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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

The major lineage (ngati)

The major lineage (ngati)

It was noted earlier that the island was divided into sub-districts called tapere, and that each was allotted to a particular mataiapo (or ariki). The tapere often took its name from the founding mataiapo or from an incident with which he was associated.2 The occupants of a tapere were known collectively as the matakeinanga. This term included all residents, whether their connection was agnatic, affinal or otherwise. The local descent group (i.e. the matakeinanga less affines and those whose membership was not based on descent) was known as the ngati. It consisted of all those people who, in addition to being co-resident, reckoned their descent from the founding mataiapo, whether or not they could actually trace that descent.3 While descent could be traced either patrilineally or matrilineally the former was the more usual.4 The most common determining

2 E.g. Ngati Vaikai or Ngati Maoate - the second word in each case being the name of the founding mataiapo. The tapere of Tikioki exemplifies the naming of a tapere after an incident with which the founding ancestor was linked. Legend states that Tangiia sent Terei to Tahiti to fetch (tiki) Tangiia's son Motoro and return (oki) with him to Rarotonga. Terei successfully carried out the mission and was awarded this tapere which was named Tikioki with reference to the incident.

3 In practice anybody whose claim was derived from a person who was an accepted member of the ngati.

4 Among the many chiefly genealogies examined, instances of tracing through a female were found to be quite rare; but this rarity was perhaps exaggerated by the tendency to rationalize towards the ideal, and to the fact that when a man acquired his title through his mother, the remembered genealogical link would be from the man to his maternal grandfather, omitting the mother altogether.

page 36 factor, however, was that of residence - children of virilocal marriages generally tracing patrilineally and those of uxorilocal marriages tracing matrilineally. In the latter event, however, one traced through the mother to her father and his (predominantly patrilineal) line of descent. While pre-contact instances of tracing through the mother are not uncommon, no pre-contact cases have been noted wherein descent was traced through females for two consecutive generations; though it did perhaps occur on rare occasions. Such post-contact instances of two successive matrifiliations as have been noted have invariably been associated with special circumstances.1

The lineage (as distinct from the tapere) was invariably known by the name of the founding ancestor, prefixed by the word ngati. For instance, a lineage which traced its descent from an ancestor named Ru would be called Ngati Ru, irrespective of the name of the tapere, but as the name of the founding mataiapo became a heritable title name, some tapere (e.g. Ngati Vaikai) have the same name as the occupying lineage.

The descent group occupying the tapere will be referred to as the major lineage, as most major lineages became subdivided in the course of time into several minor lineages. In the Takitumu and Arorangi districts the leadership of the major lineage lay with the mataiapo, whose virtual independence of the ariki in matters relating to land was based on the traditional charter by which the lands of the island were allotted to each mataiapo. In Avarua, on the other hand, headship of three of the six major lineages lay with the three ariki, and of the others, one was headed by the

1 This refers to post-contact instances prior to the establishment of the Land Court in 1902.

page 37 high priest Takaia,1 one was the immigrant group living in the Avatiu valley who had their own head, whose status in the Make a hierarchy was that of rangatira, and the last was a collection of the once-powerful Ngaaio people who had been subjugated by the Makeas.

Each mataiapo, as head of the major lineage, had a marae which was the focal point of the religious activity of the lineage. While some heads of minor lineages also had marae, this was not usual, and religious activity seems to have been centred at the major lineage level.2 The marae of the mataiapo was used for the installation of the title-holder, but beyond this little information is available.

While a person was said to ‘belong’ to the lineages of his two parents and also to those of his grandparents, clear distinctions were drawn between his rights and obligations in respect of each of these lineages.3 While the Rarotongans did not distinguish terminologically between these categories, it is necessary for the purposes of analysis to identify each of them separately.

A child's primary lineage affiliation was usually determined at birth and was confirmed at its naming. If the child was named by its father or by members of his lineage, then it became a member of that lineage, and the person bestowing the name was obliged to supply clothes for the child, and special foods for the mother for some days after parturition. A permanent relationship was set up

1 Takaia, being high priest, faded into oblivion after the establishment of the mission.

2 Tangi-taura, a rangatira under Vakapora Mataiapo, had his own marae, and it may have been significant that Tangi-taura considered himself as virtually independent of Vakapora's authority. - Vakapora. JPS 20:215–8.

3 The structural picture presented here derives from field-work data. It is, however, consistent with the principles which emerge from historical sources.

page 38 between the child and the person who bestowed its name. While most of the children joined the lineage of that parent in whose lineage they resided (usually the father's), it was normal for the family of the other parent to name and provide for at least one of them.1

Primary membership of a lineage could also be acquired by adoption, which was a common method of reinforcing links between individuals and between their respective lineages. The predominant direction of adoption was from a female who had married out, back to her father or brother in her natal lineage. Adoptees were thus almost invariably chosen from secondary members of the adopting lineage (as defined below). If, however, an unrelated person was adopted, he was formally regarded as a member of the lineage, though this membership was marginal and its retention dependent on continued acceptance by the group.

While the major lineage was predominantly a residential unit living within the tapere, it also included for certain purposes all those persons who had been born into the lineage but had subsequently married out or left the tapere, provided they had not been banished or otherwise severed their social connections with their natal lineage. Maintenance of these connections required attendance at lineage gatherings and appropriate contributions to lineage feasts. A wife usually resided with her husband's lineage, but did not become a primary member of it. Persons who were born into a lineage but who subsequently left it at marriage, or adoption, or

1 Gill states that it was done by reference to the gods, for as the different lineages owed allegiance to different gods, the god of the father was different from the god of the mother and affiliation was formally settled by dedicating the child to the lineage god of one or other parent. He goes on to say that the mother usually gave up one child at least to her own tribe, the rest going to the father's. - AAAS 323–4 and 331. This custom is still quite commonly observed today.

page 39 under other socially acceptable circumstances will be referred to as contingent members of their lineage of origin, since they did not exercise many of the rights of primary members during their absence and their resumption of primary rights was contingent upon a variety of factors, the most important of which were probably the concurrence of the head of the group and the resumption of residence within it.

Children of contingent members will be referred to as secondary members of the lineage of that parent. To a lesser degree the children of secondary members of a lineage were themselves secondary members, and their connection was recognized for certain purposes. They will be referred to as distant secondary members. There was no definite period of time, or number of generations, which had to elapse before one was no longer eligible for membership of a lineage, though the possibility of gaining entry was clearly reduced by the passage of time. However, other factors were probably even more important, and lineages which needed extra fighting men were presumably content to recognize the most tenuous link with a potential member, whereas those with inadequate land to support their present numbers would not be anxious to admit even close relatives.

While an individual was a primary member of only one ngati as of right he was a potential member of all other lineages from which he could trace descent, either matrilineally or patrilineally.1 All members of all such lineages to which one could trace a cognatic relationship were known

1 It is appreciated that some writers have raised objections to the use of the term ‘lineage’ in Polynesia due to the fact that Polynesian descent is not necessarily traced unilineally, and Firth suggests the term ‘ramage’ instead. - Man 57:4–8. As the latter term does not yet appear to have achieved wide currency, the former will be adhered to in this study, for while Rarotongan descent groups were often in fact ambilineal, they were supported by a patrilineal ideology and a strong patrilineal bias.

page 40 as kopu tangata (kindred).1 The kindred, which was the widest of all social groups, cut across tribal boundaries and shelter, or food could, ideally at least, be required of any member of the kindred.

Persons whose residence with a lineage was not based on descent or adoption (i.e. those whose membership was due to marriage, to the seeking of refuge or otherwise) will be referred to as permissive members of that lineage. To sum up then, membership of the ngati was based on descent and residence. Primary, contingent and secondary members belonged by the first criterion; primary and permissive members belonged by the second. It was those whose link was by both descent and residence (i.e. the primary members) who constituted the core of the ngati, or what might be called the ngati proper.

1 The term ‘kopu tangata’ is also used with other connotations which are not of immediate relevance in this context.