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Land Tenure in the Cook Islands

By allocation and occupation within the landholding group

By allocation and occupation within the landholding group

Initially, having assumed supremacy over the island, the people of Tangiia's time may be said to have held in common, but before long they divided out the lands among themselves. Following this primary allocation, with its well defined boundaries between tapere, the lands within each tapere were used by the respective lineages as they required them. In the early stages there would have been ample land for all, with surpluses in every tapere, and the nucleus who settled in each would have had ample room to expand and shift its cultivations, for, as different crops required different soil conditions, each family needed several pieces of land under cultivation at any one time. As families grew, their cultivations would spread over increasingly wider areas of the tapere land, and smaller groups would hive off from the parent body to set up their own households. Being separate units of production and consumption they would plant their crops separately from the parent group, and in the course of time the areas planted by them would become identified as theirs.

When divisions were made between the more important families such that each constituted a separate minor lineage, their respective land boundaries seem invariably to have been specified, but boundaries between the garden crops of households within the same minor lineage seem to have been determined by the extremities of the area cropped rather than by predetermined spatial limits of rights. These boundaries seem to have been flexible, and not to have retained any long-term identity once the area enclosed by them was no longer in use.1 In other words, occupation rather than allocation usually determined the relative page 89 spheres of influence within the minor lineage. With the passage of time and the growth of population, repeated use would lead to the boundaries becoming defined with increasing clarity, but even by the time of the Land Court in 1902 there were considerable areas which were not associated with any particular household, though almost all lands were associated with a particular minor lineage.

Another form of allocation occurred when a social group with a defined area of land became too large to be an effective unit, or when strife developed within it. Then the group would split, and either one party could ask the head of their lineage to allot them another piece of the lineage lands, or the existing lands could be partitioned and henceforth the two factions would function as separate units. Presumably this latter course was increasingly resorted to in the later years when a growing population forced closer settlement. Partition seems to have occurred most frequently after the death of a metua (the patriarch or household head) in those cases where there was disagreement as to who should succeed to his role. The normal pattern seems to have been for this position to fall to the deceased's eldest son, or, if he were too young, or if there were no sons, then to his next eldest brother. In either case the choice would be conditional on the son or brother concerned being resident there, for the role of metua was one requiring constant attendance within the family. If two aspirants to the position could not be reconciled, then partition was the simplest solution.

1 This does not apply to irrigated taro patches which did retain long-term identity.