Century-old battle over tiny plot of land in the Cook Islands comes to Britain

 

Colonel Walter Gudgeon, like most colonials of his time, was a firm believer that prosperity lay in the transfer of land from the “lazy” Maoris to industrious British settlers.

But, upon appointment as Chief Land Judge of the Cook Islands in 1898, he knew better than to enrage the powerful Ariki tribe, who ruled over the island with fear.

Makea Ariki Takau, one of the tribe’s most powerful elders, may have been, according to the colonel “a greedy, avaricious woman” but he wanted “neglected” plots to be leased to white planters and the Ariki was willing to agree.

So on 3 June 1903, Col Gudgeon ordered the hand over of a 53 acre plot – set by a lagoon on the south side of the main island – to Makea Ariki Takau. The land orders stated “life interest only no power of device” – meaning it would transfer back to previous owners upon her death – but these words were later mysteriously crossed out without the judge's signature.

This week those very same documents will go before the Privy Council in London to try and settle a 109-year-old dispute over a tiny plot of land set in the South Pacific 10,000 miles away.

It was during Makea Ariki Takau's forty year reign that the Cook Islands became a British protectorate before being annexed to New Zealand from 1900 to 1965 when it became self-governing. But its final court of appeal – along with 28 other Commonwealth and British Overseas Territories – still rests with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, staffed by the same judges who sit in the Supreme Court.

Today descendants of two families and their lawyers will appear before the court to argue over land they both claim as theirs.

June Baudinet, 67, is insisting that the plot should have gone back to her great grandfather, Ngati Raina, chief of another Cook Islands tribe, Mata'iapo upon Makea Ariki Takau's death.

“To me the wrong was done to my people, my ancestors,” she explained. “It is very important for me to get justice for my ancestors.”

She is appealing a previous court decision made in favour of Ellena Tavioni and the Macquarie family – both descendant of Kopu Ariki, who now own the land. They insist that before 1903 it was their land and Makea Takau actually took it.

“This is extremely important. This is our heritage, our history. When the missionaries first arrived it was our family land,” said Ellena Tavioni today.

John Woods, managing editor of the Cook Islands News, described the historic appearance of a land case before the Privy Council as “a huge event for our tiny nation”.

Ross Holmes, the lawyer representing Ms Baudinet, a local business woman running tourist accommodation, a jewellery shop and a supermarket, insists that the land historically belonged to the Mata'iapo. They did not question the original decision by Col Gudgeon, a New Zealander who was appointed British Resident and Chief Land Judge, because they feared the Ariki.

“Makea Ariki Takau was a powerful woman,” he explained. “Gudgeon needed to butter her up in order to have his policies implemented. The Ariki had agreed to lease their land to the Europeans.”

The case has bounced back and forth between the local courts for more than a century. Most recently,

in 2008 Justice Kenneth Hingston in the High Court amened the sealed order from a century before in favour of Ms Baudinet.

But last year Sir Ian Barker of the Court of Appeal reversed the ruling. Now Ms Baudinet is appealing, arguing that Sir Ian made the motion without the jurisdiction to do so.

Tina Browne, representing the respondents, said: “Our concern is we may be opening up all sorts of orders made 100 years ago where nobody is alive to say what happened.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world