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The Maori King

Chapter XIII — The Maori Kingdom

page 172

Chapter XIII
The Maori Kingdom

Since the introduction of Christianity into New Zealand, the political condition of the Maories has progressively become more and more democratic. The traditional power of the chief, derived from heathen superstition, is now altogether gone. Men like Wiremu Tamihana and Rewi Maniapoto have, indeed, the title of Chief, and their abilities have gained them respect and influence, both in their own tribes and among strangers; but these men only execute the will of the people, and do not guide it. In all their plans, they have to consider what their tribes will think and say; and when their own opinion differs from that of the multitude, the former has to give way. Popular passions are too strong for them; resistance would cost them their position.

In the Maori kingdom, as in all other native districts in New Zealand, the supreme authority, legislative and judicial, resides in the Village Runangas.

In making laws, the Runangas have no idea of any limit to the province of government; their regulations extend to the minutest details of private life. They make laws about behaviour on Sunday—laws against falsehood, whether slanderous or not—laws to fix the prices of pigs, corn, and potatoes—laws to fix the payment for which people shall carry the mails. In short, the Runanga is a grievous tyranny, and would be insupportable, if it only possessed power to carry its decrees into execution. Happily, the tribal government is more feeble than forbearing; page 173 so that a Maori, by obeying no laws at all, contrives to enjoy a fair amount of personal liberty.

The Runangas throughout New Zealand exercise judicial authority. In the Maori kingdom, there are, indeed, persons styled King's magistrates, just as in the Governor's native districts there are Queen's magistrates; but neither are able to exercise the power implied by the name. Physical force resides in the members of the Runanga, who carry out their decrees, when they are carried out at all, by the strength of their own right arms. No Runanga would carry out the decision of either King's or Queen's magistrate, till they had first themselves examined its justice. Thus they constitute themselves the real judges. A Maori magistrate only acts as a sort of detective and public prosecutor, and sometimes reasons and expostulates in a friendly way with offenders who will not submit themselves to his decision. Against a Pakeha defendant, it is generally easy enough to put a Runanga in motion. No more mercy is shown by a Maori Runanga to a Pakeha, than by an Auckland jury to a Maori. But any native who feels himself strong enough, redresses wrongs received from Pakehas, without troubling the Runangas, by helping himself to a horse or a cow; and this way of obtaining satisfaction is approved and sustained by the Native Assemblies, if the original claim to compensation is just.

The laws which guide Runangas in their judgments are those which may approve themselves to the individual conscience of each member. Some quote the Ten Commandments; some, Maori custom; some, English law; some, laws developed out of their own self-consciousness. I once heard a trial before the Runanga of Peria, at which it was given in evidence that a man called Kepa had made a law that no one should go to his house while he was from home; and ‘Kepa's law’ was accepted throughout the trial as perfectly valid; the only question entertained being whether the defendant was aware of it. Wiremu Tamihana is a diligent student of the code of laws contained in the Pentateuch, which he appears to find better adapted to the wants of an uncivilized nation than English law, and he always quotes Levitical law upon any doubtful case. Several ambitious Maories have tried to codify their laws, but their attempts have been as abortive as our own.

The Runangas do not generally succeed in administering substantial justice. This is the natural consequence of the page 174 Runanga being a popular and tumultuous gathering, in which the young and ignorant talk down their elders and betters. Again, if a just decision is come to, it is by no means certain to be carried into effect. There are no police: the members of the Runanga have themselves to execute their own decisions. When it is known that the losing party will fight rather than yield, the task is perilous. Whakapaukai long set even the Runanga of Ngaruawahia at defiance, because he gave out that he would shoot anybody who molested him. A Maori criminal, however, cannot escape from the recollection of his sentence by changing his place of abode, and losing himself in a crowd. He must either remain on the spot, or go where he is well known. From the time he has been sentenced by the Runanga, he is a marked man until the penalty is paid. The Runanga may not have power to enforce its sentences, but it has power to banish a man from society until he voluntarily submits. Lastly, the Maori custom of perpetual travelling makes even the Runanga at times inaccessible. The fountain of justice may be absent at a feast, or may have turned into a war-party and gone to fight: the plaintiff in such case is put off with the everlasting Maori answer—‘taihoa’ (by-and-by), which, of course, is fatal in all cases in which justice, to be of any use, must be speedy.

It must not be supposed that the anarchy of one tribe is exactly like that of another. In some tribes ‘Lynch law’ is administered with greater justice; in others with greater vigour. Amongst the Ngatihaua tribe the administration of justice has always been very creditable. This is to be attributed to the character and personal influence of Wiremu Tamihana and the chiefs by whom he is, or rather was, surrounded and supported. I never heard a complaint of injustice from the Europeans resident amongst his tribe. ‘In the neighbourhood of Maungatautari,’ said Bishop Selwyn before the Waikato1 Committee, ‘I asked a man whether it would be safe to leave our baggage on the side of the road while we went some little distance off to a native village? The answer was—“Oh yes: nobody steals now.” And when I asked why, he said—“Some don't steal for fear of God; some from fear of the Five Pounds;” the Five Pounds being a fine put in force by the native Kai-whakawa (magistrate).’

The Ngatimaniapoto Runanga was very powerful, but not by

1 AJHR, 1860, F-3, p. 63.

page 175 any means just. The members had very strong prejudices whenever they thought the King's ‘mana’ or any appearance of yielding to the English Government was involved in the case at issue. Rewi never paid so much attention as Tamihana to the domestic affairs of his tribe, so that the young men were in his Runanga supreme. They were, moreover, demoralized by the possession of Taranaki plunder, and were violently hostile both to the English race and to the Government. At a place called Whataroa, far up the Ngatimaniapoto country beyond Hangatiki, a chief called Reihana had organized the best system of law and order in the whole country. He kept a force of eighty strong lads, clothed and equipped by the fees and fines of his Court. The culprits whom Reihana sentenced were generally made to pay their money down before leaving the Court. When a man really had no money in hand, two days were allowed him in which to obtain some; but on the third day, if the money was not forthcoming, the fine was increased. If a man was himself too poor to pay, Reihana expected his kinsmen to subscribe for him. All the proceeds of these fines went to the equipment and support of the eighty soldiers, who thus had a very strong and obvious interest in the vigorous administration of justice. Reihana had the character of being perfectly just in his judgments.

When the several tribes united to set up the Maori King, they did not thereby surrender their distinct independence. The Maori kingdom was a sort of federation which did not much interfere with the local jurisdiction exercised by the Village Runangas in the way described.

According to the native system, Matutaera Potatau, the King, had very little to do personally with affairs of state. He used to travel about, attended by chiefs, to most of the great meetings, where he was always carefully guarded by a body of drilled soldiers, and, whether at home or on a visit, seldom appeared outside his house when Europeans were present. In political matters he was scarcely ever consulted.

All public business was transacted by a Council of State, called the Runanga of Ngaruawahia, which was composed of about a dozen members,1 who were the elder chiefs of the Ngatimahuta

1 [The regular members, as listed by Gorst in June 1862, were Tarahawaiki, Honi Papita, Toma Whakapo, Patara Te Tuhi, Tumihuia, Wiremu Karamoa, Nepe Te Ngakau, Takerei Te Rau, Nehemia, and Hoera Toanui (AJHR, 1862, E-9, II, p. 14).]

page 176 tribe, and relatives of old Potatau. But Rewi, Tamihana, Reihana, or any other great men from the provinces, on a visit to Ngaruawahia, would sit with the regular members, and join in their deliberations. Common men did not presume to take part in this Runanga.

Of the wisdom of the King's Council I feel bound to speak in the very highest terms. In all questions which I have heard discussed by them, they have argued with calmness and good temper, keeping steadily to the point at issue, and facing all the difficulties. They usually came to a just decision. Calm, in discussion, the strongest opposition never provoked personal rudeness. It would have been impossible to get together a body of Maories with whom the Government could have more advantageously consulted upon the management of the native race. If the King's Council had only possessed power equal to their wisdom and moderation, the present war would never have arisen. But that wise resolutions should but seldom be carried into practical effect is a weakness that appears naturally inherent in all public bodies at the antipodes.

The Runanga of Ngaruawahia often acted as a judicial body: it appeared to be the last resort in cases which no one else could settle. During the year 1862, many wrongs had been done to Europeans living in Waikato, chiefly in the Ngatimaniapoto district, which the local chiefs and their Runangas were unable or unwilling to redress. Wiremu Tamihana, who took a very strong interest in such cases, in as much as they were standing proofs of the failure of his design to establish law and order in native districts, had the subject brought under the notice of the Runanga of Ngaruawahia; and the Runanga, by his advice, claimed jurisdiction in all cases where Europeans’ interests were involved. This plan, however, was displeasing to Rewi; he did not choose to part with power, or to allow the dealings of his tribe with their own Pakehas to be revised by any other body. He protested against the intended assumption of jurisdiction, and the Runanga had to abandon the pretension. All conflicts of this kind that arose between the central and local authorities, were quietly settled by the former at once giving way. The King's Council had no real power. There was no force at command by which it could compel obedience; and that was only rendered voluntarily when the opinions of the subject happened page 177 to coincide with those of the Sovereign. Even Wiremu Tamihana himself could, when he chose, turn a deaf ear to the King. During the time I was in Waikato, I often attended the King's Runanga, and the members thereof used sometimes, after we had sat talking together till a late hour, to grow confidential, and reveal their troubles. At such times, they told of the disobedience of distant tribes, who persisted in stopping roads they had been ordered to open, who turned away ministers of religion, and let land in spite of all remonstrance. Once, in the middle of a conversation of this sort, Wi Karamoa started up, and said, ‘What fools we must be to talk in this way, before the Pakehas are gone to bed.’ They all laughed, wished us goodnight, and at that time revealed no more. Latterly, the Council became cautious, and wisely reluctant to issue commands, avowing openly that they had no power to compel obedience.

Indeed, as an instrument for enforcing law, the Council was less effective than the local Runangas. Its authority was not universally acknowledged. My friend Patene once told me that he had never recognized as members of the Runanga any others than Rewi, Wetini, and another; and that the men who called themselves the Runanga of Ngaruawahia were impudent usurpers. The King's magistrates appointed in each tribe added no strength to the central authority. Their power, dignity, and emolument, all depended on local sources; there was nothing to make them uphold the government of the King, as distinguished from the tribal government: they were nothing but local officers, who used the King's name as a badge of opposition to the English Government. Tamihana and several members of the King's Runanga wished to vest the whole judicial function in chiefs appointed by, and responsible to, the Maori King; but it is manifest that the project could never have been carried into effect. The Runangas would have given no help to the King's magistrates till they had judged the case themselves. If the two powers came into collision, the King's magistrate would always have had to yield. Besides, the King could give no salary, nor hold out any other inducement, which would make his magistrate prefer a barren allegiance to the more profitable and pleasant course of falling in with the passions and prejudices of his own kinsmen and companions.

There were in Waikato and the neighbourhood several bodies page 178 of young men, drilled, armed, and dressed in uniform in imitation of our troops. Playing at soldiers was for more than a year the absorbing fashion in Waikato. The men who had fought at Taranaki introduced the practice on their return, having learnt the English words of command, the bugle calls, and the corresponding manœuvres by watching our troops. Those who had not been to the war, and especially Wi Tamihana, received the new fashion with great displeasure. It was agreed that each tribe in turn should furnish a company to occupy Ngaruawahia as a guard of honour to the King: when it came to the turn of Ngatihaua, Tamihana would have nothing to do with the plan; he said his tribe were all ploughmen, none of them were soldiers; and he ended by bringing his men and lads to Ngaruawahia with a dozen ploughs and without guns, and instead of playing at soldiers, ploughed up about seventy acres of land for potatoes. Notwithstanding all opposition, however, the fashion steadily made way. Most of the soldiers were lads of about twenty; they kept themselves very clean and neat, wearing white trousers, blue coats, and white caps with a red cross embroidered in front. Their arms were nothing better than old flint muskets, only a few possessing double-barrelled fowling-pieces or rifles. They grew their own food, and were paid at the rate of threepence a-day. When the King's resources began to fail, the pay was commuted into the promise of a grant of land as a reward for military service—an example afterwards followed by the Colonial Government, except that the King promised his own land and not that of other people.

These soldiers were not at the command of the Runanga of Ngaruawahia; whether they would have obeyed their commanding officer or not was doubtful; but it was quite certain that the commanding officers were not subject to the Council. On several occasions when the services of the soldiers were requested, the chiefs by whom the various companies had been raised and equipped refused to let them be employed. When Reihana was asked to send his men to defend the goldfields of Coromandel against the Pakeha diggers, 1 he replied: ‘My soldiers shall take care of the King, that is all; let the people of Coromandel take care of their own gold.’

Besides the weakness consequent upon having no one to

1 [See below, pp. 190–1.]

page 179 execute their commands, the Council had always before their eyes the fear of offending the local magnates. Patene was so affronted at being censured for attempting to drive away the European magistrate, that he offered to lease land to the settlers. A Kawhia chief threatened to go over to the Queen if the King's Runanga took away his second wife; and as the wife was not taken away, a Hangatiki chief actually did renounce his allegiance, saying he would belong to no society in which bigamy was to be tolerated. Lastly, the King's Council was more addicted to wandering about the country than even the local Runangas. They were invited to every Maori feast, and frequently paid visits to places far remote from Waikato. It was, therefore, impossible to get any matter attended to except by persistent importunity; every question that it was inconvenient to answer was put off to the morrow, with polite apologies that would have done credit to the oldest bureaucracy. In shelving disagreeable subjects their cleverness surpassed even that of the Colonial Government.

The account above given shows what Tamihana and the chiefs of Ngaruawahia were obliged frequently to confess, that there was no power amongst the Maories capable of really governing. They complained bitterly, however, that we had not given them fair play, saying, that instead of being allowed to devote their sole attention to domestic affairs, they had been kept by the British authorities, since they began to construct a Government, in a continual state of excitement. First, we had made and unjust war at Taranaki; then we threatened to attack and put down the King by force; and since Governor Grey had come, he had never ceased to alarm them by his attempt to bribe the King's subjects from their allegiance, and by his preparations for war. It was hardly to be expected, said they, that children such as they were could succeed, when we kept harassing them the whole time they were making the attempt. They thought the least we could do was to let them alone, and not interfere until it was conspicuous that they had failed.

But, like some other Governments, though weak in domestic affairs, in foreign policy the Maori King was strong. As the rallying point of a Maori nationality, as the head of a federation to resist the encroachment of the Pakeha, the King was enthusiastically supported by all Waikato and by men of distant tribes. page 180 It was in this aspect alone that Rewi and his tribe were adherents of the King. He and Tamihana had espoused two opposite views of the purpose for which the Maori King was to be maintained. The latter desired to create a paternal sovereign to execute just laws to which all should yield obedience; and to oppose the progress of the Pakeha by passive and peaceful resistance, giving no pretext for war. Rewi, on the contrary, rejected every attempt of the King to exert, in time of peace, the least authority over any member of the Ngatimaniapoto tribe, but as the head of a confederation of Maories against the common enemy, Rewi was his most devoted subject. The measures of Sir George Grey, and especially the military preparations going on before the eyes of the Maories in every direction, while increasing their hostility to the Pakeha, strengthened their loyalty to the King, and made the alliance between the various tribes, in spite of all jealousies, far closer than it was before the operations of Government in Waikato commenced. Rewi's view of the object for which the Maori King was established became the popular view, and Rewi the popular leader. During Sir George Grey's administration, Tamihana's influence was steadily on the decline.

Tipene's words to Sir George Grey, at Taupari, that the whole of New Zealand had accepted the Maori King, were true, if they meant that the King had been accepted as an incarnation of Maori nationality, and a leader of resistance to subjugation under the Colonial Government. In this sense, all the tribes of New Zealand either support or sympathize with the Waikatos. That all have not actually risen in arms against us is no proof to the contrary; for one Maori tribe can carry on the war better, if other tribes remain neutral, and furnish supplies. During the time that I was stationed in the Waikato, the King was visited by leading chiefs from Taranaki, from Wanganui, from Hawke's Bay, from the East Cape, from Tauranga, and even from the Ngapuhi of the North; and deputations from Waikato were invited, and sent in every direction, even as far as Kapiti, in Cook's Straits.

The Waikato chiefs used often to confess their great need of money to carry out their schemes. The remark was constantly made, that we got all our power by money; and that if they had as much money as we, they would be equally able to carry out their plans.

page 181

Their power of raising revenue was very small; most of their money, in fact, came from voluntary contributions. The largest donation I ever heard of was one of £300 in sovereigns, collected by the Hawke's Bay natives, and sent to Waikato, just after the Taranaki war. It was said that this sum lay un-touched up to the time of the present outbreak. There were, however, a few regular sources of revenue: all the money taken at ferries in the Waikato district was paid over to the King. The charges, which were regulated by a tariff, were usually 1s. 6d. for putting a man and horse across the Waikato, and 1s. on the Waipa and smaller rivers. The ferry at Pukete paid in one year £5 to the King. The system afforded great advantage to travellers, who were thereby exempted from the extortion customary in other districts. At the much smaller streams of Mangatawhiri and Whangamarino, where the tariff was made by Queen's natives, under the sanction of the Government, the charge was half-a-crown.

Most of the local Runangas paid over to the King some share of the fees and fines which they exacted. I have heard of as much as £10 at a time coming down from Reihana, of Whataroa, for the King's treasury. One of the favourite projects for raising revenue was to levy a tax of £1 per annum on all Europeans resident in the King's dominions. The promoters of the scheme declared that the tribute should be imposed on all alike, missionaries or magistrates, residents on crown or native lands—all should pay, or else be driven out of the district. Others wished to postpone the measure, on the ground that it was unfair to expect Europeans to contribute until the King's Government could afford them protection from depredation. In several instances the tribute was exacted; for, although the missionaries refused to pay, and the natives had too much respect for them to use violence, with the traders and Pakeha-Maories submission was the more prudent course. I knew, however, one old man-of-war's-man, who indignantly refused to pay, and being very abusive to the tax-collectors, got himself pitched over his fence into the fern beyond. But he would not give in.

The most lucrative source of revenue was the money that found its way out of the English into the Maori treasury. The expenditure of Government money in the Waikato district was very great. The sum spent in the Upper and Lower Waikato page 182 districts between the 1st August, 1862, and 31st July, 1863, amounted to £5,950.1 Of this, £1,263 consisted of salaries and pensions to natives, of which it was always said the King received his tithe. In addition to this, there was a large Post-Office expenditure, for the carriage of overland mails to Taranaki, Ahuriri, and other places. These mails were carried exclusively by Maories, selected by Reihana of Whataroa, and Taati of Rangiaowhia, who, although both strong supporters of the King, had this duty entrusted to them, and received salaries from Government for performing it.

None of the magistrates or officers of the King, except the soldiers, received any fixed pay. One effect of this was, that no man had any sense of responsibility for what he did. Every man undertook his duties spontaneously, and considered himself at liberty to throw them up whenever it suited him to do so. No power existed to make Maori officials, any more than other Maories, do their duty: they enjoyed absolute irresponsibility. It was quite impossible to fix the blame of misgovernment, or of any public act of injustice, upon any individual or any definite number of individuals.

The account above given, of what the system which the Maories established ultimately became, makes it sufficiently clear that the King himself was a source of little danger to the peace of the colony.

For a long time after the establishment of the Maori King, so little personal hostility was felt towards the Queen, that when, during the Taranaki war, some innovators proposed to change the name of Queen Victoria in the Church Service to King Matutaera, the heretical desire was scouted. ‘Pretty fellows, indeed,’ said the chiefs of Ngaruawahia, ‘to want to alter the Prayer-Book.’ I once attended service at Ngaruawahia, and looked over the same Prayer-Book with the King. He said a loud ‘Amen’ at the end of the prayers for the Queen. Some murmured that it was rather hard to expect them to pray ‘that she might vanquish and overcome all her enemies;’ but it was not until much later that the practice was given up. In short, the whole system of the native organization was kept together by a feeling of distrust and opposition to the Colonial Government; but it was the existence of this distrust, and not to its

1 AJHR, 1863, E-8, p. 3.

page 183 peculiar manifestation in the establishment of the Maori King, that was dangerous. Of course, when the interests of one race appeared to become antagonistic to those of the other, some sort of organization was sure to have been invented, with the object of giving unity to the Maori party. As the neglect of the British authorities to perform the duties of government had already brought a Maori King into existence, this person was seized upon for the purpose, and subsequently to, and in consequence of, the Taranaki war, grew really formidable. As long as the Maori race remains disaffected, the peace of the colony will never be secure. Though the King should be killed in the present war, or though the Maories should be forced into agreeing to abjure the King system, the danger would not be thereby removed. In order to secure peace and safety, we shall have to cure the disease, not merely remove the symptoms: we must root out Maori distrust, and then the ‘King movement’ will wither and fall of itself.

If the present unhappy war should be brought to an end before the Maories are altogether exterminated, we shall have to begin afresh the task of governing those who may remain. The utmost that war can effect is to destroy some of the obstacles which have hitherto prevented good government. A better system has yet to be created, but that cannot be done until confidence in those who are to be their rulers is implanted in the minds of the natives.