European ideas impacted upon Māori notions of social organisation and class. Ngapora, a Waikato chief, wrote a letter to Governor George Grey in 1848: ‘The slaves of my village will not obey me. When I ask them to work they will not regard me ... You Europeans have effected this change ... Formerly our word had some weight, but now it is lost.’1
Christianity and class
Christian missionaries initially relied on the support of rangatira, and accepted their chiefly rank. As tribes converted to Christianity missionaries were accorded more mana. Slaves captured by tribes who converted were sometimes the first missionaries to their own tribes, leading to occasional clashes with tribal leaders.
New Zealand Company
The New Zealand Company was led by Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Wakefield believed that land acquired from Māori should be sold to British settlers at a ‘sufficient’ price so the company could fund itself. A tenth of the land purchased was to be set aside for Māori, in both urban and rural lots. It would be held in trust for rangatira (chiefs) and their families. The company plan for Pākehā colonists was that the wealthy would purchase land and employ workers, who in turn could save money to buy their own land. It was assumed that ‘common’ Māori would work for their rangatira, or for colonists, and save to buy their own land, replicating European class structures.
Some Māori individuals and whānau did become reasonably wealthy and often imitated European gentry. Wealthy Wairarapa rangatira Tamahau Mahupuku became a benefactor of his community – he funded the Wairarapa Native Contingent, the Māori-language newspaper Te puke ki Hikurangi, and the construction of houses at Pāpāwai, Wairarapa.
The right to vote in the first Parliamentary elections was restricted to men who owned land of a certain value. In the 1853 election around 100 Māori men voted.
In 1893 James Carroll, of Māori and European descent, became the first Māori to win a European electorate.
Māori as a labouring class
Many Europeans felt the appropriate role for Māori was to be a labouring class which supported European endeavours. In 1862, Henry Taylor observed:
I do not advocate for the Natives under present circumstances a refined education or high mental culture: it would be inconsistent if we take account of the position they are likely to hold for many years to come in the social scale, and inappropriate if we remember that they are better calculated by nature to get their living by manual than by mental labour.2
However Te Aute College for Māori boys, which offered academic courses, produced graduates who became the first successful Māori professionals, including doctors, lawyers and teachers. It was told by the education department to focus on manual instruction as this would be more appropriate for Māori.