Traditional Law and Customary Tenure

Traditional Law and Customary Tenure

Note from Prop 382 Lecture of 24-07-08

Traditional Law and Customary Tenure.

These notes should be read in conjunction with the two articles in your course readings viz

Raymond Firth’s, Chapter 11, from The Primitive Economics of the NZ Maori
Andrew Erueti’s ‘Maori Customary Law and Land Tenure: An Analysis’ from Richard Boast et al Maori Land Law

The traditional diet of pre-contact Maori was based on the bounty of the land and waters. Despite the difference in climate and therefore in flora and fauna, Maori diet was very similar to that of their tropical island antecedents: fish, shellfish, birds, sea mammals, kumara and other cultivated crops, green vegetables gathered from open ground and the forest floor, edible roots and berries and seaweeds.

Ttrade in food and other valuable commodities such as greenstone and obsidian (volcanic glass) flourished between inland and coastal hapu and between northern and southern hapu.

Amongst agrarian peoples, and hunters and gatherer societies, of which traditional Maori society is a very good example, land is the very essence of existence. Together with water it is the giver and sustainer of life.

The importance of land is recognised in whakatauaki (proverbial sayings) e.g.
Whatungarongaro he tangata, toi tu te Whenua
Humankind perishes, but the land remains

Na te wahine me to whenua ka ngaro ai te tangata
Through women and land, men are undone/lost

As societies become urbanised, where fewer people live on the land and more people make their living from manufacturing and trading commodities, land itself becomes less important to social well-being, and less central to community identity. This has been recognised as a universal phenomenon.

According to Justice Durie, former Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court, Chairman of the Waitangi Tribunal, and High Court Judge,
In the beginning, land was not a commodity that could be owned or traded....

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