Thomas Tarurongo Wynne: In sickness and in health

Saturday July 13, 2019 Written by Published in Opinion
Thomas Wynne. Thomas Wynne.

There were concerns Ariki were complicit in the loss of Cook Islands Maori self-determination, but in the second part in a series, Thomas Wynne says they played a critical role in improving their people’s health and education.

Last week I failed to mention the first resident Commissioner to the Cook Islands who was in fact Frederick Joseph Moss, generally regarded as a benevolent, even enlightened, colonial administrator, if lacking in both tact and the power to enforce his desired reforms.

In 1890, Moss, a former planter and MP, was appointed British resident. Moss’s brief was to recognise and support the Ariki government, particularly in the area of law and order, to control liquor, levy customs duties, unify the island and district governments, and vet proposed laws and regulations. He worked with Ariki and others to establish a Parliament and Executive Council, with Makea Takau Ariki at its head. 

A Supreme Court was established with Tepou o te Rangi, a cousin of Makea and holder of the Vakatini ariki title, as its judge and the police began to be professionalized. The new legislature worked to establish, liquor licensing, customs, treasury, schools, and a medical service. There was however no papa’a representation in his plans , a fact that gave rise to hostility on the part of papa’a businessmen planters and merchants alike.

Some have described Moss’s attitude, as one of ‘romantic humanism’ in his desire for self-dependence for the Cook Islands, which instead fostered mutual impatience and resentment from Papa’a businessmen and Ariki. Moss, under the leadership of then New Zealand Premier Balance, was in support of self-rule for the Cook Islands colony. But he would die in 1893 and be replaced by the Imperialist Richard Seddon who instead saw the Cook Islands as a part of the New Zealand sub-Empire needing to be ruled from New Zealand, and with that and other frustrations locally Moss was replaced by Seddon’s man, Walter Gudgeon.

Yet Moss was not forgotten as Cook Islands first Premier Albert Henry paid this tribute:  “The experiment so started by Moss, represented the most progressive and advanced ideas of the time. It was a really remarkable attempt to establish a Government combining free democratic Parliamentary institutions with native custom, combining the old ideas of the independence of each island with the new idea of national independence.”

Gudgeon’s position however, with regard to Ariki and the people of the Cook Islands, would take a completely different view and summed up in these words from Gudgeon after his appointment.

“The Natives have, moreover, reached that stage of enlightenment that they will no longer put up with the eccentricities of their chiefs… it is not advisable that we should allow the jealousy of a few useless and obstructive chiefs to exclude the more enlightened of the Maori people from all part in the government of their own islands. It is time that such men were taught that their old system must give way before the exigencies of our civilization. If this be done the system will soon die out…and you should authorise me to deprive any chief of his rank or authority in the event of his opposing any Government measure.”

These words of Gudgeon show a clear contempt for the Ariki and that in his mind, the time of enlightenment had come for Maori, and that they would see there was a better way, a way without the rule of the Ariki. And this was said, not in a private journal, but recorded in the Cook Islands pages of the House of Representatives and captured in Graeme Whimp’s thesis Writing the Colony: Walter Gudgoen in the Cook Islands 1898 to 1909.

To demonstrate one area where this contempt for the people of the Cook Islands as a colony was demonstrated can be seen in the response by the colonial New Zealand government to the health concerns of the people of the Cook Islands right up until the 1960s

Dr Debi Futter-Puati in her thesis, Maki Maro Tuberculosis in the Cook Islands: A social history 1896-1975, points out that In the first 10 years of the New Zealand administration there was only one medical officer in the Cook Islands and the most prevalent diseases of this time were TB, dysentery, yaws, filariasis, venereal disease, infections of the skin, eyes and ears, intestinal infections and leprosy.

This may be why Gudgeon was so adamant that the Cook Islanders were a dying race and that within a generation they would be gone.

And this is what contributed also to my Aunty Nooroa dying at the age of seven from these intestinal worms. 

Gudgeon felt that money would be better spent in areas other than health and he made no effort to improve the small hospital in Rarotonga. The five-bed hospital, established under the British Protectorate, had opened in Rarotonga on 1 May 1896. It was under-used and lacked doctors and medication to deal with the prevalence of tuberculosis, leprosy and other diseases.

In fact, these diseases would continue to ravage our people until the intervention of Sir Tom Davis and more recently the work of Dr Joe Williams, long after New Zealand had taken colonial control of the Cook Islands and its people in 1915.

Ultimately, up until the transition to free association in 1965, health-care was of little consequence to the New Zealand government administering the Cook Islands. And listening to Williams speak this week at the 21st Health Conference, he started with the reiteration of the dire circumstances he found himself in when he returned to the Cook Islands to start the fight for our health-care and the fight against TB, dysentery, yaws, and filariasis, and  to continue the work of Sir Tom Davis.

Davis, in his time as chief medical officer from 1949, reorganised the Cooks' health service, developed a central hospital, tuberculosis hospital, satellite hospitals and dispensaries and fought to offer better health care in the widely scattered islands Pa Enua of the Cook Islands as well as health-care in Rarotonga.

What should be clear is that despite the dismantling of Ariki and Mataiapo structures, Ariki and Mataiapo would continue to influence our communities. Despite the abolition of their judicial and legislative powers by the Cook Islands Act 1915, it would be the persistence of our own people and traditional leaders that would see not only the health of our people improve but also their access to education and to governance and self-rule, albeit in free association with New Zealand.

Ariki and Mataiapo would continue the fight during what can only be described as the “dark ages” of 1915 to 1945, with the fight for the establishment Islands councils, a legislative Assembly, Legislative Council and finally self-government.

As much as Ariki were established with the House of Ariki written into our constitution in 1965 and the Koutu Nui in 1972, one cannot look at our history from 1915 to 1965 and dismiss the critical role our traditional leaders, our Ariki and Mataiapo have played in where we are today.

Be it health, education or governance, their role has been pivotal to where we are today in 2019.


  • Comment Link Andy Kirkwood Wednesday, 17 July 2019 02:46 posted by Andy Kirkwood

    Short form:
    Wynne: In matters of public health (such as chlorination), the iti tangata should respect the decisions of the Ariki.
    Deleted respondent: It is from the iti tangata that the ariki derive their authority. It is the iti tangata that have the right to decide.

  • Comment Link Mouria Ngati Au Monday, 15 July 2019 02:50 posted by Mouria Ngati Au

    The ariki were as complicit in the loss of Maori self-determination as Col. Gudgeon or the LMS ever were:

    I recently submitted two comments, (one submitted twice for a total of 3 submissions), on articles about the ariki and their role in society today. No doubt, they are being ignored so I might be a fool for trying a fourth time - but there is a critical error in these articles: the omission of customary context.

    What is taoanga ariki?

    Today, it is synonymous with royalty; "palaces", "royal" koutu and marae - nothing could be further from the truth. The ariki have been afforded a position in our "traditional" community incongruent with our true ancient custom, a natural consequence of unquestionable acceptance of the revisionist models of our society created by the LMS and colonial officials of latter year.

    Let us not ignore the fact that the power and influence of ariki had been greatly exaggerated by the turn of the 19th century. It was with the ariki that the LMS and colonial officials had any meaningful and constant exchange; both entities preferring to deal with centralised power rather than a segmented social structure, which led to the synthesis of a system not unlike monarchical feudalism. Indeed, the supremacy of Makea as Rarotonga's "paramount chief" was in no small measured influenced by the LMS interpretation as "King of Rarotonga". Gudgeon noted that the ariki "has been taught to regard himself as king by divine right and they have all seen clearly enough that to make themselves absolute they must assert a right to all the land".

    The acceptance of this synthetic, over-simplified social structure in Rarotonga , i.e. three "tribes" and their respective ariki (Makea, Pa, Kainuku, Tinomana) as feudal over-lords, is grossly misleading and ignores the nuanced relationship between ariki and the rest of the people, particularly with the mataiapo. The early introduction of commercial trade and the direct control of the market houses by the ariki gave them unprecedented economic power; "once produce acquired a cash value... the land on which it grew acquired a capital value" (Crocombe, R. G.: Land Tenure in the Cook Islands, 1964). The gulf created between the ariki and mataipo in consequence has only widened exponentially since. The mataiapo (who by definition as the titular heads of the land owning corporations, i.e. ngati) as the customary landowners, would eventually be systematically supplanted by the desire to encourage economic growth and more importantly the redefining of pre-contact social order. In conjunction with the importance of a system which regarded genealogical enumeration, akapapaanga, synonymous with customary law, the ariki were by no means averse to promoting their interests at the expense of the people they were supposed to be leading. Col. Gudgeon noted in 1908:

    "... for the last seventy-five years the chiefs and Arikis of Avarua and Arorangi have lost no opportunity of depriving the people of all knowledge of their genealogy and family history, even fining those old men who, by means of their grandchildren, attempted to write a record of the family history, and confiscating the books for their own use"

    Consistently, the ariki were favoured by the LMS and colonial administration as having any real political value. It was the ariki, not the mataiapo, that were given judicial authority over areas which were traditionally independent therefrom. Despite the creation of a "House of Chiefs" at Rarotonga by Moss which was to include all the mataiapo and ariki, in reality it was composed of the ariki and a select few of the island's mataiapo.

    The elevation of the ariki during the LMS period in conjunction with the power ascribed to them cannot be ignored as merely a consequence of their pre-contact high social standing. To do so is to disregard both history and ancient custom. It may seem that I am labouring unnecessarily to highlight the importance of historical/customary context. But as I hope to illustrate by contrasting the ariki with the mataiapo anciently, you may make informed decisions and opinions about the role not only the ariki have in our future, but that of our mataiapo and Peu Maori.

    Of the mataiapo and taoanga, F. J. Moss observed:

    - "The Mataiapos are the most powerful class. Their families have held the land from time immemorial, on conditions of public service well understood. If, for any reason, one be displaced, a successor must immediately be appointed from the members of the family. The title and the tenure of the land are perpetual and cannot be disturbed or interrupted".

    - "The 'komana' [sic. - properly: komono] stands next, the only difference being that his services must be rendered through one of the nobles [mataiapo] to whom it is credited, and never directly by himself. After him come the rangatira, a tenant at will of the ariki of the chief from whom he holds the land, but irremovable, by time-honored custom, so long as the due services are performed".

    - "The Ariki is supreme, but largely controlled by the Mataiapo (or nobles) A new Ariki is named by the Arikis of the other tribes from the Ariki family of the deceased's tribe. But the confirmation depends on the mataiapos as the installation rests with them. They regard the Ariki as only the first among equals".
    [The ambiguity of the statement regarding the confirmation and installation of ariki is something I addressed in a previous comment: to be clear, the confirmation and installation is conducted by a select group, namely the kau-ta'unga TAKO ARIKI, AU aka AU PURU ARIKI, and TAURUA, something which I hope to elaborate upon in the future]

    Moss' observations are a stark contrast to the current accepted narrative of our "traditional" custom. Understanding his observation in context of ancient custom is the key stone - the understanding of which is inherent in the definition of 'ngati": a descent based corporation which traditionally controlled the land. A ngati represented a corporate "unity of interests, binding obligations of kinship to each other and to the chief" (Baltaxe).

    By definition, "ngati" presupposes boundaries, e.g. genealogy. However, where "ngati" differs from "kopu tangata" is how genealogy is used - today these terms are interchangeable and little consideration is given to distinguish the two; whereas "kopu tangata" is simply determined by tracing lineage bilaterally to a common ancestor, "ngati" or corporate descent traces descent through one line - traditionally, this has been Patrilineal (although the rule has generally been through the male line, there are cases where a line has been traced through an female ancestor if only to link to a male ancestor; in every case, it was the male link that was emphasized). Membership through adoption has also been the case.

    This is what the mataiapo represented. This is why the majority were independent. The mataiapo were heads of a "discrete" social group whose interests in land were concerned with territory rather than property (the most suitable example of such encapsulated by the Land Court today). No upright member of a ngati need fear being alienated from the land because that was his customary right.

    The supremacy of the ariki was anciently contingent on the loyalty of his allies, i.e. the mataiapo. Considering the customary definition of "tapere", it begs the question how the ariki have come to possess interests in land beyond their customarily prescribed limits.

    This is in no small part due to the fall of the mataiapo and the redefining of the word "ngati". The rise of the ariki = the fall of the mataiapo, just as the establishment of the Native Land Court and the implementation of the Register of (land) Titles (ROT) = the collapse of the ngati; the collapse of the ngati was the nail in the coffin for Peu Maori and sovereignty.

    It is a well documented fact that Gudgeon believed individual ownership trumped corporate [ngati] ownership, personified in the chief. However, Gudgeon's motivation for social reorganisation particularly with respect to land tenure was economical:

    "... the Titikaveka lands have for years been lying waste and unoccupied, and, worse still, unimproved. It is this latter fact taht has induced me to select the coast-line from Papua to Titikaveka as the scene of the first regular and continuous survey of the island; it being obvious that unoccupied lands would be more easily acquired under lease from the Native owners than the occupied lands nearer the shipping port [Avarua]... 273 acres, have been leased to the Europeans".

    In 1908, Gudgeon reported to Wellington that "all the land of Rarotonga of economic value or capable of accupation has been surveyed and awarded to the owners as far as they can be ascertained".

    Herein lies the issue - who were the owners? Gudgeon saw the corruptive influence power had on the ariki, noting:

    "On the death of any leading mataiapo or rangatira, an excuse has been found for placing the family title and lands in charge of some creature of the Ariki... the pretence was that the young heir was wanting in ability or too young to govern his people and therefore until he had reached the age of reason he was to be governed by a mentor appointed by the Ariki during his minority or alleged incompetence... the rightful heirs have never been reinstated. The usurper became the humble servant of the Ariki and paid atinga for the land which had never paid this tribute while in the hands of the rightful owners, and the Ariki... asserted that the land had always been Ariki land".

    The corporate group, ngati, whose interest in land was vested in the title was concerned with the tapere as a whole "as their own, more or less sovereign, [territory]" (Baltaxe). However, Gudgeons solution to counter the corruption of the ariki was to survey parcels of land, ranging in size from

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