Colonisation and the Involution of the Maori Economy

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TangataWhenua.com was sent this valuable document written in 2002 by Hazel Petrie from the University of Auckland for the XIII World Congress of Economic History. We are told that what happened to Maori in the past is going to happen again but this time in the context of the internet.

Here is an except, a link to the full document follows… Makes you think ae…

In 2001, international research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, found Maori to be the most entrepreneurial people in the world, noting also that Maori played an important role in the history and evolution of New Zealand entrepreneurship.1 These findings beg a consideration of why the Maori economy, which was expanding vigorously in terms of value and in terms of international markets immediately prior to New Zealands annexation by Britain in 1840, involuted soon after colonisation.

(TangataWhenua.com: We actually heard that the GEM report was a complete farce – in terms of calling Maori the most entrepreneurial people in the world, which was pushed through by an American Professor who was here (and had a love for Maori, but was not properly robust in his analysis)…

Before offering examples of Maori commercial practice in the period between initial European contact and colonisation, this paper will summarise some essential features of Maori society that underlay those practices. It will then consider how three broad aspects of the subsequent colonising process impacted on these practices during its first twenty five years. These aspects are: Christian beliefs and values, the ideologies of the newly emerging science of Political Economy; and the racial attitudes and political demands of an increasingly powerful settler government. It is acknowledged that the nature of Maori commerce varied according to regional resources, the timing and degree of exposure to foreigners, local politics, individual personalities, and many other factors. There was no one Maori practice or experience, but the examples offered, which arose in a study of Maori flourmill and trading ship ownership, are intended to show how these facets of colonisation interwove to encourage a narrowing and contraction of Maori commercial endeavours.

Traditionally, Maori society was made up of hierarchical, kin-based communities under the leadership of chiefs. A study of prehistoric Hawkes Bay has demonstrated that the chief with access to the most productive land and a strong defence capability was likely to attract and command a stronger labour force and consequently greater power and resources. Family groups could opt for a more autonomous and mobile existence, but would face greater vulnerability to violent attack or food shortages. The additional labour demands of group membership might have been considered a reasonable price for access to the resources of a strong community.2

The mana (power and authority) of the chief was much enhanced by an ability to husband and manage communally-owned resources for maximum benefit to the community, these benefits being realised by the distribution of wealth. One early European trader explained:

In the disposal of lands, [the chief] rarely reserves to himself any share of the payment . The grand consideration in bestowing the payment among the minor claimants is to obtain a name for generosity, and dignity, that could not descend to dispute for objects of barter. This has often been turned to political advantage, as a tribe has gained accessions of strength by the reported generosity of the chief, and at a siege, the assailed have surrendered at discretion, for the same reasons previously charmed by the merciful character of their assailant.3

The flexibility of the social structure and the inherent links between individuals, extended families, hapu (smaller tribal groups), iwi (larger tribal groups) and waka (confederations of tribes), allowed for a variety of regroupings in the face of social, political, or economic stress. Strategic political marriages between prominent families could unite tribal groups, and the granting of land use rights with reciprocal obligations could extend tribal strength. Conquest was a means of extending territory and resources as well as labour, the vanquished adding to the labour pool as slaves.

1 COMMENT

  1. Kia Ora Whanau,

    Thanks for posting this information it is helping me understand the injustice that colonization brought to our people but it is also valuble to my study Kapai!

    Na
    Eugene Henry

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