Arthur Desmond on the Native Land Speculating in 1885,
To The Editor
The Native Lands Court is now sitting in Hastings, deciding upon the ownership of thousands and thousands of acres, of the finest lands in the North Island.
Hastings is full of Maoris from all parts of the East Coast, Patea, and Tanpo, and there is their usual following of low-class Pakeha-Maoris, mostly the tools of land speculators. One of them has got a large number of agents in Hastings, and the historical system known as the "blood and rum" process is in full operation there. A low European and a half-drunken Maori and a rum bottle, and & lease. Tableau.
Wherever there is a Land Court, held, there will you find those smooth-tongued agents of the land speculators—men who have made it a life study, how to humbug the ignorant Maori. As the Maoris well say of them "wherever the dead carcass lies in the creek, there will the eels be gathered together."
The people as a whole very much regret the circumstances of large blocks of our best lands becoming the property of speculators. There has been a great deal of talk about locking the stable door when the horse has been stolen. But at the present time "the horse is being stolen," and the stable door is open and not an attempt has been made to prevent the breach of the 8th commandment.
In Hastings at the present time, the lands are passing away. It is difficult to think that the people of New Zealand are so blind to the future, by a one-sided Press, as to stand idly and foolishly by while immense blocks of the public domain are secured by the paid agents of a great company, whose headquarters are in England. To any that they will promote settlement is absurd. It is the mere shadow of a shade. It would be just as probable for a wild dog to draw his own tusks and go grazing with the sheep.
Amongst the Maoris in the olden time, all lands were held in common. Private property in land was unknown. The chief was the guardian of the land of the tribe, but never the absolute owner. Everyone was a land-owner except prisoners of war and their descendants. When the first missionaries asked the Maoris to sell their land they were scarcely understood; in fact, it was very difficult for a Maori to understand the possibility of selling for a few bits of metal or a gaudy blanket, the lands upon which he and his ancestors bled. The Maoris looked upon land as the mother of all, and therefore to sell it was out of the question.
As one of those brave old Maori warriors once said to a white man, "The Great Spirit has told me that land is not to be sold like other property; the land is our mother." Even to the present day this idea strongly impregnates Maori thought, and yet European customs have been forced upon them for the last fifty years, but the idea still survives that the land belongs to all.
Once upon a time when a pious missionary evangelist, with a bible in one hand and a land grant in the other, asked some natives to sign away their land to him, he received an answer to the following effect:—"We can sell you our own right to the land during our own lives, but we cannot sell you the rights of our children, or of the unborn."
Some time ago it was forcibly pointed out by a local paper, that the Skye Crofters were almost in open rebellion, because of the effects of English land laws, as applied to the Highlands of Scotland. The descendants of those kilted warriors whose claymores glittered, and whose prowess was displayed on many a hard-fought field, are now turned into laboring hinds, or cringing tenants, whilst the descendants of their chiefs, who, in the olden time, were their foremost leaders in war, and their wisest councilors in times of peace, have been transformed into loafing idlers loaning upon industry, mere rent receivers.
When the tribal lands were transformed into the private property of the chief, the clan lost their freedom, and the chief became their master. See the scene in Sutherlandshire when thousands of poor people were tamed adrift, their houses leveled or burnt over their heads to satisfy the greed of a local “Duke.” A similar process is now being repeated amongst the Maoris, even near Napier, there have already been Maori evictions as witness the disgraceful Waranui affair. At the present time, the Maori fighting chief is being transformed into a landlord, and the individual Maoris are being slowly but surely turned into “taurekareka” or landless men.
It only requires an increased population and time, with the present land system, to pauperize the masses of both races. Then the degenerate Maori will have to carry his load of blankets like a pack mole and tramp the public roads, not knowing where to lay his head like the slavish Whiteman. The public roads will be the only public domain. Then the few remaining Maoris will be saying to their companions, the degraded Europeans, as they swallow what Shakespeare calls “liquid fire and distilled damnation," "Let us drink and forget our poverty, and remember our misery no more."
As the Highland clansman was changed into a landless serf, so is the Maori now being degraded and poisoned "out of the way" by a similar process. As the Highland chief was transformed into a "Duke" and a landlord, so is the Maori “Ariki’s" being changed into big landowners. One Maori boy in Hawke's Bay owns 87,000 acres or 119 square miles, whereas under the old customs he would merely have been the “land guardian" for the tribe. The descendants of Habuku, Kararia, Tareha, Waka, and Karaitana, own et the present time immense blocks of uncultivated lands—lands which they do not use themselves, and which they are looking up from settlement for an indefinite period.
Renata, another Maori chief at Omahu, is also a large landowner. In the olden time, he fought gallantly for his people, but now he is merely a tool in the hands of others. The natives look upon the land speculators as friends, but they are about as foolish as the pheasant who invited the hawk to dinner.
As soon as the Maoris get properly into their clutches, they will be like the Amalekites "under the harrow” forevermore.
Mrs. Donnelly is also a Maori chieftainess who owns large blocks of land, in fact, she has a share in so many blocks that to give even an approximate guess at the acreage is an impossibility. She is the eldest daughter of Kararia, the celebrated chef, who was shot when fighting against the Hanhaus during the Te Kooti affair. The present struggle for the possession of the Mangocne block in Patea is between Mr. and Mrs. Donnelly on the one side and Mr. Studholme on the other; whichever do wins will be of much benefit to Hawkes Bay.
Neither side will promote settlement. Both want the land to monopolize it and loaf upon the future unearned Increment.
Both parties literary say to the Maoris—“Bees keep your wax" give us “your honey.” It is Charybdlis on one side and Scylla on the other. These two rival Patea land speculators have the monopoly of all dealings with the lands in Patea and they are like the hungry Jews in the wilderness “rejoicing in their Manna.”
Between these two parties in Patea, the Maoris and their lands are between the hammer and the anvil. The land speculating, and land monopolizing rings are a menace to the whole of our natural future. They will, if not soon checked, reduce the masses of the people to the condition of the English laborer, whose life is a life of toil downhill, with a workhouse at the bottom. Our only remedy is a land tax, which, if now imposed, will kill the lion whilst he is but a whelp. These great land monopolists whether Maori or European must be made to pay substantially by means of a land tax for the privilege of keeping other people off those uncultivated lands.
I am, & C.,
Woodville Examiner, 13 January 1885