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Maori land tenure: Studies of a changing institution.

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Clarendon Press, ,

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Kawharu provides a crucial addition to a complex and problem-ridden field of study.

The intricacies inherent in the topic were substantial enough to warrant individual, major studies. However, the author adeptly crafts a comprehensive record, addressing the complexities surrounding Māori land from the pre-Waitangi period to the 1970s. Bringing together almost two decades of work, the book, based on two Oxford theses and various other research endeavours, weaves together this extensive material. The central focus lies on highlighting the factors of change that contributed to the persistent loss of Māori land. As a Professor in Māori Studies and a practitioner of social anthropology deeply involved in Ngāti Whatua tribal affairs, Kawharu approached the subject with both academic rigor and practical concern. Beyond being a scholarly publication, the book held profound significance for Kawharu, who was primarily preoccupied with the future choices available to Māori concerning their land resources. Throughout the book, his message is unequivocal: the key challenges confronting Māori regarding their land stemmed from fragmentation, a direct outcome of nineteenth-century European laws that replaced customary tenure with bi-lineal succession. Traditional rights of occupancy yielded to new rights grounded in Court title, inevitably eroding the social structure of tribal groupings as different relationships and values emerged under the new system. The book characterised the nineteenth-century Native Land Court as ‘a veritable engine of destruction for any tribe’s land tenure’. Kawharu also notes that the tenor of the relationship between Māori and Pakeha has always been “governed by the ownership of land”. Kawharu’s book is a foundational text that continues to inform debates and policies related to indigenous land rights and management in New Zealand and beyond.

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