Story: Tūranga i te hapori – status in Māori society

Page 3. Changes in leadership, 19th century

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Undermining rangatira

European ideas had an impact on 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, who believed that land acquired from Māori should be sold to British settlers at a ‘sufficient’ price for the company to fund its operations. 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’s 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.

Becoming gentlemen

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 Papawai, Wairarapa.

The right to vote in the first parliamentary elections was restricted to men who owned land of a certain value. Around 100 Māori men voted in the 1853 election.

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 that:

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 Department of Education to focus on manual instruction, as this was more appropriate for Māori.

  1. Quoted in David Williams, ‘Crown policy affecting Māori knowledge systems and cultural practices.’ (last accessed 16 February 2011). Back
  2. Quoted in ‘The Wananga Capital Establishment Report.’ Wellington: Waitangi Tribunal, 1999, (last accessed 3 May 2011). Back
How to cite this page:

Basil Keane, 'Tūranga i te hapori – status in Māori society - Changes in leadership, 19th century', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 13 June 2024)

Story by Basil Keane, published 5 May 2011