The rights of individual ownership were fully recognized. Members of the same household and close relatives might have the use of things in com-page 153mon, but in spite of that the real owner was always recognized. A relative might borrow a net or a canoe but he asked the owner for the loan of the article. The taro in the family cultivation and the fruit of trees on family land were the property of the owners of the land. The person taking property that did not belong to him was guilty of theft (keia).
The most common object of theft was taro. Refugees hiding in the makatea risked their lives by going down into the taro patches at night. The owners often paid surprise visits at night to their cultivations to protect their property. Sometimes houses built on poles were elevated above a taro patch, and members of the family lived there to guard their property. The uneven distribution of land between the conquerors and the conquered led to considerable thieving on the part of those who had little cultivable land in the puna divisions. In addition, a few people seem to have preferred the risk. of stealing to the labor of cultivating sufficient supplies for themselves.
The owner of a cultivation dealt summarily with any thief that he caught. If he got a chance, he speared him. One owner is recorded as having speared no less than five thieves, whose corpses he laid out beside his cultivation as a warning to others. Because of the severity of the punishment, it is evident that the thieves were of the conquered tribe or men of no standing and that the landholders, on the other hand, belonged to the tribe in power. Capital punishment under these circumstances could be summarily inflicted without leading to reprisals.
An inveterate taro thief related by marriage to a great chief caused a good deal of trouble within the tribe by his depredations. As killing him might have led to trouble, the owners of the raided cultivations adopted the plan of making the chief responsible for the sins of his kinsmen. They raided the chief's cultivations to make up for the taro stolen, and the chief could not gainsay the justice of the action. He admonished his kinsman without avail. At last, in rage, he tied him hand and foot and thrust him down a deep chasm. The thief was not killed by the fall but managed to loosen his bonds and escape. However, a series of thefts leading to another raid on the chief's cultivation exasperated the chief so much that he slew his kinsman.
An incantation for the success of thieves (tangata kekeia) associated with Mata-ia-nuku, Utuutu-roroa, and Avaava-roroa as patron gods or spirits, recorded in full by Gill (6, pp. 150-151), was used by Raoa, the chief of a plundering tribal remnant.
The incantation was intended to cause a prolonged slumber not only to the occupants but even to the house which was to be robbed. After the line, "Tamoe i te au mea katoa" (Cause all things to sleep), the incantation causes sleep individually to the owner, the insects, beetles, earwigs, and ants inhabiting the house. Then the inanimate parts of the house are put to sleep—the grass flooring, supporting posts, ridgepole, rafters, purlins, thatch rafters, eaves, battens, roof ridging, reed walls, and thatch. Naturally, the users of such a thorough soporific were "famous for their success."