Category Archives: Maori Development

The Maori Economy – A Fanciful Notion


The present Minister for Maori Affairs and the Maori business elites go on forever about “the Maori economy”. There is no such thing. It’s a myth. Some even go on about an “iwi economy” which is not just a myth and not just fanciful. It’s ridiculous.

It’a a myth unless you totally redefine “economy” to mean just the business activity of corporate iwi, settlement entities, Maori incorporations and trusts, and privately owned small and medium sized enterprises. And unless you don’t include the rest of us, the majority of the 810,200 Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia. But if you do redefine “economy” you would then be talking about the involvement of less than 10% of Maori, probably much less.

“An economy consists of the economic system in a certain region, comprising the production, distribution or trade, and consumption of goods and services in that region or country” – Wikipedia.

Maori business activity takes place within the New Zealand economy and is totally integrated into and reliant on it. Maori business uses mainstream banks, transport and communications. Its market is not Maori. In fact Maori are just a tiny portion of the market for their goods and services. Some of their market is an overseas market. There is no “Maori economy”. There is only Maori business activity within the New Zealand economy; unless of course you redefine “economy” to mean “business”.

The only part of the New Zealand economy that is Maori is some of the production, mainly in primary industry, and the distribution and trading of products. The political system that influences the economy is not Maori, the economic infrastructure including the financial infrastructure is not Maori, and the market is certainly not Maori.

Having said that it is true that Maori economic assets are increasingly being brought into more productive use. It is true that governance and management of those assets is becoming more professional, and that Maori business, particularly Maori agribusiness is growing as a percentage of the national productive sector. It is true that Maori business is making significant moves into the global market especially in China and other Asian markets. And that activity is highly commendable. But none of that amounts to a “Maori economy”.

And when you take a close look at that blossoming business activity, the big time players are mostly doing it with other peoples’ capital assets – the incorporations, corporate iwi, settlement entities, fisheries entities and the rest. Very few of the players are real capitalists, entrepreneurs and innovators doing it with their own money. Which is not to denigrate what they are achieving but it does bring a sense of perspective.

And who benefits?

In Aotearoa New Zealand the economic health and well being of New Zealand families is totally dependant on the global economy, and the state of the New Zealand economy functioning within the global economy. Their economic well being is influenced by political ideology and policy, both global and national.

Significant measures of the well being of New Zealand families are levels of employment and unemployment, average and median household incomes, and the quality of housing. Directly contributing to measurement of the relative well being of Maori families within those statistics is the level of educational achievement and qualification. Those measures over time are indicators of the number of Maori families that improve their well being, by moving into the socio-economic “middle class”.

So we need to ask, “How are Maori families benefitting from this so-called Maori economy, or how will they benefit, and what are the statistical measures that will reflect that?”

It is a matter of statistical record that in the advanced economies of the world the gap between top income earners and the rest has widened astronomically over the last twenty or so years. That trend is also evident in Aotearoa New Zealand. Those at the top of the economic pile are doing rather nicely thank you, much better than they used to, and paying much less tax than they used to, if any. Those in the middle are doing it tough. Those at the bottom are struggling, still. Change will eventually come, but not any time soon.

Which Maori families then will benefit from this surge of business activity based on the improving productive capacity of Maori economic assets?

For the most part they will be and are the elites who control those Maori economic assets, whether in governance or management. For the most part they are the only ones who will and do personally benefit from the assets they control. There is some downstream benefit but not a lot. Certainly not enough to make any difference to the overall social and economic statistics for Maori. I do not expect the economic health and well being of Maori families to be significantly influenced by the “Maori economy”. Most of us do not play any part in that “Maori economy”.

This misnamed mythical “Maori economy” can in some respects be seen as a gilded metaphor for asset and resource capture by the elites for the primary benefit of the elites.

See also: The Myth of the Maori Entrepreneur

Maori Policy: Whanau, Hapu, Iwi Mythology

Maori policy is based largely on ideology rather than evidence, and that ideology is often pure mythology. The whanau-hapu-iwi construct and the way it is promoted in policy is pure myth..

The Basis of Some of the Mythology

There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the early history of Maori in Aotearoa. Much of it stems from historical accounts written by Pakeha in the late 19th and early 20th century. Many of these early “experts” were poorly educated men who set themselves up as experts and became authoritative sources. All of them set out to situate Maori history and Maori culture within simple fixed frameworks that would make complex migration and settlement history easily understood, and complex relationships between groups simple. It is doubtful that they themselves ever fully understood the reality of Maori before European settlement, and not much more post settlement.

What they did do was collect a great deal of still valuable oral history including whakapapa and stories of the ancestors and they recorded it in writing. They also had access to written accounts by Maori, which they translated and recorded. Most often however they applied their own interpretations to that information and constructed their version of our history and their version of our social, economic and political lives. The big picture they constructed was often wrong, but the detail they collected remains a valuable resource.

The early ethnologists sought to discover and promote a Grand Design within which they might conveniently posit all of Maoridom and all of our history. As part of this grand design they collected volumes of whakapapa hoping to create a single forty or fifty generational whakapapa for all Maori everywhere linking us all back to our single origin. Some of them even constructed such a grand whakapapa, making alterations and interpretations where the evidence didn’t fit the grand design.

A glaring example of mythological construct is the Great Fleet of migration waka from the Pacific Islands to Aotearoa New Zealand. This myth says that the seagoing migration vessels or waka, sometimes called canoes, Aotea, Arawa, Kurahaupo, Mataatua, Tainui, Takitimu and Tokomaru, all departed and arrived together. It’s a great story but pure fiction. There were many more waka than those seven and their arrivals were spread over a long period.

Buying into the Myths

The problem for Maori is that advanced learning about our own history was confined to the Whare Wananga, houses of learning, and to those few adepts accepted into their curricula. They were usually only rangatira or chiefs and those gifted individuals destined to become tohunga or priests. As in all pre-Enlightenment societies worldwide before the introduction of mass schooling, information and education were restricted to the ruling class and to those who served to protect their power. The people relied entirely for their information on those who held the information.

Thus it was that with the demise of the power and influence of old time rangatira and tohunga, and with the rise of the missionaries and other European “experts” as the holders of knowledge, Maori themselves were introduced to the Pakeha version of our history and reality.

Once you displace the holders of one version of knowledge it is easy to impose an alternative version of knowledge. Disastrously we came to believe it. And so in my grandparents’ generation right down to my children’s generation these myths were believed and passed on. The Great Fleet is perhaps the most outstanding example that has hopefully almost been expunged from the record in the last twenty or thirty years.

Social, Economic & Political Structure

The chiefly authority of the Maori was direct, but the descent of that authority was just narrowed to the one hapu and it may even be to one whanau.”  –  Sir Apirana Ngata

A huge misconception is the whanau-hapu-iwi construct in which Maori society is perceived as a fixed hierarchy with each iwi consisting of a number of hapu and each hapu of a number of whanau. The model can be more complex when some hapu might consist of a number of smaller hapu and they in turn have a number of constituent whanau.

The early European commentators then ascribed the names tribe (iwi), sub-tribe (hapu) and family (whanau) to this neat and tidy hierarchy. Whanau could also be described as (simple or basic) whanau or extended whanau. This model of Maori social structure provides a simple and easily understood framework.

It is however too simple and does not reflect either past or present reality. The problem is that the model has become widely accepted by both Maori and Pakeha, including Maori academics and scholars. The model is used by politicians and policy makers and is one of the bedrock assumptions upon which Maori policy and Maori affairs are based. Much modern Maori policy is aimed at “iwi” with resource allocation, programme delivery and claims settlement made through a modern construct that I and others have labeled corporate iwi.

The iwi-hapu-whanau construct is just another myth. I have to acknowledge that I too have often used this model as a lazy short-cut way to describe Maori society.

The Reality

Firstly in most instances the concept of a unified iwi was and is not possible to sustain in reality. For reasons of distance, travel time (by waka or on foot), and communication, the hapu was the largest workable social, economic and political entity with up to 1000 people but usually less, most often much less. It could contain less than 100 people. The only exceptions are those iwi which were quite small and confined to a relatively small area. In the past each hapu was entirely autonomous acting within its own boundaries containing its own food and other essential resources, under its own leadership and acting in its own interests, especially in its own interests. It might or might not join forces with related and neighbouring hapu, or go to the aid or support of related hapu descended from a common eponymous ancestor. But that was never guaranteed. There often had to be something in it for them to do so.

There are no early records at all to indicate that hapu ever thought of themselves as being subordinate to an iwi in any social, economic or political sense. They would of course acknowledge common descent and regard themselves as being identified with other hapu of common descent in the sense that they were “iwi” or “bones”. But they never functioned as a corporate iwi entity in any sense at all.

The “hapu” was the “tribe”, rather than a sub-tribe. By labeling hapu as “sub-tribe” in the English language the early Pakeha ethnographers and policy makers altered forever our perception of ourselves. Hapu were autonomous “tribes”, not “sub-tribes”. Some hapu functioned as autonomous sub-tribes of other hapu – hapu matua. Clusters of hapu also functioned together in cooperation.

Hapu were formed and reformed all the time. Groups of people might split off and move away for a number of reasons including overcrowding, disputes over land and resources, personal and leadership disputes, or curiosity wanderlust and exploration. As they moved away, migrated and settled elsewhere they might at first just regard themselves as a splinter group of the old hapu and would eventually adopt a new hapu name to describe themselves. They might regard themselves as a new hapu from the very beginning.

If there were previous inhabitants in their new location they might have overcome them and absorbed them into themselves, they might have been absorbed into the other, they might merge with the others into a completely new hapu entity, or they might have co-existed as separate entities. There was no fixed process at all. In this way, as people dispersed, moved, migrated, settled and merged, hapu formation was happening all the time (generationally speaking) in a rather random fashion as circumstances dictated. Over time with strategic and non-strategic inter-marriage between unrelated groups many hapu were descended from two or more major eponymous ancestors – hapu aho rua.

On the other hand they didn’t all move away in order to redefine themselves. As hapu got larger, groups within that hapu might remain in place but name themselves after a closer eponymous ancestor, and be accepted by others as such. In so doing they would proclaim their autonomy.

This was an organic and continuous process with old hapu ceasing to exist and new hapu coming into existence throughout history, most but not all of them autonomous.

Maori society was a shifting and fluid system of contracts, alliances and power balances giving rise to that organic and continuous process. It involved territorial boundaries and the control and exclusive use of food and other resources within those boundaries. It involved agreements to share and allow access to some resources, and the exchange of foodstuffs and other goods such as stone implements. The whole system was governed by the principle of utu or reciprocity, peaceful or otherwise. Differences and disputes arose from time to time, sometimes leading to warfare which may have been an effective and conclusive solution for one side at least, but was often ineffective and inconclusive. Strategic arranged intermarriage, especially between the chiefly families, was effective as a deterrent to warfare and in peacemaking after warfare, at least for one or two generations, and was widely practised.

The protagonists in this fluid system were the chiefs, not iwi and not even hapu. These were arrangements, contracts, alliances and power balances between chiefs. The power behind the chiefs was the number of followers they were able to attract and hold through the ties of kinship, through their personal leadership qualities, through their dedication to the quality of life of their people, and their ability to provide that quality of life.

It is often said, “Ko te kai a te rangatira he korero”, but I maintain, “Ko te mahi a te rangatira he kai”.

Hungry people will find new chiefs. The better fed the people, the larger the hapu and the greater the power, influence and ability of the chief to maintain hegemony over the land and the people.

The local environment and the number of people the environment and its resources could sustain was a huge factor in the whole process, and often a constraint. It was not an entirely human process.

The need to feed the people and the fluid and shifting arrangements, contracts, alliances and power balances between chiefs largely accounted for the ebb and flow of hapu formation and dissolution, and migration and settlement, throughout the generations. That was not a fixed hierarchical society in which the iwi could function in any way, shape or form as a social, economic, corporate or political entity.

Within my own rohe identification as a distinct “iwi” did not occur until the 1830s when the musket wars and invasions by marauding bands into the rohe killed what has been estimated as half the population of Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa, and forced most of the rest of those descended from Kahungunu to seek protection and refuge at Nukutaurua on the Mahia Peninsula. There they came under the protection of Te Wera Hauraki from Ngapuhi in the distant north. He had the muskets to provide protection in return for a grant of land for himself of course. While there they traded to obtain muskets for themselves and eventually returned to their lands.

During that period at Nukutaurua a distinct Ngati Kahungunu iwi identity across the whole rohe was forged for the first time ever. The chiefs of the different hapu at Nukutaurua formed alliances and in many instances helped each other to repel the invaders. However they were independent and autonomous chiefs acting together rather than submitting to a common entity under an overall leadership. When they returned to their respective areas they continued to act autonomously. The “iwi” didn’t happen in reality until the era of the modern corporate iwi, greatly influenced by government policies requiring that Government deal only through “mandated iwi”.

The myth of the iwi became entrenched into mainstream Pakeha and Maori thought through the theories of the early Pakeha commentators, through the compliance and ambition of some Maori leadership, and through the judges of the Native Land Court, later the Maori Land Court, seeking to simplify their own understanding. The Department of Native (later Maori) Affairs also fostered the myth by seeking to lump disparate hapu into iwi in order to deal with and sometimes exert control or influence over larger entities. The myth found fertile ground in our own ignorance and compliance.

Mythology and Policy

The whanau-hapu-iwi construct is the prevailing perception and it has been applied retrospectively to non-existent iwi entities of the past. It is a bedrock belief upon which a great deal of Maori policy has been and is being based. Regardless of that it remains a post-colonial construct, a myth.

What is happening in the present however with the emergence of corporate iwi cannot be denied and is part of the ongoing transformation of tribal structure towards something perhaps that might eventually reflect the social structure of our mostly urban and increasingly global dispersion. Or it might not. There is a great gulf between present invented tribal structure and present social reality. There are no guarantees at all in this political evolution, and it is political rather than social or cultural.

I tend to think however that this whole impetus based on the whanau-hapu-iwi construct and other mythology is leading Maori policy down a blind alley where the Maori political and business elites are the main beneficiaries. Meanwhile the rest of us 810,200 Maori in Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia know that we are beholden to the wider global and national polity and economy for the unfolding of our futures. We know that Maori policy whether based on mythology and ideology, or on real evidence, will ultimately have little or no influence on those futures. Only the elites believe. The rest of us are getting on with our lives.

And while the Maori policy paddlers keep paddling, the waka is dead in the water. Indeed, if you look at Maori social and economic statistics you could be forgiven for thinking it’s going backwards.

Te Ture Whenua Maori Review – Who Benefits?

In March Pita Sharples and Chris Finlayson launched a discussion document written by a panel set up to review Te Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993:

“Mäori land is a taonga and resource which should be able to be used for the benefit of the owner, their whänau and future generations, free from unnecessary obstacles created by legislation.

“That is why this review of the functioning of Te Ture Whenua Mäori Act 1993 was commissioned. The expert panel was asked for suggestions on how to improve the Act for the benefit of Mäori land owners.

“Mäori land tenure and the system for administering Mäori land has been considered many times over the years. One of the central challenges has always been to find a way to allow for the effective management and development of a communal heritage asset which is held by individual interests, and is increasingly fragmented”.

OK so far.

“Research shows that the existing legislation does not achieve this. Eighty percent of Mäori land is currently underdeveloped and ignored by some disengaged owners. Through this review, we have the chance to put hundreds of millions of dollars extra into the hands of whänau, hapü and iwi while ensuring better guardianship of this taonga”.

A step too far I think ministers.

You have invoked once again the false dogma of the Whanau-Hapu-Iwi construct that has informed Maori policy for decades. The iwi-hapu-whanau hierarchy was invented by early Pakeha commentators and officials keen to confine Maori cultural, social and economic complexity and diversity into a simple easy to deal with construct. I shall write more of that in a later blog. Suffice to say that as a result of that false construct driving policy in other areas of economic activity, Maori assets are now passing into the hands of “corporate iwi”, collective economic super-entities that did not exist at all, at any time in our history, until the advent of the fisheries settlements and Treaty settlements.

For the moment individual Maori landowners and whanau landowners should be very wary of the notion that their dividends (“hundreds of millions of dollars”) might end up in the “hands of whanau, hapu and iwi”. Landowners should be vigilant to ensure that their land assets do not also pass into the hands of these new corporate entities.

Having said that one cannot but agree that something needs to be done to bring as much Maori owned land as possible into the productive sector of the New Zealand economy (as opposed to the fanciful notion of a “Maori economy”), and to encourage Maori agri-business to engage in the global economy. The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected.

The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected.

I have watched the evolution of Maori development or Maori advancement since my teenage years when in 1960 my father discussed with me the Hunn Report on the Department of Maori Affairs. At the time it was a landmark study on the place of Maori in New Zealand society. I still have our copy in my archives somewhere. Since then there has been an evolving and often cyclical and repetitive raft of ideology and dogma, legislation and policy, programmes and projects, delivery mechanisms and providers. I participated in much of it from about 1980 onwards.

I have drawn two main conclusions from over fifty years of observation and participation. Firstly, that little of the ideology and dogma, the policy and legislation and few of the programmes and projects have been based on evidential research, and that none of it has been followed by robust evaluation to measure effectiveness. As a result most of it has been ineffective. Secondly, that all of it purports to be on behalf of and for the  benefit of “Maori”, a nebulous generalization that takes little account of the complexity and diversity, and increasingly the urban and global location, of Maori society. As at December 2012 there were 682,200 of us in Aotearoa New Zealand. Who among us benefits? Tell me their names.

Investigative journalists often “follow the money” to find the truth of a matter. I have long asked the question, “Who benefits?” It is a question that gets right to the core.

Who benefits from this new push, as one participant describes it, to work with owners to protect and build their land and other assets, and to assist the overall improvement of the [mythical] “Maori economy”?

With the retirement of my generation from much of the governance and management of Maori owned economic assets the next generation is taking over. In the main it is better educated and better qualified, and more suited to the task in the modern New Zealand and global economy, than both my generation and my father’s generation. There has emerged among them a new Maori political and economic elite replacing a tired old elite, We used to refer to the top tier of that old elite as the “Brown Table”.

In ancient times all resources were in the hands of the hereditary chiefs, the original elites who were themselves deposed by the missionaries and by the Native Land Court. Nothing much changes.

The transition to the new elite has not always been gentlemanly, sometimes politically brutal, but that is the way of transitions from elites to elites. Some remove themselves gracefully and some are pushed. The transition has been helped by the Maori Party’s influence in Government and many of the new elite are Maori Party members and/or nominees. As is the case with all elites some are deserving of their new found influence and some are not. Some live up to their own PR and some do not.

The new elite is now in control or in the process of gaining control of “corporate iwi”, incorporations, trusts and other entities  including a wide range of publicly funded service providers. Its members form a managerial class of employee, whether at the governance or management level. Many of them are in secure employment in a sector that did not exist twenty years ago. And that employment might for many of them provide life-long careers. Some of them will springboard from there into politics. Like their counterparts in the broader corporate sector and in the disastrous global finance sector their interests are not always compatible with the interests of the owners. Salaries and bonuses are often more important than dividends. Management will built bloated and costly empires and over-reward itself if allowed to.

And although the role of management is ringawera rather than rangatira, the distinction is almost always lost in the fog of ambition.

I stated earlier that in relation to the review of Maori land law, “The overriding proviso should be however that the interests of all of the legal landowners, whether disengaged or not, are fully protected”

No-one should suffer under the illusion that the interests of the managers, the new elite, are the same as the interests of the landowners, or the same as the interests of all “Maori”. They are the interests of the elite. As it ever was, mai rano.