Perceptions, conceptions and realities : a study of the tribe in Maori society in the twentieth century.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis aims to provide an understanding of the nature of tribes and tribalisation in Maori society that is not readily available from secondary sources. It is an attempt to move out of the fog created by the intense politicisation that surrounds definitions and perceptions of the tribe, which in turn have created a bewildering maze of issues and demands. For example social change and development among Maori - and by implication the tribe - has been characterised variously as renaissance (Durie 1998), neo tribalism (Rata 2000), the reification of culture (Hansen 1989, van Meijl 1996), and political struggle (Walker 1990). These conceptualisations have not taken into account the fact that the tribe as the fundamental social organisation of Maori society and the tribe as the fundamental essence of Maori identity diverged as the twentieth century progressed. This thesis offers an alternative view of social change based on a study of the changing perceptions of the tribe throughout the twentieth century. The underlying premise is that perceptions of the tribe evolved according to a range of endogenous and exogenous social and political influences. This position is juxtaposed against the proposition that the tribe is, and can be understood simply from observation of communities, past and present. Throughout the twentieth century the tribe's status as the primary organising force changed. In the early stages of the century the tribe was the primary, as well as the fundamental, form of Maori social organisation and identity. As the century progressed and Maori became progressively integrated into the wider New Zealand society, alternative forms of association became available to Maori. The tribe remained the fundamental source of identity: it was, however, no longer the primary social grouping for many Maori. That is, the majority of Maori claimed affiliation to a tribe but did not live and work in a tribal context. It is argued in this thesis that existing perceptions of the tribe have taken into account only the former, that the tribe was the fundamental expression of Maori kinship and identity and have ignored the reality that the tribe was no longer the most common and influential organizing force of Maori social organisation. It is also argued that these perceptions have been formed through three sets of interacting agency: Maori, government and scholarship. Maori understandings of the tribe were primarily sourced in life circumstances, in understandings of a society with a range of kinship inter and intra relationships that are encapsulated in traditional forms of association, namely iwi, whanau and hapu. However, what was not widely understood is that the influence of government through its Maori policies and its fostering of academic scholarship through research publications and advocacy, have had formative, descriptive and prescriptive influences on the tribe. This ongoing process has resulted in an interplay of categorical definitions and adjustments and strategic developments. Understanding conceptions and perceptions of the tribe are very pertinent, not only to Maori, but also to New Zealand as a whole. The tribe dominates notions of Maori identity as well as Maori political and social organisation. Since Maori constitute 15% of the total population of New Zealand, any research that assists in understanding the tribe assists in understanding New Zealand society. The tribe is also an integral part of Treaty-centred politics, and, therefore, a key plank of nation-building within New Zealand. The tribe as an autonomous polity had became a contested site in the late twentieth century, to the extent that definitional disputes disrupted and threatened to derail attempts by government and tribal leaders to arrive at Treaty settlements. Understandings and misunderstandings of the tribe therefore have ramifications for race relations, and the Maori quest for self-determination, as well as for republicanism, constitutionalism and democracy as understood and practiced in New Zealand. This thesis argues: 1. That perceptions and conceptions of the tribe were formed through the interlocking agencies of Maori, scholarship and government. 2. That the key to understanding the tribe and tribalisation in Maori society in the twentieth century is the acceptance that the tribe as the basis of identity and the tribe as the basis community organisation diverged as the century progressed. 3. That tribal affiliation remained central to understandings of Maori identity in spite of major societal changes that they experienced during the twentieth century, 4. That in the latter part of the twentieth century that movement to revitalise the tribe developed into an ideology of retribalisation that successfully introduced a prescribed form of tribe, a development that changed the fundamental nature of tribes and tribalisation among Maori.