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Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs


The most important divisions in the organisation and structure of settlement in Māori society were iwi (tribe), hapū (sub-tribe) and whānau (extended family). Iwi were the larger social units, being composed of hapū with a common ancestor or ancestors far back in the genealogy. Hapū, in their turn, were composed of whānau descended from a more recent common ancestor. Iwi did not function as a unit of settlement, i.e., all the members of an iwi would not have lived together. The most common units of settlement were the hapū and whānau. The term whānau also applies to a wider range of concepts. It can be a term for an iwi, such as Whānau a Apanui, a usage where it probably reflects the ancient family-sized origination of the iwi. The hapū was not only a unit of settlement but also an organising concept. As a settlement it may have had as few as 10 people at any one location; 1 at other times and on other occasions, it may have been larger: as much as 150 people. The hapū is sometimes described as a 'blueprint' for social organisation, a plan of kinship, always available and reinforced by the recitation of genealogy, waiting to be realised for a particular purpose. All community activity—felling a tree, building a house or canoe, making a large seine net—was organised by calling on kin. Cash, and the motivation of earning for a wage, did not exist, so there had to be some way of ensuring that community needs were met.

When people gathered together, to meet or trade with people in other hapū, they reinforced their common ancestry and the elements of their common genealogy which distinguished them from other groups. 2 The kinship blueprint may have called people together in winter, or if some member had caused offence to a member of another hapū and retribution was anticipated. Genealogy not only helped to establish leadership, it also satisfied junior members of a lineage that their ambitions could not be fulfilled. For them, either conflict with senior members or migration of their own whānau out of the parent hapū's locality was necessary, as we have seen in chapter 1 in the case of Tūhoe-pōtiki at Ōwhakatoro. The settlement of every part of the Pacific islands and the large mass of New Zealand from small groups of founders suggests that often out-migration rather than continued conflict was preferred.

The blueprint was also flexible; from any one hapū ancestral linkages could be traced back to form connections with other hapū. Marriage would be based on prohibitions on certain kin and decisions on localities in which to live, drawing on ties with further kin. Such tracing could also be used to mobilise kin in other places, for example, if travel was necessary for trade, or if disaster such as widespread frost struck in a particular locality. Kinship, then, was a subtle social calculus. If it could not be traced, force, or the attempted use of force, may have been the first response. Within a community, lower-ranked or unrelated people may have lived in subjugation.

The everyday pattern of settlement was in small family groups, whānau, extended families, perhaps with a grandparent, two brothers, their wives and children, and some nieces and nephews. In operation as a unit of settlement, it may have been indistinguishable from a smaller hapū. The needs of food-gathering, hunting and cultivation, and probably also competition for leadership, meant that it was better for one whānau to live apart from others. The family cultivated its own land, storing its produce locally. 3 On occasion food would be brought to a more central place but the bulk would stay page break
Pā and small groups of raised-rim pits in low hill country, south of Pakipaki, central Hawke's Bay

Pā and small groups of raised-rim pits in low hill country, south of Pakipaki, central Hawke's Bay

The packing of settlement in this small space (some five pā over less than 2 km of hill country) is probably the result of good climatic conditions in this micro-environment. The low hills and good aspect to the north (towards the top of the photo) would have meant good warming potential for the soil. The pā shown here were probably not all occupied at the same time, although more than one may have been. In the hill country surrounding the pā are smaller scatters of pits. The pā were probably built and occupied by hapū (10 to 100 adults) while the undefended pit sites may have been spring and summer residences for whānau (two to 10 adults). Such settlements were scattered over wider areas than this photograph can show at this scale.

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One of the small pā shown in the previous photograph. The view is to the south-east and the defended area is about 60 m long. Raised-rim pits lie on the small ridge end in the left foreground. The pā was probably occupied in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. At that time the valley floors would have been forested, with many podocarp trees such as rimu or kahikatea. The hill slopes would have been covered in a patchwork of forest, tree fern, bracken fern and shrublands, with open clearings for gardens on broader ridges or easy north-facing slopes.

page 33 at the home locality. After the initial establishment of crops, they could be left to mature. The family, or individual members of it, could visit relations elsewhere. When the time to harvest came, the family would return to the cultivations.

Māori society is generally regarded as having been warlike. 4 It was necessary from time to time to gather in fortifications (pā) if there was a threat. Pā were probably made by hapū. However, it appears likely that pā only functioned on certain occasions. If the hapū always congregated together, they would have created pressure on local food resources; other sources of social divisions may have included competition for mana or prestige. These two factors, resource pressure and social competition, are sufficient to explain the commonest features of the landscape archaeological record: many small clusters of pits and terraces, and central pā with earthwork fortification. Such a pattern is readily detected by scanning aerial photographs, but not always easy to depict. The photograph may cover up to 10 km at a scale of 1:15,000, but does not illustrate the point satisfactorily because of the widespread scatter of smaller settlements. At this scale the many small settlements, marked by a few pits and terraces, are difficult to perceive and appreciate on the photograph without magnification because of the variations in the size of the sites and the relatively large distances between. However, near Pakipaki, central Hawke's Bay, just such a pattern of small clusters of pits near to a concentration of several pā can be seen.

Māori settlement was not static. The locality and nature of settlement changed in time, and as we have seen, the most likely force compelling this was competition over resources expressed in competition for leadership or mana. Over time as groups migrated out of the ancestral territory, the landscape becomes much more filled with settlement. This is very important to remember when considering the archaeological evidence visible on the surface of the landscape. Almost all such evidence belongs to the latest periods of the pre-European Māori occupation of New Zealand. Some simple mathematics indicates why should that be so.

The earliest Polynesian settlers of New Zealand arrived in a previously uninhabited environment with no competition for resources. Human populations under these conditions might double every 50 years, with important consequences for historical landscape studies. Four hundred years ago the population may have been 10,000 people. Fifty years later, or 350 years ago, the population would be 20,000 people. By 200 years ago, the population would be 160,000 people, with the total increasing very rapidly (although resource restrictions may have been increasingly present). In the century or so before the arrival of James Cook, the total number of Polynesians in New Zealand was larger than the total for all of the 500 to 800 years before that time (the latter being the time of first human arrival). Of all the people who had ever to that date lived in New Zealand, then, most lived in that last century before the arrival of James Cook. Their landscape impact, from building pā and gardening, was also greatest in the 100 or so years before his arrival. The most common pre-European features in the landscape, therefore, also belong to this period. This is not just theory; even though the collection of radiocarbon samples is biased more to the early periods, the high number of late dates (less than 400 years) amply confirms the size of the populations in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 5 Following Jack Golson's terminology, derived from the Americas and the Classical world of Europe, the late period is termed 'Classic' and distinguished from the early, 'Archaic', period. 6