Volume 57 1948 > Volume 57, No. 3 > Whangai tamariki (Nga ritenga mo te whangai tamariki), by Geo. Graham, p 268-278
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- 268
(Nga ritenga mo te whangai tamariki.)
(The custom pertaining to the adoption of children in accordance with ancient Maori custom.)

AS with European usages, the Maori aforetime observed a complicated series of customs appertaining to the adopting of children. These customs, so far as modern social conditions prevail, still hold force in present-day Maori life. Happenings from time to time show that much of the old-time Maori outlook and influences are extant.

European adoptions, the equivalent to Maori whangai, are mostly due to the natural urge impelling childless couples to adopt child or children, though as often as not such children may be of unknown parentage.

In the case however of Maori adoptions such are invariably the result of Maori custom applying, and such adoptions are made to ensure the retention in the family group of such children, thus to preserve their tribal identity; and therefore the succession to land and tribal rights.

For example a chief might thus endeavour to secure the retention of the tribal lands, conserve his own repute and mana to future generations of time. Especially would this be so if the child being male issue (uri tane), but the mother belong to another tribe. She might later, on the death of her husband or other happening, return to her own people. As a precaution, the grandfather would by word of mouth give his poroporoaki announcing his wish as to this grandchild. Having so made his wish known, a name would be bestowed on the child at the time of its birth. The child was named as a namesake for himself (ka tapa he ingoa mona). Such name was of some ancestral significance, and would thus definitely indicate the child was wholly his.

The child might yet remain with and be reared by the parents or, if an orphan, be under the cherished care (atawhai) of its own immediate relatives on the paternal side.

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Hence at least in these districts in the North and in the Waikato districts the difference between whangai (adoption) and atawhai (to take care of).


An historic example of atawhai was one thus:

Tamati Waka had a young relative named Matetakahia, who had left his Ngapuhi people and went to live with the Ngati Rangi tribe at Tauranga. There he married and had several children. Word came to Nene that this relative had killed a Pakeha. Nene felt this hara (misdeed) was a slur on himself; for he conceived that the Pakeha people were his special protégés—the more so if they should, as in this case, suffer at the hands of one of his own Ngapuhi tribesmen.

Waka Nene therefore proceeded to Tauranga to inflict capital punishment on his relative Matetakahia, whom he met at Ohuki, surrounded by his wife's people and his several children by her.

A tragic scene then took place. After making a speech reprimanding the alleged culprit for the murder of a Pakeha, Nene shot him dead. Later Nene found that Matetakahia was quite innocent of the crime and that therefore he had acted too hastily. Nene's act was thus regarded as a pokanoa (an act of unjustified interference). He was chided as “like unto a flying-fish which, in its haste to escape from some imaginary trouble, flew off and fell into the bows of the canoe.” (He maroro kokoti ihu waka.)

The Tauranga people according to Maori custom could not take any action against Nene for after all he had slain one of his own tribesmen.

When Nene found his mistake, he took the son Timoti of the slain man and had him in his care as a protégé (atawhai) until his death. The lad now grown an adult, then passed into the care of Nene's brother Eru Patuone living with him at his home at Awataha and Waiwharariki (Takapuna), and until he died there.

This condition of atawhai did not confer any right of succession in land, or other tribal rights upon Timoti, such as adoption by whangai conferred. Hence Timoti did not inherit anything of his foster parents Waka Nene and Patuone.

- 270

[Vide appendix, notes 1and 2 being extracts from Life and Times of Patuone, by C. O. Davis, and Wars of the 19th Century, by S. P. Smith.]


Now this is an example of whangai tamariki, 1 a condition conferring inherent tribal lands and rights on an adopted child.

A Ngati Pou (Waikato) chief heard that his moko-puna (grandchild) was expectant of a child. He then pronounced his ohaki—that his wish was that the child to be born be an ingoa mana (a namesake for him). If the child when born was a girl, her name was to be “Huiawa-rua.” If a boy was the issue, his name was to be “Te Horeta.” Both these names were the names of Ngati Pou ancestry. In time the child was born a girl, and Huiawarua was her name.

When grown to marriageable age, the grandsire had passed unto his fathers, but his ohaki still held its mana (authority). Huiawarua was married to a close relative who bore the name Te Horeta. All this happened within these recent times. 2

A transgression by not respecting the old grandsire's ohaki might have led to serious consequences.

Yet here again is a case of an ohaki set aside for cogent reasons thus explained.

A granddaughter was born unto a Ngati Whanaunga chief of fame of recent times. His ohahi was that the girl was to be an ingoa (namesake) for him. The name indicated was “Kahupeka,” his grandmother's name.

In due course he, in Maori customary way, bestowed a piece of land (tukua he whenua) as an abiding-place for his ingoa. Her family settled down there, built their houses, fenced and cultivated the land for some years.

However, the old gentleman without prior reference to his ingoa's parents, sold that land to a Pakeha. This act was regarded as kohuru (treachery), and wiped out all respect for his ohaki.

First destroying all the houses by fire, chopping down the fruit trees, fencing, etc., they vacated the land, leaving a curse thereon. They migrated to another place where forgetting not, they forgave not. 3

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Later the old man full in years died after an unsuccessful effort to effect a reconciliation with his ingoa's family. His death was then attributed to the long drawn-out ill will (whaka-mauhara) on the part of Kahupeka's people.

Later Kahu's hand was sought in marriage by one of the old man's grandsons. A visiting party came to claim her as a bride (tomo wahine) 4 by virtue of the ohaki of the aged man. The request was promptly refused, the reason given being the dishonouring of his ohaki by the old man. For he had by that act of transgression belittled his ingoa before his and her tribal communities. His ohaki therefore ceased of mana and effect.

Yet still another tomo wahine party came again to urge the marriage of Kahupeka to their chosen spouse, and thus to heal the ill-feeling now long-lasting, and so extinguish this long-slumbering fire of ill will, “me he ahi komau e ka ana.5

But this second tomo wahine effort was likewise rejected in these words: “He kowhatu i taka mai i te pari, ekore e taea te whakahokia.” (A stone fallen from the cliff face cannot again be replaced.) Again to show the depth of their feelings of resentment despite the passing of the years, a final retort was: “He tara whai ka uru ki rote, e kore e taea te whakahokia.” (A stingray's barb, deeply thrust in, cannot be withdrawn.)

Kahupeka was ultimately allowed to marry the man of her own choice.

These examples of atawhai and whangai are explanatory of Maori ethics and illustrative of the conservative outlook still today controlling in full force Maori social life of these times.

The two dissertations as to Maori usages now given appear to have been taken down verbatim from the accounts of the two old-time chieftains mentioned of Poneke (Wellington). The original MSS. bears the year date 1842. The opinions of these chiefs were apparently sought in connection with the claims and counterclaims of rival parties to lands in the southern districts of Kapiti. 6 These disputes were the aftermath of Te Rauparaha's conquests and his settlement of the lands bestowed by him on his allied tribesmen in those parts and who had assisted him in his wars.

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These disagreements were already in full force before Te Rau's death in 1849—and continued long after that time to engage the attention of the Native Land Tribunals. They still today arise in issues undecided à la Jarndice v. Jarndice.


1. Ka korero ahau i nga mea i kite au, me nga mea i rongo au ki aku tupuna. He nui nga tamariki whangai a te takiwa ki Heretaunga i noto i oku ra nei.7

2. Ko etahi o nga tamariki na nga tuakana tuahine, ka mauria mai hei tamariki whangai. Ko era whangai, kaore etahi ana tamariki ake. I te wa e tata ai ia ki te mate, ka whakaatu ki ona whanaunga. “Taku oranga ka waiho e au ki taku tamaiti whangai.” Ka waiho tena kupu he ohaki.

3. Ki te mate urikore8 taua tamaiti, ka hoki ano ki nga whanaunga o te tupupaku ki te tuakana tuahine ranei.

4. Ko tetahi ahua o te whangai whanaunga ke tirohia te mea tika o te whanau katoa. Ka tau te manaakitanga me te mana rangatira kia ia.

5. Tetehi ahua tena a te whangai taunga mana katoa.


1. I will speak of the matter I have witnessed, and of the matters I have heard of from my grandparents. There were frequent and many adoptions of children in the district of Heretaunga 7 in my days.

2. Some of these children were those of elder brothers of sisters taken as adopted children. Such an adoptor not having any children of his own at the time he was on the approach of death, would thus direct his relatives: “My possessions I leave unto my adopted child.” That word was regarded as an ohaki (a dying injunction).

3. If that child should die without issue 8 then (the possessions) will revert to the relatives of the deceased (donor), or to the elder sister.

4. Another aspect of the adoption of (children) relatives was the careful consideration as to one proper - 273 among all of the relatives. Then would be settled (on him) the deference and chieftain authority.

5. That was the other feature of adoption, and the conferring of complete mana (authority).


1. I runga i te tikanga Maori; e whangaitia ana ka pakeke, ka hoke ano ki ana matua. Ina tona whakatauki: “Te tamaiti a te tangata ke,9 e atawhaitia, ka pakeke, ka hoki ano ki ona matua.” Mo te tangata ke tena.

2. Mo te whangai whanaunga ko te poroporoaki e penei ana. “Me tapa e koe to tamaiti hei ingoa maku.” Ka noho tena tamaiti penei. Ko te manaaki kia ia te pa-tuna.10

3. Ka mate te matua whangai, ka ki ake “I muri i au, kia mahara ki to koutou teina, a mea pa-tuna kia meatia mona.” Ko te ohaki tenei.

4. Ite wa e mate ai taua tamaiti whangai, ka ki ake ki ona whanaunga ake. “Whakahokia taua taonga ki nga uri a mea; whenua ranei, me hoki ki nga uri a mea.”

5. He kupu ke tenei taku mohiotanga a hara te tamaiti whangai i te take whenua. Nga take whenua he tupuna, he tuku, he raupatu, he pakuha.

6. Heoi te mana i whakatupua, kaua e kanga ki te tuakana mo te whangai tangata ke. Kaore he tuku i te oranga ki te whai mahara ki te whakaaro te tangata ra, ki tana whangai.

7. Ka whakaatu ia i te kupu ki ona whanaunga mehemea he uru karaka,11 koira “me waiho ki taku whangai rakau ahere.12 Koira pa-tuna, koira mahinga-kai,13 aha ranei.”

8. Koira ko taua tamaiti ka pakeke, ka hoki ki ona matua, kaore he whenua mona. Me korero nui rawa ki te iwi. Ko te take kaore hoki he whenua o te tangata kotahi, no te katoa nga whenua.14


1. If in accordance with Maori custom when grown up he returns to his parents, thus is the directive saying: “The child of other people 9 when grown up an adult will - 274 return to his parents.” This applies to a person of other people (i.e., a stranger or of other than a close blood connection).

2. Concerning the adoption of a relation, this is the dictum given: “Bestow on your child a name as a namesake for me.” That child will be regarded (or respected) as such. The guardianship is with him as to the eel weirs. 10

3. If the adopting parent be on the point of death he will say, “After me, remember your younger brother in respect of a certain eel weir, that it be set aside for him.” This is the ohaki (dying wish).

4. When that adopted son is about to die, he will say at that time to his own relatives, “Give back that property to the relatives of so and so.” Or if it be land, “Return it to the descendants of so and so.”

5. Another statement is this: To my knowledge the adopted child is not (included) in land rights. The rights to land are ancestral, by gift, by conquest, and by marital relationship.

6. Hence only does mana (title to land) originate. The elder must not be derided for having adopted one of stranger blood. For there would be no tuku (gift of property) unless the man had given due respect and had regard to his adopted (son).

7. He will have made known his words to his own relatives. “If the gift be a karaka grove, 11 then be it left to my adopted one. If it be a karaka ahere, 12 or again an eel weir, or again a food cultivation, 13 it is so.”

8. Now therefore that boy, when grown up an adult, if having returned to his parents, there is no land for him. Let this be widely proclaimed to the people. For the reason indeed the land belongs to no one person; to all (the tribe) belongs the land. 14


“One of the natives who took part in the “Hawes” tragedy was a Ngapuhi man, who at the time was visiting Whakatane, but usually lived at Maungatapu near Tauranga, having taken a woman of that place to wife. It so happened that Waka Nene of Hokianga (afterward Tamati Waka, and our ally in the first war between the Maoris and the Government at Bay of Islands 1843-4), was on the beach at - 275 Maungatapu, when this Ngapuhi man returned from Whakatane to his wife and friends. Tamati Waka advanced to meet him and delivered a speech, pacing up and down in Maori style, while Ngati He, the people of the pa, sat round. “Ugh! You are a pretty fellow,” said Tamati, “to call yourself a Ngapuhi. Do they murder Pakehas at Ngapuhi in that manner? What makes you steal away here to kill Pakehas? Has the Pakeha done you any harm that you kill him? There! That is for your work,” he said, as he suddenly stopped short and shot the native dead, whom he was addressing amidst his connections and friends.”—Maori Wars of the 19th Century. S. P. Smith, p. 418.


“Waka Nene in particular did not wait to enquire minutely into the cause of disagreement between the races, but acted on the spur of the moment in defence of the Europeans, by which mode of procedure he sometimes inflicted great injustice upon his own people, as in the case of a near relative of his named Matetakahia, whom he deliberately slew at Ohuki, Tauranga, suspecting that his relative had been concerned in the murder of an English trader, called by the Maoris Wharangi. It was subsequently discovered that Wharangi had been killed at Whakatane, by a chief named Te Ngarara; and the knowledge of this fact so exasperated some of Waka's relatives in the North, that they made their way to Whakatane in a coasting vessel and having discovered their intended victim with some others who came alongside in a canoe to barter, the northern chieftain, Te Haua, shot Ngarara dead, to avenge the death of Matetakahia, who had been killed by his relative Waka Nene; the latter being unaware of Matetakahia's innocence till after the fatal occurrence. 1516 and others, Te Mikere, Ngakapa, Kahupeka(f)

“Matetakahia's son, Timoti, is now residing on the late Patuone's estate, North Shore, having lived with both the brothers on the most affectionate terms notwithstanding the loss of his parent by the injudicious zeal of Waka Nene.”—Life and Times of Patuone. C. O. Davis. pp. 64-65.

Memo.: The name variations, Nene, Waka Nene, Tamati Waka, and Waka are of course abbreviated from the name Tamati Waka Nene, the prominent Ngapuhi chief of those times.

Ngati He, quoted as the tribal name of that people, should be Ngati Hei. That ancestor was a younger brother of Tama-te-Kapua and therefore an Arawa.

- 276 Page of endnotes

- 277 Page of endnotes

- 278 Page of endnotes

1   The Maori Land Court procedure under “The Maori Land Act, 1931,” legalises Maori adoptions (whangai) of children of Maori descent. There is thus conferred on such children all rights of succession to their fosterparents in lands and personality. Children not so legally adopted may be granted succession only with the assent of those entitled to succession.
2   Vide table below—“A.”
3   Kahupeka's people, though she was still an infant were, according to Maori custom, acting on her behalf. Therefore they rightfully destroyed the improvements effected by them on the land. Their motive was not an act of malicious intent, but to prevent the fruits of their labours passing into the hands of other people. Vide table below—“B.”
4   Tomo wahine: To claim possession of a woman by virtue of an ohaki bestowing her as a wife for one of their people. This differs from a tono wahine, the asking for a woman without any prior right by ohaki.
5   Ahi-komau (a slumbering fire). A fire left by a people in their kauta (cooking-house) on their departure on a journey or temporary absence. This ahi saved the trouble of rekindling the fire on their return by the hika-ahi or kaunoti process. This ahi-komau also precluded the taunt of casual visitors that they found the kauta fires cold (matau), but actually burning (ahika). To ensure the condition of komau a dry log of kowhai or mahoe was left on the hearth (taku-ahi) and covered over with ashes. It could be speedily relit by removing the covering ashes and fanning with a flapper or fan (piupiu ahi). The human breath might not be so used. Relatives arriving in the interim might rekindle the fire, but strangers might not. An ahi-komau might be left for weeks or more and was an indication to visitors that the local residents were away only temporarily. The process of ahi-komau was also used in tree-felling and hollowing out canoes.
6   Kapiti: Te Rauparaha, having fixed his headquarters on Kapiti Island, from there conducted his campaigns of conquest on the adjacent mainland districts from Horowhenua to Cook Strait (Raukawa). Hence this area of country became known generally as Kapiti. (Vide Maori Place-names. Andersen, p. 245.)
7   Heretaunga: A general name applied to Hutt Valley.
8   Mate uri kore (to die without issue): If an adopted child should die childless the land and personality rights possessed by virtue of an ohaki would then revert to the next-of-kin of the original donor (kai-tuku).
9   Te tamaiti a te tangatake: (The child of other people, i.e., a child of immediate blood relationship.) Such a child and his issue if any were not accepted as incorporated within the tribe. They were regarded as a tau-uri (people settled) within the tribal community as the effect of a former ohaki. If the direct issue of the original adopted person all died out, that became a whare-ngaro (extinct house); or if they left the land, their “hearth stone had fled” (ahi pu-tore). Their rights ceased under the ohaki.
10   Pa-tuna: Because of the perennial value as a sure source of food supply these pa-tuna were of great economic importance. Hence the bestowal of the care and management (manaaki-tanga) by virtue of an ohaki gave the donee much prestige with his adopted tribe. Only he could exercise the fishing rights to such a pa-tuna or give assent to others to so do, and only to those within the tribal group.
11   Uru-karaka (karaka grove): Also known as a pa-karaka (karaka hedge). Like the pa-tuna valued because of the annual crop of berries (whatu-kope), a highly esteemed food supply. When Turi arrived from Polynesia in the Aotea canoe he planted at Patea seeds of the karaka said to have been gathered at Kermadec Islands (Rangitahua). [Vide Aotea, p. 159. Hammond.] Throughout New Zealand there are such groves of karaka said to have similarly been planted in ancient days, which constitute visible evidence (tuhu) of tribal rights to such localities.
12   Rakau ahere (snaring trees): Trees to which various birds specially flock seasonally to eat of the berries, etc. On such trees snares were set. They belonged to special families by ancestral right or to a tamaiti whangai and his issue by ohaki.
13   Mahinga-kai (food cultivation): The ancestral rights to such a cultivation belonging to a particular family by ohaki or otherwise gave such owners much mana (prestige) within the tribe. No outsiders might there cultivate.
14   “Kaore he whenua mona . . . Ko te take, kaore hoki he whenua o te tangata kotahi; no te katoa nga whenua.” (“There is no land for him . . . for the reason indeed the land belongs to one person; to all (the tribe) belongs the land.”) It was the Crown's disregard of this axiomatic Maori tikanga (rule) as to Maori land ownership that led to the Taranaki War. The sale by Te Hira of the Waitara land and Te Rangitake's firm objection thereto were the main factors which led to the subsequent hostilities and the disastrous consequences of the Taranaki War.
15   Vide also White. Vol. 5, pp. 207 et seq.
TABLE “A” Ngati Pou
Family Tree. Tapaue (Waikato)==, Tini (Ngati Te Ata)=, Te Atairehea(f) (Ngati Te Ata), Pouate, Te Horeta=, Horeta Rehua=, Hore Rehua, issue, Tiatia (Ngati Pou), Rauinia(f), Huiawarua(f), Nukuahi(f)=Hawai, Huiawarua(f)=Pote, Mei Huiawarua(f), issue

TABLE “B” Ngati Whanaunga
Family Tree. Parekatu(f), Haki Hohaia, Hapi=Whatarangi (f), Kahupeka
16   Ngakapa's ingoa: In later life called Rangimarie, i.e., Peaceful happiness.