Maui Wiremu Piti Naera Pomare was one of the generation of Maori
leaders educated at Te Aute College in the 1890s who were to assume
positions of leadership in both the Maori and Pakeha worlds. His
birthplace was Pahau pa, Onaera, near Urenui, Taranaki. According to a
school register he was born on 24 August 1875, but his death certificate
gives the date 13 January 1876. His mother, Mere Hautonga Nicoll (also
known as Mary Nichols) of Ngati Toa, was the daughter of Kahe Te
Rau-o-te-rangi, one of the few women to sign the Treaty of Waitangi. His
father, Wiremu Naera Pomare, was of Ngati Mutunga, and had connections
with Te Ati Awa. He was the adopted nephew of Wiremu Piti Pomare, who in
the 1820s migrated with other Taranaki leaders to join Te Rauparaha at
Kapiti Island. Wiremu Piti was given the land around Te Whanganui-a-Tara
(Wellington Harbour), but quarrels with Ngati Toa led to his taking the
dissatisfied Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama to the Chatham Islands in
1835. Maui Pomare's father thus found himself with land interests in
Taranaki, the Chathams and Wellington.
Maui attended primary
schools at Waitara and the Chathams, St Stephen's Native Boys' School,
and the Church of England Grammar School in Parnell, Auckland. Because
his parents were followers of Te Whiti he also sometimes lived at
Parihaka, and was present when the Armed Constabulary invaded the
settlement in 1881.
Wiremu Pomare died when Maui was 11. In his
dying words he encouraged his son to obtain a Pakeha education and pass
its benefits on to his people. Maui was thus sent to Christchurch Boys'
High School in 1887. He was fond of swimming and was willing to fight at
the least provocation. On the death of his mother in 1889 his aunt,
Heni Te Rau Nicoll, became his guardian and transferred him to Te Aute
College. The headmaster, John Thornton, was dedicated to providing his
pupils with an education that would equip them for professional careers
and as leaders of their race.
Thornton also made the boys familiar with James Pope's pamphlet Health for the Maori,
in which Pope argued that Maori would be vulnerable to disease until
they understood the rules of hygiene. Thornton wanted boys to take this
message back to their homes. In June 1889 Pomare and two of his fellows,
Reweti Kohere and Timutimu Tawhai, went round the villages of Hawke's
Bay passing on the message that Maori had to improve their way of life.
In 1891 some of the students organised the Association for the
Amelioration of the Condition of the Maori Race. This body presented
drastic proposals for reform, which included the prohibition of alcohol
and the abolition of injurious customs and meetings deemed to be
useless. The elders, taken aback by the assertiveness of the young men,
were hostile and the association soon faded from existence.
at Te Aute, Pomare was introduced to Seventh-day Adventist leaders in
Napier. They suggested that he enter their college in Battle Creek,
Michigan, and become a medical missionary. His relatives had wanted him
to study law and go into Parliament, but he felt he could do more for
Maori as a doctor. In 1893 he left New Zealand for Michigan where,
except for one short return visit in 1895, he was to remain until 1900.
Before he left New Zealand he was instructed by an old tohunga, Tepene
of Ngati Mutunga, in tribal traditions and knowledge.
embarking on a long course of study in a country where he would be
without any of his own people. He would have to depend on his own skills
to raise money to pay for his education and had to display that
self-reliance and independence he was to urge all Maori to show. Pomare
capitalised on the interest his arrival caused and advertised a lecture
on the history, legends and culture of the Maori. He was a competent
public speaker and during his period in the United States he gave
numerous lectures on this topic. A newspaper report of the time
described him as 'a sturdily built, sunny-faced young man,…bubbling all
over with wit and good nature'. Pomare also served behind the counter at
a drugstore, supervised cotton picking in the South and served in
kitchens, and took the opportunity to travel extensively in the United
After completing the prescribed course of studies at
Battle Creek, Pomare went on to the American Medical Missionary College
at Chicago and graduated MD in 1899. He spent some time at Cook County
Hospital, Chicago, before he returned to New Zealand in August 1900.
He arrived at a propitious time. The Te Aute College Students'
Association had emphasised the need for Maori doctors, and as a result
Peter Buck and Riwai Tawhiri agreed to study medicine. As well, an
outbreak of bubonic plague in Australia and the threat of its spreading
to New Zealand had focused attention on the notoriously bad housing
conditions in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and in Maori
villages. Joseph Ward, as minister of public health, had already passed
the Bubonic Plague Prevention Act 1900, followed by a Public Health Act.
In March 1901 Maui Pomare was appointed Maori health officer. He had
the same powers as the district health officers and ranked immediately
below the permanent head of the department. His first major assignment
was to the great welcome hui for the duke and duchess of Cornwall and
York at Rotorua in June 1901. James Carroll, the minister of native
affairs, set it up as a display of Maori loyalty to the monarchy and as a
demonstration of the new way of life for Maori. Pomare worked with the
committee responsible for health and sanitary arrangements. Although
there were nearly 3,500 Maori from all parts of New Zealand, the camp
was a marvel of order and cleanliness without drunkenness or any
outbreak of disease. It provided a valuable introduction for Pomare to
many of the Maori tribal leaders and helped to introduce them and their
people to the practice of health reform.
Initially, with the fear
of bubonic plague strong, the Liberal government supported projects for
health and social reform. District Maori councils devised regulations
on sanitation and hygiene; sanitary inspectors were appointed, usually
selected from the leading chiefs who had the mana to insist on their
instructions being obeyed. Pomare himself embarked on a regular
programme of visiting villages, often travelling miles on foot to
inspect the water supply, rubbish disposal and sanitary arrangements and
to help the sick. He was concerned about the health risks of deserted
whare, and in three years burnt 1,900 of them.
was at first anxious about his reception he found that his way had been
prepared by the work of the Te Aute students and that people were at
least willing to hear him, if not always to obey him. His encounters
with Maori communities forced Pomare into becoming an outstanding
orator. He developed the technique of using a microscope to show people
the micro-organisms that inhabited impure water. He also had slides of
the various microbes to show to sceptics.
In a number of his
reports Pomare commented bitterly about the mortality that some of the
new breed of tohunga caused; for example, by attempting to heal the sick
by bathing them in cold water and administering alcohol. He strongly
supported Carroll's introduction of the Tohunga Suppression Act in 1907.
Although Pomare believed that the decline in Maori numbers could be
halted by the correct medical methods, he also saw that the nature of
the Maori population was changing; a new population with European
ancestry was emerging and he considered that they would have the best
characteristics of both races. Unlike Apirana Ngata, who was concerned
over the loss of Maori identity, Pomare welcomed intermarriage and Maori
From 1902 to 1910 Pomare reported to Parliament
on his work in a series of exuberant reports in which he dealt not only
with medical matters but also gave his opinion on a number of issues,
including education and land tenure, at times earning rebukes from his
superiors. These reports make it clear that he believed in the radical
modernisation of Maori society even if this meant the loss of all Maori
land. He considered that Maori should adopt a European lifestyle, become
self-reliant and, above all, work.
On 7 January 1903, at
Gisborne, Maui Pomare married Mildred Amelia (Miria) Tapapa Woodbine
Johnson from the East Coast. Her father was James Woodbine Johnson of
Maraetaha, a wealthy runholder and orchardist; he had married Mere Hape
of Rongowhakaata and Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki. Miria's parents gave her a
bicultural education. Her mother ensured that she learnt Maori and
retained contact with her tribal kin; her father, a Cambridge graduate,
ensured she had a good Pakeha education, through a governess and study
at Gisborne District High School. She developed into a forceful
Miria acted as Pomare's hostess, playing an active
role in community organisations and, from 1911, working hard to further
his political career. She also brought an independent income to the
marriage. This meant that the couple could afford to build a gracious
home, Hiwiroa, on seven acres of land at Lower Hutt with tennis courts
and elaborate gardens, where they entertained in some style. Miria's
inheritance was sufficient, with care, to meet their household needs.
This meant that Maui could devote his parliamentary income to supporting
his political ambitions and to fulfilling his constituents'
expectations of generous hospitality and appropriate gift-giving. Maui
and Miria Pomare had two sons and one daughter.
three years as medical officer must have been a frustrating experience.
The Liberal government lost interest in health reform and gradually cut
funding for health work. Sanitary inspectors were abolished, the work of
the Maori councils was given to the records clerk of the Native
Department as a subsidiary responsibility, and Pomare himself was
shifted to the Native Department.
A new opportunity came for him
in his native Taranaki. Over 200,000 acres of confiscated land meant to
have been reserved for Maori had been leased to European settlers. In
1892 they were given the right to renew their leases in perpetuity. Not
all exercised the right, and Te Kahupukoro became the leader of a
campaign to recover some 18,000 acres when the leases expired. He and
his followers lobbied Carroll, who promised them the return of the lands
but urged them to select an intelligent young man to act for them. They
interpreted this as advice to elect their own representative to
Parliament. Pomare was accordingly selected as the Taranaki candidate
for the Western Maori seat in 1911.
He gained the support of
Mahuta Te Wherowhero, the Maori King, who was disillusioned with the
sitting member, Henare Kaihau. Pomare reminded Mahuta of a debt of
honour that his family owed because Te Rauparaha had once warned Potatau
Te Wherowhero of an ambush and thereby saved his life. Pomare also
promised to support Waikato's claim for redress for the confiscation of
their lands in the 1860s. He used his whakapapa connections to establish
a relationship with the chiefs and elders of the various tribes. He
gained their interest and confidence by his oratorical skills and his
ability to talk in parables and cite proverbs, while avoiding detailed
promises that would have resulted in disappointment. The combined
support of Taranaki and Waikato ensured his election.
William Massey's Reform Party came to power in July 1912, Pomare was
appointed member of the Executive Council representing the native race
and put in charge of Maori councils. He was able to accomplish little in
these minor posts, although he did succeed in obtaining compulsory
registration of Maori births and deaths in 1913.
Pomare presented a readily acceptable image of the Maori. He was well
dressed, good-humoured and witty, and perceived as loyal to the Crown.
He was much in demand as an after-dinner speaker. As a politician he
could be trusted to weather a political storm, and his innate caution
was no disadvantage in a party that did not favour dynamic reform. To
his colleagues he was a loyal party man; they rewarded him with the CMG
in 1920 and KBE in 1922.
Pomare's first major political battle
was to regain the leased lands in Taranaki. A commission appointed in
1912 decided that the settlers had had ample time to convert their
leaseholds and recommended that the Maori owners be given the right to
bid in the open market for the leaseholds. Pomare worked to reach a
settlement with the lessees; they were given a further term of 10 years
while two-thirds of the rents were to be paid into a sinking fund
administered by the public trustee to pay for any improvements they had
made. This was embodied in the West Coast Settlement Reserves Amendment
Act 1913. Unfortunately, the government also passed legislation allowing
the purchase of interests in reserves and much of the land was sold, so
that less eventually passed into Maori hands than Pomare had hoped.
During the First World War Pomare chaired a committee to encourage
Maori recruitment. He confronted the intractable problems of shortage of
manpower and the resistance to recruiting of his own constituents in
Waikato. He argued that willingness to serve would demonstrate that
Maori were ready to be accepted as full citizens. Ultimately, he was
forced to agree to the application of conscription, so earning bitter
anger within Waikato. Nevertheless, the fact that many Maori did
volunteer, and that the Maori battalion had a creditable record of
service, later enabled Pomare and Ngata to press for more positive
policies including the resolution of the confiscation grievances.
As minister of the Cook Islands from 1916 to 1928, Pomare wrestled with
the problems of under-development. He tried to secure the money to
improve services to the Cook Islanders, and assist the producers to
compete successfully in the New Zealand market. During his term as
minister the vote swelled from about £7,500 to almost £50,000. He was
insistent, too, that the Cook Islanders be taught English. Pomare drew
attention to the lack of facilities for sufferers from leprosy, and in
1926 arranged for them to be transported to a leper station in Fiji. He
opposed self-government on the grounds that the islands were not ready
for it, and was accused of failing to explain adequately legislation
that replaced laws made by the island council. Nevertheless, his efforts
and personality were appreciated by the islanders, who presented him
with a large silver loving-cup and a memorial of thanks signed by every
The peak of his ministerial career was his period as
minister of health from June 1923. He inherited a difficult portfolio.
As a result of the 1920–21 recession the Health Department's budget had
been cut by £20,000. There were also considerable internal problems, and
the medical profession was suspicious of the department. The major
public issue Pomare faced was a high level of infant and maternal
mortality. Maternity care was provided by private maternity hospitals
owned by doctors and which provided an important source of their income.
Health Department officials supported the use of aseptic techniques,
although there was professional disagreement over their necessity in
childbirth and concern over the expense of sterilisation equipment.
Pomare understood both the medical issues and the administrative
problems. He promoted a campaign in 1924 for safe maternity, which
directed attention towards antenatal care, asepsis, appropriate hospital
policy and improved midwifery training. His officials devised
sterilisers that were considerably cheaper and more efficient and
provided a standard asepsis technique for labour and confinement. At the
same time Pomare sought to increase the number of public maternity
hospitals or maternity wards attached to public hospitals. Puerperal
sepsis, which had been one of the prime causes of the deaths of young
mothers, fell dramatically after 1927. Pomare lost his health portfolio
in a cabinet reshuffle in January 1926. He retained other posts and in
1928 served temporarily as minister of internal affairs.
last achievement, in collaboration with Ngata, was the setting up of a
commission into land confiscation. He had long promised to pursue this
grievance, but the rise of the Ratana movement, which also took up the
issue, made it more urgent. Pomare was almost defeated in the 1922
election by H. T. Ratana, and he began to make an inquiry into the
confiscations his political priority. He organised a fighting fund to
which people from all over the North Island were encouraged to
contribute. In Taranaki he asked all Maori farmers to contribute from
their dairy cheques, and arranged with the dairy companies to have the
amount forwarded to an account that he had set up in Wellington. Prime
Minister Gordon Coates agreed to set up a royal commission in October
1926, for which Pomare prepared thoroughly. The commission found that
some confiscations had been excessive and recommended compensation. In
1931 Taranaki accepted an annual payment of £5,000; Waikato bargained
until 1947 before accepting the same amount.
In late 1928 Pomare
fell ill with tuberculosis. Apirana Ngata, in return for the support
Pomare had given him on various projects, managed his election campaign
for him and later looked after his electoral correspondence. In a brief
remission Pomare sought the climate and medicine of the United States.
He died in Los Angeles on 27 June 1930. Pomare's cremation, rather than
burial in accord with usual Maori custom, caused controversy. After
their return to New Zealand, his ashes lay in state in Parliament before
their eventual interment at Manukorihi pa cemetery, Waitara. A memorial
house at Waitara was opened on 27 June 1936.
In 1911 Pomare,
Ngata and Buck had agreed to divide between them aspects of the study of
Maori history and ethnology; Pomare's portion was to be myths and
legends. The two-volume Legends of the Maori, written in
collaboration with James Cowan, was published posthumously. Miria Pomare
remained active in welfare and community organisations. She died at
Lower Hutt in 1971.
Maui Pomare dedicated himself to equipping
his people to adapt and survive in the Pakeha world. He was able to do
so because he was himself Maori and was well versed in Maori traditions.
Equally at home in the environment of the marae and the world of
politics and administration, Pomare pointed the way which he hoped
others would follow.
-New Zealand Encyclopedia