New Zealand And The Other Pacific Islands


New Zealand took a long time to make up its mind that it was a Pacific country, not a European outpost. Interest in other Pacific Islands waxed and wand until Britain withdrew west of Suez and, in 1973, joined the European Community; it grew more after the ANZUS partnership with the United States foundered in 1985. These developments heightened New Zealand's awareness of its Polynesian heritage and Pacific identity. 'We ... accept what the map tells us,' said the Prime Minister (1984-1989), David Lange, 'that we are a South Pacific nation'. New Zealand's Ambassador to the United States was even more emphatic: 'New Zealand has become, in the fullest sense, a country of the Pacific and New Zealanders take it for granted'. To an historian these confident assertions sound rather like Vogel and Seddon 'howling empire from an empty coast'.

A more sober examination of New Zealand's relationships with other Pacific Islands shows that it has still to come to terms with the realities of being a Pacific country. In Sir James Henare's words, it must 'listen to the north wind blowing from great Hawaiki', the wind that brought the Maori to Aotearoa and made it part of Polynesia over a thousand years ago. It must also listen to the prevailing winds from south Auckland, the Porirua basin and the other urban areas which are home to the third largest subsection of its total population, the people of Pacific Island Polynesian origin and descent.

The nineteenth century aspirations of European New Zealanders in the Pacific Islands were described by a Frenchman, Andre Siegfried who visited New Zealand in 1899, as 'the product of exclusivism and racial pride ... characteristic of Anglo-Saxon colonials'. These were the first stirrings of nationalism but they wre motivated by strategy. New Zealand was a small, distant, underpopulated British colony. It refused to accept the assurances of the British that the royal Navy would protect it. Itg wanted to keep all foreign intruders out of the South Pacific. It urged Britain to adopt a more forward policy of annexations and claimed it was the country best fitted to rule Polynesians. In 1849 Sir George Grey had tried to forestall the French in New Caledonia and Bishop Selwyn had founded the Melanesian Mission based in Auckland. Sir Julius Vogel schemed to develop island trade and plantations and subsidized transpacific shipping and mail services 1870-1877. Auckland firms slowly developed legitimate trade with the islands, but they, as well as Otago businessmen, took part in the Melanesian labour trade known as 'blackbirding'. The Bank of New Zealand speculated in Fijian land and meddled in Fijian politics. Otago Presbyterians, with Anglican support, opposed French annexation of the New Hebrides in 1886.

R.J. Seddon complained of a 'great betrayal' when Britain withdrew from Samoa leaving Germany and the United States to partition it in 1899. to convince the British that the Cook Islands desired New Zealand rule, he went on a Pacific cruise for his health which awakened his sympathy for a settler faction in Fiji who were seeking federation. After the House of Representatives adopted his resolution for the incorporation of the cook Islands and had sung 'God Save the Queen', the Governor set off in HMS Mildura to read the annexation proclamations on each of the major islands. the cook Islands, together with Niue, which was a British protectorate, were included within the boundaries of New Zealand, on 11 June 1901.

At the age of island-hunting drew to a close, New Zealand looked to British imperial defence for its security. As 'a great and urgent imperial service' it seized Western Samoa from the German s in August 1914 and manned a British military administration. the Prime Minister, W.E. Massey, expected that Britain would retain control after the war. His main efforts were directed to securing a cheap, regular supply of phosphates from Nauru, which had been captured by an Australian force. But as the price of Japanese support in the war, Britain secretly agreed that Japan and the southern Dominions should keep the German islands they seized. Furthermore British officials thought - correctly - that Australian and New Zealand national pride would be affronted if they were deprived of the spoils of war.

The Paris Peace conference ruled out annexations in favour of League of Nations mandates. Masey accepted the mandate for Western Samoa with some reluctance, preferring freehold to leasehold. After securing a guaranteed supply of phosphates for his small-farmer supporters in a phosphate-sharing agreement with Britain and Australian on a 42:42: 16 ratio, he was content to let Australia administer the mandate for Nauru which was conferred on the British Empire. New Zealand's interests in Nauru were economic and exploitive: in Western Samoa they combined national security and national pride. In 1925, at Britain's request, New Zealand added to its burdens of governing island territories by taking over Tokelau. A new power struggle between Britain and the United States over the islands in the central Pacific began in the mid-1930s. New Zealand adamantly refused to discuss the ownership of those it controlled, which were some of the northern cook Islands and Tokelau. Britain kept it fully informed and New Zealand's vessels were used to survey suitable sit4es for airfields, establish wireless stations and prepare a base on Christmas Island. The matter lapsed during the Pacific War, 1940-1945. Tokelau was included within New Zealand's boundaries in 1948. But the United States did not formally renounce its territorial claims to Tokelau and other central Pacific Islands until 1980. 

After the War in the Pacific, there was mounting suspicion that the U.S. had designs over its Pacific island bass. This led to a restatement of the traditional Australian and New Zealand policy of keeping foreign intruders out of the Pacific. The 1944 Australian-New Zealand Agreement envisaged a regional zone of defence in the South Pacific, including the arc of islands from Papua new Guinea to the Cook Islands. but in the event it was stillborn. for post-war security New Zealand looked to the United Nations, then ANZAM (Australian, New Zealand and Malayan area, a Commonwealth Defence planning arrangement) and ANZUS, not to any island bastions. New Zealand's short-comings in governing Polynesians were more obvious than its successes. As a small, weak, developing country itself, it lacked the pople, the money and the markets to develop island territories. Island affairs were bandied about in various government departments. Samoan affairs were handled by a Secretary of Ext3rnal Affairs in the Prime Minister's Department. Separate departments for Island Territories and External Affairs were established in 1943. New Zealand's island empire was too small to warrant a career colonial service. Officials were seconded to the Pacific for three-year terms from New Zealand's own public service. Few stayed on for a second term or learnt the local language. Little use was made of Maori experience, though three Maori ministers held responsibility for the Cook Islands and Niue; Sir James Carroll, 1909-1912, Sir Maui Pomare, 1913-1928, and Sir Apirana Ngata, 1928-1934. Island administrators and resident commissioners were often army officers or lawyers.

Like other colonial powers, New Zealand exported its own ideas and institutions. Policies vacillated between assimilation and taihoa (wait awhile), just as they did to Maori affairs. The object of assimilation was to change Pacific Islanders into New Zealanders; that of taihoa to enable them to advance slowly, and gradually from traditional to European culture, blending selected elements of both. Assimilation reflected what E.H. Corner called the Lower Hutt syndrome, which was the inability of European New Zealanders to recognize the validity of island cultures. Taihoa combined the anthropological concept of cultural adaptation with a natural inclination to do nothing.

In the Cook Islands, Niue and Western Samoa, New Zealand rule interrupted the process of state formation that had begun in the early years after western contact. Island kingdoms had been formed and law codes and constitutions were adopted. the Cook Islands and Niue were administered by Resident commissioners responsible to Wellington and became increasingly dependent on New Zealand officials. The military administration in Western Samoa inherited the German colonial system which had incorporated the Samoan hierarchy of titleholders but curbed their powers. Attempts by New Zealand Administrators to adapt the German system to British law and parliamentary ways conflicted with Samoan custom and chiefly aspirations to regain the pule (authority). Policies of dual development of European plantations and village agriculture began, but more money was spent on developing bureaucracies and social services than public works and agriculture. New Zealand provided small subsidies to help the Cook Islands and Niue meet the costs of local administration and social services but expected Western Samoa to pay its own way.

Lieutenant-Colonel W.E. gudgeon, 1901-1909, introduced a land court into the cook Islands to individualize land titles and to encourage European settlement and native production. but settlement did not eventuate and the fragmentation of land titles in the long run discouraged individual Cook Islands Maori enterprise. In the mid-1920s some effort was made to improve social services and technical services to fruit growers. The deliberate cultivation of oranges, a perishable product, for the New Zealand market and lack of facilities for handling, shipping and marketing made the territory increasingly dependent on New Zealand subsidies. In Western Samoa colonel R.W. Tare, 1919-1923, and Major-General G.S. Richardson, 1923-1928, attempted to restore the plantations expropriated from the Germans and handed over to the New Zealand government as war reparations. Chinese indentured labourers imported by the Germans were repatriated, preventing Western Samoa from becoming 'a little China of the Pacific'. Free Chinese labourers were recruited for three year terms. Tate commenced and Richardson pushed along programmes to encourage Samoan agriculture and to extend health, education and public works. Richardson tried to make Samoans healthy, hardworking planters by individualizing land allotments, remodelling villages, introducing a medical tax and marketing high grade Samoan copra through the New Zealand Repatriation Estates. He also prohibited time-consuming customs such as malaga (journeys), fine mat exchange, saofai (ceremony for conferring titles) and village cricket. When Samoans disobeyed his edicts he banished them from their villages and took away their titles. Local banishment and title deprivation were legal sanctions based on custom but never before useful so frequently. by forcing Samoans to change Richardson strengthened their resolve to hold fast to the fa'a Samoa (Samoan custom).

As Malama Meleisea has observed, racial discrimination was 'one of the ugliest features of colonialism'. Pre-Darwinian liberals and humanitarians believed that racial differences were cultural and would gradually vanish as Christianity, commerce and civilization spread and Europeans and native peoples were peacefully amalgamated Social Darwinists believed that differences were physical and inborn; that whites were superior to coloureds; that half-castes inherited the worst characteristics of both. These doctrines justified their faith in white dominance and colonial rule and policies of protecting native people from European settlers and from immigrant Asian labour. In the Cook Islands Act 1915, New Zealand distinguished natives from non-natives and Polynesians from people of mixed blood. this 'unnecessarily wounded the susceptibilities of a large number of the half-caste population' and constituted real hardship' to Maori wives of Europeans and their children who wished to be considered Europeans.

In Western Samoa, New Zealand continued to recognize the separate legal status of Samoans and local Europeans (who could include Chinese and mixed bloods) adopted by the Germans. this distinction was intended to protect Samoans but discriminated against local Europeans. The cohabitation of Chinese and Samoan women was prohibited and marriages between New Zealand officials and Samoans were strongly disapproved of. Local Europeans had separate political representation and were not allowed 'to meddle' in Samoan politics. They were denied access to Samoan lands and prohibited, like Samoans, from consuming alcohol. Racial doctrine and separate legal classifications bred social discrimination and snobbery. This was much resented by local Europeans with Samoan wives, who felt ostracized. Samoans were insulted by being stereotyped as 'backward children', and part Europeans as 'half-casts' and 'the dregs of civilization'. The view that Polynesians were lazy and Chinese immoral was equally insulting. Even officials who established friendly relations with Samoans and did not practice social discrimination used such stereotypes. the prevailing belief was that to be equal, Samoans must first be civilized.  

Under new Zealand rule local grievances and frustrations accumulated. A cook Islands Progressive Association was formed in 1916 'to further the political and economic interests of residents'. Rioting and the looting of shops by returned soldiers in 1919 were attributed to depressed trade and industry and to traders' overcharging. A parliamentary delegation produced some improvements, until the great depression. Afterwards the labour Government was approached by a Rarotongan Growers' Association seeking an export control board and by another organization asking for guaranteed prices for fruit. Renewed unrest during the Second World War led to the formation of a more broadly based Cook Islands Progressive Association in Aitutaki and Rarotonga and an Auckland branch with Albert Henry, a forty-year old Aitutakian, as secretary. It aimed to improve wages and returns to fruit-growers and shipping, as well as to restore self-government. From 1946 to 1948, with left-wing support from New Zealand, it took industrial action on the Rarotongan waterfront which was defeated by the intervention of the New Zealand Federation of Labour. Its attempt at co-operative trading with its own ship and a government loan collapsed.

In the forties the Fraser Government failed to recognize the seeds of cook Islands nationalism in economic protest. Its new look policy included a citrus replanting scheme, greatly increased subsidies for works and services and some local political representation in an advisory legislative council and island councils. Samoan opposition to alien rule erupted twice in German times and then again after the 1918 influence epidemic, in which about one-fifth of the population died. The Samoans blamed the New Zealand authorities for failing to quarantine the Talune which brought the plague from Auckland. Tate had to cope with continuing disaffection. Richardson's tactless, dictatorial rule precipitated the Mau, a movement that rejected New Zealand rule and tried to get self-government under British protection.

The Mau was part of a continuing struggle to restore a Samoan government based on traditional and customary institutions. Local Europeans like the leading copra trader and Mau spokesman, O.F. Nelson, had their own grievances, and also had knowledge and understanding of Samoan custom and traditions which New Zealand lacked. New Zealand was intransigent. Police action resulted in the death of the Samoan leader Tupua Tamasese Leolofi and ten others on 'Black Saturday'. This, followed by naval intimidation, led to an impasse which continued until Labour sympathizers in New Zealand took office and sent a goodwill mission. The Mau, the great depression and gentle but humiliating criticism of New Zealand rule from the Permanent Mandates Commission in Geneva led to the period of taihoa which was prolonged by the Second World War. A new generation of Samoan leaders consolidated their authority. Unsettled by the temporary American occupation, they renewed demands for self-government. Peter Fraser's efforts to improve living standards and education first by funding economic development and scholarships from the profits of the Reparation Estates failed to silence them.

Fraser's thinking on post-war colonial policy was influenced by his British Fabian background, by Maori experience and by regional and international discussions. Like President Roosevelt, he believed that colonies as well as captured enemy territories had the right to choose their own form of government. He espoused the principle of international accountability for all colonial powers, not just those who were administering League of Nations mandates. He appreciated that it was useless to impose change from above unless the people wanted it. He accepted Australian proposals in the 1944 Agreement for an advisory regional commission in the South Pacific to secure a common policy in social, economic and political development with the ultimate objective of self-government in the form most suitable to local circumstances, and he made them his own. At the San Francisco Conference in 1945 he presided over the Trusteeship committee that married and amended Anglo-American proposals on post-war colonial policy into Chapters XI-XIII of the United Nations Charter.   

Chapter XI was a 'Declaration regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories' which defined the general principles and purposes of international trusteeship. These included the development of self-government 'to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples'. chapters XII and XIII made provisions for an international trusteeship system supervised by a trusteeship council. A basic objective was 'progressive development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned'. Within this framework and in wholehearted co-operation with the United Nations, New Zealand formulated new policies of political development to decolonize its island territories in a slow, orderly, peaceful manner in consultation and co-operation with local political leaders. Western Samoa set the pace. After New Zealand presented its leaders with a daft trusteeship agreement they petitioned the United Nations for self-government with New Zealand as their protector and adviser, as Britain was to Tonga. Fraser responded sympathetically with a policy of political development and arrangements for a United Nations mission to investigate the background of the petition and endorse this policy. A representative Samoan Government with power of the purse was set up under a new High commissioner, G.R. Powles (later Sir Guy). Under his guidance education in self-government commenced.

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Day-to-day stresses and strains in a system that divorced political power from executive responsibility convinced Powles that without steady political power from executive responsibility convinced Powles that without steady political advancement, he could not win the confidence of local leaders. He proposed, and New Zealand adopted, a development plan that was virtually a timetable for self-government without dates. A working party of Samoan leaders drew up constitutional recommendations which were endorsed by a constitutional convention fully representative of the Samoan people. these were largely accepted by the New Zealand Government. Western Samoa advanced by a series of small steps rather than one big stride to responsible government with a Samoan Cabinet and Prime Minister. A second working party drafted an independence constitution with help from New Zealand's constitutional adviser and international lawyer, Professor C.C. Aikman, and the Samoans' adviser, a Pacific historian, Professor J.W. Davidson

New Zealand And The Other Pacific Islands - Part 2

Maori And Settler - 1642-1870
About New Zealand
Rotorua Visit- New Zealand

An extract from IN THE STRANGE SOUTH SEAS by BEATRICE GRIMSHAW, published in London by Hutchinson & Co., 1908. 

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