The Lost World of Maori Wealth & Abundance

I absolutely love this picture, because everything about it screams abundance.


The picture was painted by Cuthbert Charles Clark, at a hakari (feast) held in the Bay of Islands in 1849, it is an enormous erected structure of a stage, where massive amounts of kai (food) were stored. Each section is about the height of a person and the hosts were effectively showing their generosity to their guests.

Why this picture is so important is because it gives us an indication about how well our economic system and way of living was for us. It signals the abundance by which we were living by. It signals an era of wealth.

What a lot of people don’t realise or give credit to, was just how well the Māori way of doing things provided sustenance for Māori. An economy is basically understanding how a society produces stuff and who benefits from that stuff. The Māori had a koha economy, or a gift economy. It centered on giving, exchange and reciprocal relationships. Everything produced came to a central place and then it was redistributed. Kai was the main currency.

The system we have today is based on accumulating as much as you can, as fast as you can, for yourself. This system is what causes Māori poverty, not Māori laziness, violence or being uneducated, but a system that was not designed to suit our relational way of being. We had a brilliant system that knew how to look after us and each other, where no one hungered.

Ranginui Walker, tells us that prior to pakeha arrival, no one hungered, there was no such thing as poor people. And in actual fact Māori didn’t even have a word for poverty. Nowadays we hear the word pōhara for poor, but this is quite a new word in the Māori language, which is a transliteration from the words poor fulla.

poor + fulla = poor fulla

pō  + hara = pōhara

The real irony, is that the New Zealand settler government thought their way to be superior and better than the Māori (and some still do) and so forced us (through violence) to change. So we were moved from a system of being sustained and fed, to a system where we now experience devastating child poverty rates and hunger.  Capitalism has caused huge fundamental issues globally, especially around poverty and we now need new ways of looking at economies to correct these problems.  This is where koha/gift economies are starting to make more sense.

Another brilliant part about our koha/gift economy was people chose to be a part of it. They had choice. People could opt out and gap it to go live with another whanau (family) or hapu (extended family) if they didn’t like where they were. We had many whakapapa (geneology) lines that we could choose to align with that gave us freedom of choice.  It was a system that was for the main part based on free will.

Not only does this picture scream wealth and abundance, it also shows panache! Those flamboyant colourful flags attached to the structure flying high, showing themselves off. Such ‘the Māori way’ to always add that spark and glitz into everything we do.

We had values in our traditional system that need to be brought back. Most people would say that we cant go back to the way we were, and no we can’t. But we can go back to the principles by which our lives and society were driven by. We can create economies that are stimulated  by values of giving, instead of taking, and driven by meaningful relationships. These principles work because they are people centered values. And this photo is proof that they work.