The Maori Race


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[Hereditary] titles were . . . made complex by the different claims which could be made to hold them. Some of these were as follows: (1) Descent, i.e., by universal consent as to the lands having been owned by direct ancestors. (2) Because the bones of the claimant’s parents or forefathers have been buried (or were at one time buried) there. (3) Because his umbilical cord at birth was cut there, or the afterbirth of his mother when he was born was buried there. (4) By having acquired it through his wife; this was only during his wife’s lifetime or (if she died) during the youth of the children. (5) By having been one of the warriors who conquered it. (6) By having been wounded on it. (7) By having acted as an ally by supplying food, weapons, etc., to the victorious war party. (8) By being cursed on it. (9) By having received it for some service as a gift publicly declared by the ruling chief of the tribe and acknowledged in open assembly. (10) By being allowed through a public permission from its owner to occupy it either by building a house there or cultivating the soil. (11) By his ancestors having been allowed to catch rats or eels, etc., there. (12) By his tree (kawa, the branch used in baptism, sometimes planted) having grown there. (13) By some ancestor having been (by permission) buried there. (14) By his ancestors having set up an altar (tuachu) there or a fort (pa), etc., etc. Sometimes grim but grotesque claims were set up, such as that made by a chief who asserted that his ancestor had killed an ancestor of the other side, had made a bird cage out of his enemy’s ribs and backbone, and had kept therein a tame parrot. This cage was set up on the land and was a plain proof in Maori eyes that he was the owner of the land in question. One man claimed on the ground that his ancestor was a lizard that used to live on the land; another that his ancestor once saw a ghost there. This latter claim was allowed by the Colonial Government and a Crown Grant made. Even the acceptance of a valuable present from one chief to another might be made the subject of a claim by the giver to the land on which the event occurred. Should any act be performed which passed without comment by the owners, their silent acquiescence was taken as recognition of a claim. Thus, a chief named Raukataura, passing through a forest owned by a friendly tribe, had one of the feathers of his headdress torn out by a shrub. Sitting down, the chief made a little fence of broken sticks round his sacred feather. He was accompanied on this occasion by some of the men of the tribe owning the place, but they said and did nothing. Their silence and inaction were construed as an assent to ownership, and the sons of Raukataura held possession by this title until the present day. Had the little fence been broken down and obliterated no claim would be sustained. Sometimes if a chief should wash or comb his sacred head when journeying across a piece of land his people would claim the land, or if he slept in a temporary hut for a night, title would be asserted. These claims were not, however, made lightly, there were to be other circumstances, such as the death of a near relative at the time; something to mark the event as of importance before such claim was established, and it always had to be upheld by the law of the strongest. . . .

When a chief was murdered on a piece of land by men not the owners of such land his relatives would claim it by right of the bloodshed, and when a chief was drowned a demand was made by his friends that a prohibition (rahui) should extend over a portion of the sea and shore where his body was found, that is, that no shellfish should be taken from that place or its neighborhood for a time, generally a year. To remove the prohibition a number of fish, sharks especially, were captured by the tribe in occupation, and the relations of the drowned person invited to a feast where the dried fish was offered as a present. If the occupant tribes broke the prohibition the land was claimed by the drowned man’s friends.1

1Tregear, E.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 131–134 (A. D. Willis. By permission).


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Chicago: "The Maori Race," The Maori Race 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 Race." The Maori Race, 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 Race' in The Maori Race. 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