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.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones