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Fretful Sleepers and Other Essays


What of housing? Before the Hunn Report, there was frequent complaint at conferences that the Department of Maori Affairs was not only not meeting current demand for houses but that the backlog itself was increasing. Under the 1949-57 administration, Mr Corbett was sympathetic to Maori needs but his Cabinet overruled him: apart from the assistance given by the capitalization of family benefits, Mr Nash's tenure of office was distinguished by its ineffectiveness. In August 1960, Mr Hunn reported 2350 applications for housing loans and 300 for State houses: the Department's target for that year was 620; and Mr Hunn's guess was that, to meet immediate needs, 6000 houses might be needed. Since the Report there has been a greatly increased allocation of money for housing and the Department has been buying group houses and houses put up by State Advances. Several conferences criticised the Department's supervision of building: builders economised by leaving much of the work to apprentices; too often the occupant was confronted with sunk foundations, warping, leaks and windows that wouldn't shut. At Turangawaewae and Whakatane, more freedom of design was recommended. Basically, the 900 square-foot Department house is an economy version of the State house: a roofed box divided into small single-purpose compartments. Most Maoris are so glad to get out of their shacks that they accept it; but it does not meet their needs. It does not lend itself either to large entertaining or to the accommodation of a number of temporary guests; nor can it easily be extended to meet an increasing family. Though the Department has increased its plans by one bedroom and allows applicants to make slight modifications, it continues with its constricting boxes.

Since Peter Fraser, allotting 60 Maori houses to Auckland, insisted that no more than 3 should be built together, it has been departmental page 105 policy to disperse them among pakeha houses. Delegates at the Auckland conference generally favoured the policy as promoting better race relations and as setting Maoris a more desirable standard of housekeeping. Most of the 98 Wellington mothers interviewed by Jane Ritchie preferred dispersal. Nevertheless, Auckland delegates felt that they would like other Maoris to be nearby, either in a block of 4 or 5 houses in a pakeha area, or in several separated Maori houses in the same street, and the Presbyterian Maori Synod has said that those who do not wish to be dispersed should not be forced. The Wairoa conference specifically condemned the action of a group of Tokoroa teachers complaining to the Department of 7 Maori houses together (on the ground that there were 50 children in the one street).

A frequent complaint of rural delegates was of the departmental policy of refusing loans for building in remote areas. The Department has repeatedly replied that it will not lend if the house cannot be resold, and that this is unlikely where there is little prospect of employment. The Department's case seems unanswerable, yet it is often resented as one of the forces driving Maoris into the towns: another is the Town and Country Planning Act which forbids building on sections of less than 5 acres, and forces Maoris to abandon rural land that they own and are rated for, and move to a town where they have to buy a section. The cost of roading required by the Act forced owners of a Rotoiti land block to abandon a scheme of subdivision for eventual, but not immediate, settlement. Modification of the Act was asked for at Whakatane and Kaitaia: 'Pakeha subdivision is for the purpose of sale, Maori subdivision for the settlement of owners.'6

It has always been difficult for Maori farmers to obtain credit—except, recently, established farmers on the East Coast; and the Department since 1929 has developed unfarmed land, assuming ownership for a period long enough to recoup part of the outlay and then turning it over to the control of an individual Maori settler on a 42-year lease from its owners, with provision for compensation for improvements. Receipts from the stations temporarily farmed by the Department and repayments from subsequently settled have almost repaid the original outlay. Development has not been fast. The area developed to grass after 30 years was 403,600 acres, and in no post-war year has the area reached half of the 1940 figure of 22,100 acres. The total land remaining in Maori ownership is about four million acres, of which two and a half are considered suitable for farming: of this one million is leased to Europeans, another million is either in departmental control or is being farmed by Maoris. This leaves, according to Mr Hunn's 'guesstimate', about half a million acres to be developed, and might provide, by another guess, for 5,100 farmers. The Hunn Report has proposed a vigorous policy of development of this land, in the national interest, and already development has been put into the hands of the less hampered Lands and Survey Department.

page 106

The system, under Maori Affairs control, was not wholly satisfactory in that some settlers, inexperienced, have mismanaged their farms: there has been some incompetent or ineffective supervision of the settler's first efforts; and on the other hand, distrust, apathy and hostility from settlers towards the mortgagee Department which still retained some control over the land it had turned over to them. In one Hokianga district the people regard a 2000-acre block which has been held by the Department since 1937 as a stock-breeding farm, as stolen from them. Farmers consider themselves impoverished by the budgetary control or the fixed repayments by which the Department recoups its outlay.7

In the Far North, most of the thousand Maori farms are uneconomic: divided 30 years ago when 20 cows and 40 acres would keep a family, they cannot do so now, and farmers frequently leave their farms to wives and children and go out to work for wages. To quote P. W. Hohepa, who grew up in the district he is writing about, 'When the Department, the Dairy Company, the Hire Purchase firms, and the local store all take their share of the cream cheque, there is rarely anything left for the farmer. Most farmers in fact depend on Social Security benefits for the household's livelihood while the farming income acts as the debt eraser. Many still cannot make ends meet.'8 Two years ago some were abandoning then-farms. (It is typical of pakeha miscomprehension that a comment I heard at the time from a city dweller was that it was because they preferred to live off social security.) The solution would seem to be intensification of farming, but lack of capital or credit prevents it. At Auckland and Kaitaia, some delegates asked for more training of Maori farmers; others said that Maoris do not make full use of the schools existing. One-man dairy-farming, with its long hours and regular routine, does not suit traditional Maori work-patterns; some in Hokianga have solved this difficulty by working as teams on one another's farms in turn. Yet it seems to have produced a strain of individualism: in Panguru at least the idea has developed that 'he who farms should have full control of the land'.9 In most of the farms there, the occupier has obtained from the joint owners either freehold ownership or a long-term lease. This development towards a European system of ownership is in harmony with the Department's theory of 'integration', but not with the attitudes of Maoris in sheep-farming areas.

More profitable has been the Maori initiative of incorporations, originated by Ngata among the Ngaati-porou, and working successfully not only on the East Coast but in Hawkes Bay, Rotorua and the King Country. Incorporations are an adaptation of communal ownership to a capitalist economy: run by committees of management and employing executive staff, they can (subject to the approval of the Maori Land Court) undertake farming, milling, reafforestation and quarrying. Bulk-buying and high post-war wool prices have brought wealth to some of the 180-odd incorporations in the Tai Rawhiti Land District; they have become more page 107 like private companies than communal enterprises. Some of the profits however, are used for communal amenities: housing for workers and beneficiaries, scholarships, training of youths as farmers, the upkeep of maraes. At Tauranga-Taupo, it was recommended that incorporations be granted the freedom of private companies, even though at present they are taxed more lightly. They have been suggested as a source of credit for, say, the less fortunate dairy farmers of the Far North, but they are not empowered to reinvest. If this restriction is removed, one might see the development of Maori capitalism, the eventual emergence of an owning class. There would be sheer confusion if shares were freely disposable.

One vexed question for which administrators like Mr Corbett and Mr Hunn have proposed drastic treatment is the fragmentation of land holdings. This problem, attributed frequently enough to the growth in population, is in fact the direct consequence of the imposition since 1873 of a European system of individual ownership on traditional Maori land title, which, as is well known, was communal and hereditary. The owners of the land were its temporary occupants, 'trustees from the past and for the future'.10 Under European law they were converted into individual shareholders, thousands of whom now own land assessed at only a few pence; the succession orders involve effort and expense costing more than the value of each share. The unsatisfactoriness of title divided among hundreds of scattered owners prevents any part-owner from taking the initiative and farming the land. Devices to meet this problem have not been successful. 'Consolidation', by which an owner of interests in several blocks can exchange them for several interests in one, is slow and laborious; and a consolidated holding fragments as its owner dies.

In 1953, Mr Corbett introduced 'conversion', whereby interests worth less than £25 can be bought by the Maori Trustee (a public servant) and sold to other Maoris; but there is a natural hesitancy on the part of other Maoris to offend the taangata whenua by purchasing land which is traditionally theirs. Since 1957 there has been 'the £10 rule' by which the Land Court can take from its inheritor an interest worth less than £10 and give it to another who already has more. There has been some voluntary use of the system of family arrangement by which a family agrees that one of them shall buy the others out and have freehold title. All of these go against traditional Maori attitudes (though the last indicates a change in attitude) and all work in the direction of sole ownership. Mr Hunn's proposal that the base-line be raised from £10 to £50 has been strongly opposed by the Presbyterian Maori Synod and by elders who discussed it in Auckland last July, as have his suggestions of primogeniture, or that fathers should nominate a successor by word of mouth. The reluctance to make a will is not superstition: it is a conviction that it is wrong to exclude any of one's children from his inheritance, that all one's descendants are entitled to inherit the land one has held in trust for them. Mr Hunn's alternative suggestion, however, has the inspiration of Ngata's page 108 conception of incorporations, and has been welcomed by the Synod: the incorporation of tribes as land-owning bodies, in which every member shares but has no rights of disposal. It is a return to the traditional conception of ownership. There would no doubt be administrative difficulties in defining a tribe and in working out whether or not some people are entitled to membership: but these difficulties would seem fewer than those that follow from fragmentation.

'Land is more than soil', the Synod says. The man who owns a penny-worth of land in his home district, even if he has moved to the city, has turangawaewae, a place to stand, which implies his right to speak on his marae, and gives him a sense of belonging. Maori adolescents may not bother themselves with questions of inheritance and may know neither their whakapapa (genealogical table) nor their hapuu (subdivision of a tribe); yet they frequently feel the need to return to their ancestral home, for consolation and renewal of security, to lick the wounds of the city. Without this sense of belonging and the certainty of a home to go back to, Maoris would feel alienated and dispossessed: the frustrations and privations of the city would cause more demoralisation and crime. Both the Whakarewarewa and Wairoa conferences opposed Mr Hunn's suggestion that ownership of an urban 'home' might be an acceptable qualification for turangawaewae: to a Maori a house is private property, but his land is not. This is assimilation with a vengeance.

Whakarewarewa delegates discussed the continued existence of the Maori Land Court and concluded that, in spite of its irritatingly slow and cumbrous processes, it should be retained as a protection of the remaining Maori land. The Court is empowered to prevent sales of land to non-Maoris but in practice for some years has contented itself with seeing that a fair price is paid. Maori land is still being alienated, since1953 at an average rate, according to Mr Hunn's figures, of 17,000 acres a year; according to figures given at Waitetoko by his predecessor, T. T. Ropiha, of between 20,000 and 30,000 a year. Mr Ropiha added that if this rate continues a further million acres will have gone by the end of the century and there will be only the mountain-tops left. Land can be taken under the Public Works Act for roading, for public amenities and for urban development. It can be sold on the resolution of three owners, with the onus on the other owners (if they see the notice in the paper) to dissent and apply for a partition of their shares. Further, the transfer to sole ownership and freehold title, current in the four northern counties, increases the possibility of such land being sold to non-Maoris: it depends only on one man. It is not surprising that elders with their long memories of fraudulent buying and confiscation suspect such devices, and the suggestion that they be extended, as subtle new refinements of pakeha land-hunger.

There is dissatisfaction with rating of undeveloped land by local bodies: since 1953 land on which rates have not been paid can be leased or even page 109 sold by the Maori Trustee. There is understandable impatience on the part of County Councils at the difficulty of tracing multiple owners. Nevertheless, Maoris have real grievances. Tuwharetoa delegates at Tauranga-Taupo said that the Taupo County Council had raised the rates on lakeside land, valuing it as potential pakeha bach-sites. One owner, whose land adjoined a forest, had his rates raised because of the future value of the seedling pines that had sprung up on his property. Owners have been forced to sell in order to pay the rates.

Local bodies have often shown an unwillingness to understand that amounts to cultural arrogance. The Rotorua Town Council, ashamed of the ill-sanitated slum that confronts tourists at Whakarewarewa, has forbidden further building and has offered the residents resettlement at Koutu, but does not understand their reluctance to leave ancestral land. Twelve years ago the Auckland City Council compelled the Ngaati-whaatua (after about seventy years of confusing pressure from the Council, government departments and the Land Court) to leave their derelict shacks at Orakei marae and move into rented State houses on 'Boot Hill', as they called it; someone put a match to the meeting-house, no one can say who, but the Ngaati-whaatua are convinced it wasn't a Maori match. No doubt the people are materially better off, but for some time their resentment at losing their land caused a good deal of anti-social behaviour in Kitemoana Street. It is understandable that they did not warm to the City Council's offer to develop the old marae as a tourist display.* The site for a new marae is not taken as full compensation, since it has not the ancestral associations of the old one.

Last March a three-man board of trustees (with the approval of the Maori Affairs Department) ordered the demolition of sub-standard houses at Omahu near Hastings. People in their beds were wakened by bulldozers pushing at their walls. Their reluctance to act on the warning they had received may be explained by the fact that though they will have title to subdivided sections and will eventually have new houses, they will have to pay for both and were not given any choice.

Elders feel that the remaining land must be retained so that, as the Synod puts it, 'the old home of the people may remain a sheet anchor for the sons and daughters who go forth to make a life in a new world'. Maoris, it was said at Turangawaewae, are 'afraid of the unfamiliar',11 and it may be some generations before migrants cease to feel the need for their old home, if they ever do. Nevertheless, it can only support a lessening proportion of the people. The absolute numbers of rural dwellers will rise, however, and they can only be supported by land development and more page 110 intensive farming. Several conferences have suggested the establishment of industries in rural areas, but they were not sanguine, and a Gisborne round table frankly admitted that the idea was unrealistic. Elders at the Auckland conference suggested that Maoris should set up co-operative industries, financed by the wealthy incorporations. They could cite the experience of an incorporation between Taumarunui and Tokaanu, which cut timber and milled it, and running into restrictive practices from pakeha companies, treated it and set up two joinery factories. But this incorporation has since sold its milling assets to a timber company and has turned to developing the land for farming.

6 Report of the Waiariki Young Maori Leaders' Conference, Whakatane, August 1960, p. 30.

7 Hohepa, P.W., in a thesis subsequently published, A Maori Community in Northland, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1970, pp. 52, 66-7.

8 ibid., p. 67.

9 Booth, John, 'A Modern Maori Community' in Freeman, J.D. and Geddes, W.R. (eds.), Anthropology in the South Seas, New Plymouth 1959, p. 242.

10 Maori Synod of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, A Maori View of the Hunn Report, Christchurch, p. 21.

11 Report of the Waikato-Maniapoto Young Maori Leaders' Conference, Turangawaewae, May 1960, p. 20.

* This incident is complicated by the fact that the offer was a keen councillor's perversion of a scheme of Maharaia Winiata's—a cultural centre set on the old marae. Dr Winiata himself did not consult the taangata whenua, a serious omission for which the Council cannot be blamed.