The Maori

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Among the Matatua tribes . . . this term is applied to a girl of good family who was elected or chosen as a person of consequence, and, in one sense of the word, made tapu, that is to say "prohibited." She was not allowed to become intimate with any man prior to her marriage, and her elders and the clan generally were careful to select a fit and proper person to be her husband. Such a girl was usually the eldest daughter of a chief of high rank, and as such was termed a tapairu. Such a woman often took part in religious ceremonial functions, especially the ritual by means of which tapu was removed from persons, places, and new houses and forts. Having been made a puhi for the aggrandizement of her family and the clan generally, she was provided with several female attendants, some of whom would be girls about her own age. She was not allowed to perform any heavy labor, such as fell to the lot of women generally, but might employ herself in light work, such as weaving the finer class of garments. She performed no menial tasks, such as cooking, and, in some cases, a special house was assigned to her and her companions. Such young women were the patrician ladies of the clan, but there would be very few such in any tribe. They were highly respected and deferred to, and were sometimes long in marrying, so particular were the people about the selection of suitable husbands for them. When good-looking women they were much sought after, and young men, singly or in parties, came from distant parts in order to see them and endeavor to find favor in their eyes.

Should such a young woman fall from grace, the custom was to reduce her to the ranks, as it were, when she would no longer be a puhi, though retaining her rank as chieftainess and a participator in ritual observances.

It appears that when it was decided to rear a female child as a puhi, the curious ritual performance known as tohi was performed over her. An old native explained to the writer thus: "A puhi is a child over whom the tohi has been performed, in order that she may preserve the mana of the whole tribe, as also of the boundaries of the tribal lands. Hence the aphorism: ’The totara tree stands not alone in open country, but only in the forest.’ In like manner a puhi, or chief, is ever surrounded and supported by the tribe. In this connection there is another such saying among our people: ’A house adorned with carvings standing by the cultivation fields is food for fire, but a carved house standing within a stockaded fort is a token of true chieftainship.’ Now you see that a chief who is one with his people is a proper chief, but he who does not ever consider his people, he is but a poor type of fellow."

The explanation is that a person, male or female, occupying the high position of ariki or puhi, must be possessed of admired qualities in order to retain the respect and admiration of the people. Traditions are extant of some famous puhi who became renowned chieftainnesses in later life, and commanded the respect of their own and other tribes.1

The prevailing modes and motives of warfare and the more or less organized fighting will be found to reflect to some extent both the attitudes and values of the population and the condition and structure of the government.

1Best, E.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 1: 450–454 (Whitcombe and Tombs. By permission).

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Chicago: The Maori in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2023,

MLA: . The Maori, Vol. 1, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , The Maori. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2023, from