had their land rights assured by the award of documentary titles they would be anxious to lease such as they were not actively using in order to obtain additional income. If they were not prepared to do so voluntarily, however, the Resident proposed that the

1 McArthur, Populations… passim.

2 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1902:55.

page 203 government be empowered to assume control over unused lands and lease them on behalf of the owners.1 The Court began its work in the Titikaveka area of Rarotonga, as that was the least utilized part of the island and had the largest tracts available for leasing. Once the Court's work was completed, the Resident prophesied, the whole of the Titikaveka district would be settled by Europeans only.2 However, after ownership of most of the land was determined in 1903, it was found that very few of the owners were prepared to make any portion available for lease.3
When the Resident requested that he be given authority to enable him to enforce the leasing of unused land, the New Zealand Government was not prepared to grant it. A few years earlier New Zealand had hoped to annex Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, but none of these ambitions had been realized, and the vision of a Pacific empire had faded. In 1903 a delegation of thirty-three members of the New Zealand Parliament visited the islands, and, judging from the tenor of debates in the House following their visit, members had developed a considerable sympathy for the point of view of the island people.4 The chiefs had informed the delegation of their unanimous opposition to the sale of land,5 and the Opposition was particularly vocal on the question of protecting native land rights. Under these circumstances the government was agreeable to the compulsory acquisition of land only if the local Federal Council was prepared to pass the

1 Ibid.

2 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1903:24.

3 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1904:70.

4 Hansard volumes 125–30 passim.

5 Minutes of meeting of 28.4.1903 NZPP A3(b) 1903.

page 204 necessary legislation. As may be expected, the Federal Council would not do so.1

In 1905 the Minister still hoped that a settlement programme could be effected by persuasion rather than compulsion, and reported that numerous applications for land had been received from prospective settlers, though as yet the government was unable to give them any assurance as to its availability.2 He nevertheless promised to compile details of surplus lands for the information of settlers, and hoped that the islanders would soon be induced to lease them more readily. In the following year the situation was unchanged. Indigenous opposition to foreign settlement remained firm, and was supported throughout by the London Missionary Society, which, in addition to its constant pastoral contact with the people, published the only periodical in the vernacular. Referring to the situation in Rarotonga in 1906, the editor pointed out that ‘there are only 8,000 usable acres to be divided amongst 2,000 natives…. There does not seem to be much land left to lease’.3 The survey of the island, which was by then well advanced, confirmed the view that there was much less fertile land than had previously been supposed. With opposition from within the territory and little support from Wellington, the settler question faded quietly away.

A few settlers4 had indeed obtained leases on Rarotonga, but their number has never exceeded twenty-five, and on all the outer islands put together there have never since

1 Gudgeon to Mills 12.9.1904 NZPP A3 1905.

2 Mills' covering memorandum of 1.9.1905 to the annual report for the Cook Islands NZPP A3 1905.

3 Te Karere January 1906.

4 By settlers is meant foreigners (invariably Europeans from 1900 onwards) whose livelihood was obtained from the production of export crops.

page 205 annexation been more than a scattered dozen or so. The amount of land leased to foreigners increased by only 237 acres between 1906 and 1920,1 and the number of foreign settlers in the group remained insignificant, being seventeen in 1906 and sixteen in 1922. The remaining few were severely affected by the economic depression of the 1930s, when almost half the land leased by Europeans changed hands to settle outstanding debts.2 The foreign plantations never recovered and today not a single foreigner derives his livelihood exclusively from export production.

1 NZPP A3 1907:6 and NZPP A4 1920:48.

2 Hansard 247:336.