We Keep Our Land for Our Children
You will find the Major by the haystack, we were told, and there he was, keeping young by manipulating large sheets of corrugated iron to cover the stack. Three younger people were with him.
Major Vercoe (NPS PHOTOGRAPH) We sat down together on u tree stump. I had previously met Major Relwhati Vetcoe. D.S.O., O.B.E., D.S.M., at large huis where he represented the Arawa tribe, or the soldiers of the first world war, an orator noted in both Meori and English for his clear, precise and measared spceches. But this was different; he was now on his family land working as a farmer, remarkably athletic for his seventy years.
Soon we were talking about one of the subjects closest to the Major's heart: seltling Maoris on their ancestral land. Major Vereoe has taken a prominent part in land development in his district ever since the government scheme started and even several years before that. It has been a life work to him.
His tribe, Ngati Pikiao, thirty-five years ago had hardly any experience of farming their own land. Today, after a long struggle by the tribe, many thousands of acres of good undulating sheep land surrounding Lake Rotoiti are farmed by Ngati Pikiao incorporations and individual settlers. As an old soldier, Major Vercoe takes particular pleasure in the fact that many of the settlers and some of the managers are returned servicemen from the second world war.
One of the things Major Vercoe has learnt is the wisdom of splitting up incorporations into areas belonging as much as possible to one family group. Often a block of Maori land contains several thousand acres and has a very complex ownership. It is easier in practice to manage such a block simply and harmoniously and far better results are obtained if ownership is confined to immediate relatives and the ultimate ideal around Lake Rotoiti is to have areas of about 400–500 acres settled by the nominee of one family, as an individual settler.
This is often not so easy to achieve but it is an ideal worth working for. Some parents of Ngati Pikiao have helped by vesting their interests in their children which helps them if they are farming on land they own in part. Rei Vercoe has one of these, but as he explained to us, thE duties were very heavy. Once he had given his land, how did people think he could pay gift duties? The Major does not regard this of the more brilliant European inventions.
The land on which we were sitting was T block, the most recent of the Ngati Pikiaoing ventures. It lies just a few miles away Lake Rotoiti, at the end of Hongi's Trac years it was leased to miller and the mill there. In 1954 the owners, from their own and with some finance from the Maori Trustee began to develop it as a sheep and cattle station Under the management of Mr Pirimi Wha of the owners of the block, new areas are
Mr Mapu Morehu, chairman of the Taheke Incorporation is drafting fat lambs. He takes a few minutes off to give his views on incorporations to Te Ao Hou. (PHOTOH 6ETER BLANC)
and stocked each year. The long range purpose is to settle the owners in family groups when development is sufficiently advanced.
The incorporation's policy will be not to allow settlement before all debt is repaid, the land is fully stocked and enough cash is available to give the new settlers a financial start.
The chairmanship of Tautara Incorporation is the only formal position Major Vercoe now holds; the other incorporations now being on a sound footing and administered by his own people, he has left them to the younger generation to run. He also gave up the chairmanship of the Arawa Trust Board, content to play the role of the elder statesman in all tribal affairs.
FROM CRAYFISH TO WOOL
The history of Lake Rotoiti goes back to Ihenga, one of whose dogs discovered the lake when chasing a kiwi, not long after the landing of the Arawa canoe. The dog dived into the water of the lake, ate some fish and freshwater crayfish, caught the kiwi and returned to its master carrying the kiwi in its mouth. Then it vomited up the raw fish and crayfish. Ihenga, led by the dog, then found the lake. Shoals of inanga were leaping on the water. Ihenga named the lake ‘Te roto iti kite a Ihenga,’ thus claiming it as a possession for his children.
It is a long story, still known to the elders, from Ihenga to European times, and as the nineteenth century ended the shores of Lake Rotoiti were still covered with dense forest as in pre-pakeha days. A number of fine carved houses still surrounded the lake, one of them being the meeting house at Mourea belonging to Pokiha Taranui, Major Fox, one of the celebrities of the time.
Much of the Maori land was leased and sold around the end of the nineteenth century, while the Ngati Pikiao's own farming was on a very limited scale.
Rams on the property of Mr T. R. Kingi, Ahuwhenua Trophy winner for Sheep, 1956, came in for much praise from the competition judge. (PHOTO: PETER BLANC)
In the nineteen twenties, the Arawa Trust Board advanced money to twelve people to help them improve their farms. However, advances could not be on a scale that would really place these properties on a good financial basis. The people then formed an incorporation with Messrs H. Tai Mitchell, Morehu Te Kiri Kiri and Peti Tareha as a committee of management, and this committee continued development with a loan from the Waiariki Maori Land Board. Everyone participated in the work of clearing and grassing, without much thought of who the owners were of any particular part, and the work proceeded for some years before money was again exhausted. The full development of the 11,462 acres of Taheke 3D and the other blocks was far beyond the means of the Waiariki Maori Land Board. It was then that the land was brought under the State development scheme, which allowed the work to proceed, with the gradual adding of new Maori land and some purchased blocks as time went on.
In 1953 the Department of Maori Affairs, handed back Taheke and Okere Blocks to the Maori owners. By that time, their value was thought to be over £200,000 and they were free of debt. In fact some £30,000 cash credits had accumulated. The blocks were also fully stocked. Part of the cash was paid direct to beneficiaries while the rest was held to help the new incorporations in their first year's farming operations. However, the incorporations formed in 1953 were very different from the one which started development thirty years ago. Whereas in those days there was one incorporation for all the people, now there are five: Taheke. Pukahukiwi, Okere, Waerenga and Te Karaka. Two out of the five have managers who are themselves owners in the blocks. The rest have European managers.
Instead of communal enterprises, these farms are now entirely run on business lines, earning profits for the owners, who in most of the blocks number several hundreds.
Peter Whata, manager of Te Karaka and secretary of the Taheke Incorporation, told us that this is the form of incorporation, most suited to modern circumstances. He thinks separating the scheme into five incorporations was wise, as each family group now has its own station to administer. It
made for harmony among all.
Many incorporations today are able to make use of the administrative training of some younger members of their tribe to whom responsibility can be handed over. One of these younger helpers is Mr Bert Kingi, secretary of the Okere Incorporation. (PHOTO: PETER BLANC)
However, the spirit of co-operation is by no means dead. On our second visit to Rotoiti we found Peter Whata, with at least twenty others between the ages of five and fifty at the Taheke Incorporation's woolshed, helping to sort out the fat lambs. In charge was the chairman of the incorporation. Mr Mapu Morehu, who described the station's policy to us. It was to develop about 130 acres of new land each year, and as far as possible to breed their own sheep and cattle. Once the fat lambs were selected, the rest were held to be sold as hoggets. All the best of the ewe lambs were kept for breeding.
We asked Mr Morehu whether he thought the future of all the young people we saw on the station was on their ancestral land. ‘If you have a trade or profession, then go to town,’ said Mr Morehu, ‘but if you will be a labourer, then stay in the country. Naturally, however, education and business ability are essential for those who manage and own farms.’
The Rotoiti incorporations give a good deal to the younger people, appointing them, for instance, to posts of responsibility in the administration. Secretary of Okere incorporation is Bert Kingi, a young public servant, appointed for his administrative experience, although there is a large number of older owners. Undoubtedly this policy will help to provide future leaders for Ngati Pikiao.
TRIBESMEN GET THEIR OWN FARMS
Wherever possible, individual farmers were settled as lessees or owners. There were altogether 6,000 acres near the lake, either leased or sold to Europeans and then recovered by the Maori owners with finance provided by the State. The areas were farmed by the Department of Maori Affairs for a while until the debt on the blocks was repaid and in 1954 the owners took over and subdivided the land into unit farms settled by families, in many cases of returned servicemen.
Seven Ngati Pikiao ex-servicemen were settled on another Rotoiti block under Rehabilitation. This block of 3,446 acres bought by the Crown in 1948, was originally part-Maori and part-European land. The Maori part was sold to the Crown on condition that only Ngati Pikiao servicemen would be settled. A number of these who aspired to settlement worked on the scheme during the development stages, but final settlement had to be, according to the Rehabilitation system, by ballot.
Of the men settled, one (Mr T. R. Kingi) won last year's Ahuwhenua Trophy competition for sheep and cattle, and another (Mr E. C. Pohio) became second in the same competition. Mr Foley Eru, of Horohoro, winner of the 1956 Ahuwhenua Dairy Trophy, also has Ngati Pikiao affiliations.
What happened at Lake Rotoiti happened also in many other parts of New Zealand. Right through the country, Maori farmers, often quite independent of State aid, are tilling their own land and safeguarding it for their children.