Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa Go to Te Ao Hou homepage
No. 63 (June 1968)
– 50 –

South Pacific Countries

This article is the text of a speech given by Mr Ross Walker, General Manager of Fruit Distributors Limited, to the Wellington Rotary Club in May. We felt that Mr Walker's concise and interesting summary of the Pacific Islands would be of great interest to our readers.

New Zealand's interest in our near neighbours dates back to the time of Sir George Grey, who envisaged New Zealand as the centre of a South Pacific empire. Sir George Grey's vision was carried on by Sir Julius Vogel and by Sir Robert Stout and Mr Seddon. In 1871 Sir Julius Vogel informed the Imperial Authorities of his wish to establish protectorates over Fiji and the Solomon Islands but in 1874, despite Vogel's vision of New Zealand as the centre of a Pacific Federation, Fiji was ceded to Great Britain by Cakobau, King of Fiji.

The vision of Sir George Grey and Sir Julius Vogel fell on Mr Seddon who made many attempts to establish protectorates over Samoa and Fiji, despite the fact that Fiji had been ceded to Great Britain and that Samoa was at that time administered by a tripartite of Great Britain, Germany and America. Seddon at this time said that New Zealand was geographically the centre and must ultimately prove to be the mother colony of all the Islands adjacent. The possessions he coveted most were those along the trade routes between New Zealand, Vancouver and San Francisco. He protested strongly when the American residents of Hawaii deposed the Queen and set up a Republic. He considered this action would injure the British Empire and interfere with his own plans for the Pacific cable.

He then asserted New Zealand claims to Norfolk Island. This Island, however, was eventually handed by Great Britain to the State of New South Wales.

By this time New Zealand had acquired certain rights in the Cook Islands, although in 1888 Great Britain declined a protectorate over this group, of which the nearest Islands are approximately 1,600 miles north of Auckland. However, in 1890 it was agreed that New Zealand would appoint a resident whose salary, expenses, etc., would be defrayed by New Zealand. Then in 1899 Britain renounced its rights in Samoa in favour of Germany and America, much to Seddon's disgust. In his opinion the boundaries of New Zealand should be expanded to include the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga and the Society Islands, that is, Tahiti. However, again Great Britain stepped in and in 1900 declared a protectorate over Tonga.

By this time all the Islands adjacent to New Zealand, apart from the Cook Islands, seemed to have evaded the grasp of Seddon and eventually the Cook Islands were annexed by New Zealand in 1901 and have been regarded as a part of New Zealand ever since.

Seddon made a spectacular visit to Rarotonga about this time, pointing out the need for a steamer to carry produce to its various markets and that New Zealand would lend the money to buy a ship. He declared his intention to send engineers to blast channels through the coral reefs to improve landing places.

At the time of New Zealand's annexation of the Cook Islands, the main administrative force was the London Missionary Society and very strict missionary laws applied. The severe penalty of flogging was administered for such offences as:

  • Being pregnant and unmarried;

  • Card playing;

  • Going from one village to another on the Sabbath;

  • Taking an unmarried woman inland, and

  • Crying over a dead woman when not related to her.

New Zealand established its own laws in the Cook Islands but some of the missionary laws still exist, e.g. the adultery law.

However, about four years' ago the Cook Islands set up their own government. They are still protected by New Zealand and they are still regarded as part of New

– 51 –

Zealand. The group of islands is heavily subsidised by us to the extent of approximately $2,000,000 a year.

Seddon was not content to sit back and accept the fact that Fiji would be administered by Great Britain. He tried again to annex Fiji in 1901. At that time in Fiji there were 100,000 native Fijians, 12,000 Indians and 4,000 Europeans. In 1966 there were 202,000 Fijians, 240,000 Indians, and 33,000 made up of Chinese, Europeans, part-Europeans, Rotumans and other Pacific Islanders.

From the trade side it is interesting to note that back in 1901, Fiji's trade with Australia was four times as great as it was with New Zealand, and a similar position still applies.

Western Samoa eventually came under New Zealand influence when New Zealand troops landed there in 1914, taking the country from Germany. At that time the native population was 32,000 but 8,500 died through the ‘flu in 1918–19. Today there is a population of 132,000, showing the enormous growth since it came under New Zealand influence in 1914.

So Seddon's dream of a great Pacific Federation with New Zealand at its head did not come into being. The prizes eluded him and he was left with, eventually, only the Cook Islands—a widely scattered group of islands none of which could be self-supporting.

Although all the Pacific Islands are of intense interest to New Zealand, those with whom we are most closely related and which are under our protection are the Cook Islands, Niue, the Tokelaus and, through a Treaty of Friendship, Western Samoa.

Cook Islands

These Islands consist of 15 inhabited islands with a total population of 20,519, the total area of all the Cook Islands being 93 square miles—relatively small when you compare with the Chatham's 372 square miles.

In 1966 exports from the Cook Islands amounted to £870,000 while their imports were £1,572,000 of which total, foodstuffs amounted to £429,000.

The most important island in the group is Rarotonga where New Zealand is to build a new airport at the cost of $6,000,000. It is the seat of Government and it is the attractive centre which Cook Islanders from all the outer island groups hope to see and hope to settle in. Rarotonga, however, is only 22 miles round. Its total area is 16,602 acres and it has a population of 9,733. Its exports consist of citrus fruits, citrus fruit juices, tomatoes and coconuts. It is hoped that a substantial tourist industry will develop through the new airport facilities.

The next largest island is Mangaia of 12,800 acres—with a population of 2,097. The production of pineapples has been encouraged on this island. However, it is extremely difficult to develop an industry on one crop alone, particularly as the fruit cannot be canned on the island and it has to be shipped out from these areas to Rarotonga. You will recall that Mr Seddon, in his visit to the Cook Islands in 1900, promised a blasting of the reefs in the islands, but it is only in recent years that any blasting has been done, the main work being done in Mangaia.

Some of the Northern Islands, Manihiki and Penhryn, had fairly large deposits of pearl shell and this has been quite an industry there.

The other islands are mostly coconut producers, although the total production of copra in the Cook Islands per year is now approximately 1,000 tons. These islands are:

Aitutaki4,461 acres2,904 pop.
Atiu6,654 acres1,404 pop.
Mauke4,552 acres866 pop.
Mitiaro550 acres331 pop.
Manuae1,524 acres18 pop.
Palmerston500 acres102 pop.
Pukapuka1,250 acres800 pop.
Nassau300 acres113 pop.
Manihiki1,344 acres1,089 pop.
Rakahanga1,000 acres363 pop.
Penhryn2,432 acres694 pop.

Communications are difficult and it is very doubtful whether any of these islands can be made really self-suoporting. There is a gradual trend of emigration from these islands to Rarotonga and then there is considerable emigration from Rarotonga to New Zealand.

Land tenure, one of the bugbears of the

– 52 –

Pacific Islands, is a tremendous problem. A lot of the land is not in use, owing to part-owners being in New Zealand. The Cook Islands' Government appears to be tackling this problem but it is one that must be solved before any agricultural progress can be made in the group, and agricultural progress is so necessary if only to grow a greater proportion of their own food.


This has an area of 100 square miles. Although really one of the Cook group, it is separately administered still by New Zealand, although it has some form of local Government.

Exports in 1966 totalled £54,777— imports a total of £258,361 of which foodstuffs amounted to £78,000. The population is 5,225.

This is a coral island with extremely difficult access. It was formerly a fairly considerable kumara producer but because of the incidence of kumara weevil, very few kumaras are allowed into New Zealand from there and then only into the South Island.

It has a fairly large administrative problem and the successive administrators have done everything possible to improve the situation there.

They are now turning to bee keeping and the development of a small cattle industry. Most of the local labour force is employed in Government works.

Tokelau Islands

There are three atolls consisting of 2,500 acres, and the population is 1,900. Exports in 1966 were £4,971—imports £20,354, including foodstuffs of £6,000. An effort is being made to bring these people from these coral islands, over 2,000 miles from New Zealand, to New Zealand to find employment here.

Western Samoa

Western Samoa consists of two main islands—Savaii with 660 square miles, and Upolo of 430 square miles. There is also the adjoining island of American Samoa with a smaller population and relying very heavily indeed on American finance for its survival.

For the year ended December 1967, trade in Western Samoa consisted of exports worth $3,139,000—while imports amounted to $5,535,400.

When New Zealand took Western Samoa from the Germans in 1914, the population was, as I previously mentioned, about 32,000. The economy was largely based on copra and cocoa and excellent plantations existed, administered by large German firms.

New Zealand held Western Samoa under a mandate from, originally the League of Nations, and then the United Nations for a period of years until 1960 when the country was granted full independence. But under a treaty of friendship with New Zealand, the two countries were forged very closely together indeed.

However, unfortunately, the copra plantations in Samoa are becoming old and it is only in the last few years that any great effort has been made to replace the old plantations and to establish new ones.

The external trade of Western Samoa is mainly still based on three commodities— copra, cocoa and bananas, but the production of bananas has suffered a very severe setback through the hurricane of 1966 and

– 53 –

through the incidence of various banana diseases in the territory.

There are very few jobs for people in Samoa apart from agricultural jobs, and a few years ago, from a census taken, it was apparent that only about 6,000 people out of a population of 130,000 were employed in pursuits other than in agriculture.

Religion plays a tremendous part in the lives of the Samoan people. I would imagine that there would not be in the world a population so consistently God-fearing as the Samoans.

Through the difficulties of land tenure, the difficulties of finding markets for the goods that can be produced in Samoa, this country will have serious financial difficulties in the future, despite the fact that a large American concern has now procured forestry rights on the island of Savaii, the revenue from which rights should assist the country very considerably indeed.

New Zealand is giving considerable aid, particularly to the Cook Islands, the Tokelaus and Niue, and in direct aid for 1968 the following is proposed:

Cook Islands $2,000,000

Niue $900,000

(Mainly for administrative facilities, capital works, and loans in aid of the economic development plan and principally aimed at the rehabilitation of the Niue coconut industry and the associated development of grassland farming.)

Tokelau $160,000

(Plus a further amount of $21,000 on account of devaluation.)

Western Samoa $400.000

So that in 1968, New Zealand aid will have amounted to, in Niue, $170 per head of population, and in the Cook Islands, $100 per head of population.


The kingdom of Tonga is a British protectorate. The main island is Tongatapu and there are a number of other islands, 100 or so in the Vavau group and the Ha'apai group. There are the fairly large islands of Eua and Tin Can Island, or Niuafoo—an island which suffered a severe volcano disturbance in 1940.

The total area of the Tongan group is 259 square miles and their trade figures for 1965, which are the latest available, show that exports, in Tongan currency (on a par with Australian at that time) amounted to £1,253,264—their imports £1,700,000.

In Tonga all the land belongs to the King but every male over the age of 16 years, provided he has paid his poll tax of $3.20 a year, is entitled to a grant of an allotment of land in one of three forms—


Either an area of bush land not exceeding 8 ¼ acres, rent 80c a year plus a rent-free town allotment, or


An area of 12 ¾ acres of bush land, rent 40c a year and no town allotment, or


A grant of 15 acres of land subject to Cabinet approval granted in special cases by nobles.

With the now rapidly increasing population, it is difficult to find these land allotments except in some of the remote islands which are not very attractive to young men. The King of Tonga told the legislative assembly in October that whereas there were now 39,837 males in the kingdom who are, or will be, entitled to tax allotments, there were currently only 13,017 allotments to distribute to them.

The King stated that the growing population and shortage of land had created a problem which could not be pushed aside. Two-thirds of the entire male population of this kingdom, he stated, must find work other than on the land. It would be difficult in a short time to increase the number of people working in many of the avenues of employment that already existed for Tongans, but there were other opportunities that could be greatly expanded. The fishing industry was relatively untapped with very few commercial fishermen operating. Housebuilding and engineering were other industries where people could be suitably employed and the King said that those people who had land had to do more to ensure that it was worked to the maximum.

He also stated that it was necessary to consider the teaching of technical and vocational subjects in schools and reducing the teaching of subjects to prepare students for office jobs that did not exist. The population of Tonga in 1966 was 77,585 which

– 54 –

had increased by 20,000 in the last ten years.

Tonga is a constitutional monarchy. There is a Privy Council and Cabinet. The Cabinet Ministers are all Tongan. The legislative assembly, which meets once a year, is comprised of seven nobles representing the 33 nobles of Tonga, the seven people-elected representatives, the Ministers of the Crown and the Governors of Ha'apai and Vavau.

Tonga's principal exports are copra and bananas. At present the country is endeavouring to develop its own fishing industry and it has a shipping business with its own fleet of three ships.

But the problem I see with Tonga, which is situated so close to New Zealand, is that there is a greatlv increasing population without any prospect of other than scratching a very meagre existence from the soil in an over-populated country.


This is by far the most advanced island area in the Pacific. The total land area is

7,055 square miles on almost 400 islands, many of them uninhabited.

The population on the outer islands is composed almost entirely of Fijians. Large numbers of Indians live on the two main islands which are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

For the year ended December 1967, Fiji's trade consisted of exports worth £20,678,000. while their imports were £28,143,000. The importation of food items is fairly considerable, being approximately £6,000,000 a year, the main items being bran, rice, flour, canned fish, milk products, meat and tea. Their economy is based on sugar, copra, timber and gold, with a few bananas.

I previously mentioned that the population now of Fiji is almost half a million, of whom half the number are Indians.

The sugar industry has been the basis of Fiji's economy for many years, but because of the reluctance of the native Fijians to work in the sugar fields, indentured labourers were brought from India for the work. Eventually some Indian women were also brought to Fiji. Although many

– 55 –

Indians accepted repatriation at the end of their indendture, manv stayed on and there are now more Indians in Fiji than Fijians. They have a share in Government but very small land rights as most of the land is still held under Fijian reservations.

A great problem therefore develops, as the Fijian has the land, the Indians are the commercial people and the small farmers supply the large percentage of sugar cane. The Indian, however, seems to be patiently, and sometimes impatiently, exerting his claims to land and has created a situation which is almost incapable of solution.

However, Fiji has industry. It has a substantial trade and has much more opportunity of existing in a state of independence than its other Pacific neighbours.


To summarize, the populations of the islands close to New Zealand were, in 1966—

Cook Islands20,519

Their trade in 1966 amounted to exports £23,000,000; their imports £34,500,000.


There are many difficulties concerning these islands close to New Zealand. One of the two main problems is that of land tenure, operating on a different system in each of the various groups but certainly not on a basis whereby progressive agriculturalists can acquire land for development. Land is generally held in either reservations or family groups, and under these systems, agricultural progress is extremely limited. The other problem is that of the rapidly increasing population receiving more education but finding few avenues of employment. A temporary palliative to this problem has been emigration to New Zealand but this is not a realistic solution to the problem, as the people in the islands should be encouraged to remain in those islands and to develop their own land and resources. In my own opinion in the various islands there is too much emphasis on an academic education. Clerks are ‘ten a penny’ but a plumber is unobtainable.


Our assistance to these islands should be on the line of the establishment of trade training or technical schools rather than the persistent development of academic schooling.

Secondly, manufacturers could consider the extension of their manufacturing industries into those countries where large labour pools exist. Island people can become good tradesmen—they are extremely adaptable. It is most interesting indeed to note that the small islands of the Pacific produce Wellington bus drivers. It is difficult enough for a Wellington resident to find his own way around through the traffic in Wellington, but when one considers that a man from a very remote island can arive in New Zealand and in a very short space of time become a driver through Wellington streets, it shows just how adaptable the people are.

We should also provide free access to the New Zealand market for these islands for all the commodities that they grow or produce.

New Zealand is still the centre of Polynesia and must have a continued close relationship with the people of the various Pacific Islands.

Again, I do not claim in any way to be an expert in Pacific Island Affairs, but speak entirely as an observer.