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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

Rights of the extended family

Rights of the extended family

The extended family constituted the elementary unit of landholding and was identified with the use of particular portions of the land of the minor lineage. The household (the residential core of the extended family) was the page 72 elementary unit of production and consumption. It is said that even when the ‘household’ consisted of more than one sleeping house there was but one cooking house.1 The nuclear family does not seem to have existed as a distinct social unit for production or consumption.2 In some cases the household may have constituted the residential core of a minor lineage, but more commonly it seems that each minor lineage consisted of six or more households. Each household lived on one of the lands from which it drew subsistence in a hamlet located near the inland road, some set in only about ten to thirty paces from the road and others set further back in the valley.3 In addition to the right to specific portions of land, households (or in some cases minor lineages) sometimes held rights to bathing pools, shrimp beds and ponds for soaking yams in streams that were passing through lands other than their own. Other subsidiary rights held on land other than that in normal occupation included those to water derived by irrigation channels from the property of another. Owing to the physical configuration of the tapere such rights were, of course, held only between members of the same matakeinanga.

The boundaries of the lands of the households were less permanently defined than those of the lineages, and were subject to more frequent adjustment at the direction of the minor lineage head, in order to better comply with the changing needs of the various households. So far as can be ascertained the nuclear families within the household were page 73 not differentiated in their use of land, but satisfactory evidence on the point is lacking. However, the proprietary rights of many of the component members differed from one another. For instance, the rights of wives were of a different order from those of husbands; the rights of daughters were of a different order from those of sons; the rights of children of uxorilocal marriages were not necessarily the same as those of virilocal marriages, and the rights of children of one wife were different from those of another wife.

1 Examples of this pattern of domestic living are still seen in some of the outer islands today.

2 As William Gill observed, ‘A family, as the term signifies to an English ear, was not known among this people’. - Gems… 12.

3 Williams, A Narrative… 207. The oven stones and kitchen middens are in many instances still visible today.