Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori/Maori Language Week and Te Reo Maori (Maori Language) Claim

For Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori, guest blogger Bruce Stirling backgrounds the history of the Te Reo claim and the long struggle for recognition of the Maori language:

The annual focus on speaking Maori, Te Wiki o te Reo Maori (Maori Language Week), has rolled around again, from 23–29 July 2012. 

Arohatia Te Reo, Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori 2012

It’s been an annual event since 1975, building on the inaugural Maori Language Day instituted by Maori in 1972, but it took a 1986 Waitangi Tribunal report to help secure official recognition of te reo Maori and the resources needed to preserve and nurture the language. Action on the Tribunal’s recommendations included the establishment, 25 years ago, of Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Maori (the Maori Language Commission) to promote te reo Maori.

By the 1970s, te reo Maori was widely seen as in danger of dying out after more than a century of being suppressed in schools, in the interests of assimilating Maori. The official opposition to the language was aggravated by rapid Maori urbanisation after World War Two and the gradual loss of ageing fluent speakers. At a Young Maori Leaders Conference held in Auckland in August 1970, a Maori mother pleaded:

For God’s sake, let my young son learn his native tongue. It is not a foreign language. It belongs to this country. But he cannot learn Maori because it is not taught to him. I hear you speaking in Maori and I don’t know what you’re saying.

In the same month, a Cabinet paper on the teaching of Maori language warned against the assimilationist agenda promoted with such vigour through the 1960s:

The dismissal of their language as useless is the most deep-seated cause of resentment amongst the Maori population today. There is a widespread feeling amongst Maori that the authorities discount everything Maori and wish them to become brown Europeans. The Maori idea of integration is that both peoples have something to contribute to the future New Zealander. …There is a sort of hopeless resignation to the fact that Maori children will always be at the bottom of the class. Nothing could restore Maori morale more swiftly than the introduction of Maori language teaching on a wide scale.

New urban-based Maori groups such as Nga Tamatoa advocated activism not assimilation, and promoted te reo Maori. A Nga Tamatoa petition calling for the promotion of the Maori language and signed by 30,000 people was presented to Parliament by Matiu Rata on 14 September 1972. That was the first Maori Language Day, an annual event later promoted by Te Reo Maori Society.

1972 Maori Language March,

Other initiatives to bolster te reo Maori included New Zealand’s first officially bilingual school at Ruatoki (in Te Urewera) in 1978, the introduction of Koha, a half-hour Maori television programme, in 1980, followed by the 1982 opening of the country’s first kohanga reo (‘language nest’, or Maori language pre-school), at Waiwhetu (Lower Hutt, Wellington) in which te reo was taught in a Maori context, rather than the Pakeha education system. Worthwhile efforts all, but they fell way short of the “language rescue operation” called for by the Maori Education Advisory Committee.

Maori Language Week March, Wellington, 1 August 1980, EP/1977/2470/20A, ATL

In the first place, te reo Maori still had no official standing, as shown by the ‘kia ora dispute’ of 1984. The national controversy erupted after Helensville national telephone tolls operator Naida Glavish (Ngati Whatua) moved to the Auckland exchange, bringing her standard greeting to callers: “Kia ora.” Her new supervisor insisted that she use only formal English greetings and when Naida declined, she was demoted. When the issue went public she received widespread support: airline pilots greeted passengers with a friendly “kia ora,” a song called ‘Kia Ora’ was released, and people called the tolls exchange asking to speak to ‘the kia ora lady’. Prime Minister Muldoon quelled the furore in his autocratic, no-nonsense way: “Well, I don’t care if she wants to say ‘kee-uh-ora’. Just as long as she doesn’t say ‘Gidday Blue’.” Naida was returned to her post and was even promoted to the international tolls exchange, where she continued to say “Kia ora.” Ironically, a few years earlier, Muldoon’s Maori Affairs Minister, Duncan MacIntyre had urged public servants to answer the phone with “kia ora” during Maori Language Week, but the ‘kia ora dispute’ showed how little this meant for the other 51 weeks of the year.

In 1985, Nga Kaiwhakapumau I Te Reo (the Wellington Board of Maori Language) lodged a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal for te reo Maori to receive official recognition. It argued the language because was a taonga which, under Article II of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Crown had a duty to protect. During its month-long inquiry into the claim in 1986, the Tribunal was informed that only one in eight Maori were fluent in te reo but that most of the fluent speakers were elderly and that amongst school-age children, just 1 in 20 were fluent. 

Members of the Waitangi Tribunal visit the Kohanga Reo at Waiwhetu Marae, 26 June 1985, EP/1985/2942/15-F, ATL

Tokenism abounded, with Maoritanga drawn on for symbolic value (Air New Zealand’s koru) and pulled out for the big occasions (Te Rauparaha’s haka before the All Blacks played, or powhiri for visiting dignitaries, but a culture could scarcely survive, let alone flourish, without its language. This point was eloquently made to the Tribunal by distinguished Maori Battalion veteran and Ngapuhi leader Sir James Henare:

The language is the core of our Maori culture and mana. Ko te reo te mauri o te mana Maori (The language is the life force of the mana Maori). If the language dies, as some predict, what do we have left to us? Then, I ask our own people who are we?

The Tribunal heard evidence from elderly Maori of the punishment meted out to them whenever they spoke te reo Maori at school, even in the ‘Native Schools’ first established for Maori education under the Native Schools Act 1867. The Education Department insisted that there had never been a policy against te reo Maori but, as Sir James told the Tribunal: “The facts are incontrovertible. If there was no such policy there was an extremely effective gentlemen’s agreement!” He recalled being sent into the bush to cut a piece of pirita (supplejack vine) with which he was strapped for speaking te reo Maori within the school grounds. Others recounted: “Na te korero i tetahi kupu Maori i tonoa matou ki te tiki kohatu, ka wepua ranei” (For speaking one word in Maori, we were sent to go and get stones or whipped).

After World War Two, many Maori speakers ceased to pass on the language to their children, seeking to avoid the punishment and disadvantage they had suffered at school, and to help their children flourish during a time of mass Maori migration to the country’s growing cities. An increasingly urbanised and young Maori population heard very little te reo Maori, growing up in a monolingual environment with a monolingual media. The Tribunal reported that te reo Maori could no more survive in such an environment than could an oyster bed when its environment became polluted.

To illustrate the extent to which te reo Maori was still disadvantaged, the Tribunal set out why Maori could not speak their own language in Court. This was the result of a 1979 case involving the Maori activist Te Ringa (Dun) Mihaka who, after the District Court refused to let him address the Court in te reo Maori, appealed to the High Court and, in 1980, to the Court of Appeal. Acting for himself, he relied on the Treaty of Waitangi for his case but while the Court of Appeal agreed that, “the use of the Maori language in New Zealand is a matter of public importance,” the Treaty had no legal bearing on the matter. The Court based its decision on the English common law that had been transferred to New Zealand after 1840.

The Tribunal pointed out that the statute governing the use of English in the courts dated back to 1362. It had then been intended to protect the rights of native English speakers against the incursions of a Norman government that preferred to speak courtly French. The Tribunal observed it was, “ironical that over six centuries later the same statute should be invoked to protect the language of government (English) against the indigenous language of New Zealand (Maori).”

Secretary of Justice Callaghan acknowledged to the Tribunal that denying Maori the right to use te reo Maori in the courts, “may give rise to such a deep-seated sense of injustice as to prejudice the standing of the courts in some Maori eyes.” The legal situation was, he concluded, “at odds with our bicultural foundation at Waitangi in 1840.” The Tribunal agreed, finding:

The Treaty was directed to ensuring a place for two peoples in this country. We question whether the principles and broad objectives of the Treaty can ever be achieved if there is not a recognised place for the language of one of the partners to the Treaty. In the Maori perspective, the place of the language in the life of the nation is indicative of the place of the people.

The Tribunal examined some of the common arguments used against official recognition of te reo Maori. These included statements such as: Maori people can speak English anyway; official recognition is an empty gesture; the Maori language cannot adapt to the modern world; it is not an international language;  minority languages die out naturally and should not be imposed on the majority, and; te reo Maori will be divisive.

The Tribunal responded that recognition of te reo Maori did not mean that it would be imposed on others, only that Maori would officially be allowed to use it. Te reo Maori was described as an adaptable language, and just as capable as English of incorporating new words. Wales, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, and Canada were referred to as examples of countries in which minority languages had survived and flourished through official recognition. Finally, the Tribunal believed that it was more divisive to continue to impose one language or culture on another, rather than showing respect for the differences between two languages and cultures by giving both official recognition.

The Tribunal made five key recommendations to the Government:

1.      To legislate to allow te reo Maori to be used in courts and dealings with local and central government.
2.      To establish a statutory body to “supervise and foster the use of the Maori language.”
3.      To inquire into the teaching of te reo Maori and “to ensure that all children who wish to learn Maori should be able to do so.”
4.      For broadcasting policy to take account of the Treaty obligation to “recognise and protect the Maori language.”
5.      To provide for and promote bilingualism in the Public Service.

The government addressed some of these recommendations in the Maori Language Act 1987, which declared te reo Maori to be an official language of New Zealand and established Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Maori (the Maori Language Commission), “to promote the Maori language as a living language and an ordinary means of communication.” 

Archi Rangi at the Wainuiomata Kohanga Reo, 14 April 1992, EP/1992/2254/21A-F, ATL

Further changes followed, including the formal recognition and promotion of kura kaupapa and wananga under the Education Amendment Act 1989. The sale of some state-owned broadcasting assets from 1990 onwards led to Maori legal action and further Treaty claims (WAI 26, WAI 150, and WAI 776) relating to the need for a larger and more secure place in the electronic media for te reo Maori. The result was further changes to Maori broadcasting policy, including the reserving of radio frequencies for Maori, the establishment of the Maori funding agency Te Mangai Paho in 1993, and the emergence of a Maori television channel.

This all emerged from Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori and a 1985 claim to the Waitangi Tribunal. As Koro Wetere told Parliament during debate on the 1987 Act, the government recognised that it had a duty under the Treaty, “to protect our taonga, our cultural treasure… Recognition places the language in its rightful place in New Zealand’s constitutional fabric, in the development of a true bicultural heritage.” The importance of te reo Maori was put more emphatically by distinguished linguist, Richard Benton, in 1998:

The Maori language is the mauri of Aotearoa. It is our only unbroken link with the country’s human history. Without it, we’re just bleached driftwood abandoned on the shore.

Sir Kingi Ihaka made the same point in 1957, in te reo Maori:

Ki te toitu te kupu, ara te reo Maori, 
Ki te toitu te  mana o te iwi Maori 
Ki te toitu te whenua, ka mau te Maoritanga. 
Otira me penei; 
Ki te ngaro te reo Maori
Ki te ngaro nga whenua Maori 
Ka ngaro te mana Maori.   
Ma enei mea e toru, e pupuri te Maoritanga. Ki te mate ana, ka mate
te katoa.

(Without the language, without prestige and without land, Maoritanga will cease to exist. These three – language, prestige and land – are the main means of preserving Maoritanga. Without these, Maori culture will be a thing of the past.)

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Maori Claims to Water - Older Than You Might Think

Whenever Maori claims to the Waitangi Tribunal are brought to the public attention through the media it seems that, for many non-Maori, these are like bolts from the blue. The implication is that such claims are new, opportunistic and manufactured. That is invariably not the case. Nearly all such claims have deep historical roots. It is not my intention to outline here the abundant evidence of historical Maori claims to water. Instead, a single piece of evidence concerning historical Maori claims to the Waikato River is highlighted.

Waikato River, 1859 (PA1-o-207-042, ATL)

Firstly, let me briefly explain the context. In 1859 the government forced through the purchase of the Pekapeka block, at Waitara, in Taranaki, against the determined opposition of many owners, led by Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake. A year later, Crown efforts to forcibly survey the block were met with peaceable opposition from members of Te Ati Awa about to be dispossessed of their lands. The government responded by opening fire on Taranaki Maori, and the first Taranaki War broke out.

Months later, many Waikato, Ngati Maniapoto and other Maori went to the aid of their Taranaki kin. Thereafter, the people of Waikato were branded obstinate ‘rebels’, even though many Pakeha acknowledged that the Waitara purchase was a deeply unjust one.

The Taranaki War, and Waikato involvement in defending the rights of their Taranaki neighbours, brought to a head growing tensions caused by the Crown’s unwillingness to acknowledge the concerns of the Kingitanga movement. It had emerged out of Waikato after 1857 in response to growing Maori anger and consternation at the Crown’s unwillingness to find a place for Maori in the governance of the country (besides worries over the alarming rate of land alienation, settler racism directed against them and other matters that would take too long to explain here — perhaps topics for a future post).

Suffice to say that, after a truce was brokered at Taranaki in March 1861, attention moved to the Waikato. Governor Thomas Gore Browne prepared to invade the Waikato in September 1861, determined to impose unfettered Crown sovereignty over all Maori. Iwi and hapu were to be taught a lesson about who was really in control, regardless of whatever the Treaty might have said about respecting chiefly authority or tino rangatiratanga. That was to be achieved through directly confronting the leading supporters of the Kingitanga in the Waikato.

Before he could do so, the bumbling Browne was replaced as Governor by Sir George Grey. He had been lauded for his governorship of New Zealand in the 1840s, when confronted with a similar situation in the north, but all eyes were now on his intentions. Would it be peace or war?

While Grey talked peace,  he prepared for war. The Great South Road was constructed to take troops to the Waikato, British troop numbers built up to alarming levels and steamers ordered to eventually patrol the vitally important Waikato River.

When Waikato Maori expressed alarm at these developments, Grey taunted them that, for their insolence, he would put not one, but two, armed steamers on their river. He rejected their argument that the management of their own river remained with the Waikato tribes. The new Governor, like his predecessor, was also determined to show Maori who was boss.

The Pioneer Steamer on the Waikato River, London Illustrated News, 1864 (A-110-006, ATL)

For many Waikato Maori it became a case of not if, but when, British troops would attack them. By early 1863 Grey had brushed aside Waikato efforts to reach a rapprochement.  At a time when above all else ongoing dialogue was required, the government instead resorted to name-calling, responding to the Kingitanga newspaper Te Hokioi (named after an unseen mythical bird with supernatural powers) with Te Pihoihoi Mokemoke i Runanga i te Tuanui (‘the sparrow alone upon the house top’, reflecting its editor John Gorst’s isolated position as Civil Commissioner for Upper Waikato). The mocking and contemptuous tone of the government’s propaganda vehicle, first published at the start of February 1864, had greatly angered Kingitanga supporters.

Te Hokioi, 13 February 1864

This was the situation that confronted Waikato Maori as the second edition of their own newspaper was published on 13 February 1863. In that newspaper readers were informed that (as the government’s own contemporary translation described it):

The Waikato river does not belong to the Queen, it belongs to the Maoris only [Ehara a Waikato awa i a te Kuini, erangi no nga Maori anake]: and the things that we are suspicious of in regard to the steamer being sent to Waikato are,

First. The bringing of great guns, Second, the sending those terrible things here and the things that are known are, the covering that steamer with iron, persisting in sending her here in defiance of the word of the Maoris. And the word spoken by the Governor to Wi Tako, Heremia and others, telling them to throw down the flag, and put an end to the King movement.

The paper went on to assert that it was ‘a falsehood for any one to say [as the government had claimed] that it was agreed to, that Waikato [River] should be a highway for Pakeha and Maori.’ Turning to the Treaty of Waitangi, the same story went on to note that Queen Victoria had said to the chiefs long ago:

“If the men of New Zealand are not willing to cede (yield, or give up) the mana of their lands, rivers & fisheries to me, well and good, let them retain the mana themselves.” This is one of the rivers which we wish to retain. Now friends, why is this plain word of our Mother the Queen not acted upon? It has been altogether trampled under your feet.

In the context of aggressive Crown threats to take control of the Waikato River, local iwi therefore asserted their ownership of the river, and queried the government’s commitment to its solemn undertakings made in the Treaty. (For them the riverbed and the water were one, part of a living and holistic whole, and of which they were guardians, regardless of what English common law might say on the matter). Sound familiar to anyone?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Turangi Township and the Waitangi Tribunal's Binding Powers

It is a little known fact that, under certain circumstances, the Waitangi Tribunal is able to make binding recommendations. Although the Tribunal has had this power for nearly a quarter century, only once has it so far opted to exercise this option. So what were the circumstances in which it did so? Here, we look back briefly at the history of the Turangi claim.

In the 1950s the Crown drew up proposals for what at the time was the largest hydro-electric development in New Zealand. The Tongariro Power Development scheme would require a large work force and therefore accommodation for the construction workers for the many years it would take to complete the project. In 1964, following some discussion with its Ngati Turangitukua owners, Turangi was chosen as the site for a new township for these purposes.

Turangi 1964 (WA-61680-G, ATL)

Ngati Turangitukua had agreed to the proposals in principle on the basis of various undertakings and assurances received from the government. These included undertakings that land required for industrial purposes would be leased for a period of 10-12 years and then be returned to the owners, and assurances that the total area required for the township would be no more than about 1000 acres. In the event, some 1665 acres was acquired by the Crown, mostly compulsorily under the provisions of the Public Works Act and the Turangi Township Act of 1964. This included the industrial area the government had undertaken only to lease.

Bulldozers were sent into to the area within days of the final Cabinet go-ahead for the project and even before the land-takings had been legally proclaimed. The next two years were traumatic ones for Ngati Turangitukua as their land was levelled and a new township was formed almost literally under their feet. Wahi tapu (sacred places) were desecrated or obliterated and the concerns of the tangata whenua completely ignored.

Following completion of the construction project in the 1970s the Crown began to sell off many of the lands it had compulsorily acquired from Ngati Turangitukua. Yet the tribe was not given the first right of purchase of these properties or provided with any assistance to re-establish an economic base for themselves. In 1990 Ngati Turangitukua filed a claim with the Waitangi Tribunal in respect of their grievances concerning the township. The Tribunal’s report, which was released in 1995, recorded 13 separate breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi in the Crown’s dealings with Turangi Maori, including the ‘draconian’ means by which Ngati Turangitukua’s lands had been taken and its failure to act fairly and honourably in its dealings with the hapu.

Ngati Turangitukua and the Crown entered negotiations following the release of the Tribunal’s report. However, these subsequently stalled over the size of any settlement package. While Maori sought the return of properties valued at $6.3 million, the Crown offered considerably less. Many of the properties sold had memorials on their titles which provided for ownership of these to be resumed by the Crown in the event that they were required for the purposes of Treaty settlements. This provision had been introduced in 1988, following a Court of Appeal decision the previous year in favour of the New Zealand Maori Council, which had been concerned that the disposal of ‘surplus’ Crown assets would diminish the potential resources available to successful Treaty claimants.

In most instances the Waitangi Tribunal could only make recommendations to the government, which it was free to accept or reject as it saw fit. But following the 1988 legislation the Tribunal could make ‘binding recommendations’, effectively ordering the compulsory return of memorialised lands (a similar provision was introduced in 1989 in respect of commercial Crown forests).

Following the breakdown in negotiations, Ngati Turangitukua returned to the Tribunal, which in 1998 issued its first (and, so far, only) binding recommendations, requiring the Crown to return commercial properties worth some $3.2 million (and making further non-binding recommendations worth a further $2.9 million). The Crown and claimants had 90 days to reach agreement before the compulsory provisions took effect. In the event, a negotiated settlement was agreed on and the binding orders were never finalised.

Ngati Turangitukua received a compensation package valued at $5 million, along with an apology from the Crown. Their mana had at last been acknowledged and a platform laid for the future development of the tangata whenua of Turangi.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The Pink and White Terraces - Backstory to their Re-discovery

The residents of Auckland at first thought that a Russian man-of-war had commenced bombing the city. The blast was felt as far south as Christchurch too. In the early hours of 10 June 1886, Mt Tarawera, some 24 kilometres southeast of Rotorua, erupted with a terrible force. There had been little prior warning, though ten days before the disaster a phantom waka full of warriors had been seen on Lake Tarawera. 

In the aftermath of the eruption 153 people officially lay dead – all but six of them Maori. Much of the Bay of Plenty was covered in ash and mud. Miraculously, initial reports out of Rotorua suggested that Otukapuarangi (‘fountain of the clouded sky’) and Te Tarata (‘the tattooed rock’) – better known to Europeans as the Pink and White Terraces – had escaped unscathed.

Five days later the terrible truth was revealed, when a telegram from the Rotorua postmaster announced that it was ‘quite a decided fact that the terraces exist no longer.’ Among many global contenders, the dazzlingly beautiful silica terraces (the largest and most spectacular of their kind anywhere) had been acclaimed by visitors who saw them as the true ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. Suddenly they were no more.

Or at least that was the assumption until a recent GNS-led expedition, undertaken in association with local iwi, along with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from America and other institutions. In February 2011, scientists from the group discovered the bottom section of the Pink Terraces, still intact but submerged under 60 metres of water in Lake Rotomahana. The remarkable finding – undertaken using an unmanned miniature yellow submarine also employed by the US Navy to clear off mines – came months before the 125th anniversary of the devastating eruption in June 2011. 

For the people of Te Arawa, one-time kaitiaki (guardians) of the terraces, the discovery served as a painful reminder of the many ancestors killed in the disaster. But it also brings back into relief a time before the eruption when Te Arawa were pioneers in a tourist industry that now contributes 10 per cent of New Zealand’s total GDP. Their story deserves to be better known.

It all began modestly enough, with a few hardy tourists finding their way to the terraces in the 1840s and 1850s. Customary Maori hospitality dictated that manuhiri (guests) should be fed and looked after, and some visitors reported that their Te Arawa hosts and guides positively refused payment for their assistance. 

Inevitably, it did not take long for others to leave the district in disgust, bitterly complaining of ‘native extortion’ and ‘blackmail’. Their cries were to be repeated by many subsequent visitors, who resented Maori ownership and control of not just the terraces but also the many geysers, hot pools and other natural wonders of the Rotorua region.

Massive local and international press coverage and attention followed the 1870 visit to the area of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred. Almost overnight, an organised tourist trade came to life and with the local waters widely believed to have healing properties, Rotorua’s future as a sanatorium and tourist destination of global repute seem assured. 

For Pakeha it was inconceivable that such treasures should remain in the hands of Maori. Colonial politicians were regularly grilled on their progress towards purchasing the terraces and hot springs. But as Native Minister John Bryce told Parliament in 1880, though it had been admitted by successive governments that the area ought to be acquired, ‘there was this difficulty in the matter: that the Native owners did not want to part with it.’

Little wonder perhaps, given that by this time Te Arawa were estimated to be earning up to 6000 pounds annually (close to $1million in today’s terms) from their control of the tourist trade. Although many hotels and stores were run by Pakeha, they were usually owned by Te Arawa, who otherwise charged rentals for the use of the land they were built upon. Visitors to the terraces or springs were also required to pay a toll for access, as well as further fees for guides. Te Wairoa, the final departure point for the terraces and today home to the Buried Village, quickly became one of the richest Maori communities in the country.

Hinemihi, the meeting house constructed at Te Wairoa in the early 1880s, epitomised the prosperity then experienced by the community. Gone were the paua shells that normally represented the eyes of carved ancestors, replaced instead by gold sovereigns. Even this proved a shrewd investment. Tourists would pay a shilling to visit Hinemihi with its golden eyes. The house today stands at Clandon Park in Surrey, after being purchased by the Earl of Onslow in the early 1890s as a souvenir of his time as Governor General of New Zealand, a forlorn if fitting reminder of the cataclysmic events that had led to the abandonment of Te Wairoa.

Tourists drawn to the district by the terraces were in many instances just as fascinated by the opportunity to see Maori close up in their own environment. Not everyone appreciated what they encountered. As Paula Savage notes, Maori art was dismissed by some visitors as ‘grotesque and indecent’, carved ancestors described as ‘horrible goggle eyed monsters with large heads and lolling tongues’, and the haka condemned as ‘gross and demoralizing’ and ‘the horridest thing Satan ever invented.’

Indolence and debauchery were soon added to Te Arawa’s supposed list of sins. One 1885 guide to the terraces declared that their owners had ‘ceased to grind or cultivate the golden grain, preferring to cultivate the acquaintance of the Pakeha, and see what amount of gold they can grind out of him’. The owners of the terraces could purchase all of the flour and other supplies they needed at their local store, leaving them free to concentrate on the more lucrative tourist trade. Pakeha called this shrewd business, but when applied by Maori at this time it was nothing less than extortion.

Europeans also sometimes objected to the fees demanded of them before being allowed to sketch or take photographs of the terraces. Yet in a forerunner of later intellectual property rights arguments, Te Arawa argued that, as most photographers and artists intended to sell their images, it was only right that they, as guardians and owners of the terraces, should receive a share of the profits. Double-standards abounded when it came to Maori ownership of the jewels in the nineteenth century New Zealand tourist trade. Yet Te Arawa remained keenly aware of their entitlements and by these means were able to extract a decent income out of the tourist trade.

That world of relative prosperity came to a sudden and crushing end early one June morning in 1886. It was instantly replaced by a profound sense of loss. One Pakeha observer, describing the scene at Tamatekapua marae on the shores of Lake Rotorua a few days later, wrote that ‘the pa was in mourning, not the mourning which characterises the ordinary tangi whereat it is etiquette to shed tears and magnify ones sense of loss, but inconsolable grief was dominant. The natives were crushed with woe and despair.’

An appeal addressed to ‘all the Maori People of Aotearoa’ for assistance met with an overwhelming response. Casks of mutton birds were sent up from the south, preserved eels and albatross from the Chatham Islands, potatoes from all over the South Island, and kumara, bacon, tea, flour and other supplies from around the North Island. Iwi across the country offered land for the survivors to resettle upon. Te Arawa hapu that had escaped destruction also incurred considerable debts in sheltering their refugee kin from Rotomahana.

The government’s response was decidedly more calculating. It determined that, although the Pink and White Terraces were now gone, the area was still likely to attract tourists. Given the desperate plight of its owners, there now seemed a better prospect than ever of acquiring the long-coveted land. Besides a small sum granted for immediate relief purposes, it was therefore decided that any other money or assistance offered Maori should be ‘in the form of payment for their land or labour’. By contrast, the smaller number of Pakeha directly impacted by the eruption were not required to construct roads or sell their ‘surplus’ lands in order to obtain relief.

Delays in issuing legal titles for the lands complicated such plans, though by the early twentieth century most of the area had passed into Crown ownership. Their former owners were meanwhile described as a landless people, leading a nomadic lifestyle on the gumfields of Northland but without any fixed abode.

Others resettled with relatives at Whakarewarewa. There, using all their skills as guides and tourist entrepreneurs, they were able to earn a moderate income. But it did not take long for the old complaints of ‘native extortion’ to return, and within a few years of this the government had employed considerable legal chicanery in order to purchase the most valuable springs. Tolls for entry on to the lands were abolished and guiding activities became subject to increasingly strict regulation.

Whakarewarewa, once described as a healthy and clean community, had by the early twentieth century become a ‘hot-bed of stench and decomposing filth’. In an indication of the depths of poverty into which many of its inhabitants had sunk, a number of cases of typhoid fever were reported. These prompted the Minister of Public Health to express alarm at the ‘constant danger to the health of the European population’ which this constituted. Sick Maori were not a good look for the tourist industry, especially if they happened to contaminate their wealthy visitors with one of the leading diseases of poverty.

Thanks to the government’s efforts, within less than two decades from the time of the Tarawera eruption Te Arawa had been transformed from owners and managers of the most lucrative tourist trade in New Zealand into essentially strange and exotic objects for European visitors to mock and stare at. The children might earn a little money through dancing ‘penny haka’ for the tourists, or diving for coins in the Puarenga Stream, and those of their mothers luck enough to receive a guiding license could usually expect a reasonable income from this source. But besides a few concert parties, and making souvenir tiki or carved ashtrays for tourists, or working in European-owned hotels, that was about it in terms of the industry they had once controlled.

The effective exclusion of Te Arawa from the ownership and control of most major tourist assets in the Rotorua region has very slowly begun to be reversed in the last two decades. With the recapitalisation of the iwi through recent Treaty settlements they may even one day reassume their previously dominant position in the sector. Otukapuarangi, which sits under one of 13 lakes returned to Te Arawa ownership in 2006, perhaps serves in this respect as a reminder of the old Maori saying about walking backwards into the future. 

For more on the story of Te Arawa and the tourism industry see Vincent O'Malley and David Armstrong,  The Beating Heart: A Political and Socio-Economic History of Te Arawa (Huia Publishers, 2008). Click here for more details.