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The Maori Situation

IX—The Schemes in Operation

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IX—The Schemes in Operation

In 1931 Sir Apirana Ngata, as Native Minister, presented to Parliament a report on Native Land Development covering the first two years of the operation of the new farm schemes. This report gave details of the lands and expenditure involved and contained also an extremely able analysis, historical, psychological and economic of the Maori situation. It made clear the place of the development schemes in Maori life as a whole and outlined the probable course of that life in the future. It is a Parliamentary report of much more than usual interest and significance. It was followed by reports for 1932 and 1933. The 1932 report gave further details of each scheme and recounted the tribal circumstances and characteristics of the Maori units concerned and the special methods which had to be adopted to deal with them. These reports contain an immense amount of interesting information concerning a subject about which far too little has been publicly known and understood, and that little, for the most part, learnt in unfavourable ways. The analysis of the complicated human and material factors involved in this significant enterprise makes one realise fully its uniqueness, the manner in which it differs in character from any other land development or land settlement scheme undertaken by the State in New Zealand. This should be kept in mind throughout. Human and material elements are intertwined in a highly complex pattern. The story of every one of these schemes is full of interest; the reports tell of considerations and problems little known to Europeans or to which they might give little thought, which were yet highly important in the initiation and operation of this new and extensive undertaking. All these complicated human and material factors were fully understood and skilfully dealt with by the Native Minister page 64 and his helpers. In what follows the reports of Sir Apirana Ngata have been fully drawn upon, and what they contain has in a number of instances been checked by personal observation. The writer has been interested in the schemes ever since their inception, and has observed them in operation down to this present year.

In his first report Sir Apirana outlined and explained certain persisting features of Maori life on which he realized he must build and in terms of which his schemes must be launched. He discussed frankly the elements of strength and weakness from the human point of view in the situation of his people. Some of these factors have already been mentioned; especially that of Maori leadership. It has been fundamental throughout and full use has been made of the influence of Maori leaders in launching the new enterprise. Their co-operation has been of immense value. The closely connected factor of tribal organization and tribal spirit had likewise to be taken into account. Here, while necessarily proceeding tribally and dealing with different tribes in different ways the effort was deliberately made to turn old tribal enmities and jealousies into a spirit of rivalry and emulation in the new enterprise. This has actually been done to a striking degree. One tribe has responded to the challenge of the achievements of another. The interchange of visits was encouraged and promoted and such visits proved stimulating and educative. A factor of the greatest importance throughout and one making for self-help and economical operation has been the Maori mode and standard of living. The Maori people, in some districts at any rate, are still able to gather much of their own food from their old-time sources, and those working on the development schemes have done so to a considerable extent. An example may be given. One of the first schemes undertaken and enthusiastically and successfully carried out was on undeveloped Maori land near Waiuku.

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The chieftainess, Te Puea Herangi, was in charge and she organized her people into an ohu, or working bee, a characteristically Maori form of working. Only a proportion of those working were on the pay-roll, and six shillings per day was the rate paid to these. The whole party very largely found its own food. The following are extracts from reports of the work. “The supply of potatoes from Ngaruawahia will serve Te Puea and her people for many months to come. There are various sources of kinaki (relishes) there. From the sea within a stone's throw of the cottage and farm they get pipi. mussels, oysters and tupa, to say nothing of the abundant supply of flounders, which the young folk nightly obtain. From the fresh-water streams nearby they get eels. Mullet is plentiful.” Of this piece of work in general the reports state: “When the land was being ploughed with tractor-drawn implements, employing one expert Maori mechanic, the rest of the party were busy in front of the plough clearing scrub or stumping or grubbing or filling in gum holes, with which the surface was closely pitted. Behind the plough a party of young women pulled up roots and heaped them up for firewood, or gathered kauri gum brought to the surface. The development work commenced on 20th September 1929, with scrub-cutting, the filling-in of gum holes, and the erection of a cottage. Ploughing began on 16th October, and in thirty-five working days an area equal to 262 acres was completed, including the ploughing of 135 chains of road frontage. The average area ploughed per day was a little over eight acres, at a wage cost of six shillings a day. The total sustenance wages were £96; the gum picked up after the plough produced £104. It was an illustration of the working bee or ohu operating under an energetic hereditary chieftainess, who spared neither herself nor her people in the new sphere of productive effort.” This area is divided into five fully-equipped dairy farms and the Maori page 66 owners are now paying back through deductions from their milk cheques the money advanced for development and equipment. In many cases Maori young people, working on undeveloped land, have had to put up with hardships such as few pakehas would endure. They have cheerfully put up with camp life and pioneering, their own mode of life making them willing and able to do this. At the beginning of the year, when looking round the development work at Ruatoki, Bay of Plenty, the writer received the strong impression that Europeans could not and would not have done it under the same conditions. To save burdening the land with costs the new settlers were living in the most primitive of shack dwellings. In many instances throughout the schemes as the farming stage was reached the cowshed was built and equipped before the dwelling, and was often much superior to it.

In regard to the selection of areas to which the new provisions and methods might be applied, many considerations had to be taken into account. Other things being equal, however, the social circumstances and favourable characteristics of the Maori people concerned have been regarded as primary. “The human element,” says the 1931 report, “has been regarded as the principal factor throughout—indeed the decisive one—after taking into consideration the quality of the land, accessibility, suitability for subdivision, and other settlement conditions.” Some projects were refused or have had to be delayed because of unpromising human circumstances. Hostility was shown and sinister motives suspected in some districts. In the initial stages of some schemes much difficulty of this kind was experienced, and it was at this point that the influence of Maori leaders was so important. The following from the Kawhia Settler of 13th August 1932, is an illustration:

“The Maoris of these parts are suspicious of any movement, however attractive it may be superficially, that has emanated page 67 from a pakeha Government, which has been regarded as an institution to deprive them of their land. This suspicion has not been allayed by the circumstances surrounding the confiscation policy which succeeded the Waikato War, and suggestions of an ulterior motive are bound to fall on receptive ears.”

The article proceeds: “It is extremely fortunate that quite a number of officials and advisers in connection with the project are men in whom the Maoris are prepared to place entire confidence, and it is most gratifying to note the altered viewpoint of the Natives as the scheme has developed. They appear ready to accept the assurances of their friends that the sole object of the Government is to assist in rendering their waste lands productive, and so ensure a livelihood for themselves and their descendants.” The personal influence of Te Rata Mahuta, the late Maori King, was used in favour of this and of other schemes.

So far as previous experience was concerned the manhood of the Maori tribes has had extensive experience, as was pointed out earlier, in all the operations relating to the breaking in and development of land. But in the production phase of farming the Maoris have had much less experience, though Maori labour has carried out many farming operations under supervision. As an independent farmer the Maori has so far been less efficient than the European; and for some time will in all probability remain so. The qualities necessary—perseverance, vigilance, and regard for the future—can, however, be developed only by actual practice. European supervision has of course been necessary in the land development schemes, and we here come upon a critical feature of the whole enterprise. Its importance, as well as its difficulty, was realized by Sir Apirana Ngata from the outset. To quote the 1931 report:

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“The appointment of a competent supervisor to manage the development operations on a scheme or a group of schemes was regarded as a condition precedent to the actual undertaking thereof. The commencement of many of the schemes was delayed, while some have had to be postponed indefinitely because satisfactory arrangements could not be made in this important respect. It was necessary to consider the fitness of a man to manage a Maori community, but no candidate for appointment could satisfy any one of its prime qualifications except by displaying it under service conditions. There the matter was bound to develop into a capacity for tuning in to the mentality of the Maori prospective settlers. The European supervisor was called upon to adjust himself to psychological conditions as well as to the business elements in a land-settlement proposition.”

In this problem of adaptation a special type of man of requisite knowledge and intuition had even to be visualized to suit a particular Maori community. Naturally there have been some misfits. Very few Europeans can successfully supervise or manage Maoris. The difference in mentality is still very marked and the pakeha is likely to be unaware of or indifferent to many considerations which are of great moment in the eyes of the Maori. In practice the plan was adopted of appointing a Maori foreman above each group of Maori settlers to act as mediator between the men engaged on development work and the supervisor. The foreman interprets to the rest the requirements of the supervisor and assists him to appreciate their reactions to his methods and tactics. The problem of mental communication between Maori and pakeha is still, as it has always been, a real one. How real it may be is evident from the fact that Maori leaders themselves, well acquainted with their own people and interpreting pakeha requirements to them, often find difficulty in introducing new ideas and making themselves understood.

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No one in New Zealand can compare with Sir Apirana Ngata in completeness of understanding of the Maori people of whatever tribe, yet he has written: “Maori public men have all experienced difficulty in communicating ideas and systems that are the stock-in-trade of one tribe or district to their countrymen and relatives of another tribe or district, using the Maori language as a medium, and figures, expressions and illustrations in the common language and experience to clarify the propaganda. It is not uncommon to meet with a complete mental barrier or with interpretations in practice quite different from what was intended. Where language fails, success is laboriously achieved by work, by the actual undertaking on a convincing scale of an experiment, wherein the essential features would publish themselves. If Maori public men, who may be credited with the knack of propagating their thoughts and schemes through channels familiar to their people, are liable to be misunderstood or misinterpreted, how much more difficult is the position for the pakeha instructor or organizer who, besides his lack of the proper medium, has other standards or is insensibly influenced by other considerations.” Many of those who appear so knowledgeable concerning what should be done with and for the Maori people have not been among them sufficiently even to glimpse a problem such as this. This, if nothing else, should make us realize the vital importance for the whole enterprise of Maori leadership. The task of launching these forty-odd development schemes was immense in this respect alone, namely in the difficulty of getting all those concerned to understand and believe in the idea sufficiently to resign themselves to the drastic treatment of their landed interests, however much they might be told that it was for their own good.

The nature of the development work undertaken in the many schemes has varied. Six of the schemes are pre- page 70 dominantly pastoral, comprising good land, but land not suitable for dairying. Eighteen of the areas when first brought under development were unoccupied and wholly unimproved. They were waste pumice lands or lands covered with forest or scrub. It is on such lands that the groups of Maori people involved have lived and worked under very arduous and primitive conditions. On the remaining areas the Maori communities were already in occupation, farming in an inefficient and haphazard manner and usually deeply involved with stock and station agents, storekeepers and other commercial concerns. In these cases the titles had first to be put in order to regularize occupation and clear the way for apportioning development costs to particular sections of land. Improvements had then to be effected and the farms made more efficient. In the numerous schemes, operating literally from the North Cape to the Bluff, though of course predominantly a North Island matter, details of methods of holding and financing and working the lands involved have varied as much as have the operations necessary for effective development. Of these latter, “reclaiming tidal flats, draining small marshes, grubbing gorse- or blackberry-ridden areas, and stumping old clearings ready for the plough are experiences met with over the two Islands by the far flung development units.”

Altogether, three-quarters of a million acres of land are under development, and more than eight thousand Maoris, including dependants, are provided for by the schemes.

From the first the effort was made to keep down costs, and it was made clear to the Maoris concerned that there was to be no “writing off.” Wages and labour costs have been kept down to a remarkably low figure. Bare sustenance rates have for the most part been paid. “With the guarantee of eventual legal occupation of individualized holdings and of reasonable financial assistance,” states one of the reports, “the man-power was confidently expected to respond to the appeal page 71 that in the development stage it should exert itself at a bare sustenance rate. This was demanded in the circumstances in order that a sufficient margin between the cost of development and the value of the developed land might be created to cover the deficiencies that it was anticipated would arise in the critical stage of the Native land settlement scheme—namely, the farming stage. The response of the man-power has been magnificent.” The North Auckland schemes have been particularly notable in this connection. Self-help has prevailed to a remarkable degree. No wages were paid at all until the winter of 1931, when it was feared that the depression would compel many settlers to neglect their farms and seek sustenance for themselves and their families on relief works. Assistance, for repaying which they are responsible, had been confined to the supply of seed, wire and staples, fertilizers, dairy cattle and utensils, building materials and the discharge of liabilities secured on stock and equipment. “The northern tribesmen cleared the bush or scrub, ploughed and cultivated, split posts and battens, erected new fences or repaired existing fences, sowed the seed and applied fertilizers, and built their own cottages or cowsheds with their own labour. Nowhere was there so much cooperation among individuals and families, so great a determination to reduce to a minimum the call on outside capital, or to suffer the inconvenience of poor housing and indifferent equipment. The northern tribes describe this characteristic by saying that they work for one meal a day and themselves provide even that.”

A contract system was subsequently adopted for all development work which was of any magnitude and which could be reduced to definite terms. Men have been employed under contract who have no prospect of becoming settlers on the land they are paid to improve. This system has been extensively used since unemployment became a serious pro- page 72 blem in Maori districts. For it must be remembered that this complex creative enterprise was launched just as the depression commenced and has been conditioned throughout by its disastrous economic circumstances. Everything possible was done from the very commencement to stimulate the Maori communities concerned, to overcome suspicion and resistance where they existed and to challenge the people to their best efforts.

Sir Apirana used to the full his gift for inventing and organizing, inspiring and encouraging. The response was in general excellent. The writer has seen the Maoris hard at it on Sundays as well as week days, and even working on in the moonlight. The work of Te Puea Herangi has been notable. Her people, the Waikatos, declined for many years to co-operate with the pakeha. They kept to themselves so far as they possibly could and brooded on their wrongs. They did not join with the other Maori tribes in taking part in the Great War, and any Government activity in their district they tended to regard with resentment and suspicion. But their attitude has been changing in the last few years and it is due to the good sense and the influence of their chieftainess, Te Puea, that this is so. Te Puea Herangi, grand-daughter of Tawhiao, the second Maori King, is a truly remarkable woman, of noble character and most striking personality, deeply impressing all who come into contact with her. For many years she has devoted herself to the welfare of her people. With great spirit and determination she raised the money necessary to purchase from the pakeha a portion of the land confiscated from Tawhiao. There, at Ngaruawahia, she established a Maori village for her following of orphans, homeless and landless people, and equipped it with buildings, including a handsome carved meeting house to act as a social centre for the Waikato people. In all this she showed exceptional gifts for organization and control. page 73 Her authority among her own people is very great, depending partly on hereditary rank, but more upon her own powers and achievements. Te Puea saw clearly enough that her people could not continue to live on the memory of their wrongs, and, though strongly opposed by the die-hards in her tribe, and earning for herself the title of “Mrs. Government,” no compliment among the Waikato Maoris, she agreed to co-operate with Sir Apirana Ngata in the land development schemes. She was herself for some time in charge of the Waikato schemes and the carrying out of the Waiuku scheme under her leadership has already been described. Later her headquarters were at Onewhero, near Tuakau, for she herself lived and worked with her people on the schemes. There the writer has watched with admiration her wise and firm handling of the new farmers. On the Onewhero block the young Maoris built their own homes, neat wood and raupo whares, extremely economical and quite adequate, and built their own cowsheds and other buildings. The moneys available were never sufficient for all that there was to do, and Te Puea adopted many ingenious devices in the interests of economy and handled the food resources of the people with great skill. One example of her ingenuity must suffice. The winter before last the Maoris in this scheme were very short of warm clothing and blankets, and had no money to buy any. They had no blankets, but they had plenty of clean sacks. Sacks for blankets did not immediately appeal, so Te Puea split the sacks, made them into quilts by covering them with bright chintz, let it be known that she was using one herself, and the rest followed. When she was directing the land development work Te Puea said: “A scheme that will keep the people employed on their own lands is a good scheme. The people are kept from idleness and drink. To work their own lands under these conditions has given them fresh heart. The Maoris love their lands in page 74 a way few pakeha can understand. My people are anxious to work and carry their responsibilities shoulder to shoulder with the Europeans. All that we ask is for an opportunity to prove it.”

In all this work the human factor has been made central throughout. It has not been the development of the land as such with which the schemes have been concerned, but the development of the Maori people through their effective settlement on their lands. This has been the result intended and much has already been achieved. Apart from improved material circumstances the Maoris concerned have been working with a new hope and acquiring a new hold on life and a new self-respect. The whole outlook of the people concerned has changed. The beneficial effects on their health have become apparent. Maori families have moved out of crowded and often insanitary kainga to an active life in the open.

Since the schemes have been under way many Europeans, Ministers of the Crown, members of Parliament, and others, have inspected and commented on them. The writer has noted no comment that has been other than favourable, whether made from the human or from the farming point of view. No one has questioned the value of the work done. The 1933 Committee on the Rating of Native Land stated in its report: “We visited and inspected several development schemes controlled by the Native Department, and were much impressed by the progress made in most of the schemes. We are of the opinion that similar schemes ought to be brought into operation with advantage both to the country generally and the Natives themselves, and we congratulate the Native Department on the progress already made.” The present Native Minister, the Right Hon. G. W. Forbes, completing a tour of the schemes in the Rotorua, Taupo and Bay of Plenty areas in the early part of this year, page 75 expressed himself as highly pleased with what he had seen. The Hon. R. Masters has more recently expressed himself similarly after viewing the schemes in other districts.

And yet Sir Apirana Ngata, so fully responsible for this remarkable enterprise, had as the result of the report of a Royal Commission on Native Affairs to resign his portfolio and see his work in some degree discredited. How has this come about? It will take some explaining.