Whairawa
1 Sep 2014

The 1850s saw the growth of a new and vibrant Ngati Porou economy based around wheat (witi) that we embraced and excelled at, even on the high seas.

Following the arrival of Christianity to Ngati Porou in the 1830s and the end of the devastating raids from other iwi a time of relative peace and prosperity settled on Ngati Porou. Increasing contact with Pakeha led to the spread of new ideas and technology that Ngati Porou embraced. Trade gained a new importance and we quickly adapted our economy to meet new demands and so were able to gain access to new material goods, including food, tools and clothes.

In particular a new agricultural economy started, producing new foods to sell to new markets. This was given a massive boost by the discovery of gold in Victoria, Australia in the early 1850s which meant a huge increase in population that needed more kai than they could produce. The growing city of Auckland also created a huge demand for kai that many iwi were eager to supply.

This new trade was encouraged by Governor George Grey (known as 'the hitman of colonization'), who supported not only the growing of wheat but the building of expensive mills by hapu around the country so they could supply flour to these markets. Grey thought that his ‘flour and sugar policy’ would assimilate iwi quickly. Grey also believed that Ngati Porou would be particularly suitable for this policy.

Ngati Porou leaders quickly began to ramp up production of western foods, especially wheat. Paratene Ngata described it as 'Ura tonu te whenua katoa i te witi’ (The whole land was golden with wheat). Ngati Porou wheat quickly became renowned for its high-quality and quantity in the Auckland market. At its peak in 1852 a single boatload of our "excellent" quality grain could command as much as $50,000 in today’s money.

Ngati Porou leaders quickly began to ramp up production of western foods, especially wheat. Paratene Ngata described it as 'Ura tonu te whenua katoa i te witi’ (The whole land was golden with wheat). Ngati Porou wheat quickly became renowned for its high-quality and quantity in the Auckland market. At its peak in 1852 a single boatload of our "excellent" quality grain could command as much as $50,000 in today’s money.

Huge profits were made, and with great foresight were quickly placed back into new capital investments. In particular Ngati Porou hāpu purchased a fleet of boats to transport products to markets, especially Auckland. These boats included the Mereana, Purere, Ihi Keepa, Kingi Paerata and Mawhai, and were based at the mouth of the Awatea River. Ngati Porou crews and captains were quickly trained to sail these vessels. The Te Whanau-a-Rerewa rangatira Mokena Kohere was a leader in this field, going so far as to captain his 20-ton schooner the Mereana (named after his daughter) on an extensive trading trip in early 1852. Above is a map of one of his journeys.

Ngati Porou ships used to call in at Harataunga (Kennedy’s Bay) on their trips to Auckland. On one such stopover the Whareponga rangatira Rakahurumai was gifted the land by the local chief, Paora te Putu. Ngati Porou have lived there ever since.

Although this form of commerce was new, Ngati Porou adapted these practices to meet our own cultural understandings. The Ngati Porou wheat-growing for example was led by rangatira and worked by hapu through ohu (collective workforces), supporting one another so that all could benefit. However it also had an impact on us. The increasing trade created a new market for Pakeha material goods and soon everything from sugar through to kitchen utensils became staple requirements for iwi, changing the focus of our economic activity.

The wheat market collapsed by the late 1850s due to many factors including increasing Pakeha competition, new technology (steamships), and a general hardening of attitudes by Pakeha towards Maori, led by Grey. However Ngati Porou had proven through this trade that we could successfully embrace the challenges the world presented, and that we would do so on our own terms.

Further Reading

Monty Soutar, ‘Ngati Porou leadership: Rapata Wahawaha and the politics of conflict’

Reweti Kohere, ‘The Story of a Maori Chief’

This story is part of the Whairawa/Economy theme. Read more here...

Tukuna mai o whakaaro