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New Zealand Revisited

Chapter XII — The Maori King

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Chapter XII
The Maori King

It was not long before it became obvious to the meanest understanding that, as a means of reconciliation between the Pakeha Government and the hostile Maories, the "new institutions" had proved a complete failure, at any rate in the Waikato districts. No attempt was ever made, or could be made, to enforce by civil process obedience to law. The central power was divided; the Colonial Ministry and the Governor were often in conflict, and the Maories knew it. No man could serve two masters, and an untutored love of independence prompted the Maories to serve neither. The so-called loyal natives looked on Government rather as a storehouse of good things to be enjoyed, than as a superior power to be obeyed. If they could not get what they wanted out of the local officer, they went to the Colonial Minister; if he was churlish, they appealed to the Governor; and often got in the end what they asked for. No attempt was made to support the authority of the district Commissioners. Correspondence of the most important kind, of which the Commissioner was kept in profound ignorance, was carried on with natives by officials in Auckland. Measures were taken, sometimes by the Governor, sometimes by a Colonial Minister, sometimes by the officials of the native page 207department in Auckland, without consulting and without informing the officer of the district affected. Every one connected with Government desired to have his finger in the native pie, until at last the number of cooks became prodigious. The conduct of a district officer was usually estimated by the satisfaction he gave to the natives over whom he was placed, and the latter were most pleased by a lavish distribution of salaries. A man who sought to spare the public purse ran the risk of being looked upon coldly by his official superiors, who cared less for success, than the appearance of having succeeded.

The result of this was that the loyal natives soon became more disobedient than the disloyal. In May, 1862, Arama Karaka, the chief assessor of the Bay of Islands district, and one of the most loyal Maories in New Zealand, fearing no restraint from his patrons at Auckland, took part in a native war at Whangarei, where he attacked a chief named Tirarau, an old friend and ally of our Government. Ihaka, an assessor living in the Manaku, told everybody in the native office he would obey nobody, and that Sir George Grey was not his master, and shortly after went with a neighbouring assessor named Aihipene to the Waikato and recommended the people to attack and pull down a native police school, which the Government were building at Te Kohekohe. One of Te Wheoro's policemen, on being summoned for adultery, renounced his allegiance, sent his page 208uniform, his oath of allegiance, and his oath of office to the magistrate and went over to the King. Another policeman, when told that his uniform implied he was to obey orders, replied, "Oh, that's the meaning is it?" tore off coat and trousers in the street of Waiuku, flung his cap on the ground and marched off in his shirt and in his freedom. It was announced in the Government Gazette that he had "resigned his office." Waata Kukutai asked for an advance on his salary to keep himself from going to prison for debt. The district officer was directed to stop the salary until the advance was repaid. The latter having obeyed his orders, Waata was so angry that he wrote an abusive letter to the Government complaining of the underhand fraud committed upon him by the Commissioner, and threatening to resign his office. No notice was taken. Shortly afterwards the Governor raised his salary from £ 50 to £ 150 a year as a reward for his loyalty, and Waata thereupon applied to the Colonial Ministry for a salary for his wife, because the weight of public affairs prevented him growing food for her.

But the Colonial Ministers did not like to have these disagreeable truths obtruded upon them; they seemed determined to listen to no statements of fact, but such as were in their opinion favourable; everything that indicated difficulty or danger was quietly put aside; their chief care was to make it appear that the difficulties had page 209been settled by the time the General Assembly met at Wellington. The utter lawlessness and anarchy which prevailed in Waikato was to be ignored. The younger men, who fought at Taranaki, were roaming about the district with their guns, possessing themselves of the cattle and horses of Pakehas on the slightest pretext, and regarding with equal indifference the authority of King and Queen. The principal chiefs had lost all their authority, though they still clung passionately to the shadow of power which their King and his council nominally possessed. If the King's Runanga had attempted any real exercise of this shadowy power, the whole sham would, as the chiefs themselves confessed, have broken down, and there would have been internal war. To remedy this state of things, all the Government had done was to appoint at random a number of Resident Magistrates and Commissioners, who went about the country giving away salaries to their favourites among the natives, and calling this the "establishment of law and order;" to the lawlessness of these "organised" districts the Government was wilfully blind. I wrote a private letter to Sir George Grey to tell him my view of what was going on and to ask him whether it was not my duty as an honest man to resign, and I also wrote an official report on the anarchy of the natives in the Waikato, and as I believed all over New Zealand, and of the insufficiency of the Government remedies to cure it. We in Waikato page 210were unique in having a King and being hostile to the Pakeha Government, but one place was just as lawless as another.

This report was sent home and printed and still exists in some inaccessible and long-forgotten Blue-book. My recollection of the contents of this document, which I expected at the time would have procured my immediate dismissal from the Colonial service, is but imperfect. I pointed out that the Maories had become purely democratic; the traditional power of the chief derived from heathen superstitions was gone. Men like Tamihana and Rewi had indeed the name of chief, and their abilities gained them respect and influence both in their own tribes and among strangers; but they found it easier to execute the popular will than to guide it. The supreme authority, legislative and judicial resided in the village Runanga. In making laws, the Runangas had no idea of any limit to their province; their regulations extended to the minutest details of private life. They made laws about behaviour on Sunday, laws against falsehood, whether slanderous or not, laws to fix the price of pigs, corn and potatoes, laws to fix the payment for which people should carry the mails. The Runanga would have been a grievous tyranny if it had only possessed power to carry its decrees into execution. But a Runanga generally had no police, so that a Maori, by obeying no laws at all, managed to enjoy a fair amount of personal liberty.

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The Runangas also throughout New Zealand exercised judicial authority. As to the mode in which this function was carried out, the following extract from an official Report of Mr. Turton, who succeeded Mr. Fenton as a magistrate in Waikato, made in 1861, will give the reader some idea. I think I quoted it in the official memorandum.

"The Maori Court, or Runanga, was opened. Old Riwai sat as judge. The case, one of Koreroteka (slander) was introduced, and argued by two young men as roias (lawyers), each having received a fee of 10s. The judge was quickly confused by them, and sent to ask me how to proceed. I replied I was there as a spectator only, and wished to see how such cases were conducted. Plaintiff then began on behalf of her daughter, ten years of age, whose gentle birth had been maligned, and in a screaming speech, with abundance of grimaces, demanded damages of £ 50 to be paid down at once. On this loud laughter arose on every side. The child's father came forward to prove how reasonable was the demand; saying that, though the mother was a slave, he was a chief, and a great one too, and that the sum was little enough for having called his daughter a slave. He was supported by uncles and aunts in abundance, who all, doubtless, thought that £ 50 ready cash would be a good thing for the family; so they all stood up and chattered together, making confusion worse page 212confounded. By this time, the two lawyers were nearly fighting, pacing about and speechifying one against the other; and the Court was about to decide in favour of the plaintiff, who had gained judgment solely through strength of lungs and impudence, when up jumped the defendant, a wretched old woman, and all in tatters. Rushing into the ring, she first divided the lawyers, then assailed the plaintiff, then abused the witnesses, heaped scorn on all the party, and justified the slander; then repeated it most expressively, and dared them to their faces. The whole Court was instantly in an uproar, like Bedlam let loose, each person siding off to his party, and every speaker grinning at the rest, and all speaking and rushing about together; when my interference was again requested by the judge. Order being restored, I took the case in hand, much to the discomfiture of the lawyers, and within a quarter of an hour, the whole evidence had been extracted, and the decision given. Judgment was for the plaintiff, but only 10s. damages; and yet all parties were pleased with the result. Even the old dame herself was content, crying out that she had never had such a sum in her life, and never should have, and they might get the money as they could. This speech was received with great applause, and a collection at once commenced, when garments and coins of various value, amounting to about 25s., were handed over, and laid at the feet of the mother as a cure page 213for her troubled mind and daughter's damaged reputation."

In Waikato there were King's magistrates, just as in other districts there were Queen's magistrates, but neither had any power. Physical force resided in the members of the Runanga, who carried out their decrees, when they were carried out at all, by the strength of their own right arms. Against a Pakeha defendant it was easy enough to put a Runanga in motion. But a native could redress wrongs received from a Pakeha, without troubling the Runanga at all, by helping himself to a horse or cow; and this would be approved and sustained by the Runanga, if they thought the original claim to compensation just.

The laws which guided Runangas were such as approved themselves to the individual conscience of each member. Some quoted the Ten Commandments; some, Maori custom; some, English law; some, especially Tamihana, the Statutes of the Pentateuch. I once heard a trial at Peria, in which it was proved to the Runanga that one Kepa had made a law that nobody 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 was whether the defendant knew of it.

The Runangas did not succeed in administering substantial justice. Being a popular and page 214tumultuous assembly, the young and ignorant often talked down their elders and betters. If a just decision was arrived at, it was by no means certain to be carried into effect. There were no police; the members had themselves to execute their own decisions. When it was known that the losing party would fight rather than yield, the task was perilous. A notorious evil-doer, Whakapaukai, long set even the King's Runanga at defiance, by giving out that he would shoot whoever molested him. But a man could not escape from the remembrance of a recorded sentence, and if public opinion approved it, it was sure sooner or later to be carried out. I used to pass a man on the road near Ngaruawahia, who for some offence had been sentenced by the Runanga to build a bridge; he performed the task by fits and starts, as most convenient to himself, but in the end the sentence was carried out. The Maori custom of perpetual travelling made even the Runanga at times inaccessible; the fountain of justice might have gone to a feast, or turned itself into a war-party and set off to fight, and the plaintiff was put off with the everlasting Maori answer—"taihoa" (by and by).

The anarchy of one tribe differed from that of another. Some administered law with more justice, others, with more vigour. Owing to Tamihana's character and influence, I never heard a complaint of injustice from Pakehas living amongst the Ngatihana. "In the neighbourhood of Maungatautari" page 215(a mountain some miles south of Arikirua) said Bishop Selwyn before a parliamentary 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 magistrate." The Kihikihi Runanga was more powerful than just. Rewi never paid as much attention as Tamihana to the domestic affairs of his tribe, so that the young men in the Runanga were supreme. They were further demoralized by the possession of Taranaki plunder, and violently hostile to the Pakeha and the Governor. At Whataroa far up the country beyond Hangatiki, Reihana (afterwards Wahanui) had established 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 culprit sentenced to a fine was usually made to pay the money down before leaving the court. When he really had no money in hand, two days were allowed in which to obtain it; on the third day if the money was not forthcoming the fine was increased. If a man was too poor to pay, Reihana expected his kinsmen to subscribe for him. All the proceeds of the fines went to the equipment and support of the eighty soldiers, who had thus a page 216lively interest in the vigorous administration of justice. I always heard that Reihana was perfectly just in his judgments. After the war, he became, under the name of Wahanui, a chief of great distinction. He died many years ago.

Matutaera Potatau, the Maori king, had very little to do personally with affairs of State. All public business was transacted by the Runanga of Ngaruawahia which was composed of about a dozen members, the elder chiefs of the Ngatimahuta tribe and relatives of old Potatau. But Rewi, Tamihana, or any other great man 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 this Council I spoke in my Report in the highest terms. In all the discussions of questions I brought before them, they argued with calmness and good temper, keeping steadily to the point at issue and facing all the difficulties. The strongest opposition never provoked any 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 possessed power equal to their wisdom and moderation, the Maori War would never have taken place. The Runanga of Ngaruawahia often acted as a judicial body; it was the last resort in cases which nobody page 217could settle. In my time wrongs were done constantly to Europeans, chiefly in the Ngatimaniapoto country, which the local chiefs and their Runangas could not or would not redress. Tamihana, to whom I pointed this out, as a proof of the failure of his plans for establishing law and order in native districts, brought these matters, on several occasions, before the Runanga of Ngaruawahia. The Runanga by his advice claimed jurisdiction in all cases in which Pakehas were involved. The plan, however, was displeasing to Rewi; he did not choose that his tribe should part with their power, though the young men were quite beyond his control, nor would he allow any third party to interfere between him and his Pakehas; he protested against the proposed assumption of jurisdiction, and the Runanga had to give way. I often attended their deliberations. When my own business was concluded they went on to other affairs without regarding my presence. Sometimes after we had sat talking together till a late hour they would grow confidential and reveal their troubles. At such times, I heard of the disobedience of distant tribes who persisted in stopping roads they had been directed 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."

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They all laughed, wished us good-night, and at that time revealed no more.

The authority of the King's Council was not universally acknowledged. My friend Patene once told me that he had never recognized as members of the Council any others than Rewi, Weteni, and another, and that the men who called themselves the Runanga of Ngaruawahia were a set of 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 bind them to the King's, as distinct 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 of the members of the King's Runanga wished to vest the whole judicial power in chiefs appointed by, and responsible to, the Maori king; but as he could bestow on them neither power nor salary, the project was impossible.

In those days there were in Waikato and the adjoining districts bodies of youths, 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 fought at Taranaki introduced the practice on their return, having learnt the English words of command, the bugle calls, and the corresponding manoeuvres by watching our troops. Those who page 219had not been to the war, especially Tamihana, viewed the new fashion with great displeasure. It was at one time agreed that each tribe in turn should furnish a company at 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 they ploughed up about seventy acres of land for potatoes. But, notwithstanding all opposition, the fashion steadily grew. 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 possessed double-barrelled fowling pieces or rifles. They grew their own food and were paid at the rate of 3d. a day. These soldiers were not at the command of the King's Runanga; whether they would have obeyed their commanding officer was doubtful, but their commanding officer would certainly not have obeyed the King. On several occasions when the services of the soldiers were requested the chiefs by whom the companies had been raised and equipped refused to let them be employed. When Reihana was asked to send his men to Coromandel to defend the goldfields page 220against the Pakeha diggers, he replied, "My soldiers shall take care of the King, that is all. Let the people of Coromandel take care of their own gold."

The King's power of raising revenue was very small; most of the money 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 remained untouched till the invasion of Waikato took place. All money taken at ferries in Waikato was paid over to the King. The charges, which were regulated by tariff, were usually 1s. 6d. for putting a man and horse across the Waikato, and 1s. across the Waipa and smaller rivers. One ferry paid in one year £ 5 to the King. The system was an advantage to travellers whom it saved from extortion. At the small creek Mangatawhiri, where the tariff was made by Queen natives under the sanction of the Governor, the charge was half-a-crown. Most of the local Runangas paid over to the King a share of the fees and fines they exacted. As much as £ 10 at a time would come down from Reihana of Whataroa for the King's treasury. One way of raising money which was proposed was to levy a poll tax of £ 1 on every Pakeha resident in the King's country. The promoters of the scheme wished to impose it on all alike, missionaries, magistrates, and traders, whether on Crown or page 221Native land. Others opposed the measure, but I knew several cases in which it was put in force. The Maories had too much respect for the missionaries to use any violence to them, but I heard of an old man-of-war's man being pitched out over his garden fence because he refused to pay. I have already mentioned the tithe which the King received out of the salaries of the Queen's officers. There was also a considerable post office expenditure for carrying mails to Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, and other places. These mails were carried exclusively by Maories selected by Taati of Rangiaowhia, and Reihana of Whataroa, who, though both strong supporters of the King, had this duty entrusted to them and received salaries from the Government for performing it. None of the magistrates or officers of the King, except the soldiers, received any fixed pay; every one took up his office spontaneously and considered himself at liberty to throw it up whenever it suited his convenience to do so.

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 in the Church Service the name of Queen Victoria into King Matutaera, the heretical desire was scouted. "Pretty fellows indeed said the chiefs of Ngaruawahia, "to want to alter the Prayer Book." I once, during the Taranaki War, attended a service at Ngaruawahia, conducted by Mr. page 222Ashwell, and I shared the same Prayer Book with the King. At the end of the prayer for the Queen, Mr. Ashwell stopped and fixed his eyes on him, and he said a loud "Amen." Some thought it was rather hard to expect them to pray "that she might vanquish and overcome all her enemies," but during my time the practice was not given up.

The hostility in Waikato, which was real and acute, was kept up by a feeling of distrust and opposition to the Colonial Government; but it was the existence of the distrust and not its particular manifestation in the establishment of the Maori king that constituted the danger.