Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori

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[An old Maori saying] illustrative of the affection of a person for his native soil, is, "I greet my only surviving parent in the world, the land." In speeches also the same feeling is expressed, and one cannot help but be struck by the vividness of the metaphors used by these savage orators. When the question of the ceding of the Waitara lands to the Crown was imminent, Wiremu Patukakariki rose up and said, "Governor, Waitara shall not be yielded to you. It will not be good that you should take the pillow from under my head, because my pillow is a pillow that belonged to my ancestors." And Paora Karewa stood up and said: "Listen, Governor! I will not give Waitara to you. It will not be good that you should drag from under me the bed matting of my ancestor."

The chanting of a lament bidding farewell to one’s home and lands just before death was not an uncommon custom. Even in the stark cruelty of war the tinge of softer emotion could still find place. Sometimes after a battle a captive asked permission to sing such a song, and the uplifted weapon was stayed for a moment while the last farewell was uttered. It happened on occasions that a prisoner, when about to be slain, asked to be conducted first to the border of his tribal lands that he might look upon them once again before death. This was sometimes done for him. Or he might ask that he should be allowed to drink of the waters of some stream which flowed through the borders of his home. Cases are known when, being a person of consequence, he was escorted to such a stream, or a messenger was sent to procure water for him that he might drink—after which he met his fate. This courteous compliance with what seems to us a somewhat singular request gives evidence of the recognition which was accorded even by an enemy to the sentimental attachment of a person to his lands. On occasion, prisoners who were kept as slaves sent a message to their friends in their own tribe: "Tukuna mai he kapunga oneone ki au hai tangi"—"Send me a handful of earth that I may weep over it," which being done, they were able to greet once more in semblance the land which was lost to them. When the chief Rakuraku was too old to travel, his young people, when they returned from his lands at the head of the river, used to bring him a branchlet of a tree that he might greet over it.

In a time of great stress the courage of the people was sometimes stirred by an appeal to their emotional regard for their tribal lands. Several instances are recorded in Maori history of how in the heat of battle, his people broken and flying before the enemy, a chief of influence has rallied them and saved the day by driving his spear or staff into the ground and standing firm, with the words, "Let me die on my land." Rarely has a tribe failed to respond to such an appeal. In a case which came up before the Native Land Court, one claimant, Noa te Huke, rested his whole title on the dying words of a female ancestor of his, "Take me not away from the land, but bury me within hearing of the Rangitahi waterfall." A picturesque phrase given in a letter of some Hauraki chiefs expresses, too, the intimate connection which to the native mind exists between a person and his land. "The blood of the European is shed in his money, but as to the blood of the Maori, it is shed on his own land." The transfer of territory to the pakeha (white man) in the early days of settlement was often accompanied by affecting scenes of farewell by the assembled people to their tribal lands, songs, laments, and speeches giving token of their grief. . . .

The manner in which sentimental associations are bound up with the holding of land is further shown by C. W. Ligar, the Surveyor General, in an interesting letter to an early newspaper. There was a dispute as to the boundary of lands between two Waikato tribes, Ngatitipa and Ngatipou, which culminated in some fighting. "Every spot of ground is associated with some particular deed connected with their many engagements and triumphs. One is sacred because a man of rank fell there; another because it is the place where he is buried; and another is named to commemorate the place where they ate their enemies. The history of these places is handed down from father to son, the retaining of them in their possession has become more dear than life." In consequence of this, when the first demarcation of the land was discussed, the Maori proposal was to make the graves of the chiefs who fell in the preceding unpleasantness the boundary marks, and then to run the boundary crooked, so as to keep as many of the little disputed places as they could.1

1Firth, R.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 361–364 (London: George Routledge and Sons; New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, Inc. By permission).

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Chicago: Primitive Economics of the New Zealand 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: . Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori, 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: , Primitive Economics of the New Zealand 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