27 December 2015


Two hundred years ago an insular people, the Maori of Aotearoa, suddenly and unexpectedly came into contact with the world of the Pakeha.  Maori quickly determined that they could benefit by trading with the newcomers.  They encouraged some Pakeha  to settle among them, to act as a bridge between the cultures, and to facilitate trade.  The new settlers were given or sold land to dwell upon and the numbers of Pakeha steadily grew to the point where the value to Maori of individual Pakeha was diminished, and the demographic threat presented by the growing Pakeha population intensified.

But as trade blossomed, and the appetite for British manufactured goods grew, more land was sold to finance the purchase of goods, which ranged from investment goods (axes, ploughs, mills, carts and ships) through useful commodities (blankets, shoes and clothing) to weapons of war (muskets and shotguns), frippery (laces, beads and costume jewellery) and addictive drugs (rum and tobacco).   The best that could be said for the trade was that it was indiscriminate on both sides.  It was free trade in the fullest sense.   Maori sold their wives and daughters into prostitution to supply their appetite for rum and tobacco, nails and cloth.   Europeans sold whatever they could - anything from muskets to drugs - in order to acquire things of value, from flax fibre and kauri timber to wheat, pork and potatoes and last, but not least, land.

The first argument in favour of alienation of land was the potential contribution of European immigrants to Maori society.   The  perceived benefits were the development of trade, the introduction of new technology and methods of farming, and cultural benefits such as the Christian religion and the rule of law.

However, once these things had come to pass, and once Maori were largely Christian, applying European methods of farming and manufacturing, and living under European law, the pressure of European immigration and the demand for land and resources only grew further.  Trade brought New Zealand more to the attention of foreign peoples, the success of European farming techniques attracted them to the country, and the establishment of Christianity, British law and the English language gave them confidence in their ability to safely and securely settle the land.

Thus there was both a material and a cultural element which made New Zealand attractive to Europeans.   The material element comprised the existing natural resources (arable and pastoral land, forests and fisheries, harbours), the means of production (European crops and livestock, the axe, mill, plough, cart and sailing vessel) and infrastructure (roads and ports).   The cultural element comprised cultural diversity (co-existing European and Maori populations), a Christian ethic, an increasingly educated and literate Maori population skilled in the application of European technology, and a generally law-abiding population, both Maori and European.

From this point the motive for immigration shifted from the Maori wish to engage in trade, to the European desire for land.  By 1840 Maori had virtually ceased seeking after European immigrants, but the drive among Europeans for increased immigration to New Zealand had barely begun.   The New Zealand Company was established for the specific purpose of buying Maori land and encouraging British  migration.

The ways in which the claims of the Europeans to land in New Zealand were justified among themselves differed from the ways in which they were justified to Maori.   Among Europeans, the arguments were that England was over-populated, New Zealand was under-populated and Maori possessed vastly more land than they could ever properly utilize, while European immigrants were in desperate need of land.  These arguments had a certain factual basis and moral justification, but they were also self-serving, particularly given that the dominant group of European settlers sought much more land than they needed to sustain a modest living.   Such people - the squatters of the South Island and the land speculators of the North Island - aspired to the lives of potentates, and in many cases realised their aspirations to the cost of both Maori and their fellow European settlers.

However the New Zealand Company was careful not to address these quasi-moral arguments to Maori themselves.   The case presented to Maori for allowing increased immigration and alienation of land was strictly economic.   The company assured Maori that their remaining lands (of which one tenth of the land would be held in reserve for them) would have a greater value than their entire estate prior to the influx of immigrants, due to the escalating price of land.  The capital gained from the sale of land could then be put to other uses, increasing the productive exploitation of the remaining land through investment in new livestock, farm implements and buildings, fencing, drainage and so on.  Maori were also assured that the land "could not be taken away" and thus would remain, a point which had particular force in the context where Maori customary rules of land tenure allowed land to revert to the giver as the needs of giver and and receiver, or vendor and purchaser, changed.

There was more than a smidgin of reason to the economic argument, but Maori would have been naive to accept it in its entirety.  It helped Maori not one jot that the value of their remaining land had reached what were to them stratospheric heights.  The value of their remaining land may have increased, but that signified nothing unless they were to part with the last remnants of their estate, and the increased price meant that the land they had alienated was no longer affordable to them.  Once beyond possibility of re-purchase, it was gone.  However, the assurance that the land "could not be taken away", which to the European land buyers was a mere truism, irrelevant in application and almost certainly disingenuous in intent, had been taken by  Maori as a guarantee that customary rights would be maintained.   By 1860 Maori had become aware that customary rights were not guaranteed, that the land had been in effect "taken away", the economic benefits of land sales were at best overstated and that European immigration had become a mixed blessing.   They therefore and moved to restrict the sale of land through their system of sovereign authority, the rangatiratanga, and it was that sovereign restriction which Maori placed upon the more or less free market in land that had been established through the sovereign authority of the British Crown, that provoked the New Zealand wars.

The situation today, with wealthy immigrants pouring in from Europe, North America, Australia, China and India is eerily similar to the situation which obtained in 1840.    A market economy and in particular a free market in land opens the doors to those who can use their greater measure of wealth to assume control of land and other resources.   Cultural conditions - "diversity", a functioning health and education system, the property based legal system and a relatively clean natural environment makes New Zealand an attractive place to settle.   Furthermore,  New Zealand remains relatively under-populated compared to Europe and East and South Asia.

Native New Zealanders see the value of their property increasing.  They therefore feel confident, when they should be alarmed, because their incomes are falling behind property values.  In the years to come they will not be in a position to buy what they have sold.   Their circumstances will decline.   Already the less privileged majority are unable to afford many of the things which they took for granted as their birthright fifty years ago - a house in the suburbs, mutton on the dinner table, crayfish, paua and so on.   All these goods continue to be produced in New Zealand.  But they are not consumed by native New Zealanders.  They have become the prerogative of the wealthy foreigner.  Even more so, the means of production have been priced beyond reach of the ordinary New Zealander.  In the nineteenth and twentieth century any fit and skilled New Zealander could reasonably aspire to owning a farm.  That is no longer the case.  The most that they can now hope for is to be employed on a large farm holding at the minimum  wage.  They no longer have any stake in, control of, or influence over the productive resources of the nation.   New Zealanders of the twenty first century were also assured, as were their counterparts in the nineteenth century, that the land "cannot be taken away".   But that argument, which had some creedence in 1840, has none in a time when all public rights to the use of privately owned land, extending even to the basic right of trespass which is recognised in Britain itself, have been rescinded by statute, and now the people's right of kaitiakitanga, the right to protect the land, water, flora and fauna from the depredations of private owners,  is also  being progressively removed by statute of the colonial parliament.

One might sympathise with the native New Zealander, as one might sympathize, one hundred and fifty years after the events, with the fate of Maori in the nineteenth century.   But that would be wrong.   Like Maori, New Zealanders have been the authors of their own misfortune.   They have been too ready to fight among themselves, too keen to seek personal advantage at the expense of their fellow New Zealanders, too susceptible to the lure of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, too hungry for material wealth, too addicted to novelty, and too receptive to the idea that economic values should take precedence over ethics and cultural taonga and too willing to accept the specious, self-serving arguments and assurances of their politicians.  The most interesting aspect of the arguments in favour of the alienation of land in the nineteenth and twenty-first century is that they are essentially the same.   There is no more sophisticated rationale at work today than there was in 1860, although New Zealanders are arguably more ready to accept those arguments than was the case for Maori in the nineteenth century, and there is less willingness, or ability, to challenge the right to private property in land which is the precondition for the alienation of land in whichever century.

The inexorable dispossession of the majority of native New Zealanders will not necessarily or even probably end in invasion by a foreign power, as was the case following the great demographic changes of the mid-nineteenth century.  The "New Zealand wars" resulted from the competing claims of the British crown and Maori rangatira to exercise sovereign authority over the lives and property of  Maori, particularly in relation to restrictions upon the purchase and sale of land.   Unless the circumstances of 1863 are repeated - that is unless there is organised opposition to both the rule of the market in land, and to the sovereign pretensions of the British Crown in Aotearoa - the final dispossession of the majority of native New Zealanders will not be preceded or followed by war.

However, resistance is vital, and resistance must embrace all facets of life, including culture, the productive economy, and politics.   The indigenous culture must be restored and new indigenous political institutions must be created as an alternative to the continuance of colonial rule.  We must also look to where and why the nineteenth century resistance failed.   Answers to that question are not hard to find.   The first and second waves of resistance in the nineteenth century failed due to widespread demoralisation.   The historical record clearly shows how individual moral transgressions resulted in political divisions, and political divisions ended in military defeat.   The coming struggle will be no easier than the resistance of the nineteenth century but provided that we can learn the lessons from our earlier defeats, it can be successful.   The vital condition for victory is not strength, or arms, or numbers, or even the "rights of the people".  It is the people's righteousness.