My Reminiscences of the 1939 Young Maori Leaders’ Conference


Rt. Rev. Manuhuia Bennett




Kia ora ra tatou


Tuatahi, ko nga mihi ko nga karakia ki Te Rungarawa, nana nei nga mea katoa, mai te timatanga ki te whakamutunga.  Me te inoi ano ki aia kia manaakitia tenei hui a koutou, a tatou, mo nga kaupapa me nga take e pa nei ki te iwi whanui hei oranga mo nga ra kei te haere mai.


Na reira koutou o nga iwi o te motu, tena koutou kua hui mai nei i tenei ra i te wahi e nga ahuatanga katoa kei runga ki a koutou kei runga kei a tatou.


First of all may I apologise for not being here in person to address you but several things make it difficult for me. First of all, I am unable to roll back the years which have their effects on my physical well-being, secondly, my medication programme is better dealt with at home rather than in a flash hotel where I used to enjoy myself so much as a member of the Tribunal.


May I pay my respects and greetings to you all who have come here today to this historic occasion. It is historic as it is one in a line of other occasions such as this that they’ve had in the past. And may this one be as important, which I’m sure it will be, to the Maori people and to the nation as similar conferences of the past were beginning with the Young Maori Party, to the conference in 1939 and now to this one of yours.



My Reminiscences of 1939


I remember being overwhelmed by the sense of awe that our leaders in those days exuded. You felt that you were in the presence of people who were really awesome; the result was of course that you didn’t say much, there was so much to listen to. Of course the other thing in 1939; we had only just come out of studying for whatever we were going to do. I was studying for the Ministry and I had just got out of that sort of training. There were others who had degrees like Bachelor of Arts. Those people were looked up to too, because it wasn’t the thing those days for Maoris to get university degrees. But there were a whole lot of personalities one was aware of, such as Apirana [Ngata] himself, although I don’t know now whether he was there, and Pei [Te Hurinui] Jones and [Mick] Te Rotohito Jones, they were there. They were formidable people and of course they were a generation ahead of me. In those days we were taught to respect our elders.


We weren’t quite sure whether we had a real place in the nation or whether we were just going to be ‘the not quite servants’ but sort of the manual labourers for the development of New Zealand under Pakeha rule. So it was, at that time, quite the thing to regard Te Aute as a place to train Maori farmers and in one of the letters in this volume from 1930 to 1932 Api says to Peter that he hopes that St. Stephens will develop a curriculum for Maori children, (Maori boys), in the field of mechanics1, in the same way that Te Aute has developed an agricultural course for Maori boys in the field of farming. That was the mentality in those days.


The great thing that impresses me is that the Maori of today is not the Maori of 1939 - different people altogether. We don’t live in the pas anymore, we don’t live in the papakainga any more, and I was brought up on the papakainga. Today that is all gone. One of our leaders the other day, Sir Peter Tapsell, said that he has been worried about modern Maori, where the marae and the meeting house will become tangi places only. So what impresses me most is the terrific change that has taken place in the lifestyle of the Maori people, and despite all that, at heart he is still as much Maori as ever, more so even, and that I can’t explain.


Well when the Maori Party was set up, at the beginning of last century, survival was the issue because our population had gone down to about 44,000 you know. One of my first memories of Peter Buck was when I was twelve or thereabouts; I might have been ten. There was a big epidemic of typhoid fever and Peter Buck was the Maori medical officer, he came round our pas. We lived in Kohupatiki at that time, in Hawke’s Bay, and I suppose there would have been sixty or seventy souls in that pa. We saw very little of the Pakehas. The only time we had contact with the Pakehas was when we were at school, but in our day-to-day life we had no association with Pakehas. Of course at that time too, we had very few jobs, we were lucky at Kohupatiki because just across the river they had established a freezing works at Whakatu, and all the parents of the children at Kohupatiki got jobs. We used to get cheap meat and cheap kai and that sort of thing.


The focus of that hui was how could we improve the economic lot of the Maori people. One of the great programmes being introduced at that time was Ngata’s land development scheme. That saved the Maori people from utter starvation. He paid with his life almost in that job, he lost his mana in parliament, and he was put on trial, which was very unfair. That wasn’t the main focus, but it was the main pressure and out of that pressure came many other focuses and every time they met, the group became more and more Maori.


One of the side issues of those conferences was the restoration of our meetinghouses, the upgrading of our marae and the growing sense of identification with your tribe, with your iwi, with your whanau, and with your hapu. But still the language was disappearing, and that was because the government was more concerned with the Empire, as I mentioned earlier, than with the nation. As far as the government was concerned there was only one nation, the white nation, we all had to become like them, that was the basis of assimilation. Maori wasn’t taught in schools, every morning at Clive School we used to sing the national anthem God Save the King; we had no national anthem of our own. So there you are.


1939 was a sort of a progress hui. The issue was still how the land schemes were going, how were the schools doing? How was Te Aute going? How is St Stephens going? I suppose one of the big differences (because the population had increased a bit) but in those times you know the Maoris had all sorts of things going. In everything that went on in the Maori world, there was always a hui for the people. They had big hockey tournaments in Omahu in Hastings. All the kaingas would get together at Omahu. They would put up temporary accommodation, rauwhare, temporary houses of raupo where everybody slept, and they played sports all day and then at night they would go to late at night discussing the problems of the people. And that is when Api and them would appear at night, and they would lecture the players. The players wouldn’t take part in the discussion, but Api and them would bring their policies forward and tell us what was going on. Very inspiring. And of course they talked about whakapapa and how to do up the marae.


I think they differed from the Maori of today. You are not threatened by typhoid fever, polio and consumption. In my time, in those days, those illnesses were rife and controlling that was done as much as possible for the appeasement of Maori people as anything else. The fact that they are increasing in numbers today testifies to the fact that the problems of that time are no longer as strong now as they used to be.


And yet you know in some ways the economics haven’t changed too much. I shouldn’t say that because that is wrong. You know when I was a kid; my father was the only money earner in our family. If you put all my brothers together and you counted up the income earned by each one, there was a lawyer, another a doctor and another a teacher. If you put all that money together that the whanau now earns and put it against what was earned by that same whanau in 1939 – the thing is not the same.


This leads me to the question of whether this group of leaders that are meeting today, potential leaders, can find a way of organising their power as consumers so that they get a fair go within the affairs of the nation than we have had to date. It takes me back to my days in Honolulu. The Japanese were imported into Hawaii as indentured labourers for the sugar cane industry. When they left Japan they were already contracted to the sugar cane companies in Hawaii who guaranteed a return fare after their time had been served out, providing they were working for the same person or company. Six months before their contracts ended those companies sacked them all. Thus the companies had no obligation to pay their fares back to Japan.


So many of them were treated like this that ultimately the Japanese got together and said ‘look we haven’t got too much money now but in the whanau we’ll put all our money in one putea under the elder of the whanau and he can allocate so much a month to each family to meet their costs, the rest will go into the bank’. Today you know, those Japanese, they own Hawaii because they did a thing like that.


That is what I hope these young leaders will try to do, because we have to belong to the global economic system and we’ve not got to be just what do they call those – ‘clip on fixtures’, we must become owners, we must have ownership of our part of that process. That is where we have got to go in my mind, and we have got to use the Pakeha to get there too.


One of the things that has impressed me greatly is the tendency of Pakeha of today, of this generation of Pakehas to become more indigenous to New Zealand than their parents and their grandparents. They pronounce Maori place names much better than their parents and grandparents ever did. You watch a football team today doing a haka. By their accents you can’t tell which is a Maori and which is Pakeha. In the early days you could easily tell who were the Pakehas. You can’t do that any more. The objectives and purpose change with each generation because the environment changes.


Our video broke down the other day and we got the technician to come in and he said ‘its no use fixing this better put a new one in’ So we put a new one in and he left the guide book on how to work it and I said to my wife ‘By Jove, just as well this book is not a recipe book we wouldn’t eat if it was a recipe book because I couldn’t understand it.’ Yet my mokopuna comes in and he reads it ‘oh yes, you do this and you do that’. Different world, different people.


Still Maoris are not the same people, I don’t think they need encouraging. I think they know what they are doing. I think they are proud of who they are, and I think they have a better attitude towards the world than we had because they are better informed. Because if you go anywhere in the world nowadays you will find Maoris, everywhere and doing well.


In correspondence which passed between two of our past Maori leaders, namely Apirana Ngata and Peter Buck which is part of this volume2 their correspondence in the early nineteen thirties spoke of two transitions that the Maori people passed through. The first was the transition from Polynesian to Maori. As Polynesians they lived in a place where it was comfortable, which enjoyed a tropical climate and where life was fairly easy. From there, they made a transition to be Maori. This altered the lifestyle when they found that the weather and the climate was much more rigorous in Aotearoa than anything they had experienced in Hawaiki. A second stage of their transition was from Maori to New Zealanders. That transition involved a series of adaptations to a foreign language, a foreign culture and a foreign tikanga that they received as part of the luggage that the settler brought with him from England and Europe. So the first transition then was from Polynesian to Maori the second transition was from Maori to being a New Zealander. The question for you at this meeting is ‘Where to from here?’ 


At the signing of the Treaty, Hobson declared ‘ He iwi kotahi tatou’ ‘We two people are now one nation’ and if you look at the Treaty carefully its very terms imply that. Sadly it hasn’t always worked out that way, for many reasons. One, the settler policy of assimilation, two, the Maori people resisted assimilation. Besides there was the monocultural and monolingual stance of the settler; also, the settler’s preoccupation with Empire rather than with the nation. When the Empire disappeared after the Second World War and our connection with the ‘mother country’ ceased, we had not yet at that time, matured or collected enough material towards sound and proper nationhood. For instance, in 1921 when I went to primary school the name of the school was Clive, and it was named after Clive of India. So the Empire had an effect on the naming of various places in Hawke’s Bay including Clive School. Many years ago, during the Second World War in 1944, I came back from the war (where I was a chaplain) on a ship called the Dominion Monarch, still thinking about Empire, our ships were named in that fashion. This sort of situation, which our country had been going through, in my mind, was responsible for whatever gaps exist today. Only a genuine effort on the part of both peoples, and sound nation building, can close those gaps.


So in closing, can I just give you three things to think about, they all start with the letter D. The first is Definition, the second is Direction and the third is Drive.  Now Definition poses the question ‘Who are we?’ Direction poses the question ‘Where do we want to go?’ and Drive poses the question

‘How do we get to where we want to go’. This is the theme that I leave with you at this meeting as you deliberate on the best things that can happen for our nation.


Can I conclude with these thoughts, because I believe that the true leader in a Maori world becomes a rangatira to whom we all look up to. In your days ahead may you always remember:


Ko te kai a te rangatira, he korero

Te tohu o te rangatira he manaaki

Te mahi o te rangatira he oranga i te rua tangata


 So may God bless you all at this conference.  I am sorry again that I am not here in person but I shall be thinking of you and I am very, very confident of the future of the Maori people as you go from being 500,000 to 1,000,000 people at the end of your time on earth. Kia ora tatou.


Ka mutu.




Opening Remarks


Archie Taiaroa, Chairman, Maori Congress




Na, kia ora mai tatou katou. He oti ano tuatahi e tautoko ana i nga mihi ana ki to tatou kaihanga ki te wahi ngaro nana nei manaaki, tiaki i a tatou tatu pai mai ki tenei o nga hui a tera hoki. Kia whakamarama ia te huarahi mua i a tatou mo nga korero ka puta mai i a tatou a tera ki a tatou. Ana e ki ake nei te hunga rangatahi, te hunga rangatakapu, ana ko koutou nga rangatira ehara mo apopo anake, engari mo inaianei. No te mea kei a koutou nga matauranga kei roto i o koutou nei ringaringa. Enei o nga huatanga e kimihia nei e koutou i runga i nga korero ka whakatakotohia ki waenga i a koutou ana i nga rangi e rua nei, tae i roto i te po ana e mohiotia ana.


Ana nga taonga e pupuritia e koutou, tera hoki nga taonga e kimihia nei e koutou hei tautoko ake ia ahuatanga kei roto ano i a koutou. No reira tenei te oranga ngakau te kite awhi te tokomaha i o koutou e ngakaunui nei kia tae mai ana. i runga i te kaupapa e karanghia ai koutou, otira tatou katoa.


No reira tena koutou i haramai nei i o tatou wa kainga huri noa i te motu.  No reira e mihi ake ana ki te hunga kainga na ratou nei i whakatau ake ki a tatou i tenei ata. Ana kua haere mai nei ratou ki konei ki te ake i runga i nga ahuatanga. Tatu ake ki a koe te Minita Maori, tou tatou minita Parekura, me te whanaunga Mahara ana kua tae mai nei korua i tenei wa.


Kia oti ano matakitaki ana ki nga rarangi korero kei mua i a tatou me era hoki o tatou kua tae mai. Ehara i te mea to tenei hui mo nga mema paremata anake, kao, no reira kei te mohio koutou hunga rangatahi ma, etahi o ratou koretake noa iho kare i te rongohia a ratou korero. Ko koutou ke nga rangatira e tika ana kia hari i te kaupapa nei. No reira koia nei nga wero kei mua i a koutou, kei a tatou. Kia ora mai tatou.


I just want to say this. It is great to see large numbers of you here and it really shows the good heart that Maori leadership is going to be in. It is not just that you are going to be the leaders of tomorrow we need you to be leaders of now as well and I am sure you will be able to do that. And sure, whilst you will go home and you’ll get knocked from your paepae and be told to sit down and all that, well that’s okay because you’ll have the strength to stand up. And that’s what its all about. You’ve got the commitment, firstly for being here, and secondly I am sure you’ll listen to what is being said right throughout. It is good that someone else is saying it that you will hear it and you will share with each other, but you are the leaders of today and tomorrow You have to be committed to doing it because out there there are all sorts of strengths that will help you do it. But it makes us so happy and so proud that you are going to be it.


Now that we Maori are going to be one in every four in this country by 2020, it is so good that you will make us stand out and stand up. Only you can do it. Hei oti nga korero poto ki a tatou, hei oti ano mihia atu ki a tatou Minita kua tae mai. Thank you Minister for being here and seeing the large numbers. I think 402 have registered as of this morning, a really good number. The first venue had to be changed because there were more than expected. That had to be a good thing. He oti ki a koutou, ki a tatou; tena tatou katoa. Now, welcome the Hon. Minister of Maori Affairs, and Associate Minister of ‘Many Other Things’ that are going to drive us forward, Parekura Horomia. Homai te pakipaki.




1 Vol 3 of Na to Hoa Aroha, The Correspondence between Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck, edited by M.P.K. Sorrenson. Auckland University Press

2 Vol 3 of Na to Hoa Aroha, The Correspondence between Sir Apirana Ngata and Sir Peter Buck, edited by M.P.K. Sorrenson. Auckland University Press