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2.4 Māori land use

Importantly, the evidence in the Maori Land Court described the dynamic and complex system of land use practised along the Waihou River (Phillips 2000a). Claimants referred to the multiple land holdings (also see additional information), principally garden blocks, and their movement every three years or so to a different garden while the previous one was left fallow (Fig. 5A). Principal witnesses claimed six to ten different land blocks in this part of the river through three to six different hapū (Fig. 5B). Some blocks were claimed by two to three different witnesses each from separate hapū (Fig. 5D). Moreover, hapū lands were distributed along both banks, interspersed by the blocks of other hapū (Figure 5C). Garden lands and the associated settlements were just some of the resources used by Waihou Māori. Other rights included those to gather fruit from trees, eel in certain streams, collect shellfish and fish. Some of these use rights were limited to particular families, while others were available to much wider groups. Such rights were kept alive through re-occupation and re-use by members of the hapū: a system known as ahi kā (literally, keeping the fires burning). Māori resource rights are best described as an overlapping patchwork, which the inhabitants negotiated through their genealogical and historical relationships (Fig. 6).

Some particular events caused changes in the overall pattern of settlement. The earthquake subsidence tested the inhabitants of the various settlements downstream of the Hikutaia, but it seems a decision was made to stay. Perhaps previous wet periods had shown that the flax grew better and the eels multiplied. Maybe the identification of the people with their land had become too strong to abandon it without a serious effort. In any case, the living floors of pre-existing settlements were raised by at least 0.4m, principally by the addition of sub-fossil shell quarried from the natural shell banks, and it is estimated that some 50,000-65,000m³ of material was transported to construct the foundations of all the known sites. This huge amount of material was probably excavated with wooden spades, carried by baskets to waiting canoes, and from there taken to the various settlements.

Around the early 18th century larger political groups began to appear along the Waihou, under the leadership of ariki. Those who were both spiritually and politically adept became very powerful. These charismatic men brought numbers of people close to where they lived, forming larger settlement areas in the vicinity of their great . Possibly two ariki lived, one after the other, at Oruarangi. Their legacies are the monumental site (which while occupied had wooden palisades 0.4-0.5m in diameter and possibly 3-5m high, enclosing a defended area some 20,000m² in extent) and the artefacts it contained. Māori accounts and early European histories also noted that for much of the first 50 years after contact the people of the large pā dominated the region politically (Fig. 4D).

As stated earlier, the most complex kāinga identified in the archaeological record were not mentioned in the Maori Land Court. Many of these sites were located in particularly low-lying areas, and had been abandoned for 50 years prior to the Maori Land Court hearings because of flooding. This may have been because the numbers of people and the forest clearances were beginning to make an impact on the environment, and erosion in the hills may have resulted in flooding of the lower ground (layers of flood-deposited silt were seen in excavations dated c. AD 1720 and 1810). Interestingly, in this case there was a different response to the increasing wetness from that caused by the previous earthquake subsidence because the early 19th century was a different world: Māori population had declined and trade with Europeans had opened up new opportunities (Phillips 2000b). Another cause for abandonment was that a major battle in one of these locations had meant that the land had become tapu due to the blood spilt, and therefore not fit for continued occupation and food production.

Māori settlement systems along the Waihou were marked by a high degree of mobility and several transformations (Fig. 7). First, there were long-term changes (50-100 years), with the movement into different areas along the river and its tributaries, the development of pā, and the process of erosion and sedimentation. Mid-term political cycles (10-30 years) were dependent on the chief, the particular lands he was associated with, and change with conquests of new territory. Shorter term economic cycles (2-3 years), related to movement to new kāinga and gardens, where the actual lands chosen for re-settlement 10-40 years later would depend on the political cycle as well as economic factors. Then there were the annual seasonal movements from gardens, to fishing grounds and eeling streams, to bird-hunting spots, to good cropping trees and other plants. Finally, there were occasional trading ventures, war parties and social visits, including the search for marriage partners.

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