NEW ZEALAND: The Murder of Commissioner Larsen, The Mau, and New Zealand’s colonies

When we talk about New Zealand’s colonial history, it’s easy to look at New Zealand as a colony itself, of settlers vs. Maori, and how it gradually became an independent nation. However, New Zealand had its own colonies, most them it still has a level of control over. This “Realm of New Zealand” includes the Pacific islands of Niue, the Cook Islands, and Tokelau (as well as New Zealand’s Antarctic claims).

Niue and the Cook Islands are self-governing but in “free association” with New Zealand. Essentially, they are independent countries, with their own governments and laws, but residents have New Zealand citizenship, and rely on New Zealand for defence and representation at the UN. Some countries do have diplomatic relations with Niue or the Cook Islands, but they’re not recognized as sovereign. However, the two nations seem to be drifting further towards independence, and some day may decide to fully cut the cord with New Zealand. It’s not impossible, especially for the Cook Islands with 17,000 people – bigger population-wise than Nauru, which is a fully sovereign country.

Tokelau has less independence, and is classified as a “non-self governing territory” by the UN (and so considered a colony) – there have been two unsuccessful referendums for Tokelau to enter into the same kind of free association as Niue and the Cook Islands. Recently suggestions have been floated about another vote, perhaps with additional options – possibly fully merging into New Zealand, or even becoming wholly independent. Here’s an interesting look by Professor James Ker-Lindsay at Tokelau’s statehood:

However, things have not always been so relaxed between New Zealand and the Realm – these nations used to be genuine colonies of New Zealand, governed directly by commissioners. In 1953, a particularly abusive and dictatorial commissioner, Cecil Larsen, was murdered by Niuean locals – leading to a huge criminal trial that divided New Zealanders and pushed for increased independence for Niue:

From 1914 to 1962, Samoa was also a colony of New Zealand, and during that time, New Zealand was responsible for poor handling of the Spanish Flu, which killed about 20% of the Samoan population, and of heavy handed governance, including shooting unarmed protesters. Samoa’s non-violent Mau movement did eventually achieve independence from New Zealand, but the scars still run deep in people’s memories:

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