Accepted paper:

Satisfaction in a horse: The assimilation of an exotic animal into Māori customary usage


Hazel Petrie (University of Auckland)

Paper short abstract:

Horses were unknown in New Zealand prior to the arrival of Europeans. But within a very short time, they were assimilated into ‘customary’ Māori usages. This paper will consider the significance that came to be attached to horse ownership, in gifting, and especially as a fine for adultery.

Paper long abstract:

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, New Zealand Māori had only two species of mammal: the dog and the kiore. Yet within a very short period of time, introduced horses were not only prized possessions but also had spiritual significance and featured in 'customary' practice. Like sailing vessels, they were frequently demanded as items of exchange in land transactions or removed by taua muru (punishing raids) but it is particularly notable that, from about 1840, horses became something of a standard fine for the serious crime of adultery. An 1849 dispute between shareholders in a trading vessel, jointly owned by sections of Te Arawa, illustrates the process in which the communal nature of Māori society, proprietary rights, and perceptions of ownership were transformed towards more individualist ones through the agency of Christianisation and British law. However, it is also one of several examples where demanding horses as payment for an act of adultery was described as being a customary response. Tohi Te Ururangi, a Ngāti Whakaue leader of great mana, attempted to mediate in this incident, advising government that he had demanded the horse on three separate days 'according to the right of the law'. On various other occasions, too, the 'fine' for adultery was agreed to be a certain number of horses. This paper represents a tentative consideration of the significance accorded to horses in the years following their introduction into New Zealand and will discuss some of the ways in which they were incorporated into Māori usages.

back to panel P46
Social and material exchanges