Story: Jones, Michael Rotohiko

Page 1 - Biography

Jones, Michael Rotohiko

1895–1978

Ngati Maniapoto; interpreter, land agent, sportsman, private secretary, public administrator, broadcaster

This biography was written by Reimana Rotohiko Jones and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Michael Rotohiko Jones was born at Poro-o-Tarao in the King Country on 14 September 1895, the son of Daniel Lewis, a European storekeeper, and Paretekorae Poutama of Ngati Maniapoto. Sometime after the birth of Michael's younger siblings (including Pei Te Hurinui), Daniel Lewis left New Zealand, possibly to accompany his brothers to the South African War. In any event he did not return to Paretekorae but settled in Australia, where he became a successful racehorse trainer. (In 1945 Michael met his father for the first time since childhood when Daniel was attending the Trentham yearling sales.) Paretekorae later married David Jones, of Nga Puhi descent, and the children took their stepfather's surname.

Michael Jones attended the Ongarue and Te Kuiti primary schools and received his secondary education at Wesley College, Three Kings, Auckland, and Manunui Maori Boys' Agricultural College at Taumarunui. He served on the western front in the first New Zealand Expeditionary Force from 1916 to 1919, attaining the rank of staff sergeant in the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion. He was awarded the Military Medal for rescuing a wounded soldier under fire.

On returning to New Zealand Jones worked with Richard Ormsby, a land agent in Te Kuiti. There he met Kahuwaero Hetet, the youngest child of Henare Matengaro Hetet and Te Ruwai Otimi. He married Kahuwaero at Ongarue on 14 January 1920. They were to have four sons and three daughters.

In 1922 Jones set up his own business in Hawera as a licensed interpreter and land agent. He was a member of the Hawera Borough Council and the Hawera Hospital Board. Said to have been the first Maori Rotarian, he became vice president of the local Rotary club. He was president of the South Taranaki branch of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association and served on the dominion executive. A keen sportsman, Michael Jones was on the management committee of the New Zealand Maori Lawn Tennis Association, and he and his brother, Pei Te Hurinui, were New Zealand Maori doubles champions in 1928. He was also a top golfer and was a member of the New Zealand Maori Golf Association.

By the late 1920s Michael Jones had been singled out by Apirana Ngata as a future Maori leader. He was an adviser to Ngata on his land consolidation schemes in the King Country, and from 1928 he and Pei Te Hurinui acted as advisers to Te Puea Herangi and the King movement. Completely bilingual and comparatively well educated, the brothers were well qualified to act as mediators between the Maori and Pakeha worlds. In 1940, on the recommendation of Apirana Ngata and the chief judge of the Native Land Court, Jones was appointed private secretary to the native minister, Frank Langstone, succeeding Te Raumoa Balneavis. He was able to exert considerable influence on the policies of the department, to the extent that he was sometimes referred to as the de facto minister. His presence did much to restore Te Puea's faith in the Native Department, which had waned since Ngata's resignation in 1934.

During the Second World War the Jones brothers' close association with Te Puea led to their being the subject of a security investigation, brought about by the widespread rumour that Te Puea had German family connections. Michael Jones's status in the King movement was evident in 1947 when he organised and accompanied a Waikato contingent that attended a royal wedding in Tonga and visited other Pacific countries. The party included Te Puea and the young princess Piki, later Queen Te Atairangikaahu.

After the war, Prime Minister Peter Fraser was anxious to settle the matter of compensation for the Tainui land confiscations. Negotiations, begun in the late 1920s, had been postponed by mutual agreement during the war but resumed in 1945. Waikato now had a powerful and perceptive ally in Michael Jones. He accompanied Fraser and the minister of native affairs, H. G. R. Mason, to Turangawaewae marae, Ngaruawahia, where Te Puea and Waikato representatives (including Pei Te Hurinui) assembled. After discussions held informally in Fraser's hotel bedroom, a settlement was proposed and agreed to on the marae the following day.

Michael Jones was associated with another major initiative of the Fraser government when he and Rangi Royal were appointed to bring into effect the Maori Social and Economic Advancement Act 1945, which the ineffective Mason had failed to fully implement. During the Second World War, Jones was one of the architects of Mason's scheme to update the Maori Councils Act; this was in opposition to Eruera Tirikatene's wish to strengthen the Maori War Effort Organisation, which had temporarily given more autonomy to Maori. When the Maori Women's Welfare League was inaugurated in 1951, as auditor Jones was influential in formulating its policy. He was chairman of the Ngati Poneke Maori Association from 1950 until his retirement in 1962.

An accomplished Maori orator with a keen interest in the preservation and development of the language, Jones was for many years the Maori news announcer on national radio. With Pei Te Hurinui, he worked on revising and expanding Nga moteatea, Ngata's collection of waiata. He was examiner for the University Entrance Maori examination, chairman of the committee which revised H. W. Williams's Maori dictionary, and a member of the management committee of the Maori journal Te Ao Hou. A council member of the Polynesian Society from 1939, he became president in 1955. He was presented to Queen Elizabeth II at Waitangi in 1963.

Jones held a number of official positions from the late 1940s. He was liaison officer to the minister of Maori affairs from 1947 to 1949 and again from 1959 to 1962. In 1950 he was assistant controller of the Welfare Division of the Department of Maori Affairs. He worked as an employment officer from 1950 to 1953, and from 1953 to 1955 was deputy registrar to the Ikaroa and South Island Maori Land Court districts. Jones was also a member of the South Auckland Education Board's advisory committee on Maori education.

In 1962 Michael Jones retired to the family farm at Otewa, but retained an active interest in the local community and involvement with the King movement. He died at Otorohanga on 24 January 1978 at the tangihanga of his eldest son, Tutahanga, and was buried beside him in the soldiers' plot in the burial ground at Te Tokanganui-a-noho marae, Te Kuiti. He was survived by six other children and his wife, Kahuwaero, who died in 1994.