Maori - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Maori subsistence depended on fishing, gathering, and the cultivation of sweet potatoes, or kumara (Ipomoea batatas), some taro, yams, and gourds. Fishing was done with lines, nets, and traps, while fowling was done with spears and snares. Items gathered include shellfish, berries, roots, shoots, and piths. Rats were also trapped and eaten. In infertile areas or in harsh seasons uncultivated fern roots provided an important starchy supplement. Kumara was planted in October and harvested in February and March; winter was the most important hunting season. Getting food was a time-consuming and arduous business.

Industrial Arts. The Maori made tools from stone and wood. Important mechanical aids were wedges, skids, lifting tackles, fire ploughs, and cord drills. Most material items were highly decorated. Major manufactures included flax mats, canoes, fishing equipment, weapons, elaborate digging sticks, cloaks, and ornaments, among others.

Trade. Goods and services were conveyed or compensated through gift giving between individuals. Items and services did not have set values, and the Maori lacked any form of true money. Items most often exchanged were food, ornaments, flax coats, stone, obsidian, and greenstone. Generosity was valued as it enhanced a person's mana, or psychic power. There was a coastal-interior exchange of sea and agricultural products for forest products and greenstone from the west coast of South Island was exchanged for finished goods from the north.

Division of Labor. Men were responsible for felling trees, clearing ground for cultivation, planting, trapping birds and rats, digging fern roots, deep-sea fishing, canoe making, carving, stoneworking, tattooing, and performing esoteric rites. Women were responsible for gathering, weeding, collecting firewood, carrying water, cooking, plaiting, and weaving. Especially skilled individuals could become specialists ( tohunga ) as carvers, builders, and raft makers. The Maori preferred to work cooperatively, with particularly odious jobs left to the slaves.

Land Tenure. Nearly all land was owned by the various descent groups or tribes. Each group controlled a parcel of Tribal territory and granted rights of usufruct and occupation to its members. Only the group could alienate the descent group's land, and then only with the permission of the entire tribe. Border disputes were a common source of fighting. The nuclear family ( whanau ) of a descent group held rights to specific resources and parcels of land, which could be conveyed to the members' children. Rights of use could be extended to nonmembers only with the permission of the entire descent group.

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