Volume 111 2002 > Volume 111, No. 4 > Returning the gift: Utu in intergroup relations, by Joan Metge, p 311-338
RETURNING THE GIFT—UTU IN INTERGROUP RELATIONS
In memory of Sir Raymond Firth
MĀORI GIFT EXCHANGE REVISITED
Since Marcel Mauss's “Essai sur le don” was published in the early 1920s, gift exchange has been a favoured topic for research and theorising in anthropology, with a trend towards a special focus on the exchange or retention of valued objects and generalisation over an increasingly wide range of societies. In 1965 Marshall Sahlins surveyed the sociology of exchange in what he identified as “primitive communities” (Sahlins 1965:139); 30 years later Maurice Godelier framed his book on gift exchange with passages highlighting changes in the nature of gift-giving in capitalist societies (Godelier 1999:1-9, 200-10).
In tribute to Sir Raymond Firth who died earlier this year, I wish to direct attention back in time to the contribution he made to the study of gift exchange in passages published in Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori in 1929 and, without change, in the second edition Economics of the New Zealand Maori in 1959. 1 In this work Firth set out to examine and make sense of the documentary information available in English and Māori relating to Māori society and economy before and during the period of early contact with Europeans, that is, the last decades of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century.
Overshadowed by Firth's later monographs on Tikopia and Malaya, and overtaken by theoretical advances in economics and anthropology, this early work has been largely forgotten by the international anthropological community: it was not even mentioned in many of the obituaries for Sir Raymond. 2 Yet in New Zealand it is recognised as a classic contribution to the field of Māori studies and a landmark in the history of New Zealand anthropology. Though the methodology may be criticised on minor counts, 3 the work has stood the test of time remarkably well. It continues to provide readers with a treasury of information assembled into a coherent body from a wide variety of sources, and with interpretations and insights which are true to Māori ways of thinking and stimulating to researchers testing later theories.
Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori (read in a library copy) captivated me as a student with lively accounts of institutions and practices - 312 light years removed from the mundane modern world: large-scale community enterprises such as the manufacture and use of fishing nets of impressive size and the building of elaborate carved meeting-houses, the ceremonial exchange of highly valued craft goods, gatherings at which massive quantities of food and craft goods were displayed and distributed, and the intriguing institution of muru, misunderstood and resented by Europeans as “stripping” or “plunder”. At first, my fieldwork among modern Māori seemed to emphasise the remoteness of the society that Firth described and the magnitude of the changes that had taken place in Māori society and culture in the intervening hundred odd years. But as I delved more deeply below the surface, I came to recognise certain social forms and practices as transformations—often several times removed—of those first met in Firth's work: the emphasis placed on the ceremonial welcome extended to visitors at every Māori gathering, the generous hospitality of the climactic feast, the presentation of gifts in money and in kind, the exchange of treasured heirlooms at weddings linking chiefly families, the emotional attachment to ancestral land which motivated urban dwellers to take their dead “home” for burial. I came to appreciate the continuing importance of the values and ordering principles which had generated and maintained Māori social forms in the past, especially utu ‘reciprocity’ and mana. And once I overcame my perception of a disjunction between past and present, 4 I found that the understanding of utu and mana I had acquired in present day society could be used to inform and enrich my understanding of the history of interaction between tribal groups.
THE PRINCIPLE OF RECIPROCITY
Firth dealt with the subject of gift exchange in Māori society mainly in Chapter XII (“The Exchange of Gifts”) of Economics of the New Zealand Maori but amplifying detail is included in other places, notably in Chapter VIII “The Distribution of Goods and Payment for Labour” and Chapter IX “The Feast”.
In the chapter devoted directly to “The Exchange of Gifts” (Firth 1959:393-432), Firth distinguished “exchanges which were primarily economic” from “ceremonial exchanges which served some wider social purpose”, and “intra-communal exchanges”, which were relatively few, from “extra-communal exchanges”, which were fairly common and took place in the context of hospitality extended by hosts to visiting groups (pp.402-3). In the most important section in the chapter, he identified the “underlying mechanism” of all Māori exchange as “the principle of utu or compensation”, the understanding that “for every gift another of at least equal value should be returned” (pp.412-13, Firth's emphasis). After examining various aspects - 313 of the subject with a wealth of examples, Firth highlighted what he considered “the outstanding features” of Māori exchange as follows:
Abstracting significant points from the body of the chapter, I would add the following features to this list:
In the final section of the chapter, Firth used the Māori case to test and illuminate current theories about gift exchange, including Mauss's use of Māori material in “Essai sur le don” (Firth 1959:423-31).
In Chapter VIII “The Distribution of Goods and Payment for Labour”, under the heading “The accumulation of wealth”, Firth explored the relations of reciprocity obtaining between a chief and his followers and in the exchange of goods against the services of specialists from within and beyond the local community (Firth 1959:294-306). This section provides further detail concerning the differences between gifts given and received.
Though Chapter IX (Firth 1959:308-37) is titled “The Feast”, it deals not with the single, sumptuous, shared meal which is the generally accepted reference of the English word but with a much more complex phenomenon, the formal gathering known in Māori as hākari. Such gatherings were characterised by the display and presentation of gifts of many types, along with speech-making, entertainment and competitive games. 5 After pointing out that these gatherings often served several purposes at once, Firth described in detail the kind of gifts provided and the procedures for their apportionment (pp.316-26). Food, both fresh and preserved, was placed in woven flax baskets and stacked in long rows on the marae ‘the open meeting ground of a settlement’, with baskets of kūmara “sweet potato” forming the base, and gifts of flax mats, garments and craft goods piled alongside or on top. The host chief allocated sections of these stacks to visiting chiefs who redistributed their contents among their followers. In the course of this description, Firth expanded on the part such gifts played in social linkage and the fact that recipients of the hosts' bounty typically delayed making a return until a similar, appropriate occasion. Firth closed the chapter with a discussion of “Reciprocity in Feasts”, in which he emphasised the obligation that “the return feast should if possible outdo the first in abundance and quality of entertainment”, and cited cases where land was given in lieu of a hākari (pp.335-37).
As a corollary to his identification of utu as the principle underlying gift exchange, Firth recognised that the obligation to make a return applied in negative as well as positive contexts (Firth 1959:413). Having grown up in New Zealand, Firth was well aware that in everyday discourse utu is commonly given the meaning of ‘revenge’ and associated with feud and warfare, its positive connotations entirely displaced by negative ones. Before concentrating attention on the giving of “good” gifts, he paused briefly to point out that utu also had to be obtained for insults, injuries and death, and offences such as trespass and theft, either in kind (a killing for a killing) or by substitution (for example, wailing and tears as utu for a natural death). He noted the anomalous case of the recipient of instruction in sacred lore who requited his mentor by killing him.- 315
Embedded in Firth's text are two insights so obvious that they are often overlooked in discussions on Māori gift exchange. Firstly, though gifts both positive and negative were often reported as passing from one individual to another, in most cases each was acting as the representative of his or her group, an iwi or hapū. 6 Second, particular exchanges did not take place in isolation but were typically part of a sequence of exchanges extending over many years, exchanges which might be friendly or hostile or change from friendship to hostility and back again. In illustrating his account of Māori gift exchange, Firth was restricted in his stories to stories of gift and return gift or at most gift, return gift and another return (Firth 1959:414-16). For the operation of utu to be fully understood, exchanges need to be tracked for particular groups over a much longer period.
To summarise: Firth dealt with Māori exchange as a single system, encompassing exchanges that served both economic and social ends, exchanges within and between communities, and exchanges involving the return of “bad” as well as “good” gifts. He noted as characteristic the occurrence of delays in returning the gift and pressure to return more than the equivalent of the gift received.
Rereading these chapters in the 1960s after extensive fieldwork in Māori communities, I was struck anew by the depth of Firth's insight in identifying the traditional concept of utu as the general principle of Māori exchange while recognising that it had even wider significance, “permeating” the whole of Māori life and constituting “one of the most fundamental drives to action” in Māori society (Firth 1959:413). On the basis of my own fieldwork experience and my reading of Māori writings I had no hesitation in endorsing these conclusions as valid for both past and present.
KINDS OF RECIPROCITY
Teaching Māori Studies courses in the 1960s and 1970s and Anthropology courses in the 1970s and 1980s at Victoria University of Wellington, 7 I was able to apply more recent anthropological theories about gift exchange to Firth's presentation of the Māori material, using each to test and illuminate the other.
Of particular usefulness was Marshall Sahlins' article “On the Sociology of Primitive Exchange” published in The Relevance of Models for Social Anthropology (Sahlins 1965:139-236). In this article Sahlins distinguished three main kinds of reciprocity, “generalised reciprocity”, “balanced reciprocity” and “negative reciprocity”. His definitions of these kinds of reciprocity are worth revisiting, as they have sometimes been modified in later usage.- 316
‘Generalised reciprocity’ refers to transactions that are putatively altruistic, transactions on the line of assistance given and, if possible and necessary, assistance returned…. the counter is not stipulated by time, quantity of quality: the expectation of reciprocity is indefinite (p.147).
‘Balanced reciprocity’ refers to direct exchange. In precise balance, the reciprocation is the customary equivalent of the thing received and is without delay…. ‘Balanced reciprocity’ may be more loosely applied to transactions which stipulate returns of commensurate worth or utility within a finite or narrow period (pp.147-48).
‘Negative reciprocity’ is the attempt to get something for nothing with impunity, the several forms of appropriation, transactions opened and conducted towards net utilitarian advantage (p.148).
Sahlins insisted that these three reciprocities were not discrete categories but related along a spectrum, with generalised reciprocity located at one end (the solidary extreme), negative reciprocity at the other (the unsociable extreme) and balanced reciprocity at the mid-point. He went on to explore the effect of context on reciprocity, with special reference to kinship distance, rank and wealth. Close kinship (for example) tended to be associated with generalised reciprocity, increasing distance with balanced and finally with negative reciprocity. In most cases, societies practised more than one kind of reciprocity.
In Appendix B “Notes on Reciprocity and Kinship Rank”, Sahlins quoted extensively from Firth's text, focusing on the relation between a chief and his followers (Sahlins 1965:208-9). He did not, however, indicate where he would place this example on his spectrum of reciprocities. Nor, surprisingly, did he mention the even more dramatic exchange of valuables between chiefs representing political groupings of the order of tribe and hapū. Such exchanges appear to fit Sahlins' definition of balanced reciprocity, but they also test its limits, because of the practice of delaying the return and the emphasis on returning more than an equivalent of the gift received. The Māori practice of seeking utu for injury does not, despite appearances, fit into the category of negative reciprocity as defined by Sahlins: rather it falls within the scope of balanced reciprocity, recipients of negatively valued gifts—“bad” gifts—feeling the same obligation to reciprocate in kind as receivers of “good” gifts.
In recent years some writers dealing with Māori world view and values have associated the concept of utu with that of balance. Anne Salmond glossed utu as “the principle of equal return” in Two Worlds (Salmond 1991:44, 378) and as “the principle of balanced return” or “balanced - 317 exchange” in Between Worlds (Salmond 1997:509, 513). John Patterson glossed utu as “the process of redressing the balance” in a chapter entitled “Utu and Balance” in Exploring Maori Values (Patterson 1992:116-35). According to his understanding:
In the case of utu the important polarity is between kin and outsiders. Normally the members of a tribe live in a state of approximate, perceived balance with outsiders. From time to time some action, friendly or unfriendly, upsets this balance. Utu is taken to restore the balance…. Typically it is mana that has to be brought back into balance… whatever is done to restore that mana is utu (pp. 117-18).
Although he uses the concept of balance, Patterson's formulation of Māori exchange differs from Sahlins' definition of “balanced reciprocity”: Patterson is concerned with the restoration of balance between the status (mana) of giver and receiver, instead of the balancing of the “commensurate worth” of the gifts exchanged.
In my view, both Sahlins and Patterson miss the key significance of two features that Firth repeatedly stressed: the practice of making a delayed return, especially in the case of taonga ‘valuables’, 8 and the imperative to give more than an equivalent, to outdo the other party in generosity or vindictiveness. In my experience and in the examples cited by Firth, the delay in making the return and the obligation to give more than an equivalent produce a continuing state of im-balance in relations between the individuals or groups concerned, a see-sawing of obligation and hence of mana from one to the other which lasts for many years and many generations. This imbalance keeps the relationship going, and is maintained in order to keep the relationship going. Whether in the past or the present, giving too close an equivalent in return, intentionally or unintentionally, brings exchange to a halt, even more surely than not making a return at all.
TURNING “BAD” GIFTS INTO “GOOD” GIFTS
Putting negative and positive gift-giving together in a single system, as Firth did, reflects Māori thinking more accurately than either the popular definition of utu in wholly negative terms or the scholarly focus on categories of exchange and the exchange of valuables. In addition, it casts fresh light on the institution of muru and the process of peace-making in traditional Māori society.
In muru, a group which considered itself offended or disadvantaged in some way made a ritualised “raid” on the group of the offender and helped themselves to goods in compensation (Firth 1959:400-1, Frame and Meredith - 318 2001). The raid sometimes included stylised fighting or a beating, in each case limited by restrictions on the kind of weapons and injuries allowed. Muru typically took place between friendly and related hapū from the same or neighbouring tribes. A group with reason to expect a muru raid prepared for it by setting out a quantity of acceptable goods and offering only token resistance. By allowing the raiders to beat them and remove their property, the offending group in effect “gave” the raiders “good” gifts. These had the effect of negating the “bad” gift(s) given previously, prevented further deterioration of the relationship and made it possible for the groups to resume their former friendly relations. In short, muru was (among other things) a mechanism for preventing adverse reactions against an offence from escalating into full-scale war.
Despite not being recognised as legal by the New Zealand government and thus effectively out-lawed, muru continued to be practised clandestinely into the middle of the 20th century, used by Māori communities to deal with extra-legal offences such as adultery or failure to honour an arranged marriage.
Similarly, the process of peace-making typically included the exchange of taonga between groups engaged in or contemplating full-scale war. In this context, the giving of taonga included the giving of women and land along with material goods, often in association with a hākari. Such giving served a double function, on the one hand providing compensation for the injuries and losses received during the war (thus negating the obligation to return them) and on the other establishing new obligations to ensure that friendly relations continued into the future. (Figure 1)
In contemporary Māori society offences against individuals and groups are in theory dealt with by the law of the land and it is well over a hundred years since inter-tribal warfare came to an end. Nowadays the obligation to repay “bad” gifts is not usually acknowledged openly nor acted upon outside the law by law-abiding citizens. Nevertheless, it still operates powerfully under certain circumstances. It can erupt in violence, for example, in relations between Māori “gangs”. But in most cases those involved find other ways of securing utu, for example, in the Māori Land Court or the general law courts, on the Rugby field or in kapa haka ‘action song’ competitions.
SANCTIONS ON GIFT-GIVING
Firth identified three sanctions against failure to return a gift: fear of losing the chance of future exchange, fear of loss of reputation, and fear of mākutu ‘sorcery’ wielded by a cheated recipient (Firth 1959:417). The first two he also phrased more positively as the desire to continue useful economic relations and the need to maintain power and prestige. Though Firth- 319
expressed them in individual terms, these sanctions also operated powerfully at the group level.
In discussing these sanctions, Firth referred to the text by T. Ranapiri (published in 1895) which attributed the imperative to return a gift to its hau, a spiritual and intangible ‘vital essence’, 9 and went on to discuss the use made of Ranapiri's text by Marcel Mauss in his “Essai sur le don” (Firth 1959:417-21). Firth must have read the “Essai sur le don” in French soon after its publication in 1923-24, because his comments were first published in 1929 in Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori, long before the English translation of Mauss's essay was published in 1954. They were repeated unchanged in the second edition in 1959.- 320
Firth took issue with Mauss's interpretation of the Ranapiri text on the grounds that Mauss went beyond the evidence in interpreting the hau as “a purposive entity of retrospective aims”, imperceptibly shifted his focus from the hau of the gift to the hau of the giver, and ignored the fact that the hau did not act automatically but had to be activated by human agency through sorcery. In the light of the revival of interest in the Ranapiri text and Mauss's interpretation of it (Godelier 1999:10-107), Firth's comments are still pertinent, emphasising as they do the need for in-depth research into the hau and its place in Māori thinking, as expressed in the Māori language.
For a concept that has attracted so much international interest, remarkably little research has been undertaken into the meanings and use of the hau, through either the study of early Māori language texts or interviews with living experts in Māori language and culture. Key texts in Māori cosmology and epistemology (Barlow 1991; Marsden 1975; Patterson 1992; Salmond 1976, 1982, 1985; Shirres 1997) mention it indirectly or not at all, and the studies that explore it most fully (Salmond 1991:176-77, 2000) rely heavily on material edited and summarised by amateur ethnologist Elsdon Best. Māori experts did not include it in the list they compiled two years ago for researchers working on a compendium of key Māori concepts for Te Matahauariki Research Institute (Frame 2001); it was added later on my suggestion. I myself have heard it referred to by Māori only occasionally in discussions on Māori concepts, in ways which suggest that it is close to but not identical with the concepts of mana and mauri ‘life-principle’ (Metge 1986:73-74).
In general and in the case of gift exchange in particular, Firth discounted metaphysical explanations in favour of rational, social and functional ones. As he himself pointed out, his position synthesised Radcliffe-Brown's focus on the forging of social relations with Malinowski's interest in ambition and vanity as motivating forces for human behaviour (Firth 1959:426-27). The metaphysical element in Māori thinking is, however, too prominent to be ignored. Identifying utu as a primary value and ordering principle in Māori social life locates it within a world view which recognises metaphysical as well as physical dimensions of reality and the incursion of beings and forces from the former into the latter (Metge 1976:54-74).
As my understanding of the Māori world view has developed over the years, I have become increasingly convinced of a close connection between utu and mana. Although mana is often translated into English as ‘reputation’ or ‘prestige’, its primary reference for Māori experts is ‘spiritual power and authority’ derived from the spiritual dimension but manifest in the world of human experience (Marsden 1975:193-96, Metge 1986:62-73). Both individuals and groups have a store of mana gathered from a variety of - 321 sources. This store of mana is increased or diminished by the holder's and others' actions, and by the vicissitudes of life; it is intimately related to the holder's identity and capacity for acting in the world. In pre-colonial Māori society and to a varying extent in later years, there was a metaphysical dimension to the need for individuals and groups to continually strive to increase their mana by generous giving and to protect it against loss by repaying negative gifts in kind. Though he did not use the word mana, Firth recognised the connection between mana and utu when he identified “fear of loss of reputation” and “the need to maintain power and prestige” as one of the sanctions against failure to return a gift. This sanction operated as powerfully in the exchange of negative ‘gifts’ as in the exchange of positive ones.
UTU AND INTER-GROUP RELATIONS
Having directed attention to the contribution Firth made to the study of gift exchange, as I set out to do, I now propose to make use of knowledge amassed during 48 years' association with the people of Ahipara in the Far North of New Zealand 10 and to track the exchange relationship between two tribes, Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri, over an extended period of time, something Firth could not do because the information was not available to him. I leave to the future the task of setting Firth's work in a comparative setting, relating it to more recent works on Māori gift exchange (notably Hanson and Hanson 1983), gift exchange in other parts of Oceania (for example, Brown 1979 and Schieffelin 1980) and recent theoretical works (such as Godelier 1999).
When I first began fieldwork in Ahipara, I focused on exploring the rural end of Māori urban migration and had neither the time nor the theoretical motivation to delve into the past. Besides, the people of Ahipara were suspicious of outsiders who took an interest in their history, fearing that they might use information shared to gain control of their land. Nevertheless, I kept stumbling across allusions to past events and personalities involving the neighbouring tribe Te Aupōuri. 11 After some 20 years' association, the people trusted me enough to tell me stories about the past in more depth, but they told such stories in the context and place where they were relevant, detached from a unified, sequential framework. This is typical of the way Māori tell their history (Metge 1998, Sissons 1991:286-89). Helping the combined tribes of the Far North present their claims to the Waitangi Tribunal between 1989 and 1992 gave me access to a wider range of northern oral traditions and I gradually pieced together the story of two centuries of interaction between Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri. In doing so I was struck by how much of the story could be interpreted in terms of utu and on-going exchange.- 322
The account that follows focuses on the relation between Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri: the relations of each with other tribes are dealt with only as they impinge upon this central relationship (Figure 2). The account draws on an array of sources, both written and oral, in Māori and in English (Cloher 2002, Keene 1963, Keene n.d., Kereama 1968, Korako 1903, Marsden 1992, Motuti Community Trust 1986, Walzl 1991). These sources mostly confirm and complement each other; discrepancies concern matters of detail and do not affect the general pattern of relations or events. I have not given detailed references at every point: doing so would unnecessarily interrupt the flow of the story and be of interest only to readers with local knowledge. I can, however, provide full references on enquiry.
Experts from Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa and related tribes have checked the narrative text and approved it for publication as true to the stories they know, though told in a different way. 12
Since the kūmara (Ipomoea batatas or sweet potato) played a key role in relations between Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri, a word is needed on its significance in Māori thinking and social practice. A cultivar of tropical origin, the kūmara required adaptation to the New Zealand environment, where it has to be propagated from cuttings, is prone to disease and requires careful handling and storage. Regarded as a sacred crop in the 18th and 19th centuries, its production was hedged with ritual. Cooked or uncooked kūmara ranked as a taonga and was loaded with symbolic meaning. Hence the positive value attached to kūmara as a gift in gift exchange and the negative value attached to the theft of kūmara.
NGĀ HOA RIRI—THE ANGRY FRIENDS
Commonalities and Differences
Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa share descent from the commanders and crews of three of the voyaging canoes which colonised Aotearoa from Eastern Polynesia 800 to 1000 years ago: Kurahaupo, whose people landed and settled in the extreme north, and Ngātoki Matawhaorua and Mamari, whose captains made landfall together in the Hokianga Harbour (Evans 1997). To distinguish themselves from each other, Te Aupōuri place primary emphasis on descent from Ruanui, commander of the Mamari, while Te Rarawa stress descent from Tūmoana, commander of the Tinana that came to shore near Ahipara, at the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach (Evans 1997). In the course of time, Tūmoana's descendants spread southwards and settled in northern Hokianga, leaving a scattering of families living at Ahipara and Whangapē Harbour (Figure 3).
Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri both emerged as significant political entities in northern Hokianga in the second half of the 18th century. The warrior- 323 - 324
chief Te Ikanui and his peace-loving brother Wheeru welded related hapū together under the name Ngāti Ruanui and the equally renowned Tarutaru unified others under the name of Tūmoana's great-grandson Houpure.
To begin with, Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāti Houpure lived virtually side by side, occupying adjoining valleys and pā ‘hilltop forts’ in northern Hokianga. Accounts of specific exchanges, either friendly or hostile, are missing from the record of this early period. The attention of each was directed outwards to different enemies. On the one hand, Tarutaru led his forces in raids across Hokianga Harbour into Ngāti Whātua territory, where a particular incident led to their taking on the name Te Rarawa. Ngāti Ruanui, on the other hand, were embroiled in hostilities with neighbours Ngāti Tūmamao and the Kaikohe hapū Ngāti Tautahi, led by Te Hōtete. When Ngāti Tūmamao killed their sister Kupe, Te Ikanui and Wheeru killed the killer and concentrated their forces in Kupe's pā Makora in southern Whangapē, awaiting retaliation. Beleaguered there by the combined forces of their enemies, they filled the pā with brushwood and set fire to it. The fire spread to the surrounding bush, creating a dense pall of smoke that stained the waters of the harbour black with ash. Ngāti Ruanui escaped under cover of the smoke and thereafter adopted a new name, Te Aupōuri, ‘[the people of] the black smoke’ or (some say) ‘the blackened currents’.
Displaced, Te Aupōuri trekked northwards, finding places to settle among the scattering of Tūmoana's descendants living between Whangapē and Ahipara. Te Ikanui and his people asserted control over Ahipara from pā on the encircling hills, and Wheeru and his people did the same at Pukepoto and the area now known as Kaitaia. Even in these new homes, Te Aupōuri continued to be harassed by their old enemy Te Hōtete, suffering two defeats in battle. Then Te Rarawa pushed their way north under Tarutaru's grandson Pōroa, seeking to regain ancestral territory. To escape these pressures, Te Ikanui led his followers and a section of Wheeru's still further north, establishing settlements on the Mangonui peninsula at Pukenui, Houhora, Te Kao and Te Hāpua, while the rest of Wheeru's descendants returned south to Hokianga. Te Rarawa extended their control northwards to the southern end of Ninety Mile Beach, Pōroa and his closest supporters occupying Ahipara and its pā, with Papahia, Ngātaiawa and Kahi to the southwest in Whangapē, Rotokākahi and Manukau respectively, Kaha and Te Tūngutu to the east in Wainui and Takahue.
From Positive to Negative Utu
Relations between Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa began to sour when Te Rarawa strengthened ties with Te Aupōuri's particular enemy, Ngāti Tautahi under Te Hōtete's leadership. Te Rarawa chief Ngātaiawa took a war-party- 325 - 326
eastwards to support Te Hōtete in raids against Ngāti Kahu of the Mangonui area. On his return he settled in Wainui with Kaha's hapū Ngāti Moetonga.
In that tense climate, it took only one episode to transform neighbours who were friendly, if not close, into bitter enemies. In the early 1800s, Kaha, chief of Ngāti Moetonga, struck and killed his Te Aupōuri mother-in-law Ko when she complained that his servants had stolen kūmara tubers from her storehouse. When Te Aupōuri heard this news, their war-chief Te Kākā, one of Ikanui's sons, assembled a war-party. Pōroa mobilised another in defence. Ngātaiawa, who was getting on in years, was persuaded by his sons to stay home and let them join Pōroa. Te Kākā by-passed the Te Rarawa war-party and killed the defenceless Ngātaiawa in his own home in Wainui. This was not only a death for a death, but the death of a chief for a woman living outside her tribal territory.
A cycle of negative utu had been set in motion. Prodded and supported by Te Hōtete, the Te Rarawa chiefs gathered in force and confronted Te Aupōuri in the battle of Waitukupāhau on the sands of Ninety Mile Beach, just north of Ahipara. Te Aupōuri were heavily defeated. Many of their warriors perished but Te Kākā escaped.
Agreeing that Ngātaiawa's death was not fully avenged as long as his killer lived, the northern Te Rarawa chiefs and their ally Te Hōtete recruited support from the whole of Te Rarawa, including the hapū living in the Hokianga. With Ngāti Moetonga to the fore, Te Rarawa advanced up the beach to Waimīmiha. In an effort to provoke Te Aupōuri, Te Rarawa breached the rāhui ‘ritual prohibition’ placed on the taking of seafood from the beach by Ngāruhe, the Te Aupōuri tohunga ‘ritual expert’; when that failed, they killed Ngāruhe's pet dog. Provoked at last, Te Aupōuri sent warriors to Waimīmiha where they caught and killed Kaha, the original cause of hostilities. Te Rarawa prepared pits for earth ovens to cook the food they had stolen, and then foolishly retired for the night. In the morning, when they returned, the pits disgorged Te Aupōuri warriors. But surprise was not enough—Te Rarawa had the advantage of numbers and the tactical leadership of Pōroa. Te Aupōuri were again defeated and this time Te Kākā was killed. His niece caught Pōroa's attention when she covered his body with her own to prevent its mutilation.
Turning War into Peace
Pōroa and his warriors pursued the retreating Te Aupōuri and forced a third battle at Honuhonu further north along the beach. At the height of the battle, Pōroa asserted his mana and stopped the fighting. Drawing a line in the sand, he declared it to mark the boundary between the two tribes, Te Aupōuri to the north, Te Rarawa to the south. From that act Ninety Mile Beach, known to Māori as Te Oneroa-a-Tohe, acquired an additional name, - 327 Te Oneroa-i-haea-e-Pōroa ‘The Long Beach divided by Pōroa’. To confirm the peace, Te Aupōuri gave Te Kākā's niece Whangatauatia to Pōroa as his wife. To emphasise her role as peace-maker he gave her name to Ahipara's sacred mountain, the site of his main pā. Pōroa also set aside land in its shadow as a base in Ahipara for her Te Aupōuri relatives. That is why residents there are often referred to as “Te Aupōuri ki Ahipara” (Te Aupōuri at Ahipara).
Hostile relations appeared to have been turned into peaceful ones by Pōroa's generosity and marriage. In the years after the battle of Honuhonu, leadership of Te Aupōuri passed to Ngāruhe, one of Wheeru's sons, and tribal members encountered Europeans on travels to the Bay of Islands, Hokianga and overseas. Wheeru's brother Te Ihupango came home from whaling with a gun, which he offered to his grandson Te Houtaewa, Ngāruhe's nephew, along with a fighting axe and a wooden striking weapon called a tewhatewha. Te Houtaewa rejected the weapon that killed at a distance in favour of those useful in hand-to-hand fighting. Between 1818 and 1823 warriors from both tribes joined war expeditions against tribes south of Auckland, expeditions led by Te Hōtete's son Hongi Hika and related chiefs under the newly minted name of Ngā Puhi. 13 Putting aside their own enmities, Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri warriors fought side by side in the Bay of Plenty and the Waikato. 14
Breaching the Peace: From Theft to War Again
But the exchange of “good” gifts was not frequent or binding enough to establish peace permanently. The marriage arranged after Honuhonu proved childless and Whangatauatia left Pōroa. For years Te Aupōuri secretly nurtured a new generation of warriors with a view to extracting utu for their defeat. Te Houtaewa began baiting Te Rarawa in an attempt to provoke them to war. Famed for his fleetness of foot, he more than once ran from his home in Houhora across country to Te Oneroa-a-Tohe and along the beach to Ahipara, stole kūmara from the storage platforms in Koroukore under the shadow of the mountain Whangatauatia and shook off or killed the angry pursuers. Then he killed the Te Rarawa chief Raharaha in a skirmish. When a Hokianga relative of his victim boasted of the revenge he would take, Te Houtaewa led a daring raid through Te Rarawa territory, shamed the boaster by abducting and then releasing his sons right under his nose, and escaped homewards unscathed.
Despite these provocations, the now ageing Pōroa was reluctant to break the peace he had made, but eventually he was persuaded to undertake a punitive expedition by Hongi Hika, the Ngā Puhi war-leader. Marching north along Te Oneroa-a-Tohe deep into Te Aupōuri territory, the combined - 328 Te Rarawa and Ngā Puhi forces attacked the Te Aupōuri pā on Hukatere Hill. 15 The outcome was a foregone conclusion, for Hongi's men had many guns and Te Aupōuri only a few. Nevertheless, they made a brave stand. Te Aupōuri set fire to dune grass, rendering the guns ineffective in the dense smoke, while Te Houtaewa ran rapidly round the pa's terraces, creating the illusion that they were well manned. Pōroa decreed that guns be set aside in favour of hand weapons. Te Aupōuri beat back several assaults on the first day of battle, but at great cost in lives. Warned by a relative in the attacking forces of renewed assault at dawn, Ngāruhe sent his people away to safety. Te Houtaewa, who had been wounded, was the last to go. In the morning, gaining time for the escape, Ngāruhe set fire to the scrub left unburnt and walked out of the smoke towards the enemy camp, wearing his cloak Kahuaero and carrying his greenstone mere, Te Kārawarawa. 16 He was killed sitting on a rock by a spear thrust to the chest, a chief's death. Te Houtaewa almost reached Houhora but was caught and killed on the shore of the harbour by a Ngā Puhi warrior.
Turning War into Peace—Again
Showing their respect for Ngāruhe and Te Houtaewa for their bravery, the victors cooked and ate some of their flesh, especially Te Houtaewa's thighs, but returned the rest of their bodies to their families. They cut off Ngāruhe's right hand clasping his mere and sent both to his father's sister Urupainga, living among Ngāti Whātua, who carried them back to Te Aupōuri territory for secret burial. Te Houtaewa's weapons were passed down the generations in his own family, until it was decided to deposit them in the Auckland War Memorial Museum for safekeeping.
After this battle Te Rarawa continued to honour the boundary established at Honuhonu, refraining from moving into Te Aupōuri's territory as settlers. Peace between the two tribes was sealed and the cycle of negative utu halted when Te Aupōuri gave Mere Ngāroto, a woman of chiefly descent, as wife for Pōroa's nephew, Te Ripi of Pukepoto. This marriage too was childless, some say as the price for making peace, 17 but it was not fruitless: Mere Ngāroto expressed her grief at her childlessness in a poetic statement which emphasises the high value of human beings (Metge 1995:313-14). This has been incorporated into waiata ‘song-poems’ and haka ‘dances’ which are claimed and performed by both Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa: it is now a shared taonga ‘valuable’.
Reciprocity in Peace
From that time on the former enemies became allies in war and in peace, though not without tension and misunderstandings.- 329
In the late 1820s, for a variety of reasons, most of Te Aupōuri moved away from their territory on the Mangonui Peninsula, made temporary homes in the territory of Te Rarawa or Ngāti Kahu, or went to the Three Kings Islands. In 1828, Nōpera Panakareao, Pōroa's successor as chief of Te Rarawa, joined with Te Aupōuri in mounting a war expedition against Te Aupōuri's northern neighbours Ngāti Kurī (Walzl 1991:44-51). Te Aupōuri returned home to reoccupy their tribal territory some years later.
In 1863 Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri combined with Ngāti Kurī, Ngāi Takoto and certain Ngāti Kahu hapū to mount a hākari at Ahipara in reciprocation of one staged by Ngā Puhi some years earlier (Papahia 1863, The New Zealander 1863). In the speeches hosts and guests agreed that the food and goods these tribes had jointly provided did not match the Ngā Puhi effort, let alone exceed it as intended. After lengthy debate it was decided to treat them as equivalent, to end the competitive exchange of hākari and refrain from supporting the Waikato tribes in their current opposition to the Government, thus maintaining peace in the north.
Over the last 150 odd years, so much intermarriage has taken place between Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa that few members of one cannot also claim membership by descent and inherited shares in land in the other. They simply assert membership in one or the other according to context and residence at the time. It is a long-standing tradition for children raised in Te Aupōuri territory to stay with relatives in Ahipara and Pukepoto while attending secondary school in Kaitaia. Within a week of arriving in Ahipara I was invited to accompany an Ahipara party to a wedding in Te Kao and over the years I have accompanied travelling parties to gatherings of many kinds in Te Aupōuri territory.
Yet just because the relationship between the two tribes is so close, one or the other periodically feels impelled to assert its independent identity, by taking independent action, publicising stories of past hostilities, and in due course making renewed efforts at peace-making.
Repaying an Old Debt
In 1987 Matiu Rata of Ngāti Kurī persuaded the five iwi of the Far North to combine in Te Rūnanga o Muriwhenua to present fisheries and land claims to the Waitangi Tribunal, choosing the name of the distant common ancestor Muriwhenua as a symbol of unity. The first hearing of the Muriwhenua fishing claim was heard on the marae ‘community meeting complex’ in Te Hāpua in Ngāti Kurī territory, the second on the main Ahipara marae in Te Rarawa territory. In preparation for the latter, Te Aupōuri dispatched several of their fittest young men to run from Houhora to Ahipara, bearing flax baskets of kūmara, symbolically returning what Te Houtaewa had stolen. - 330 Te Rarawa in their turn welcomed the runners and the Te Aupōuri travelling party with a feast at which the featured dish was warehou (Seriolella brama), a fish traditionally associated with peace-making (Shane Jones: pers. comm.).
This is not the end of the story: the two tribes have fallen out and made up at least twice since then. They will undoubtedly continue to do so.
Utu between Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri
Over a period of more than 200 years, relations between Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa have alternated between periods of peace and periods of hostility and war.
The oral traditions of the tribes make no specific reference to the exchange of “good” gifts during the periods of peaceful relations. Such exchanges did take place, however. This can be inferred, firstly, from the intermarriages recorded on the whakapapa ‘genealogies’, for example, that between Te Kaha of Te Rarawa and Ko of Te Aupōuri, and, secondly, from the environmental differences between the tribes' territories, which form the basis of continuing exchange to the present day. Te Rarawa's territory is located entirely on the west coast where sandy beaches alternate with rocks and reefs rich in paua (Haliotis or abalone), mussels and crayfish. Te Aupōuri territory comprises both west and east coasts with fewer rocks, more sandy stretches, extensive stands of pingao (Desmpschoenus spiralis, a plant valued by weavers), and east coast harbours which have warmer waters than the west coast and a different range of fish and shellfish. After the marriage of Pōroa and Whangatauatia sealed peace between the tribes, Whangatauatia's Te Aupōuri relatives visited her at Ahipara, camping on the land Pōroa gave them for the purpose. It is highly unlikely that they came or were sent away with empty hands. The on-going exchange of gifts in times of peace would seem to have been taken for granted, conducted in a low key way and at local community rather than tribal level.
In contrast, the exchange of “bad” gifts during periods of hostility is remembered clearly and in detail. Injuries inflicted by and on individuals quickly escalated to involve the tribe as a whole. Stories of the “bad” gifts exchanged include thefts of kūmara, homicide, trespass, breaches of tapu and multiple deaths on the battlefield. Told with relish and a wealth of detail, they illustrate the strength of the imperative to give in excess of what was received. On two separate occasions the theft of kūmara set off a spiral of escalating violence, moving through isolated killings (of Kō and Ngātaiawa in the first instance, of Raharaha and Te Houtaewa's pursuers in the second) to full-scale set battles in intertribal war, involving the support of outside allies.
There are stories about the giving of “good” gifts between the two tribes, but the giving in these stories occurred at the point of transition between - 331 war and peace and was specifically designed to halt the exchange of “bad” gifts and thus make possible the resumption of peaceful exchanges. These stories are illuminating in that the initiative was taken in each case by the victors, or rather by their leading chief Pōroa, and the gifts given included magnanimous actions as well as material objects. The first cycle of hostility was halted by Pōroa at Honuhonu when he ordered the fighting to stop, drew a line in the sand and established it as the new boundary between the tribes' territories. By this action he increased his own mana as a great chief, arrested the decline in Te Aupōuri's mana and placed Te Aupōuri under an obligation to respond positively. This they did with the gift of the ultimate taonga, the high-ranking woman whom Pōroa had indicated he admired. Pōroa reciprocated that gift by treating her with all honour, naming his mountain-top pā after her and giving land under its lee (and protection) for the use of her Te Aupōuri relatives. This gift carried with it easy access to the rocks and reefs at the southern end of Te Oneroa-a-Tohe and thus to seafood less easily obtained in Te Aupōuri territory.
When Te Houtaewa succeeded in provoking Te Rarawa to war again, Pōroa once again treated Te Aupōuri with respect and magnanimity, embargoing the use of guns, holding Te Rarawa warriors back from pursuing the wounded Te Houtaewa, and honouring Ngāruhe and Te Houtaewa in death by returning their bodies and treasured weapons to their kin. And Te Aupōuri replenished their mana by again giving the greatest gift in their power in the person of Mere Ngāroto.
One notable feature of the history of exchanges between Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa is the lack of any exchange of heirloom taonga, such as greenstone mere, taiaha ‘wooden fighting spears’ or fine cloaks. The treasured possessions of the chiefs of both tribes—Pōroa's mere, Ngāruhe's mere and cloak, Te Houtaewa's axe and tewhatewha—were all passed down their own descent line, buried with them, or placed in a museum on conditions that left descendants with use rights. While both tribes maintained their mana by reciprocating the gifts they received from the other, the exchange of “bad” gifts proved heavily weighted on one side, with Te Aupōuri suffering successive defeats on the battlefield and failing to turn the tables in spite of their best efforts. Yet, in the telling of these stories Te Aupōuri emerge with as much honour and mana as Te Rarawa. Though outnumbered, they never evaded the imperative to return the gift, whether “good” or “bad”. They won the respect of Te Rarawa and of all the northern tribes for the way they responded to defeat individually and collectively. Unable to match, let alone overwhelm, Te Rarawa on the battlefield, they won mana by their persistence, their honourable behaviour and their gifts of two highly valued women. Te Houtaewa's fleetness of foot, his daring and his tactical leadership in war - 332 were and are admired and celebrated as much by Te Rarawa as by his own people. Ngāruhe's self-sacrifice and chief's death after Hukatere won the respect of his enemies and restored the mana Te Aupōuri had lost in defeat. Te Aupōuri's gift of Mere Ngāroto—a woman whose character and talents matched her rank—reversed the negative cycle of exchange pursued for so long, re-establishing peaceful relations and initiating a new and positive cycle of “good” gifts.
From the making of peace after the battle of Hukatere, relations between the two tribes have been marked by co-operation, in both war and peace, frequent intermarriages at all levels of society, and mutual support as needed at times of death and other crises. When an appropriate occasion presented itself during the Waitangi Tribunal hearings, Te Aupōuri symbolically offered reparation for Te Houtaewa's theft of Te Rarawa kūmara and were graciously received with symbols of peace.
Neither past hostilities nor past alliances are forgotten. If ever members of either tribe are in danger of forgetting their chequered history, the other acts to bring it back to consciousness in a public way.
Tracing the history of relations between Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa over a period of 200 years throws useful light on our understanding of Māori gift exchange, illustrating, confirming and building on Firth's interpretations and insights.
The story as told here bears out Firth's insight in identifying utu as the underlying principle of Māori gift exchange.
It also confirms the value of Firth's insight in linking the exchange of gifts of all kinds into a single system: gifts given for primarily economic purposes and gifts given for primarily social purposes; gifts given in the course of everyday life and highly valued taonga; gifts given within and between local communities; “good” gifts and “bad” gifts, and “good” gifts given to counter “bad” ones and make possible a return to friendly relations.
Importantly, it illustrates how the delay in returning gifts, combined with the imperative to give more than was received, worked to maintain the relationship, whether in positive or in negative mode, through an imbalance of obligation, until one side took decisive action to halt and reverse it.
And it confirms Firth's insight that gift exchange forged and maintained social bonds between groups, and was deliberately used for that purpose.
But the intertwined story of Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa also builds on and extends Firth's presentation in at least three ways.- 333
Figure 4: From the exchange of “good” gifts to the exchange of “bad” gifts to the exchange of “good” gifts
It demonstrates how and why friendly relations were turned into hostile ones and back again through the operation of the principle of utu.
It suggests that the category of “good” gifts was wide enough in the people's thinking to include acts of magnanimity and acts recognised as conferring mana on actor and/or recipient.
Finally, it demonstrates that as well as forging and reinforcing bonds between social groups, gift exchange also marked and reinforced their existence as separate entities, and was—and is—deliberately used for that purpose.
This text has been read, criticised and approved for publication by the following tribal experts: Haki Campbell, Joe Cooper, Rima Eruera and Gloria Herbert (Chair of Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa) of Te Rarawa; Winiata Brown, Matiu Wiki and George Witana of Te Aupōuri; Shane Jones of Ngāi Takoto; and Merimeri Penfold of Ngāti Kurī. I acknowledge their help and support with gratitude. I also pay tribute to the late Māori Marsden for permission to take notes of his oral accounts of Muriwhenua history, and to the late Mereana Kerehoma for giving me access to the handwritten books containing whakapapa and tribal history which she held in trust for her own and her husband's whanau ‘family groups’.
I thank the Anthropology Department at the University of Auckland for the opportunity to present a shortened version of this paper in their staff and graduate seminar series, and Ann Chowning and the editors of the Journal of the Polynesian Society for helpful comments and advice.
- 335 Page of endnotes- 336
1 Firth 1959:19-20. Throughout this paper references will be made to the second edition entitled Economics of the New Zealand Maori which is more readily available in libraries than the first edition.
2 In The Enigma of the Gift, Godelier refers to Firth's work only in connection with the latter's criticism of Mauss's interpretation of the Ranapiri text (Godelier 1999:49, 52-53).
3 In assembling a wide range of sources, Firth included some that reported events that happened well into the 19th century, when (it is argued) Māori economic life had been seriously affected by contact with European technology and ideas. However, there were major variations in the rate of both contact and change in different tribal communities, many practices continued in the face of European pressures, and underlying principles such as utu survived by adapting their expression to changed conditions. We should be grateful that Firth cast his net so wide, for it caught many obscure references.
4 Stemming partly from my training under Professor Ralph Piddington, a Malinowskian functionalist, and partly from my own preoccupation with the present.
5 The word hākari is given the two meanings of “present” and “feast”, in that order of precedence, by A Dictionary of the Maori Language (Williams 1971:31). Where the groups attending a hākari were not closely related, the hosts gave their guests large quantities of uncooked food and the guests, for fear of sorcery, either cooked and ate it by themselves or took it away with them. Hosts and guests did not eat together.
6 The terms iwi and hapū are often translated as ‘tribe’ and ‘sub-tribe’ but historians and anthropologists now consider the latter translation to be misleading (Ballara 1998:25-35). Iwi and hapū were and are descent-based political groups but in the late 18th and early 19th centuries hapū were largely self-governing and independent under their chiefs, not sub-divisions of a larger entity. Iwi were typically alliances of hapū held together by common interests and strong leadership but liable to break up and reform. There is no accurate one-word translation for hapū. For that reason I shall use the Māori word hapū without translation, while using ‘tribe’ to render iwi.
7 In a joint Department of Anthropology and Maori Studies from 1965 to 1981 and in the Anthropology Department after a separate Department of Maori Studies was established in 1981.
8 The word taonga is defined in A Dictionary of the Maori Language (Williams 1971:381) as meaning “property, anything highly prized”. It is applied in the first place to highly prized craft objects such as greenstone weapons and ornaments and fine flax cloaks, but also to land, to categories of people (for example, women, children, elders), to waiata ‘song-poems’ and haka ‘dances with chanted words’, and to traditional knowledge.
9 A Dictionary of the Maori Language defines the word hau as “vitality of man, vital essence of land, etc., which was particularly susceptible to the attacks of witchcraft, etc.” and notes that it is “most essentially spiritual and intangible” (Williams 1971:39). After exploring the concepts mauri and hau, Firth concluded that they were “almost synonymous… principles of the same order” (Firth 1959:279-81).
10 Ahipara is located in the northern part of Te Rarawa's territory. I spent five months in Ahipara in 1955 as part of the fieldwork research for my Ph.D. My thesis was later published as A New Māori Migration (1964). Since 1958 I have returned to Ahipara frequently to carry out research in Ahipara and the Far North generally. In 1977 I was adopted as an honorary member of Te Rarawa tribe in a ceremony arranged by Ahipara elders. Since 1989 I have owned a home in Ahipara as well as Auckland and visit frequently. During hearings of the Muriwhenua Land Claim before the Waitangi Tribunal between 1990 and 1995 I presented three reports based on research carried out in Ahipara, Te Rarawa and the Far North generally.
11 For example, the people of the settlement Koroukore on the seashore in Ahipara were sometimes referred to as “Te Aupōuri ki Ahipara” and children from Te Aupōuri settlements stayed with Ahipara relatives during the week while attending secondary school in Kaitaia. The people of Koroukore recounted with a mixture of resentment and admiration the exploits of the Te Aupōuri warrior Te Houtaewa in stealing kūmara from their storage platforms and the battles between Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri, which took place along Ninety Mile Beach.
12 See Acknowledgments above.
13 The participation of chiefs and followers from Te Rarawa and Te Aupōuri in the southern war expeditions is strongly asserted by the tribes' oral historians but often goes unrecognised in published texts. Crosby (1999:56-58) records that Te Aupōuri and Te Rarawa warriors accompanied Te Morenga's war expedition to the Bay of Plenty in 1918 but does not mention their presence in the forces led south by Hongi Hika (Crosby 1999:56-58). However, in a recently published book which draws on oral as well as written sources, Cloher gives an account of Pōroa's participation in Hongi Hika's campaigns in the Waikato and Hauraki, stressing Pōroa's preference for peace-making (Cloher 2002:68-70).
14 Though it is common practice to identify hapū occupying the Middle North in the 18th century as Ngā Puhi, that name was first heard in the early 19th century applied to an alliance of hapū based around Kaikole and the northern Bay of Islands. It gained wider currency when leaders of this alliance headed war expeditions against tribes to the south in the second and third decades of the 19th century. Eventually it was extended to include all the hapū of the Middle North defined by descent from the ancestor Rahiri (Ballara 1998:60-61).
15 An account of this final battle in Crosby (1999:150-153) amplifies the summary given here, while differing on some minor points. Crosby dates the battle of Hukatere as 1824 but tribal experts place it a year or two later.
16 The mere is a hand-to-hand fighting weapon made of greenstone, extremely hard stone found only in the South Island. A chiefly weapon, it is highly valued as a taonga.
17 While in many cases intertribal marriages were seen as strengthening the alliance through the birth of children with claims to membership in each tribe, in this and similar cases the belief that every major achievement had to be paid for by a sacrifice seems to have led to the sacrificing of the women's capacity for child-bearing.