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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

The minor lineage (ngati)

The minor lineage (ngati)

Most major lineages were subdivided into a number of minor lineages (also called ngati), the members of which also traced their descent from a common eponymous ancestor. Like the major lineage of which it was a part, the minor lineage was a predominantly patrilineal descent group. Subdivision generally occurred through the elevation of a real or classificatory younger brother of the titleholder to a position as head of a sub-unit within the major lineage. Often the person chosen was a potential rival for the senior position, whose ambitions were held in check by being given a position of responsibility at a lower level.

There were two categories of minor lineage head (in addition to which the ariki and mataiapo each headed his own minor lineage). The first was the komono or deputy of page 41 a mataiapo.1 The second was the rangatira which was the most common title on the island and therefore the most common title found among minor lineage heads. Those major lineages which were headed by ariki had significantly more rangatira than did those headed by mataiapo. Some of the larger minor lineages (mainly those in the tapere of ariki) were again subdivided into segments known as kiato, and the head of such a segment was also referred to as a kiato. While kiato were generally junior relatives of the rangatira or other chief to whom they were subordinate, immigrant groups were sometimes also taken in and given the status of kiato.2

The core of the minor lineage or kiato was basically a residential unit living in a group of neighbouring hamlets,3 with contingent and secondary members residing elsewhere. It was at the level of the minor lineage that the life crises of the component members were high-lighted. Births and deaths, and the marriages of persons of rank necessitated the organization of entertainment, the transfer of gifts and the provision of feasts, and while the minor lineage was the usual level at which these activities were organized, on occasions when the person concerned was a mataiapo or ariki, then the responsibility lay with the major lineage or tribe concerned. In this event the term ngati was used with a somewhat different connotation and was prefixed to the name of the titleholder (e.g. Ngati Pa) and used to designate all those people whose lineage heads recognized page 42 that titleholder as superior to them in the same hierarchy of authority.

1 As there were no mataiapo in Avarua this title was not encountered in that district.

2 Savage, ‘Dictionary…’.

3 This is an assumption based on the views of informants, for no detailed descriptions of these hamlets are available, though passing references are made to them. They were superseded immediately after first contact by the mission villages near the coast.