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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 11 (February 1, 1935)

The First Land Court

The First Land Court.

When the Ngati-Maniapoto and associated tribes consented to the first Land Court to investigate the various tribal titles to the great King Country block in 1886, Wahanui insisted that it should not be held in any of the pakeha townships. His anxiety was the wellbeing of his people; he had seen only too often the demoralising effects of holding such courts in places where there were public-houses. He wished his people to be kept away from the temptations of the bar-room. So the Government sent Major William Mair to hold the Court in Otorohanga, where the Maoris had built a large hall for the purpose, and for three months the Court sat there, settling in that time the rights of ownership of more than a million and a half acres, the great Rohepotae. The wisdom of Wahanui's policy—which was supported by all his fellow-chiefs—was very apparent to all who knew the Maoris and had witnessed the scenes of rowdy drunkenness in the border townships when Land Courts were held there. I happened to ride into Otorohanga in that winter of 1886 when the Court was sitting, and saw the large and orderly assemblage of Maoris there, their excellent arrangements for camping and for provisioning the gathering. Otorohanga was a purely Maori village then, a thatched kainga all of the olden time. There I saw the grand old men of many tribes, such splendid patriarchal chiefs as Hauauru (“The West Wind”), Te Rangituataka, the tohunga Hopa te Rangianini, and many another tattooed warrior and clan-leader.

Wahanui the giant had shrunk to almost a shadow of his former self when he died in 1899. When I last saw him, in Otorohanga a few years before his death, long illness had reduced his great body until his clothes hung grotesquely on him. He survived most of his fellow-chiefs of the national party—Tawhiao, Rewi, Hauauru, Taonui, Tamati Ngapora—all had passed on to the Reinga before him. Of the prominent Kingites of the old generation only Te Rangituataka, of Ngati-Maniapoto, and Patara te Tuhi, of Waikato, were left.

To sum up Wahanui's character in a few words, it may accurately be said that he was the most intellectual and the most forceful man in the Maori nationalist party in the Seventies and Eighties. But he was not so indifferent to selfish considerations as old Tawhiao was. Tawhiao was never a self-seeker; he repeatedly refused Government concessions, even the tempting offers made by Sir George Grey and Sir Donald Maclean of a virtual province of his own. Nor was Wahanui so fine a character as fiery and sword-like Rewi. He was not revered as Tawhiao was, nor was he regarded with the worshipful affection which chivalrous Rewi inspired. Like Sir George Grey in his later political days, he could not endure opposition or accept advice, and he alienated many of his own followers by his attitude of proud aloofness.