Maori - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The interrelationships among households, hapu, and iwi has been described above. While iwi were fixed in composition and number, new hapu were created through fission. When a hapu grew too large to function effectively some of its members would break off and establish a new hapu under the leadership of one of the chief's sons or younger brothers. The tribes whose ancestors arrived in New Zealand in the same canoe were considered to constitute a waka, literally "canoe." A waka was effectively a confederation whose members felt some obligation to help one another. This special relationship did not, however, rule out warfare between two tribes of the same waka. The Maori were ranked into three social classes, determined by the source of one's line. Members of the two highest classes were both free people, while those descended from the oldest males of each generation formed the aristocracy ( rangatira ). Those from more junior lines, or whose ancestors had lost status, were considered commoners ( tutua or ware). The question of Precisely where a particular line stood in these two classes was often a source of controversy. Difference in rank was directly correlated with degree of sacredness ( tapu ) and mana of each individual and group. Finally, there were the slaves ( taure-kareka), mainly war captives, who stood outside the descent system.

Political Organization. Each hapu had a chief (from the rangatira). The rangatira of the most senior hapu was the paramount chief ( ariki ) of that tribe. The tribe was therefore the highest politically integrated unit in Maori society. Both chieftainships were passed on patrilineally to the first son in each generation. In some tribes a senior daughter was also given special recognition. Chiefs were of high rank and Generally quite wealthy. They exercised great influence but lacked coercive power. The chiefs organized and directed economic projects, led marae ceremonials, administered their group's property, and conducted relations with other groups. The chiefs were often fully trained priests with ritual responsibilities and powers, most importantly the right to impose tapu. The rangatira and ariki were, in their persons, very tapu and had much mana. The household heads or kaumatua as a group constituted the community council ( runanga ) which advised and could influence the chief.

Social Control. Penalties for crimes ran from gossip, reprimand, and sorcery to seizure of property, beating, and execution.

Conflict. Conflict between different hapu and different tribes was common and often led to warfare. The defeated were most often enslaved, killed, or eaten. Women and Children were the most likely persons to be spared.

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