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MAORI TOURISM 1980-1994

From chapter 12 of the memoir Compass Points


Maori Arts and Crafts Institute (MACI, now Te Puia) and Whakarewarewa Village

Maori engagement with tourism had a long and distinguished history dating back to the earliest days of New Zealand’s visitor industry. Nevertheless in 1980 there were still visible constraints on Maori involvement and unsolved issues about relationships, control, participation, authenticity, imagery and related matters. Maori were performers and fringe participants rather than the owners and drivers of the Maori tourism role. They were closely associated with parts of the country’s geothermal attractions, especially at Whakarewarewa in Rotorua, but not always in a positive way.

My engagement with all this took many forms and at times almost took over my broader role in tourism. Most of it was constructive and rewarding, and led to many hours seated in a marae or a church, talking things through in a sort-of traditional way, and sometimes an overnight stay on a mattress on the floor of a whare.

In my first year the question of the authenticity of Maori culture as presented to tourists surfaced, coming more from the industry than the Maori side of the equation. Overseas travel agents in particular expressed a growing desire for authenticity, reflecting the increase in better-informed tourists seeking a broader understanding of the country they were visiting instead of just ‘a holiday’. My first full-frontal exposure to this came with the great ‘Discover New Zealand’ road show in the United States in 1980. The promotion included a Maori song and dance troupe which was very professional and experienced. Nevertheless the feedback from the audiences suggested that its presentation was too similar to those found in South Pacific nightclubs and shows already available in cities like Los Angeles and Honolulu, and the request for greater traditional authenticity was registered.

In subsequent New Zealand Tourist & Publicity promotions, including trade fair set-ups, gifts and prizes as well as dance presentations, ‘authenticity’ was always dealt with carefully. There was no set definition of authenticity, and most Maori performing art has had a tradition of adaptation over the years. The primary requirement was that Maori controlled the design of the presentation. Throughout the 1980s German visitors in particular showed a strong interest in authentic Maori culture.

During the decade the source of pressure to do better steadily grew from Maori themselves. An example related to the lack of authenticity and cultural sensitivity associated with many ‘Maori’ souvenirs. There was strong objection from Maori sources over the printing of Maori faces on tea towels. The stir was sufficient to warrant a modest departmental intervention with the publication, jointly with the Maori Tourism Association, of a booklet A Guide to Quality in Maori Souvenirs setting out the do’s and don’ts of using Maori forms and images for sale to tourists.

Sometime towards 1990 I received a visit from a well-known international advocate for the rights of indigenous people, the formidable Maori leader from Hawke’s Bay, Pauline Tangiora, urging the more overt promotion of Maori culture and specifically requesting posters using the Maori language. This was not easy to accede to because our targeted overseas audiences were likely to find such words meaningless and confusing. But we had a go, producing a series of four posters, each rather attractive, which as a minimum used Aotearoa as well as New Zealand, and Maori patterns to complement the main illustration. It took some time, and not without persistence from Pauline Tangiora, and at the end of the day she called again to express her disappointment that they were not what she had expected. The posters were eminently usable, however, especially in the United States. Much later, around 2002, it was intriguing to see a news story recounting that Mrs Tangiora, now a grandmother, had been selected as a ‘poster girl’ for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The flip side of authenticity was exploitation — the argument that tourism was exploiting Maori. This did not surface too often, yet could at any time. I gained sustenance from the fact that when it did, the argument of tourism exploitation was advanced mainly by Pakeha/European academics and not normally by Maori themselves. In various discussions including one at Victoria University of Wellington I took the position that far from being exploitive, tourism was a huge economic and social benefit for Maori, providing jobs, investment opportunities, sales outlets for their arts and crafts, and the chance to project Maori culture and hospitality to wider and international audiences. I argued that tourism had, earlier, been one of the stimulants to the Maori renaissance, as it has been to indigenous cultural revivals elsewhere in the world. But the main point, through the ’80s, was that all Maori we talked to wanted more tourism, not less. Many were out to exploit or make the most of the industry for financial benefit, as any good entrepreneur should, and many sought cultural benefit from it, as had Pauline Tangiora. The issue of the industry exploiting Maori eventually died a natural death.

The fabulous Te Maori exhibition in the United States in 1984 was an example of Maori art taken overseas in a cultural rather than a tourism environment, but we supported it and it did wonders to raise awareness of Maori culture and of New Zealand. I did not especially travel to accompany it but had the great fortune to be in New York on other business at the time of its opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I can only say that all the hype in New Zealand about the impact it made seemed, unusually, to be justified. Yes, I felt the hair rise around the back of my neck, and my pride rise too.

Change towards a Maori leadership role was slow but steady. In 1985 the first Maori and Tourism Conference, Manaakitanga, was convened at Rotorua. The department fully supported it and I was invited as keynote speaker; Howard Morrison was an enthusiastic MC. It was a great opportunity to reinforce our strongly positive view of the future of Maori tourism, and also to listen. The Minister of Maori Affairs, Koro Wetere, proposed a central body to promote Maori tourism and that led to the establishment of the Maori Tourism Task Force, which reported the following year, ensuring that the enthusiasm of the occasion was not lost.

Eventually, with the help of the department, a Maori Tourism Association was formed, chaired by Maureen Waaka. Again I spoke at its inaugural meeting in Rotorua in 1988. But it needed assistance and permanent staff and in 1989 ministers announced a joint NZTP/Department of Maori Affairs package which enabled it to employ a full-time director. At this same time we formed our own Maori Tourism Unit within NZTP, headed, vigorously and successfully, by Arihia Tuoro. It was designed to improve the department’s own understanding of and capability in tikanga Maori, and to improve the management of our relationships with Maori organisations such as the Maori Tourism Association and the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute (MACI). The latter was a key institution for the department.

This brings me to my main engagement with Maori. MACI is a statutory body set up to manage the Crown land in the Whakarewarewa thermal valley, which covers virtually the whole valley except for the land of the village. MACI had a long history of guided tours through the valley, always staffed by local Maori, and included in these by arrangement a walk through the village. It also ran a Maori carving school on its grounds, and used this as a tourist attraction as well as an educational institution. NZTP was responsible for the land and the Act setting up MACI, and the general manager of the department was a prescribed member of its board and by convention its deputy chairman. So my induction to the institute was early and intensive.

MACI ought to have been highly successful, and in a modest way it was. It managed one of New Zealand’s best-known attractions, Pohutu geyser, as a cash cow; it paid only a peppercorn rental to the department for the land; and although it was trading it was not required to pay taxes or a dividend. But it did heavily cross-subsidise the carving school, which severely limited the funding available for developmental work. In 1980 Peter Tapsell, later to become Speaker of the House of Representatives, was a very competent chairman with Stuart Harris as CEO. Peter was later replaced by Sir Graham Latimer, also chairman of the Maori Council, who had the difficult task of managing the complex relationship between MACI and its neighbours in Whakarewarewa village throughout most of his time; and Stuart by the tough-minded John Marsh.

To give it a lift I proposed it have a development plan and a marketing strategy, and offered to get both carried out. Both were completed, the first at my request by the Environmental Design team at the Ministry of Works in 1981, the latter by David Chapman, at the time the department’s manager in Auckland. But both reports struck problems with the MACI establishment. When one plan was presented to the board, a member who had been fully consulted raised a set of new proposals, arguing that the plan was inadequate since it did not incorporate these. It was a lesson in why many people refuse to serve on committees and boards. But although both sets of advice were inadequately implemented, they represented a fresh and systematic approach that gradually took hold.

Under John Marsh in particular, signage, track maintenance, lookouts and rubbish collection were all improved, and the central arrival and retail area was upgraded. Later in the decade another major development plan was prepared, on the institute’s own initiative. This produced the scheme for a circular track and a people mover ‘train’ around the valley, which was eventually put in place. Steadily, MACI consolidated its position as one of the country’s premier and best-run attractions.

It may be a footnote to this story that sometime in the late ’80s Kara Puketapu, a friend and former Secretary of Maori Affairs, set up a company called Maori International to promote Maori business, and proposed that it take over MACI. Kara won a great deal of support from Maori leaders inside and outside parliament. I was called at short notice to a large meeting of Maori MPs and other leaders at parliament and found I was expected to give an instant response. I gave conditional support: I liked the idea of a business structure over MACI, and would not resist handing over the department’s role, but I also could not see how any arrangement could work without local support. This was the condition that Maori International could not fulfil.

Whakarewarewa Village was another story of its own. This area adjacent to MACI offered tourists something of a living, though dilapidated, Maori village. It comprised (mainly) two sets of residents: roughly, those relating to traditional residents and those descended from another hapu which had been invited to locate there after the Tarawera eruption of 1886.

Although tourists could enter the village independently, most took a guided tour that included both the MACI thermal valley and the village. This was managed by the institute, which paid a village trust, the Rahui Trust, a percentage of each ticket sale. There was an ongoing and vexed debate about the rate of this payment, and how the Rahui Trustees should spend the proceeds, which soured the atmosphere for the larger issue of upgrading the village.

The redevelopment of the village clearly required a consensus between the groups of residents over what was needed and a common architectural style that building owners interested in upgrading could adopt. NZTP around 1981 used a graduate architect working in the area to propose a basic design but the contention that this caused foreshadowed what was to follow. The basis of the design approach was that there should be no attempt to construct traditional Maori houses. The area and lifestyle was far too westernised for that. Instead it was proposed that the design be based on colonial housing as it had been in the area around 1890–1900. This was the period when the village achieved early fame as a tourist destination, was well represented by early photographs, and was consistent with the best of the existing buildings.

Eddie Durie, Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court, was asked to prepare a paper on the history and hapu rights in the village; later Rotorua historian Don Stafford also prepared under commission a detailed analysis of village history and the status of the residents.

These improved our understanding but did not change anything on the ground. In the meantime MACI’s frustration grew over the lack of progress with upgrading the village. A view strengthened at the institute that the village was bringing the institute’s reputation into disrepute, because tourists would not normally be aware that the institute had no control over the village part of a tour, and that the institute’s products should be self-contained — i.e. that MACI tours should cease visiting the village. I continuously resisted this but separation was avoided only with difficulty.

Around 1983 a Wellington lawyer, Bruce Carran, advanced a complex proposal for the village. Bruce was involved in a Fijian tourist resort that had a constructive relationship with the adjacent village: the resort trained and employed the villagers, and guests could access the village at pre-arranged times. There was much mutual support, to the benefit of each. In Rotorua Bruce was involved with the Geyserland Motel adjacent to the thermal valley, and in essence he aspired to develop a symbiotic relationship between the village and motel analogous to that in Fiji. He also had a family relationship with some in the village, specifically with Makura Pinker.

Bruce Carran constructed a legal form for a village development with two trusts, one able to trade and the other with charitable trust status. He went to immense effort to ensure that this structure conformed with the law and to have it approved by the Maori Land Court and, in the case of the charitable trust, by the Department of Inland Revenue. The intention was that families in the village could place their land into the trust arrangement and participate in the proposed development. In the event some thirty collective owners did this, by processes acceptable to the Court. The development proposal, drawn up in detail by consultants (who included former cabinet minister Hugh Templeton) pulled together by Bruce, was to place new buildings on the participating sites, in the 1900s colonial style, combining living space with performance or retail space. The residents would provide weaving, dancing, cooking, carving and other demonstrations for tourists in a ‘living village’ environment. The whole plan had the full support of one group in the village who were determined to proceed, and who formally signed their land to the trust for development, but the more they looked likely to make progress the more opposition from others hardened.

NZTP was involved, and I was personally, partly because of our interest in seeing such a central attraction upgraded, more specifically because MACI was certainly going to be involved, and additionally because the department was surely going to be asked for a grant to assist.

The whole package took years to complete. At one stage, around 1984 or ’85, some opposing villagers (or spokespersons for them), at a specially held hui in the village, asked why NZTP was supporting this and not proposals from others in the village. My short answer was that there were no others and that in any case the Bruce Carran proposal was flexible in that anyone with land could opt in or stay out. There was neither exclusion nor any imposition on unwilling owners. However I agreed to a stay (of funding support) for a few months to see if an alternative came forward, but one never did.

Eventually the government was asked for a grant of one million dollars from NZTP to fund the construction of the first eight buildings. Devising acceptable terms for this that covered the risks to the government were greatly drawn out; negotiations between Bruce and his village supporters on the one hand, and MACI and village opponents of the plan on the other, were intense, tense even, and inconclusive.

During this time the actual building design was changed to that of modern buildings supplied by Lockwood Homes. These had a generalised ‘colonial’ appearance, but with no pretence at real historical accuracy since the latter were found to be exorbitantly expensive. Issues of building permits, the small size of the village titles, health and safety codes and insurance all contributed to this outcome. Bill Royal was the lead architect.

Cabinet finally approved the deal in 1988. As well as the NZTP grant, the Housing Corporation and the Department of Maori Affairs were involved in a package of assistance. The government’s grant was to be paid in instalments as buildings were completed but later the government converted the bulk of it to a Housing Corporation loan.

The fierce contention over the development persisted into the 1990s, long after the work was completed. The opponents’ attempts to discredit the project extended to requests for investigations by the Ombudsman and then by the Auditor General, both of which, after intensive inquiries, found it to be ‘clean’. Eventually, however, one discrepancy was found, based on the grounds that money obtained years before as a grant for a feasibility study from the Department of Trade and Industry was subsequently claimed as a cost against the NZTP $1 million. The charge of ‘double dipping’ was screamed across newspaper headlines in 1994.

I have never been involved in such sustained hostility, nor acquired more admiration for people working under such drawn out negative and debilitating circumstances as those working for the village redevelopment. It was inevitable that when the buildings were finally ready they could not be promoted or managed in the lively and assertive way originally envisaged. Energy, optimism and resources had been sapped. The institute by then had separated its tours and was vigorously promoting its own part of the valley as the Whakarewarewa experience without the village — whereas the village developers had always envisaged the joint pricing and marketing of a shared product.

But if the project was not a roaring success, the village was still a much better place for visitors and some of its residents. Attractive and workable buildings replaced the eyesore image of rusting caravans, and, with gardens and underground power lines, much else was spruced up. Some of the war-weary villagers were able to keep a sense of participation, control and momentum. Robert Pirirpiri, Makura Pinker, Bonita Morehu, in particular, and in the early years Noel Mansell, Charles Eparaima, and Anaru Rangiheuea, together with Bruce Carran and others, will always have my deep respect for their efforts. And from all reports the village eventually, by the late 1990s, became a thriving and commercially viable entity.

More broadly, by the 1990s Maori who engaged in tourism were firmly consolidating their position, largely in control of the way their culture was presented and sold, and settling into new roles as owners and developers. There were plenty of other projects and start-ups taking place across the country, separate from the developments I have described here. Maori were assuming an appropriate place in the country’s tourism economy, and tourism was helping Maori confidence and self-management, to a degree that is sometimes neglected. The recent magnum opus of Maori history, Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History published in 2014, contains a lengthy chapter Rights and Revitalisation 1970–1990 which covers the period I was engaged but which sadly overlooks the innovative developments in Maori tourism.