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The Autobiography of a Maori

Maori Justice

Maori Justice

I wish to insert here an account which I wrote some time ago of a Maori case over a dispute regarding the ownership of a fishing-ground a few miles south of East Cape. The case illustrates what I term "Maori Justice" and it may illustrate pakeha justice as well. A decision by a Maori committee can be ignored, but a decision by a Native Land Court, often confirmed by a perfunctory Native Appellate Court, glaringly untenable, clothed with legality, is almost impossible to set aside when political influence is exercised to sustain it. Might is still right, even in democratic New Zealand.

For years a serious dispute as to the tribal ownership of the Maunga-whio hapuku ground, seven miles off Port Awanui, was carried on between the Ngati-Horowai hapu of Te Horo and the Ngati-Puwai hapu of Tikapa, sub-tribes of the Ngati-Porou. It was at last agreed that the matter must be referred to a Maori committee for settlement. Among the members of the committee was the well-known Ngati-Porou chief, Whakatihi, who had some impediment in his speech. Notwithstanding, the chief, as Maori chiefs usually are, was outspoken and fearless.

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The committee arrived on the scene on the day fixed, Whakatihi, with keen perception, took in, as it were at a glance, the whole situation, and practically arrived at a conclusion as to the ownership of the disputed hapuku ground. He observed that in the Ngati-Horowai camp all was astir: fish and fat carcases of pork were suspended from trees, and hangis were already ablaze, while, on the other hand, there was little movement in the opposite camp, as though fear of coming defeat had already possessed it. In reply to the greetings of the local people, Whakatihi lost no time in expressing his own feelings on the question in dispute and there and then uttered his own decision. He cried out, "E, e, e nui e te whakahere e tau e Tamaiwaho," in other words, "The greater the offerings, the more pleased would be the gods." The gods, pleased with good things, gave their decision in favour of Ngati-Horowai.

Whetu-tawere, one of the elders of Ngati-Puwai, sprang to his feet and, poising his spear over his head, threatened to strike Whakatihi, who, unperturbed, cooly remarked, "E, e mate e au, e tangihia, e nehua," "If I should be slain, my death would be mourned and I would be given a decent burial," but "E mate e koe, e taona, e kainga," "But you, you would be killed and eaten."

The dispute was finally settled by both sides accepting the committee's judgment.