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The Coming of the Maori

Social Grades

Social Grades

The Maori regarded their people as falling into two main classes. Those of chiefly rank were termed rangatira; and those who were not, were regarded as ware or tutua. Though the two classes correspond to what in western culture would be termed the aristocracy and the commoners, the terms ware and tutua carry a more depreciatory meaning than the English word commoner. It is somewhat difficult to understand the origin of the tutua class, since all the members of the sub-tribe or tribe were descended from common chiefly ancestors and they were more or less related to the chiefly families of their period. However, it must be taken into account that though the Maori carried out many communal activities and shared the products of their labour to some extent, their social system was by no means democratic. Rank and leadership went by primogeniture in senior families, and purity of descent was jealously guarded by selection in page 338marriage. Therefore, the most feasible explanation of the origin of the tutua class is that the descendants of junior families who intermarried with other junior families got farmer and farther away from the prospects of exercising chieftainship over family groups and thus passed automatically out of the rangatira class. A member of a junior family could be raised in social status by being taken in marriage by a member of the senior branch. Apart from this limited opportunity, the only means by which a junior family could prevent its descendants from passing into the tutua class was by moving out to form the nucleus of a new sub-tribe or by migrating to a new land where the process of tribal development would commence all over again. However, the Maori of to-day have become merged in an introduced democracy, in which all are rangatira and the tutua class has strangely disappeared.

The priests, or tohunga, who exercised religious duties, were members of a profession and cannot be regarded as forming a definite grade in society. They were probably all of the rangatira class; and high chiefs, because of their seniority of birth, often conducted religious ritual. Skilled craftsmen were also termed tohunga, which has the basic meaning of expert. The term tohunga was qualified to distinguish the craft, as tohunga tarai waka (expert in building canoes), tohunga ta moko (tattooing expert), and tohunga whakairo (carving expert). The military did not constitute a distinct class, for they were drawn from the entire male population and only served when the occasion arose. Those who had distinguished themselves in battle were termed toa and were usually of the rangatira class, for ruling chiefs had to lead in war as well as in peace. Experts trained the young men in the use of weapons as part of their general education. Chiefs were usually attended by adherents of humble birth who discharged the necessary menial duties, and such servants were termed pononga.

People of both sexes who were captured in military campaigns were often spared to perform menial work. In fact, their capture was deliberately undertaken at times as a solution to the labour problem. They were treated as slaves, termed taurekareka, and did not enter into the social grades of the tribe.