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Maori Society Maori social organisation The iwi tribe was the largest political unit within Classic Maori society, although an affinity with other tribes which shared descent from the same canoe frequently gave rise to military allegiances.
However, the main unit was not the iwi but the hapu sub-tribea highly localised group of perhaps people of common descent made up of several inter-related whanau extended family groups bound together by a common ancestor who might have lived perhaps 10 generations earlier.
The hapu was a fully autonomous and independent grouping, a self-sufficient economic unit which cultivated its own land and caught fish and snared birds from within its own boundaries. A village settlement might have comprised a single or perhaps several hapu.
An ariki chief was the leader of a hapu and attained his rank from the common belief that vested in him was the mana prestige of his predecessors.
If he were not an effective political leader he might retain his religious role while vesting political leadership in a more suitable relative. Whenever an important decision affecting the hapu was to be made, a public meeting would be held on the marae square in front of the whare runanga meeting house.
The various kaumatua family leaders might all speak, but the ariki spoke first and last, and his decision, which would reflect the opinions expressed, was final. The word hapu literally means 'pregnancy', emphasizing the concept of kinship, and iwi, 'bones', the preoccupation with relationships and lines of descent.
But while the hapu would combine to battle with external enemies as a tribal unit, fighting between hapu within the same iwi was by no means exceptional.
Tohunga Within the hapu each member did the job for which he or she was best suited, and rank depended not on the accumulation of goods but on the extent to which a person provided them for others.
A tohunga was a 'specialist' e. When not so occupied they would join in the ordinary everyday work of the tribe from which even the ariki was not exempt.
Part of a tohunga's expertise lay in his knowledge of the rituals connected with his craft, and so each tohunga was to some degree also a priest. Today the term tohunga is used loosely to refer only to the most important of the various ranks of tohunga, high priests trained in the most sacred lore of the whare wananga house of learning.
These were entrusted with intimate details of tribal history too tapu for the remainder of the tribe to know, and were also versed in the innermost secrets of Io, the one God, the Supreme Being.
Their proximity to the gods was believed to give them supernatural powers and their knowledge of ritual was essential to the well-being of their people. As high priests they were natural leaders and advisers in tribal councils, and exercised great power.
Curiously absent were large religious constructions. Maori religion left little material trace, and the small tuahu altar does not compete with the massive shrines of Easter Island and Tahiti - factors which suggest that religious developments there post-dated contact with New Zealand.
Tapu and noa The dual concept of tapu sacred and noa free from tapu regulated and constricted every facet of Maori life. Tapu was a positive force, associated with life, immortality, masculine objects and women of the highest rank.
Noa was its antithesis, a negative force associated with death and feminine objects. Tapu was in one sense a religious or superstitious restriction, and all who violated it were doomed to be overcome at least by misfortune, at worst by death.
To remove tapu, for example from a newly completed meeting house, a tohunga would have to perform an appropriate ceremony and the tapu might in the case of a house be neutralised by a woman of rank entering.
Odd numbers could be noa and even numbers tapu.
If a mistake were made and an even number of rafters erected in a meeting house, the tapu of the house would be so powerful it could never be removed and so the house could never be used by women. Tapu emanated from the gods and with only the atua gods shielding humans from the forces of evil it was not to be taken lightly.
All objects under construction were tapu, and it would be a breach of tapu to eat cooked food indoors cooked food and the human head were surrounded by innumerable tapu. A tohunga under tapu would have to be fed by another with food skewered to the end of a stick or through a feeding funnel. Feeding funnel korere - it's not entirely certain that these funnels were used in relation to tapu.
An alternative is that they were used following the extremely painful process of tattooing the lips. Without its former rigidity, tapu persists to this day in certain situations, but observation is rapidly being reduced to the level of etiquette.
The belief that all sickness was caused by the sufferer's breach of tapu has long vanished, and the Tohunga Suppression Act of was repealed in However, in certain respects e.
Utu and mana In utu and mana the Maori were carrying in their culture the seeds of self-destruction. No slight to one's mana prestige could be ignored, however trivial, and to offend one person was to affront an entire hapu.
Revenge utu was called for in every instance and was often exacted to a degree out of all proportion to the original insult. As a consequence ceaseless war was central to Classic Maori life, although it was a seasonal activity restricted to times of year when the kumara plantations did not require attention.
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