I did not have the words to explain what I felt. Perhaps I was happy. Or maybe I was meek and grateful. Certainly there were other sensations too: anger, sorrow, rage, total disbelief. There is certainly no term in the English language to express my situation. I was less than nothing. I was an invited guest on my own land. The tenant was the host. The land that was 'ours' was, manifestly, 'his'. The land was an orphan, adopted by his family, abandoned by ours.
I was less than nothing. I was an invited guest on my own land. The tenant was the host. The land that was 'ours' was, manifestly, 'his'. The land was an orphan, adopted by his family, abandoned by ours.
When I looked at the twenty-one names on this list, I saw birds pattering about on a wet, windy beach. The birds were all very far apart. The weather was so bad that they could not see further than their feet. The rain had played a trick on them. First the birds could not see the flock and then they forgot that the flock was even there.
Spicks and specksGo to the Ministry of Justice. Then go to the Māori Land Court. Then go to Māori Land Online. Type in Orimupiko Block 22. A map will pop up. The block is shaded dark grey. To the north, the map is white, just as Karl said. Look left, more grey. Look down, grey again. Roll the mouse back and still more grey appears in varying forms: fat rectangles, skinny oblongs, boxes with deckle edges, a triangle, a block shaped like a beak, tiny dots and squiggles right by the sea. All pieces for a puzzle that we can no longer complete because there are too many bits missing, whited out, emptied out, alienated, confiscated, sold.My cousin Paul Walker met my grandmother Rawinia once. It was 1975 and Paul, his mum Doreen, and Flossie were three of the owners of Orimupiko 22 who had been summoned to Wellington for a meeting about the block. Everyone had to come, apparently. If people failed to show up, then the land would be sold or taken. 'I remember the day quite well,' Paul told me, 'because it was the day the land march arrived in Wellington.'
"All pieces for a puzzle that we can no longer complete because there are too many bits missing, whited out, emptied out, alienated, confiscated, sold.
"A more particular prejudice was caused by the increased alienation of Māori land, multiple land ownership, fragmentation of title, title dispersal, absentee ownership, uneconomic interests, missing owners, unbankable titles, tenant farming, rent dispersal and administrative control by Māori Land Court, the Māori Trustee, and, later, the Māori Affairs Department. In social and cultural terms, Māori land has been made an illusory and meaningless asset."
This statement induces a kind of writer's block in me. What do I do with it? Is it true that Orimupiko 22 is an illusory, meaningless and under-performing asset? Am I prepared to let this statement be true?
To escape the injustice of the recent history of Orimupiko 22 and the 27,000-plus other blocks of remaining Māori freehold land, I can take a longer view of historical time. For example, I can step back 7000 years to the moment when the southwest section of Te Maunga Taranaki's summit collapsed. Volcanic ash and debris poured down the side of the mountain. Forests were felled, hills destroyed, rivers filled and still the lahar kept flowing, out on past the present coastline at Ōpunake. This eruption felled the forest on Orimupiko 22. Volcanologists describe it as a 'new' event. The time of history is a shimmering slick on the surface of the time of the volcano. A comforting thought.FarmingLike so many other blocks of Māori freehold land, Orimupiko 22 is just a speck but put it together with the 27,307 other specks and you have 1.466 million hectares or 5.66 per cent of New Zealand's land mass. This land is now under intense political and economic scrutiny. In 2012 the National Government announced a review of Te Ture Whenua Māori Act 1993 and flagged its intention to "improve the performance and productivity of Māori land". The government says 80 per cent of Māori freehold land is "underdeveloped or ignored by some disengaged owners".My research into Orimupiko 22 illuminates some of the reasons for this owner "disengagement" and it has posed profound professional and personal challenges for me as a historian and a Taranaki uri. The chaos created by the Taranaki wars and their aftermath has knifed time, split it apart, hazed everything up and the more research I did, the foggier things got.The war stories that link real tangata to actual bit of whenua can be excruciating, sad and tortuous but they can also reveal persistence and vision. I remain hopeful that the fog will clear. In the meantime, I have become a farmer, too, digging through records, letting some air into them, waiting to see what might pop up. This is one way, at least, that I am able to care for my land.A version of this essay was previously published by AUP and the Journal of New Zealand Studies. It is republished with permission.