Kinship and Family Ties

Jennifer Lee '99 (English 27, Spring '97)

It appears there would be very few things Maori which anthropologists or activists have not managed to attribute to biased social construction on the part of one side or the other. One of the most important points which the Maori have made a point to emphasize is the emotional distance between Maori and Pakeha personalities. Where Pakeha are stereotyped as cold, selfish, mean, individualistic, neglectful of kin, and fussy, Maori have played up the image of themselves as loving, community minded, relaxed, caring, and happy. Now, instead of representing a quality native to Maori relations, aroha (love) or manaakitanga (caring and sharing) have been "altered and extended, while their connotations in the discourse of tradition are increasingly being determined by stereotypes of European practices and values."

Still, aroha has traditionally been the defining characteristic of Maori relations, especially between kin. Indeed, "The Pakeha lives only for his own immediate family, but a Maori never turns a relative down." And in the case of rural Maori, which prior to 1956 were the rule rather than the exception, relatives abounded, for the residents in a community were usually related to most other residents. But regardless of location, a Maori would generally have a large kinship universe, implying that he/she would be able to name upwards of 200 relatives. Not only could a Maori trace his kin "a long way out," he would accept as kin anyone who could prove kinship or whanautanga. In addition, families were generally large (out of the 35 women of child-bearing age in one Maori community, eight had more than ten children, and fourteen, between five and ten) and inclined to adopt

Such extensive ties entailed extensive personal responsibilities to all kinsfolk. It was practically required to keep in touch with kinsfolk and accepted practice to leave homes open to them. If a kinsfolk was in financial need, the money should be provided; if weddings, funerals, birthdays, or special occasions occurred, attendance was expected. Understandably, the various obligations to kinsfolk could easily appear burdensome, but general opinion was that the support and love that one received in return were well worth the effort. The most important duty of kinship, however, was that the performance of kinship duties was done out of aroha and not some misplaced sense of necessity. According to Rangihau, this was not a problem:

Whanautanga to me also means that whenever a person feels lonely he will go round and visit some of his kin and it is just as enjoyable for the kin to receive a visit as it is for the person to go. In other words there is as much joy - or perhaps greater joy - in giving as in receiving. And so we give of one another to one another - we give the talents we have so everybody can share in these sorts of experiences.

But, even if the feeling of aroha was not there, kinship duties were still practiced faithfully because of the reciprocal nature of the system. The rules of behavior were not explicit, but social pressures to conform were immense as they were contingent upon the threat of abandonment, the worst kind of punishment for the Maori. In Maori tradition, kinship and especially aroha provided a foundation for all social interactions, and no where is this more apparent than on the marae.

Postcolonial Overview Australia New Zealand