THE MAORI INVESTMENT SOCIETIES
This was wintertime, and colder than Tai Tokerau has any right to be. The head of Panguru mountain was hidden in cloud, and a dour southerly wind pushed streaks of rain down the heavily bushed slopes above Waihou Valley. Dejected horses tethered to the fence outside the marae shifted weight from one hind leg to the other while cars hissed and splattered along the road. Everybody in sight was gum-booted or bare-footed in the slush. It was, on the surface, as miserable a winter's day as every fell on a country valley. It did not snow, but hail made a fair substitute. This was in fact the Saturday before Queen's Birthday, the time and the place for the first conference of Maori Co-operative Investment Societies in the Hokianga area…a meeting which didn't give a snap of the fingers for the weather and which did not end until after the sun came back two days later.
Inside the whare hui, Waimirirangi, there was nothing to show that this was different from any other hui on a wet week-end. Electric light from a generator outside was reinforced by petrol lamps. Bedding was neatly laid out round the walls, and a tangled pile of muddy footwear of every kind and size stood in the entrance porch. A raised gallery at the rear made a convenient stopping place for workers from the cookhouse, and for others coming and going, without disturbing the body of the meeting.
At the platform table at appropriate times sat Steve Ngaropo, Conference Chairman; Peta Wairua, Conference Secretary; John Samson, Secretary of the Lower Waihou Society; and John Booth, Research Officer of the Department. As visitors arrived they were greeted and replied to greetings in the traditional way.
In short a visitor could be pardoned for thinking
There were representatives present from the investment societies of Lower Waihou, Panguru, Te Akau (Mitimiti), Pawarenga, Rawene, Motukaraka and Nukutawhiti (Rangi Point). There were visitors from all over Northland, and one party, comprising most of the directorate of the Te Kaha Dairy Co, came all the way from the Bay of Plenty. From Wellington, there was Mr Ron Crocombe, of the Department of Island Territories.
A Way to Help Yourself
Most of the first day was given over to general discussion. Mr Booth spoke of his belief in the need for a new approach to the economic problems of the Maori people, and of the part that co-operative investment societies could play in this. As most of his audience were well aware of the crucial part he has played as an officer of the Department over the past few years in fostering and guiding the establishment of investment societies in the Hokianga his words carried special weight. The societies were, he said, an attempt at self help, an encouragement to saving, and an example of the benefits of practical co-operation. They were not a new idea, but had flourished Canada and the U.S.A. for many years. Groups started in Fiji only three years ago, with some initial Government backing, had saved over £100,000 and had loaned over £23,000 to members
In a general outline of the rules Mr Booth said that membership was entirely voluntary and open to anyone over 16 years of age, though members under 21 could not sit on the committee. Each member was required to state how much wished to save each month, and a minimum 5/- had been set. The money saved by each group was invested at 3%, and if the business warranted it, a bonus was paid at the end of each year. Profits were derived from interest on loans to members, and in the existing societies the rate charged was 8%.
Shower of Questions
This brief outline brought a shower of question What part will the Department play? None, the business of the society is a matter for members only. In any case the Department hasn't the staff or the money to establish societies. What happens if a loan is not granted? This sometimes is a hard job, and it shows the importance of electing suit able people to the committee. It is made some what easier by restricting loans to productive and provident matters, provident meaning for instance
Delegates and interested persons of all ages come out to have a look at the dreary weather. The meeting house is Waimirirangi at Lower Waihou.
Where is the money kept, in a tin or in a bank? At present some is kept in the Savings bank and some in the BNZ, and all payments are made by cheque. Every member has a society deposit book.
As question and answer went on and heads were bent over note books emphasis shifted quietly from details to obvious benefits. Methods and aims of the societies fitted comfortably into the Maori way of doing things; if a group could help its members, an organisation of groups could help more. It was suggested that activities might extend into asistance with tax and accountancy problems, into co-operative assistance in marketing produce, into seed buying. In short, so much good could be done for so many, that more people should know about it. So with no prompting the meeting settled to discuss how to expand the movement.
Visitors from Te Kaha in the Bay of Plenty took a keen interest in the proceedings. From left to right: Messrs W. S. Swinton, N. Perry, J. Waititi, all officers of the Te Kaha Co-operative Dairy Company.
In the meeting house lighting his pipe is Father Wanders, the priest from Panguru, who has wholeheartedly supported the investment project.
First came the suggestion that the Department make John Booth available as promoter in a wider field. This was met by strong feeling that the movement could be and should be a Maori one, supported as need be by Maori effort and Maori money. In the process tribute was paid warmly and frequently to Mr Booth's faith, patience and guidance during the three years that he had worked in the Hokianga area. His help was still wanted, but it was self help first.
Discussion crystallised into the setting up of the following committee of ways and means: … Chairman: Steve Ngaropo (Lower Waihou); Secretary: Norman Perry (Te Kaha); Members: George Sutherland (Auckland), Waata Tipene (Ahipara-Kaitaia), John Waititi (Raukokore), Wi Reweti (Whangarei), Robert Proctor (Pawarenga). This committee was directed by the conference to give urgent attention to the propogation of the aims and objects of investment societies among the Maori people, and to make provision of funds from Maori sources for this purpose.
And so came to an end a memorable meeting of which the flavour cannot be captured on papeer. It was interesting that there were two pakeha visitors from outside the district who could and did speak Maori…Mr Ron Crocombe and Mr Norman Perry from Te Kaha. It was good to watch the deft chairmanship of Steve Ngaropo who saw that though no time was wasted there was always plenty of time (the meeting ended some comfortable hours ahead of schedule). The social arrangements, despite the weather, were almost flawless. But the main theme evident from the beginning was a sense of purpose. This was a conference of people most of whom for once had practical experience of a piece of pakeha wisdom that offered endless possibilities for the good of the Maori people and they were fired as some of them said, with the desire to spread the gospel. Taken up in the spirit which was roused at Lower Waihou, the investment society movement could well lead to another Maori renaissance.
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A tribal executive in the timbermilling district around Tokoroa was formed recently. It is called Te Rahui and is centred on Tokoroa.
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A new community centre, tennis court and basketball courts are planned for Wairaka Pa, Whakatane, by the Wairaka Tribal Committee. A government subsidy has already been granted.