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2.3 Māori oral accounts

In this area a parallel, and largely complementary, set of information is also available from Māori sources (Phillips 2000a). When pressures were put upon Māori to sell land, particularly from 1870-1890, individuals and groups went to the Maori Land Court to claim their own lands. In presenting evidence they often related historical and political events about the land blocks, and described their settlements and activities. These claims were made according to their tribal groups (hapū) through specific ancestors. Hapū were the principal land-controlling groups in Māori society, and owing to bilateral descent most people were associated with more than one. Consequently, the Maori Land Court evidence represents an ethnographic record, from which some evidence about occupation and land use concepts can be derived.

Māori-derived information regarding former settlements overlapped with some of the archaeological surveys, and thereby added a number of sites (especially ) not recorded by archaeology, giving a combined total of 35 pā and 115 kāinga (the archaeological survey had recorded 20 pā and 107 kāinga; 19 of the kāinga were also reported in the Maori Land Court, as were 20 of the pā) (Fig. 3). Many of the pā were associated with particular ancestors and, through genealogical dating, some idea of change in settlement patterns over time can be determined (Fig. 4).

Several problems are associated with using the Māori accounts in this way. Only 60% of the hearings referred to any settlements at all, pā were frequently referred to but less so kāinga, some kāinga may have been falsely elevated to the status of the more important pā, and genealogical dating will not always be accurate. Not all the known occupations may have been referred to for several reasons. In some of the cases the evidence was not challenged so few details were given, whereas in others the intention of the evidence was to substantiate the claims and not to give a detailed history. Finally, it is likely that more was recalled of recent events rather than the more distant past. Notably, the most complex kāinga identified in the archaeological record were not mentioned in the Maori Land Court, for which various historical reasons may be the cause (see discussion below). Despite these concerns, this material does present a set of information that is not available from other sources, and as Ballara states, 'Land court evidence is best used in the aggregate' (1998, 49).

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